Monday, January 28, 2008

Review - Ender's Game

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card
1986 Hugo Winner for Best Novel
1985 Nebula Winner for Best Novel

Ender's Game is a novel that launched thousand sequels. It's Card's masterpiece, an achievement that he has been unable to equal. It's a fix up of an earlier novella that for whatever reason didn't get as much attention as its extension but this is easily one of the greatest of science fiction novels.

Ender Wiggins is a young child but he may also be the tactical genius who can save the Earth in a war of extinction against mysterious aliens only referred to as "the buggers" (my theory is that a British person called them that and an American not knowing what it meant copied them). Ender is recruited into a military academy where he quickly demonstrates his skill at both organization and tactics while undergoing repeated tests specifically designed to place him under greater and greater stress. Those in power justify their abuse by hoping that he can complete his training in time to prevent the bugger invasion.

The end of the book is one of the greatest in science fiction and I had it spoiled for me years before I got around to reading it. I strongly recommend reading it without being spoiled which may mean that you should run out to get it right now. And if you have read Ender's Game don't think that telling someone about the ending will make them want to read it.

Ender is a very broken child which makes how he's being used by the adults around him even more tragic. In the course of the book Ender performs some horrific acts in dangerous situations manipulated by his teachers. If Ender had not been forced to continue military training then I can only imagine that he would spend the bulk of his life in an institution. Card does a wonderful job of putting us in Ender's head and seeing his distorted worldview.

By far the weakest part of the novel are the sections about Ender's siblings who through the power of blogging have become the greatest political force on Earth. Really. His brother who was being groomed for the same position as Ender but completely broke down under the strain is plotting to use political commentary on the global computer network (the book being written before the Internet was a household word) to conquer the Earth. None of this has anything to do with the actually interesting portions of the novel which left me just wondering why it was in there at all.

Card's few attempts to demonstrate Ender's tactical genius bothered me as well. A major part of it, for example, is Ender reorientating himself on a different axis from his opponents in zero-gravity combat and choosing a different direction to define as "down". This is given as the reason why Ender is so good in free fall combat but picking any orientation is a weakness in that situation.

Still despite my reservations I found that Card had crafted a strong story built on fascinating ideas and populated it with characters that are richly drawn, albeit disturbing to observe. Ender's Game is a spectacular book that deserves all of the attention it has received over the year.