I read a lot of books a year. Like I mentioned a couple posts ago, I read eighty something books last year. However, I only have a couple reviews. There are several reasons: First, because the reviews are a lot of work and take a while to write. They’re not just reviews: I take the books apart bit by bit and exhaust all my thoughts, feelings, and reactions to different parts of the books. But mostly, it’s because most books, while good, aren’t thought-provoking enough to NEED analysis. But once in a while I come onto a book which bounces around in my head and takes up all my thinking room, UNLESS I get those thoughts out onto paper somehow. I’ve been thinking and thinking how to organize this review, and I apologize if it seems a bit rambly.
First of all...wow.
Glad we got that out of the way. Now, for the summary, straight from the back of the book.
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games at the Battle School; hie is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate. Ender is the result of decades of genetic experimentation, Earth’s attempt to make the military genius that the planet needs in its all -out war with an alien enemy.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? The only way to find out is to throw the child into ever harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when it begins. He will grow up fast.
But Ender is not the only result of the experiment. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways.
Between the three of them lie the ability to remake the world, if, that is, the world survives.
It sounds a bit like the typical science fiction summary, and while a bit of it does hark back to the early science fiction days, the majority of the novel could take place at any training school on earth. The closest I can approximate it to is sort of a mash up between a military training school novel, The Hunger Games, and the Mysterious Benedict Society.
The government, in it’s quest to find a great commander, implant monitors in all children of a certain age to check for signs of brilliance and tenacity, in order to pick out the best children to send to the Battle School, a training school where children learn to be soldiers. After the government passed over Ender’s two older siblings, “too compassionate” Valentine and sociopathic, cruel Peter, they order Ender’s parents to have a third child(very rare), Ender. After a violent encounter with a bully, he is chosen to go to the Battle School. There, many years younger than the average recruit, his training includes a nightmarish, problem-solving fantasy video game, and the Battle Room, a zero-g chamber where different teams “armies”, battle with laser stun guns, all the while training in tactics, cooperation, and command. Ender discovers he surpasses all the other recruits in terms of brilliance and creativity, but every time he gets used to something or does well, the trainers, determined to produce a factory-perfect commander with “a killing edge”, throw him a loop. They force him to fight extremely unfair battles, exhausting Ender and his team, and driving Ender nearly insane. Despite problems with violent bullies, his ever changing atmosphere, and the random and frightening nature of the fantasy videogame, he manages to come out on top. But, as he discovers, the manipulation and hard times are only beginning.
Here’s what make the novel unique:
Ender’s Game is an adult novel. While this is in part because of the language and behavior l of the characters, it is also because of the narration. The style of Ender’s Game is heartless, cold and unmerciful, to match the story. The pitch barely scratches the surface. Ender’s Game, unlike most YA and children’s books, has a million different facets and interpretations. Like The Hunger Games, I chose to read it as a boy’s quest to keep his soul, humanity, and sanity when he is thrust into a hellhole where everything is unfair and stacked against him, adults watch coldly, he is pushed to his physical and mental limit, and he manages to succeed and excel for a short while, at great cost to himself.
The chapters are often preceeded by a behind-the-scenes snippets of conversations between the Battle Room commanders, as they mercilessly plot out new obstacles for Ender(who is still 6-10 years old). Occasionally one remarks that Ender is way too young for all of this, but they press on.
The novel is so harsh(not violent or disturbing, but harsh) in some places that I had to remind myself that an actual person wrote this novel. Ender’s Game takes itself extremely seriously. While it is about children, it is not lighthearted or humorous. There are zero pleasant, happy parts to the novel. All the parts which could be positive(Ender’s vacation on a lake, the times when Ender trains his team to succeed) are darkly shadowed.
The three protagonists(?) of Ender’s Game are child geniuses, but(and this is a oft-criticized aspect of the novel) they don’t act or think like children at all. If it weren’t for the fact that their ages are sometimes mentioned, it could easily be a novel about teenagers or adults. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. While the geniuses in Artemis Fowl and The Mysterious Benedict Society sometimes let their ages show in their emotions, thoughts, and actions, every child in Ender’s Game is cold, jaded and hard.
I didn’t think it was possible to have a novel where I despise every single character. Ender’s Game is also about distortion of reality(more on that later) and the characters in Ender’s Game are so warped by the war and the new way of thinking, it is hard to remember that they are human. Even Ender keeps a mental list of “human” people, and there are times when he doesn’t qualify for the list himself.
Valentine(Ender’s sister) the kindest, nicest, most sympathetic character in the novel, would be labeled troubled and disturbed in today’s culture. She is smart, driven, empathetic to a fault, and loves Ender, but she is also manipulative and weak. The government uses her to manipulate Ender...twice(since she is the only person Ender cares about) Peter uses her skills to help him control. She represents the “good” side of humanity, which is far from perfect and the best she can do. Valentine is ten.
Peter(Ender’s sister) is a cruel, psychopathic boy. He never loses himself in his anger, but expresses himself in careful plots which are somehow worse. He represents the evil, depraved side of human nature. He is not cruel for cruelty’s sake, but has the disposition of Napoleon or Alexander the Great. He tortures animals, and often tells Valentine and Ender the plans he has to kill Valentine and Ender. Sometimes it seems like he will kill them, but only Valentine’s manipulation saves them. She understands that Peter will only kill her when her detractors outweigh her benefits, and continually works to make sure she is valuable to him. In one scene, Peter displays remorse at how cruel and awful he is, and confesses that he loves Valentine and Ender, but no one knows if he means it or if its an attempt to manipulate Valentine(which works). Peter is twelve.
Ender himself is sometimes sympathetic, sometimes despicable. Ender, true to his name, has a tendency to finish things thoroughly. When a bully attacks him, Ender retaliates and continues to assault the (older, taller) boy after he’s down. This happens more than once. The adults at the Battle School continually try to break him, to shape him, to find the balance between a human being and a killer, and he struggles against them. He occasionally breaks down and confides to whoever’s close to him at the time, and readers sympathise with the smart, talented boy, even though he treats others coldly. He treats them coldly because he cannot let them become soft, but then again, that’s what the instructors of the Battle School said to him. He doesn’t care about any of his family, except Valentine, and he quite lets them know it. Sorry, Abby, for saying this, but Ender comes off mostly as unsympathetic and desperate. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just heartbreaking.
What’s more prominent are not the characters that are in the book, but the characters that are missing. Ender’s Game lacks any innocent, kindhearted, characters, despite being mostly children. That’s where Katniss has an advantage over Ender. There are no Rues in this book, no Peetas, no Finnicks, no Cinnas. It’s like that saying “There are no innocents in war”. There are some that come close to being compassionate, but they don’t hang around long enough for us to find out.
For four fifths of the novel, there are no respected authority figures at all. (the one that appears later can hardly be called such). Both Ender’s parents are alive and functional, but they don’t care for Ender much and they’re hardly mentioned. When the adults start to weigh the games against Ender to try and push him to his limits, he declares he will never trust adults again.
The Battle School authorities intentionally isolate Ender, making the other kids resent him, which he helps along by winning everything. Ender rarely has any “friend” for more than a short while, on purpose. Katniss had to work to figure out who her enemies were. In Ender’s case, it’s easy -everybody.
A large theme of the novel is bending and warping reality, or challenging assumptions of reality. From the start, Ender’s Game challenges reality. Can people really act this way? Are kids capable of this? You betcha. Ender plays a arbitrary and frightening fantasy videogame which warps reality. At first there are clear problems and obstacles, but as Ender goes farther and farther into it(farther than anyone has ever gotten) it starts becoming stranger until it somehow “learns” around Ender and takes reality from his mind and warps it. The Battle School itself creates a new reality for the children within, alienating them from the “real” world purposely.
Another theme is enemies. The International Fleet and the Battle School are supposedly fighting alien invaders, but they are only mentioned and little described. The “buggers” seem far off and abstract, and Ender’s real enemies are all around him. After particularly disturbing or violent actions, Ender constantly compares himself to Peter, which represents the evil and dark. He worries that he’s becoming just as evil and cruel as the world around him, and the fantasy game reinforces this by showing Ender a mirror, in which Peter appears. So Ender’s greatest enemy is perhaps himself and the madness around him.
The third theme, a common theme in books like this, is the line between right and wrong and when the ends cease to justify the means. The Battle School is putting Ender through this to supposedly save millions of lives, but its destroying Ender, making him less than human, in the process.
Up until the last chapter, there were none. But at the end it takes a weird spiritual bent that throws the message off the book a bit. But that’s all.
I wish I could tell you the conclusion of the book, but that would ruin my purportedly-spoiler-free purpose. So without telling you whether Ender is happy or dead at the end, I want to ask you is it possible for Ender’s Game to have a happy ending? Ender was always isolated, despairing, and pained for most of the book. What he sees and goes through should affect him too much for any measure of happiness for him or his siblings. His childhood was not taken away-it is obvious from the other children in the book that he never had a chance at one in the first place.
Ender’s Game is an extremely well written, perfectly paced, thought provoking book. However, it unsettled me and I will not read it again or any of its sequels.
I probably will go to see the movie, but it will most likely not stay true to the book. I mean, they’ll probably make Ender and co. much nicer. No one wants to see a movie with a bunch of ruthless desperate six year olds XD. Ender’s Game is very good, but not marketable in its current standings, which is why it’s not as famous as THG. XD There’s no humor, the characters are not likeable, and the world is cruel. And honestly, it wouldn’t be Ender’s Game if it were any different.
Ender’s Game is unique as a sci fi novel because it is more about despair than victory, manipulation than discovery. It’s not a book of friendship or coming of age, but a child-yet-not-a-child’s struggle in a hopeless world.
Like The Hunger Games, the war and worlds are not the subject of the book, rather a backdrop for the events that unfold.
Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games are unsettling for the same reasons. They both address the same issues: In a world without God or any other moral direction, where is the line between right and wrong? Is there one? When do the ends justify the means? Where do we look for guidance when the world is cruel and hopeless? How can we defeat the enemy without becoming the enemy ourselves? What the books do not do is give us a way to solve these problems. Because in these worlds without God, nothing makes sense. And the people who get the most out of these books will understand that.
Some cynical people will choose to believe that there is no moral direction. Right and wrong are all relative and circumstantial. Human beings must trust their utterly confused, deceptive, and sinful hearts. The world is crushed and brutal, and there is no way out and no way to find healing without tremendous sacrifices. People are accidents, and there is no plan. They believe that we’re alone in a desperate world and whatever love and kindness and happiness we find, we must scavenge for it ourselves.
And quite honestly, compared to those people, Ender and Katniss had it good.