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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (1985, by Orson Scott Card, and based on a 1977 short story) was, and is, an important science fiction book. See here for its Wikipedia article -- the book won both the Nebula and Hugo awards. The book has been adapted for a movie, which is to come out tomorrow. I have not seen the movie, but I like the list of actors -- Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld, Viola Davis. I don't see many movies, but I have seen all of these people in one or more, and like their work. I may see this one. Card, himself, has been deeply involved in the script of the film.

Amazon recently advertised the Kindle edition of the book. I purchased it, and I'm glad that I did. I hadn't read the book in a decade or two, and it's a good read. Also, the new edition includes a fine introduction by Card, about the book, and other things. Here's an excerpt:

Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by somebody’s dazzling language—or at least I hope that’s not our reason. I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not “true” because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: The mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.

What is the book about? Before I give a brief summary, some broad themes:

Relationships. I would say that extended family relationships is the most common theme I have encountered in Card's books, almost so much that his science fiction and alternate history tales are, in large part, vehicles for portrayal of that.
War, and some of the ways it warps our morals.
Teaching children to stick up for themselves by not backing them up.
What it's like to be an exceptionally intelligent child.
How we might interact with aliens.

There are some interesting science fiction ideas in the book. One of them is the ansible, a device for communicating instantaneously with others, not matter how far, really far away they are. Ursula K. LeGuin seems to have invented this device, in her equally important science fiction novel The Dispossessed. Another one is the alien species that Card describes sketchily in Ender's Game.

There is no explicit religion in the book, except for some Bible quotations, and a mention of the religions of Ender's parents, one of them a Mormon, one a Catholic. (Card is a Mormon.) No one prays or goes to church. There is a high moral tone, or at least recognition that some things are right.

Now, for a summary. Don't say that I didn't warn you! Spoilers included.

Before the book starts, humans have encountered an alien race, insect-like, the buggers, a few decades earlier. They defeated them, but believe that the buggers may come back, with better weapons. Mazer Rackham was the military leader who defeated them the first time.

Ender is a six-year-old boy, highly intelligent. He, and others, all over the earth, have been monitored by the army, who is looking for children who are flexible enough in their thinking, intelligent, and physically adept, to train so that they can lead the fight against the buggers, when they return. A bully attacks him, and he believes that the only way he can stop this bully is to defeat him utterly. He does, but, although Ender doesn't realize it, he kills the bully. He is given the opportunity to go to Battle School, a satellite where such children will be trained in free fall group war games, with the understanding that he won't see his family for years.

Ender's brother, Peter, is a highly intelligent sadist. His sister, Valentine, is a highly intelligent good person. He will miss her, and hates to leave her at Peter's mercy, but accepts.

Ender becomes the best leader in Battle School. Again, a bully attacks, and Ender defends himself, so thoroughly that he kills the bully, although Ender doesn't realize this. The adult leaders of Battle School want Ender to understand that he is on his own -- if something bad happens, he has no one but himself to count on. I wonder how the movie will handle the two bullying/retaliation scenes, if at all?

Ender is so good at the games, especially at leading others to be effective, that he is sent to Eros, where he takes part in more drills to fight the buggers. Eventually, Mazer Rackham becomes his teacher. (Rackham has been traveling at near-light speed, so that he can still be helpful in the next battle with the buggers.)

As you might expect, Ender, and several colleagues from Battle School, who have joined him on Eros, eventually defeat the buggers. But there are a couple of surprises in that defeat, which I won't give away.

Ender is such a hero that he can't really go back to earth. His future, traveling with Valentine, makes up a part of four additional novels. So do the lives of some of his colleagues at Battle School.

In my opinion, the most important of the succeeding novels is Speaker for the Dead, the next novel. For more on that, and other Enderverse books, see here.

Thanks for reading

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