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Glen Cook
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Re-Reading an "Early Years" Book.

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

With the movie release of Ender's Game a few short weeks away, I decided to dust off the book and give it another go. Let the story sink in fresh and get ready for Hollywood-ified story elements.

I'll start off by saying that I would have rated this book quite high originally, but after quite a few years of reading for enjoyment, I find that I can no longer do so. With more reading experience under my belt, and a lot more science fiction books to better judge different works in the genre, I guess I just fell into the theme of "the good old days"; ignoring the bad experiences and focusing on the good ones. I did that to the point that I misjudged this book and ignored the things that stood out about it -- both good and bad.

So, for those who just want the quick and dirty ---
The writing is concise, if brief, with descriptions varying between very good detail to none at all. This both works and doesn't. It leaves a lot to the reader's imagination, but with too little description, there isn't enough information to get a good sense of what's going on around the characters. More than once I wished I had more description, while other times I felt the narrative could've used with less.

It's weakest point, however, is a complete tie: the characters and the 'science behind the technology'.

While the details about setting and certain descriptions were varied, there was even less details about any of the technologies used or how they're used in other ways, despite the incredible ways to use that technology, and often requires a massive suspension of disbelief to move past.

The characters themselves were not quite card-board cut-outs, and certainly had life, but there were many contradicting actions and thoughts ( and some no more than a few pages after/before) that went against everything the character may have stood for or been attempting to do.

So, with that, the more detailed rant follows.
The premise of Ender's Game is simple: There's a war going on with an alien species, that are distinctly insect-like, and brilliant military commanders are needed to fight this war. Andrew Wiggin, a brilliant young boy, is believed to be the one needed to command the army to stop the aliens from wiping out humanity.

The first problem arose early on, within the first few pages in fact, when I questioned why the entire might of human military intellect depended on adolescent children. There's two reasons in all the book that are given, but both are nonsensical at best.


Reason one, early on: Children are somehow 'altered' by science. I inferred this because Graff states that they needed someone of more mental independence and compassion than Valentine but less ruthless and heartless than Peter, and thus Andrew Wiggin is requisitioned.

The second reason, towards the end of the book, is stated by Mazer Rackham that they needed children or young adults, because they 'wouldn't hesitate to give up lives to do what had to be done, while older commanders would hesitate'.

(show spoiler)


Suspending disbelief in that area is manageable for the majority of the book, as there isn't a lot of mention of the alien insect race beyond 'scary stories' of what has already happened in the timeline, prior to the book, and as a motivation for the Battle School -- a space station where all promising young commanders are taken and trained.

A step back from that, however -- and we come to the world politics at large, which are divided between the Hegemon, Polemarch, and Strategos. Each nation sends their best and brightest to the Battle School.

With the usual of plotting against each other, none of the factions really make any impact on the story itself. In fact, one could remove the factions entirely and the story would proceed exactly the same. I only mention this at all because in certain segments of the book, we are removed from viewing Andrew Wiggin and instead taken to Valentine and Peter Wiggin -- whom delve into politics through anonymous user names on the net. Through these anonymous names, they're given certain 'celebrity' status in politics -- while it's not unheard of (I'm looking at some of you reviewers, who certainly are famous amongst reviewing circles!), politics isn't like stepping into a community forum and proclaiming your awesomeness - especially when your opinion can sway entire countries.

I understand that this was used to sort of basis for Valentine's personality and for what's happening in the world, but ultimately I felt it just detracted even more from the overall story ( which was composed primarily of Andrew Wiggin ). Everything in these segments could have been completely removed and the book would not have suffered for it ( or changed all that much ).

Which leads to the next point: Ender has a massive sister complex.

There are three women mentioned in the book:
Ender's mother, whom gets maybe a page or two across the entire book ( including Valentine's section ) of 'book time'.
Petra Arkanian -- who teaches Ender for a short time before she's also moved off screen ( and later becomes a rival, albeit for another brief moment, and then again at the very end ) and then lastly --

Valentine. Ender obsesses over her for the majority of the book, constantly wondering how she would think about him hurting people, how she would view him being 'good' in the Battle Room, etc, etc. Aside from being the slightest bit creepy, coupled with the fact that he's supposed to be one of the most brilliant military strategists humanity has ever given birth to, I found myself shaking my head more than once.

Ender himself is mirror of extremes: on the one hand, he's meant to be compassionate like Valentine, yet on the other, ruthless like Peter. His personality flip-flops throughout the book, quickly going from remorseless 'I want to be the best' to 'I don't like doing this. I'm done'. And by quickly, I mean literally within a few pages of each other. This happened at least SIX times before I was even halfway through the book - some minor, wishy-washy type scenario's that most normal people do ( rethinking an action, for example) -- but some are huge, major, complete 180's to everything that led up to that moment.

Lastly, the science itself in the book had a lot of hand-waving going on, requiring a deep suspension of belief ( I always assume there's SOME measure of disbelief suspension in science fiction novels, as it's futuristic and not-yet-discovered-or-created technology ).

Faster-Than-Light communication, Gravity-warping weaponry, being able to modify individual personality through some scientific means, the concept of cerebral monitors ( which gets one paragraph of explanation, despite how -amazing- the technology could have been used ), 'blacking out' a moon, etc.


And all that is before we get to the alien menace that is lurking in the backdrop of every page -- but for the sake of brevity, it's safe to assume that I was less than engrossed by the time the "big reveal" came about, and felt utterly indifferent to the supposed 'victory' ( and even then, Ender is STILL going back and forth, in the span of a few pages! ).

Maybe some part of me back then knew all this and just suppressed it, because the only other books I read were the Ender's Shadow quartet of books ( which were significantly better, imo.)

At times I feel the book deserves a higher rating, while at other times I feel it doesn't. It's certainly not a BAD book ( I suppose the two star rating might convey that ) -- but it's without a doubt not quite to the level I once believed it to be.