RogerBW's Blog

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card 12 January 2018

1985 Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning science fiction, expansion of an earlier short story. Ender Wiggin is brought up to be the tactical genius necessary to fight off the alien invaders.

This is a hateful book. Not because it portrays all children as psychopaths and adults as encouraging them; but because Card cheats. He is thoroughly keen to get across his message, that this is the only way to do things, that it may not be nice but it worked so ha ha; but it worked because he set up the universe so that it would work.

And me—am I supposed to grow up like Graff? Fat and sour and unfeeling, manipulating the lives of little boys so they turn out factory perfect, generals and admirals ready to lead the fleet in defense of the homeland. You get all the pleasures of the puppeteer. Until you get a soldier who can do more than anyone else. You can't have that. It spoils the symmetry. You must get him in line, break him down, isolate him, beat him until he gets in line with everyone else.

Yes, is the answer. That's exactly what you're supposed to do, and anything else is what a loser would do.

This is a society that's already warped by expectation of war, that drafts children to be its soldiers (for no obvious reason, since there's no immediate need for them); but in the quest for the tactical super-genius that it thinks it needs, does it actually provide any training? No, it throws the children into a near-unsupervised mass, does nothing when they gang up and beat each other to death, and doesn't even bother to teach them anything. Instead, they're forced to play endless battle-games, because the tactical genius is so amazing that he doesn't need any of that boring old training stuff, and nobody else matters.

"Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to be controlled by good people, by people who love you.

Nothing is Ender's fault. It's all because of those other boys ganging up on him, he didn't want to, they didn't tell him it was real, and he can remain morally pure in his own mind. He never once loses, but he feels really bad about beating his enemies so that's all right. Gary Stu all over the place.

Worst of all, though, was the number of people. Ender had no important memories of cities of Earth. His idea of a comfortable number of people was the Battle School, where he had known by sight every person who dwelt there.

Maybe you should have mentioned how many people there were, rather than naming a significant few and letting the remainder be an inchoate mass of evil children?

Card always cheats. Oh, no, we're not sexist, because there are some female child-soldiers ("They don't often pass the tests to get in. Too many centuries of evolution are working against them."). But the only one we meet, while good enough to join Ender's special clique of senior commanders, is the first one to break. The only other significant female character is Ender's sister, who is even more perfect in every way than he is. All right, we now know that Card really does believe this kind of garbage about women, but even without that information it makes no sense to leave half of humanity out of the book about humanity's struggle for survival.

It's tedious and repetitive. Cut away to the generals plotting how to make Ender unhappy and isolated because if he can even conceive of asking anyone for help he won't become the master tactician they want; then cut to Ender being unhappy and winning another battle. All right, Card is trying to write about a tactical genius without being one himself; but the examples he gives seem simplistic in the extreme.

Terrible characters. Formulaic plot. Predictable twists. Author's message. A surprising amount of time spent describing naked little boys. (Yes, of course Card is a homophobe too.)

Recommended only if you still think you're supremely gifted and the rest of the world just doesn't understand you.

Followed by Speaker for the Dead. Reread for Neil Bowers' Hugo-Nebula Joint Winners Reread.

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  1. Posted by John Dallman at 11:12am on 12 January 2018

    Yup. I read this when it was fairly new, for the City Lit SF class, under Colin Greenland. He denounced it as mere space-opera; the class dismissed that point, but pulled it apart on grounds similar to your. I gave up reading Card around then.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:13am on 12 January 2018

    Alas, Speaker for the Dead is next month's joint Hugo-Nebula winner.

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