Review: Ender’s Game (Paperback)

UK-Enders-Game-351x550I’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!


Reconsidering Ender’s Game

I’ve pretty much finished the first year of my degree in Creative Writing and English Literature at Kingston University. I’ve mainly been concerning myself with the creative writing aspect but one aspect of the literature side of my studies has gotten me thinking.

About three years ago I wrote about how I would not be reading the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game because its author, Orson Scott Card, was extremely homophobic and espoused personal views I found quite disgusting. I didn’t want to be seen to endorse those views by reading his work or support him by purchasing it.

Early on in my degree I read a literary essay published in the 1960s, The Death of the Author; this was before 4PM Friday lectures sapped my enthusiasm for dry literary theory, and, considering the essay, I began to rethink my approach to Ender’s Game.

The gist of the essay is that the “author” is merely a conduit for “work” to be created from, and that we must not consider a work as a vehicle for the author’s views and political standpoints but in the context of other contemporary works that existed at the time of writing; a work is not a singular piece isolated from the rest of the world. The responsibility is on the reader more to take their own message from a work than to try to decode the author’s intentions.

This, on first glance, does not seem to bode well for creative writers but I would argue that it allows a lot more freedom for writers to not worry about being psychoanalysed after the fact through their work and, on a personal level for me, anyway, means that the author does not become one with their work, and both cannot really be judged by the merits (or otherwise) of the other. One of the main reservations I have about my writing is being judged by what the fictional characters I create do, as if they’re always a representation or reflection on some part of my own personality.

What does this mean for Ender’s Game? For all intents and purposes, I have heard it’s a stellar piece of military science fiction. The book tackles themes such as inclusiveness, friendship and identity. Whether Orson Scott Card believed in this personally is, in hindsight, irrelevant; he however brought together this piece of work and, putting my reservations aside – I feel I’m being unfair on the book if I shun it wholly due to its author being a d*ck – I look forward to objectively taking Ender’s Game for its own merits.

I feel I was almost there when, in 2013, I wrote:

A book should be criticised separately from the personality of its author, though the personality of its author should be instilled throughout its pages. But with Ender’s Game this whole issue the proverbial elephant in the room and the scale of it means it really can’t be ignored. 

I’m happy to have finally found a personal, tangible use for all the dry literary theory I’ve been studying. Oh, and to circumvent supporting Mr. Card? I borrowed it from my local library, which is probably a far better cause!


Judging a Book by the Name on The Cover

Yesterday I was discussing sci-fi and fantasy with Sam, a good writer friend of mine and the book Ender’s Game was mentioned. I felt compelled to state that it’s hard to separate the work from it’s author and his extremely bigoted views on marriage and same-sex equality.

Sam makes a good point, one that I found myself dwelling on last night. Am I ‘right’ to judge Ender’s Game the work quite predominantly on it’s author, Orson Scott Card being (among other things) a thoroughly horrible person? Can I enjoy a work when I know fully that it’s author espouses extremely bigoted and, to say the least, pre-millennial views on the subject of sexual equality?

Ender’s Game is a book that intrigues me. A military sci-fi adventure where children are indoctrinated to fight an alien threat, and the ultimate messages include tolerance and that the ends never justify the means in regard to warfare. However, can I truly enjoy a book when it seems to me that the author themselves consider these values a fiction?

A book should be criticised separately from the personality of it’s author, though the personality of its author should be instilled throughout it’s pages. But with Ender’s Game this whole issue the proverbial elephant in the room and the scale of it means it really can’t be ignored. This is more than judging a book on the basis of it’s author being a bit of a prat; this man is through-and-through nasty and his outlook does nothing to advance society. In my humble opinion.

If people want to read or watch Ender’s Game, then fine, but I feel the skeleton in the cupboard in regard to it’s author deserves to be at least mentioned in passing. It’s a tragic shame as I’m sure I’d enjoy Ender’s Game; I might pick it up second-hand should I come across it. I really don’t want to support the views of a man I find quite disgusting financially, however abstract that connection may be, through a direct book sale or cinema ticket.

This post has been quite saddening to write as I don’t want to be known for talking trash about other authors or getting personal but Mr. Card is, I feel, deserving of the criticism. By deeming people undeserving of basic human rights and worthy of discrimination solely on their sexuality (which isn’t a choice) he stands on the wrong side of progress and history. Ultimately we’re all people sharing a planet and it is cruel to be so discriminatory for so little reason. I don’t wish his film well and I suppose most damning, I don’t hope he has a nice day.

What do you think? Am I right to cast Ender’s Game aside because of the personal views of it’s author? Do you think I should separate Ender’s Game the book from Orson Scott Card the bigot?