AT BATTLE SCHOOL FIGHTING IS COMPULSORY
Is Ender Wiggin humanity’s last best hope for the future, or a monster in the making?
(Ender Saga, Book 1)
Orson Scott Card
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Date: 1st December 2011 (First Published 1985)
One of the most noteworthy things about reading Ender’s Game today is that thirty years after its initial publication the book hasn’t noticeably aged much, if at all. In fact, if one were unaware of its publication history it would be easy to believe that author, Orson Scott Card, penned his science fiction classic within the last couple of years. There is little, if anything, contained within the book that is obviously outdated.
If someone were to try to summarise what the novel is about, then proceeded to describe it as the story of a young boy who is trained to protect humanity from a hostile alien race, such a description would be so shallows as to be misleading. Ender’s Game is one of the few books that has earned the distinction of winning both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel, so it shouldn’t need to be said that Card has constructed a much deeper narrative than a surface description might convey. Which is why the book remains as highly regarded today as when it was first published.
To give prospective readers a more accurate idea of what lies in wait when reading Ender’s Game for the first time, perhaps it is best to view the book as an examination of the ethics and morality of war. From the manner in which those who are charged with prosecuting those wars are trained, to the deceptive justifications devised by those who instigate those wars, as well as how the general populace are manipulated into supporting such wars through the use of propaganda.
To this outside observer, who has little real world experience of the training regimens that soldiers in modern day militaries are subjected to, it seems as though the real purpose of military training is to psychologically breakdown all the recruits, then reconstruct them to be unthinking automatons prepared to obey any order; no matter how unethical. That adult volunteers willingly choose to go through this might seem only mildly distasteful at best, but the idea of prepubescent children being put through such conditioning is much more repugnant; especially if those children have been bred for that specific purpose.
And as it happens, Ender’s Game’s principal plot deals with this particular scenario. In Card’s future setting the authorities have initiated a program to create children with enhanced mental and physical attributes. It is hoped that this program will produce one child ideally suited to assume control of Earth’s military defences against an anticipated third invasion attempt by an insect-like alien race; at least, that is the official story. The book’s young protagonist, Ender Wiggin, has been identified as the last best hope for being that child after his elder brother and sister had proven to be failures.
Ender is regarded as being the perfect balance between the two extremes of his siblings. Brother, Peter Wiggin, on the one hand was rejected for essentially being a sadistic sociopath; his liking for torture and killing making him far too dangerous to be entrusted with control of Earth’s military defence. Sister, Valentine Wiggin, on the other hand is deemed to be far too empathetic and humanitarian, hence her willingness to kill, even when justified, cannot be relied upon. Ender meanwhile, though possessing his brother’s ability and willingness to kill, also has the compassion and humanity of his sister which prevents him from becoming the monster he worries he could become.
On a side a note, there is a very intriguing sub-plot which follows Peter and Valentine as they adopt anonymous online personas intended to influence world opinion, as the first step of Peter’s long-term plan to rule the world. This sub-plot remains firmly in the background as Card avoids allowing Peter’s ambitions of world domination overwhelm the main story of Ender’s training.
And so it is that Ender is taken away from his family then sent into orbit to attend Battle School. Most of the book is subsequently devoted to chronicling the arduous training that Ender goes through, as well as the relationships (both good and bad) that he establishes with some of the other child recruits. All the while Ender cannot work out why he is seemingly being singled out for special treatment by the men responsible for the training at Battle School; Colonel Graff and Major Anderson. But he resolves to overcome anything and everything that is thrown at him, as he is continuously tasked with completing harder, more challenging assignments. And with every success Ender is pushed evermore to drive on and beyond his limits; physically, mentally and emotionally. Even if it results in the deaths of other people at Ender’s hand.
It is sometimes easy to forget that Ender and the other Battle School trainees are just children, being subjected to conditions that they haven’t consented to, nor have the option to opt-out of. Many of the training sequences make for entertaining reading, and can at times lull the unmindful reader into the false sense that Ender’s Game is simply a children’s adventure book. But such illusions are inevitably shattered when situations are engineered for Ender which result in a child being seriously hurt or worse. This is made all the more egregious once it becomes apparent that the full truth about the objectives of Battle School has been concealed.
It is only upon the completion of his final “training exercise” in the presence of Earth’s top military brass that Ender learns the truth about the true objectives of his training. And the realisation of the devastating consequences of his success has a profound impact on him. He is hailed a hero; but at what cost?
Ender’s Game is an exceptionally well written novel, very much deserving of the accolades it has garnered. For some readers it will prove to be a thought provoking story that will inevitably lead to questions about the ethics of warfare, in general. It is not easy to discern, one way or another, if the author intended for his book to be pro or anti war. But the decision to use prepubescent children to drive the story would seem to imply the latter, as it will almost certainly provoke a negative response from most readers. Or maybe Ender’s Game is simply one of those books of which readers will take out of it what they bring to it.
In conclusion, if you have not yet read Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece you should rectify this oversight as soon as possible. Ender’s Game is legitimately a “must read” novel; even for readers who would not normally read science fiction literature.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.