Friday, 2 January 2009

‘Ender’s Game’ – Orson Scott Card (Tor)


Orson Scott Card; author of a classic science fiction series, maker of comments that cause uproar on the net... or both? Up until now I couldn’t tell you one way or the other, regular visitors to the blog will know that my tastes swing more towards fantasy (with occasional excursions into horror) and, as such, science fiction generally takes a back seat in my reading. I’d never read anything by Orson Scott Card and, not knowing his work, never really felt compelled to get involved in discussion about the comments he is known to make. In the spirit of wanting to read outside my comfort zone however (and because I had been sent a copy of ‘Ender in Exile’ and I wanted to read ‘Ender’s Game’ first) I thought I’d give ‘Ender’s Game’ a go. This brings me back to my original question... I’m going to have to read a lot more of Card’s work before (and follow certain discussions online) before I can answer it one way or the other. What I can say though is that, if ‘Ender’s Game’ is anything to go by, this is a series that I might just have to keep a closer eye on... (Comments welcomed from anyone who has read more in this series!)

For anyone who hasn’t read this book already (and it feels like I am the only one who hasn’t) ‘Ender’s Game’ follows the fortunes of one Ender Wiggin latest entrant to ‘Battle School’, an institution where young children are taken at a very early age and trained to become the top military minds of the future. The need for these minds is urgent as the ominous shadow of an alien insect civilisation casts a shadow over the future of humanity...
Ender may be the perfect military genius everyone has been hoping for but he must make it through Battle School first. The students want to break him down so they can advance in his place and the military want to press him and find his breaking point. What (or who) is going to break first?

The long and short of it is that I had great fun reading ‘Ender’s Game’ and I’m glad I took the time to give it a go. The story itself is a fast paced yet strangely downbeat affair that accurately reflects the pressures of war and what people will do to make sure that they are on the winning side. As far as this goes, Card generally does a very good job of walking the fine line between condemning the military, for their treatment of Ender, and giving a ‘needs of the many outweigh those of the few’ justification for their actions. What Card effectively ends up doing is to sit firmly on the fence and present the facts for the readers to make their own minds up on the matter which I think is the way it should be.

Battle School, and what follows after graduation, is full of fast paced set pieces that show us what the children must go through on a daily basis as well as offering us a well placed look into Ender’s mind as he reacts to what is happening to him.
The battles themselves can be confusing at times (if the children don’t know which way is down then the reader can’t really be expected to know either) but carry the reader along so quickly that this isn’t too much of a problem. They’re also brimming with examples of innovation on the battlefield which show us just how gifted Ender is.
Ender is a gifted tactician but he is also only six when he first goes to Battle School and Card doesn’t let us forget this softer, more vulnerable side of his nature as Ender is put under increasing pressure. It is made clear that Ender is the ‘last great hope’ for humanity and, as such, it is easy to accept the things that he comes up with at such a young age. Strangely enough though, I found the side plot (involving Ender’s slightly older siblings) less believable, even though they share the same capabilities. I’m still not quite sure why I felt this way and will probably leave a comment below the post when I’ve figured this out...

Funnily enough, after having had a great time reading the book it was the ultimate payoff that left me feeling a bit deflated. Card spends the greater part of the book building up this relentless pressure on Ender only for the climax itself to pass with more of a whimper than a bang. While I can appreciate the way that Card leads us to expect something out of the ending, whilst planning to hit us with something completely different, it felt like he had lead us so far up the wrong path that the payoff was something of an anti-climax...

This wasn’t such a big deal though as I enjoyed enough of the book to let this one go as a small annoyance. ‘Ender’s Game’ is well worth a look and I’m hoping for more of the same from ‘Ender in Exile’...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

11 comments:

helenf said...

Ender's Game is very good. I seem to recall the sequels being quite different - though the parallel books (written to take place at the same time as Ender's Game) are similar in tone. However I read them so long ago now that my memory of them has faded a bit, so I wouldn't trust my judgement :)

I'd like to think that I can read and enjoy a book regardless (to an extent) of what the author gets up to elsewhere. However I've read so many bigoted comments from Card that I just don't think I'll be able to bring myself to read him again.

julie said...

Ender's Game is great fun, but Speaker for the Dead was my favorite title in the series. It's a much deeper work, and the world building was very convincing. One of the best books that I have ever read.

pacamanca said...

I only read Ender's Game this year. I'd read something else by him, although I can't really remember what, and I had completely forgotten about the uproar he causes online whenever he opens his mouth. So I gave Ender's Game a go, and I absolutely LOVED it. I decided to ignore anything he writes or comments so as not to spoil the good impression his book left on me, and judging from helenf said, I might have taken a wise decision ;)

Tia Nevitt said...

I read Ender's Game but none of the sequels. I guess I need to read Speaker for the Dead. Great review!

nimrodiel said...

As a fantasy fan, you might enjoy Card's Alvin the Maker Series.

It's got a lot of Appalachian folk tale and magic in it's story

Joe Sherry said...

I think the original Ender Quartet is quite good (even the two after Speaker for the Dead, which are usually dismissed).

I don't like Ender's Shadow because I think it devalues Ender's Game a bit, but it is a well told alternate tale of what happened during Ender's Game.

The rest of the Shadow novels are progressively bad to horrible.

Kristen said...

I liked Ender's Game too. Unfortunately when I was reading it, one of my professors gave away the ending. That made me mad!

Speaker for the Dead is my very favorite book in the series, though. It's a great first contact story. I also liked Xenocide and thought Children of the Mind was ok. Ender's Shadow was enjoyable although I do agree with Joe that it devalued the original somewhat. I read the next two Shadow books and didn't like them. Haven't read any of the rest after the third one which was really horrible.

Harrison Holtz said...

Good Review, and I loved Ender's Game, its in my top twenty books of all time as it was just incredibly well done.

In my opinion though Orson Scott Card should've left this novel as a stand alone. The Quality of the sequels is horrendous and kind of feel like Ender was Card's cash cow. Fair enough a man needs to make a living but I feel that all the sequels have done nothing but tarnish this novel's legacy.

Speaker of the Dead is okay but after that all the novels take a serious nose dive. I did enjoy Ender's Shadow which is a parallel novel to Ender's Game with the events of Ender's Game shown from a different perspective. I agree though it does take a bit away from the original.

So I'd recommend checking out Speaker of the Dead, and then if you're still hankering for some stories about Ender checkout Ender's Shadow. All the other novels set in the Ender Universe I'd avoid.

Carl V. said...

Speaker for the Dead is incredible and I highly recommend reading it. In fact Ender was written purely to give more weight to the character in Speaker as that was the book that Card had mapped out and essentially written first. I'm glad he did because knowing Ender's story makes Speaker even more powerful. I just picked up Ender in Exile today.

Card has certainly made politically charged statements over the years that have generated a lot of heat, probably deservedly so in some ways as I think the common man prefers their authors, film stars, etc. to keep mum about their political and religious leanings and just do their job of entertaining us. I won't let his statements ruin the experience of his excellent storytelling abilities. If I had to agree with everything an author thought or did in his personal life then I wouldn't be reading anyone's work at all. In some ways I prefer knowing how an author feels whether I agree or disagree with him/her as opposed to supporting someone for years only to find out later that they had views I didn't agree with.

ConUladh said...

Great book, while I enjoyed parts of the sequels they definitely took from Enders Game.

mentatjack said...

While I've given over a dozen copies of Ender's Game to friends and family over the years, I'm probably most fond of "Speaker for the Dead." It sounds like I'm not alone.

Card was one of the first writers I discovered on my own. My parents introduced me to Heinlein and Asimov. As such I devoured everything he had written up to that point. Interestingly, it was his writing in so many different genres that helped me widen my reading habits beyond just science fiction. His "Lost Boys" was my (very gentle) introduction to horror.

"Speaker" is still the main one I recommend after "Ender's Game."