Aug 18, 2010

Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is not easy to review, and I expect to fail miserably in the task. Thing is, everybody knows this book. It is among the most important works of Science Fiction, and it's almost impossible to say anything new about it. So I won't even try. I will just go with the flow and see where it takes me.

Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is a child prodigy growing up in a near future Earth that has suffered horribly in the first wars with the alien Formics - usually called "buggers" - and is now preparing for an inevitable last conflict, united under the shaky alliance of the Hegemon, the Polemarch and the Strategos who compete for dominance while developing the International Fleet. In a world where strict birth-control laws are in place, Ender is a third child - an exception that earns him hatred and isolation from his peers. He is soon selected by the IF to train in the elite Battle School - a space station orbiting Earth, where genius children are prepared to lead Humanity's armies in the war against the buggers. But from the very beginning Ender is forced to use all his intellectual powers to win in a game more deadly than anything he has faced back on Earth. A game created by the grown-ups and as such - infinitely unfair.

It is easy not to like Orson Scott Card. In fact, he makes it exceedingly easy with all his bigotry, homophobia, religious zeal etc. etc. etc. To be perfectly honest, I stopped keeping track of his outbursts a long time ago. The reason? I don't want to know. I don't want this knowledge to cloud my perception of his earlier books. Because they - and especially Ender's Game - are among the greatest examples of SF ever written.

There are any number of ways to perceive this book. It has been banned from high schools for its themes (real and imagined both), and it has been used in teaching courses in military schools. It has been praised for the realistic way it depicts gifted children, and it has been ridiculed for the unrealistic way it depicts gifted children. It is accused of being an undercover justification of Adolf Hitler's actions, and it is a beloved symbol for intelligent children wishing to be treated as equals to adults.

But Ender's Game is - above all else - a novel that a lot of readers take personally, and that is the reason why people are so passionate about it. Like Card himself says in an introduction for the book, kids love it not because they love Ender or pity him (as most adult readers do), but because they are Ender. He rings true to them as he rang true to me when I first read the novel in my early teens. And - again as Card says in the introduction - this is possibly among the chief reasons for many cases of adults disliking Ender's Game. Because the recognition that a child could be that intelligent and perceptive, that aware, takes a lot of us to a scary place - one we may not wish to visit. Sure, Ender is an exaggeration - a 7-year old acting like a 40-year old - but at the same time he isn't. He is a lonely child doing the best he can under a pressure that no human being should endure. And he feels a child to the reader.

Another topic that often pops up when discussing Ender's Game, is that of child abuse. How far can we go in the destruction of an innocent and immensely vulnerable human being while still being able to justify our need to do so? Is it "right" to do it? Does any end justify those means? The book gives no easy answer to those questions. Or - the other side of the coin - how far can Ender take his actions and still be considered "innocent" by the reader? A lot of criticism for the book is focused upon this problem. Ender is depicted as a child, and one manipulated by adults into becoming a mass murderer. Does he have a choice? Yes - in the end he does. But to me, this is a ridiculous criticism. Because even if Card's own opinion of Ender's morals and those of the people controlling him might remain unclear, Ender's vision of himself is perfectly obvious. In fact, the entire Speaker For the Dead trilogy is a direct result of the way he feels about what he does.

Ender's Game is a simply written book. It is plain and direct - quite on purpose, as Card wanted to avoid all the "literary" games and details that draw attention away from the story and characters. In a way, it is almost surgical in its decision to not sugarcoat anything, and the atmosphere of the book is at times painfully intense. The writing might be simple, but that makes it no less masterful, and even though that was Card's first novel, it is still among the very best the genre has to offer due to the wonderful marriage of ideas, character and style.

So, is Ender's Game still relevant today, 25 years after its publication? Most definitely. It is an important book, extremely complex and multifaceted in its simplicity, and as controversial as it is brilliantly written. Anyone who considers himself a reader of SF has to read it. Whether you will like it or not depends on what you will see in it. Chances are that whatever it is, it won't leave you indifferent.


No comments:

Post a Comment