Ender’s Game Review
Monday, August 25, 2008–OK, it is time for me to come out of the closet and admit that I am a major Science Fiction fan. As a small child in the 1960’s I watched Star Trek, Lost in Space, Superman, and whatever other sci-fi I could find on TV. My father is also a science fiction fan so I inherited it honestly. He subscribed to Analog when I was a kid so I started reading that, probably in Jr. High. Some of my earliest novels that I read were Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island and From the Earth To the Moon. Likewise with HG Wells, I read Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and First Men in the Moon while other kids were reading…well…whatever other kids read. And I saw all the movies: my dad took me to see Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssy and to watch Charleton Heston in Planet of the Apes. I watched the TV adaptations of the Jules Verne and HG Wells books. Furthermore, my dad subscribed to Popular Science and Mechanics, both mags frequently dealt with the future. All of this while being a committed Christian, lifelong Baptist, and very strict Creationist.
So here I am in middle age, writing on a blog that is primarily about the bi-vocational ministry and theology, but I have columns on cooking, hunting, Army stuff and now science fiction? I believe that all of life is to be lived for the glory of God and that we Christians can and should be acquainted with the literature of our time and the classics of the ages before. I think we should bring the light of the Gospel into every corner of this world in order to be salt and light, to preserve what is good in our culture, to add more flavor, to expose and cleanse the wickedness that is everywhere. This includes Science Fiction literature and movies.
I haven’t read much sci-fi in recent years because for 15 years I was a bi-vocational pastor working a full time job 40-56 hours a week and pastoring a church25-35 hours a week. Most of my reading time was spent with studying for sermons. Even today, now that I am working only 1 job, I am teaching Sunday School, assisting in a Care Group and working on our church’s Reformation Celebration which includes a lot of research and writing for me. But…..I am beginning to sneak in some sci-fi reading here and there, so I thought I would add this to my blog.
I finally purchased and read Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” this past week. I now see why it is usually listed in the sci-fi lists of the greatest novels and why it won a Hugo and Nebula. It was great! I am not very good with book reviews but I do want to go through some of the things I liked about it and some of the things I didn’t like as well as attempt to discuss the meanings I found in the novel.
First of all, Card does a great job of drawing us into the mind of this young boy so that we feel what he feels and we fully empathize with him. As I read the book, from the first pages, I was drawn to Ender and the things he felt and suffered. It is an emotionally gripping novel.
Secondly, this book’s drama reads well, it is a good story that holds your attention from first to last. I could not put it down and read it in less than 24 hours. The story leaves you wanting more from several different angles. Though it has a good conclusion, you are begging, “Please sir, can I have some more?”
The irony in the story is truly amazing. **WARNING–SPOILER COMING** Ender’s brother, Peter, is shown to be a little deviant monster from the beginning, and you really think he is going to try to kill Ender or their sister, Valentine, or maybe become a ruthless dictator, a little Stalin. You fully sympathize with little Ender and are genuinely fearful for him and hate the brother and the gang at school that is about to beat him up or, later, the gang of students in the shower at the IF Battle School who are going to try to do him in. But Ender, this fearful, sensitive little guy who wishes no one harm, turns out to be quite the efficient killer. In fact, this is the reason Card gives him the name Ender. He ends the fight. He is a finisher. He doesn’t merely beat his opponents, he destroys them so that they will never, ever, bother him again. Here are the best quotes of his fighting philosophy: (p.7) “Ender walked to Stilson’s supine body and kicked him again, viciously, in the ribs. Stilson groaned and rolled away from him. Ender walked around him and kicked him again…Then Ender looked at the others coldly. ‘You might be having some idea of ganging up on me. You could probably beat me up pretty bad. But just remember what I do to people who try to hurt me. From then on you’d be wondering when I’d get you, and how bad it would be.’….(p.19) Col. Graff asks, “Tell me why you kept on kicking him. You already won.” “Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they’d leave me alone.”
In both fights that Ender fought and won by killing his opponent accidentally, he was surrounded by a gang of thugs older and bigger than himself. In both incidents he won by striking hard and fast at the leader of the gang. This foreshadows how he would later win the war with the alien ‘buggers’.
This may be the main point of the story, when confronted with evil in a life or death situation. Do not negotiate, do not compromise, do not fight half way, give your enemy no quarter, no mercy, kill them and sow salt on their grave. Perhaps Card has studied what the Romans did to ancient Carthage, or maybe he was familiar with the task that William T. Sherman set out to do in his famous march through Georgia. Ender finishes his opponents.
Ender’s brother, the little evil monster, never kills anyone, Ender kills two children with his bare hands as a child, then kills billions as a child warrior. All the while never wanting to hurt anyone. The double irony, is that his killing of billions of the first Alien species man meets, was all done as a game, he did not know he was actually killing. His cold, cruel taskmasters and instructors used him and his fellow child warriors to fight the war without their knowledge. It is a video game come to life. Here, Card is somewhat prescient because in 1985 when the book was published, video games were still fairly primitive when compared with what we have now.
To add one more level of irony, at the end of the book Ender finds out that the alien species waged war on Earth in ignorance, it was all an accidental war simply because they, being an insect based species, did not at first recognize the humans as being intelligent life at all…until it was too late. After they had decided the humans were intelligent life, they also decided to back off and leave us alone. But Ender, the finisher (sounds like the stage name for some fighter from the UFC) pursues the “buggers” to their home planet and destroys the planet, killing off all the queens and eliminating that race from the galaxy. Ender, the gentle genius, killer of billions.
Ender carries this burden of guilt for the rest of his life and into the sequel.
In a way I see in the Peter vs. Ender drama something that reminds me of the story of Cain and Able in Genesis 4. Cain is the eldest but his offering to the Lord is not accepted. Likewise, Peter is the eldest but he is not chosen for Battle School and harbors deep resentment of his younger brother who is accepted. Peter, like Cain, has murder in his heart. Ender, the youngest, has what the IF military wants and his “offering” is accepted. The irony is that Peter, becomes popular and accepted in society, while Ender, the chosen one, goes into exile and virtual anonymity.
This book is also a story about leadership. Ender is chosen by the military as a 3-yr old boy genius and is steadily cultivated and trained for leadership. Card does an outstanding job of showing the price of leadership, the loneliness of the genius and the leader. Various leadership techniques are used well throughout the story that I recognize from some of the military books I have read and my own leadership training I recieved in the Army. The book should be placed on the reading list of any leadership training course.
The book sets up somewhat of a dystopia from the beginning. It has a big brother feel to it, yet the military dos not come off as being evil. They do bad things in order to help the human race survive. That is always the way with men in battle. This is what most civilians never get and Card got it very well. As a veteran myself, even though I am a Christian, and my son is now a paratrooper, airborne infantryman, we are trained to kill. It is not a pleasant task. But we are placed on the line between barbarism and civilization, we stand on the wall for the rest who know not the things of war. We do that which is not fit for polite conversation in order that those other polite conversations can be held in safety and security. Card gets the necessary evil of the military down pat. He even lets us see the conflict within the hearts of the military as they abuse these children to get them to lead in battle. Tears are shed. Gentle hands are laid on their young charges when they are asleep; love and true concern are not eliminated from the hearts of the warriors.
What Card does in this story that is very real, and very disconcerting, is that he blurs the lines between good and evil. This is the case with War all the time and it is another thing the civilians will never get. But Card does this with the political dialog between Demosthenes and Locke, and within Ender’s own family. Most of all he does it within Ender’s soul.
The story begins with the concept that Ender was a Third. A Third child, strictly forbidden in the overcrowded earth. Another level of irony- in a world that is against having more children, it is a child who saves them (and a little child will lead them..) Card comes from a Mormon background and he has Ender’s parents as a Catholic and a Mormon (that is a strange match?) He doesn’t get into any theology, but he at least paints a positive image of religion in the distant future while 99% of all other sci-fi writers ignore real religion (some give us weird religions).
My only real problem with the story is that it is just not quite believable, and for me, that is a critical element in greatness. I do not doubt that some small children are geniuses. But that the military would draft a whole battalion of small geniuses to fight the battles for the grownups….that just didn’t work.
I will go along with the Hugo and Nebula prizes, but I am saying that for me, the story would have been better if they had let Ender grow up to fight the battle at least as a teenager (hey, Alexander the Great started as a teenager). All in all, I will highly recommend this book and agree that it is one of the very best of all time.
Is there any spiritual truth here for the Christian? The book shows the nature of the human soul. We are all sinners, corrupted by evil from birth, each one of us is a potential Cain. We have to deal with the evil within our own hearts but while we do that we cannot afford to let it sideline us in self-absorbtion. There are monsters out there that will eat those who are not alert. And there are the warriors. Pacifists are rarely consistent in that they do rely on others to defend them when they are not willing to defend themselves. Jesus allowed his disciples to carry swords and he praised the faith filled Roman Centurion. The LORD gave Joshua clear orders- kill them all. When dealing with raw evil, we must have the courage to do what is needed. I see some of this same truth in Lord of the Rings.
I see in this book that the world is moving to a hatred of children. There is a self-loathing that sin produces in those who are self-absorbed. While overpopulation can be a problem, the greater problem is the poor management of resources that centralized governments and the ruling thugs practice.
This novel is 23 years old but still in print. Perhaps some of you will want to add some comments about the book here.
Here are some links to other reviews:
And here is a negative review that shows there are some problems with the book’s language and vilence:
Here are some discussion questions:
And here is an excellent article from Chritianity Today on Science Fiction: