Tuesday, February 25, 2014

#13 [2014/CBR6] "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

I wasn't very excited about reading Ender's Game (1977) by Orson Scott Card. Nothing in the cover appealed to me. The only thing I knew about it is that it had something to do with turning boys into soldiers and that the author is apparently homophobic. But I'd also heard it was an award-winning classic. The recently released movie and the fact that even my little brother had read it was beginning to make me feel left out. So I decided to check it out as a necessary part of my cultural education. And it was really good. I was surprised by how this book affected me and how much it disturbed me.

Ender Wiggins is only six when he's brought to Battle School, but they've been watching him for most of his life and hoping that he's the one who can lead them to victory. Ender's entire life is calculated to make him into the most courageous, efficient, and creative leader. The fact that he's an unhappy child and they may be ruining his life are secondary concerns to the survival of the human species. Test after test and challenge after challenge, Ender is continually pushed beyond what some seem to think he can endure. Although there is a lot of physical stress in the Battle Room, most of the stress Ender deals with is emotional. He is isolated and lonely. He can never trust or depend on anyone. The tragedy of it is that Ender's such a sweet boy, and he's turned, unwillingly, into a killer.

I've read a lot of books that I've loved until the end, but the author falters and isn't able to tie it all together in a satisfying way. This was not the case with Ender's Game. Not only was I surprised by the twist, but Card managed to tell enough of Ender's story for some bittersweet closure and enough mystery to allow a number of possibilities for the future.

I couldn't help but compare Ender's Game to the other young adult, dystopian novel I just finished reading, Legend. I liked Legend and its characters and was thoroughly entertained, but it just wasn't as memorable or disturbing. Sure, there's plenty of violence in Legend, but it was never as hard hitting or emotional. Sometimes it felt more like a vehicle for the main characters' love story. In addition, there was very little moral ambiguity or questions of right or wrong. June had to decide if she was going to turn her back on the life she knew, but (SPOILER--for Legend) that decision was made a lot easier as soon as she found out that "the bad guys" were responsible for killing her entire family. And this is where Ender's Game excelled. Obviously, it's distressing to take a six-year-old boy and use him as a tool in a war. But do the ends justify the means? If all of humanity hangs in the balance, then maybe the suffering of one child is worth it. Yet there's also the question of whether the attack was even necessary.

All in all, this was a very good book. I am also planning on reading Ender's Shadow, since I enjoyed Ender's Game so much, and because it's on a list I found of great young-adult novels. As far as Card's homophobia, I wish he were more open-minded and accepting of others. I suspect his Mormon upbringing is at fault. You'd think someone sensitive enough to be able to empathize so well with the lonely and isolated Ender could be more accepting. Yet... "Ender turned to the door. A boy stood there, tall and slender, with beautiful black eyes and slender lips that hinted at refinement. I would follow such beauty said something inside Ender." (109) Interesting.

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