I’ve spoken before on my own personal history with Ender’s Game but, after reading the book at long last I can only say that I regret depriving myself of this book as, despite all the controversy surrounding it, it’s a really good book and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
Ender’s Game deals with several themes throughout the narrative. What is childhood? In Ender’s Game, gifted children are systematically moulded to fight an intergalactic war from an extremely young age. It’s easily arguable that the system in Ender’s Game robs these children of a ‘normal’ childhood, though it’s always framed as ‘for the good of humanity’. Likewise, the traditional binary opposition of adults being the enemy and children are innocent is subverted. As the narrative progresses, the forced maturity of the children does manifest itself in some pretty adult courses of action.
A key part of this is the protagonist, Ender Wiggin, and his journey through Battle School. At times I felt astounded at both the situations presented to a gifted child, but still one who is only six years old (at the beginning anyway) and how he responds to them; my astonishment tempered at the reminder of how these children are forced to ‘grow up’. It’s as if the society in Ender’s Game punishes those who show promise by drafting them into the International Fleet. While the Battle School starts off innocuous enough, with the zero-gravity laser-tag game serving as an analogue training for the ‘war’ the children will eventually fight, Ender quickly discovers that his gift is transformed into a curse, with the rules changed and finding himself manipulated, all in the name of ‘greatness’.
It’s a great story of attempting to square the needs of an individual, even one as young as Ender at the start with the circle of a perceived existential threat to humanity as a whole, and throughout I thought: is sacrificing a generation of children for this conflict on the other side of the galaxy really worth it? It’s that pondering question that makes the climax for Ender as powerful as it was – despite all his efforts, and even when he wanted to quit, there’s one more manipulation that proves just too much.
Narratively, the story takes place mostly alongside Ender on the orbital Battle School, which serves as an allegory for the fate of mankind and the intimate loneliness and isolation faced by Ender. The journey that Ender takes from one end of the Battle School to the other is clear, and the characters that he encounters all have an impact on his story. There’s emphasis on how psychologically straining Battle School is to Ender, and how it affects his actions and development as a character, while also putting forward, less overtly, the importance of friendship and childhood in the face of isolation.
In terms of setting I was pleased to find that Earth did not have a stereotypical “monolithic” government that is a common pitfall in science fiction; rather, power is shared in a global government between three branches – the Hegemon, the Polemarch and Strategos – factions that display a realistic mounting of tensions for the aftermath of the bugger war Ender is being conditioned to fight. The book, being published in 1985, exhibits a distinctly anti-Soviet sentiment, particularly in the case of Soviet/Warsaw Pact aggression in the power vacuum that briefly exists.
The existence of the “nets” – online public forums that can be posted to under the cloak of anonymity seemed, to me, almost prophetic for a book from 1985; especially with the subplot of Ender’s siblings using this to influence the political landscape of Earth. The fact that this actually happens in 2016 and was predicted almost perfectly in a piece of 1980s sci-fi grounds the work for me.
Overall though, Ender’s Game was a great read, and certainly thought-provoking – there’s a lot to think about as the book follow’s Ender’s journey, and the action only ramps up. Each chapter only seems to add another challenge for Ender – a protagonist who is easy to empathise with – to overcome. The supposition of binary opposites – right and wrong, childhood and adulthood, innocence and manipulation is carefully executed without interfering with an engaging story – It’s well-deserving of its rating and its place in the sci-fi hallowed hall.
I’m still not putting a purchase link – happily borrowed Ender’s Game from my local library!