Dan Sandman

20: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 16/05/2014 at 12:00 pm

Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardThis military science-fiction book is a gripping story set during an interstellar war. Ender Wiggin is a gifted child who is destined to fight against an alien race called the ‘buggers’. From an early age, Ender’s brain activity is monitored and his actions observed by Colonel Graff. Following a violent altercation with a bully, Ender is taken to Battle School to be trained. Through the manipulation of his adult teachers, Ender is trained to become a ruthless military commander.

Orson Scott Card originally had the idea for the Battle Room – a kind of zero gravity gun game – when he was sixteen years old. Card then went on to study literature up to masters level and wrote some plays. Inspired to tell story-led science fiction by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, the American writer learnt to study history for ideas. To make his work widely accessible, Card would aim to keep the language as simple as possible, or as he put it: –

I learned to separate the story from the writing, probably the most important thing that any story-teller has to learn – that there are a thousand right ways to tell a story, and ten million wrong ones, and you’re a lot more likely to find one of the latter than the former your first time through the tale. (Introduction xii)

As the story effortlessly glides along, each chapter begins with some dialogue between two overseeing adults; a storytelling device that enhances the books central themes. The book is themed around the idea of lost innocence and the moral implications of fighting an alien race. It has been suggested, that in sparking these kind of philosophical debates, Orson Scott Card was drawing on his own religious background as a Mormon. Here is a quote from a character called Dink, he is talking to Ender: –

“I know you’ve been here a year, you think these people are normal. Well, they’re not. We’ re not. I look in the library, I call up books on my desk. Old ones, because they won’t let us have anything new, but I’ve got a pretty good idea what children are, and we’re not children. Children can loose sometimes, and nobody cares. Children aren’t in armies, they aren’t commanders, they don’t rule over forty other kids, it’s more than anybody can take and not go crazy.” (Chapter 8, pg. 109)

Dreams – or rather unreal landscapes – are another prominent feature of the story. Not only does Ender spend his waking day practicing a sort of fantasy war game, furthermore Ender’s downtime is spent exploring a fairy tale based computer game involving a giant, a playground, some snakes and a disturbing mirror. It is no wonder that Ender begins to experience nightmares when he sleeps. Maybe these dreams are an unconscious cry for help and understanding.

The arguably devious way in which the children are controlled in Ender’s Game, justified by strong political reasoning, is reminiscent of World War One, where conscripts could be little more than teenagers. As the German writer Erich Maria Remarque wrote in the preface to All Quiet on the Western Front, “[…] a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped the shells, were destroyed by the war.” When there is a strong sense of nationalism, combined with carefully targeted propaganda, parents will gladly send their children to war.

From the evidence of this book, I think that Orson Scott Card is a highly skilled storyteller, able to write clearly and create memorable characters. By exploring military themes within a science fiction context, Ender’s Game pushes the moral debate into zero gravity. However, because a science fiction context is an imaginary context, an alien war can arguably be used to represent any war, from the Vietnam War to the Plantagenet Wars. It is no wonder that this book is often studies by U.S soldiers as part of their training. Once more, a science fiction book has established itself as a modern classic.

And it reads like a dream.

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