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Ender’s Game

By Orson Scott Card

Review by David White

 

Is Ender’s Game a classic, is it mainstream fiction, or perhaps just an above average sci-fi novel? Such classifications lead to the realization that a book like Ender’s Game is all three. Ender’s Game started its journey to the acclaim that it enjoys today as a short story about brilliant children learning to fight and win a near hopeless war against an alien enemy by playing sophisticated games. When it made its transformation into a book in 1985, however, many things changed. Ender and company still prepare to fight the Buggers while battling one another, but what becomes more important in the novel is Ender himself.

The book begins with Ender’s life as a "third" or an illegal third child granted existence by the government for his potential in government service. Ender is an outcast who is tormented by his schoolmates but gives himself no choice but victory over them. His defeat of the gang leader, Stilson, in the opening pages is all that Col. Graff, the commander of the Battle School, needs to see to know that their commissioning this third was warranted.

Ender is, from the moment of his introduction at the Battle School, surrounded by enemies. It is, in effect, a story coping with this peculiar way of life. A telling fact of the book is that it is the teachers, primarily Graff, who has engineered these series of contests even to the end. Even after everything Ender is forced to endure, he is able to defeat the Buggers, without and because of the fact that he didn’t know he was fighting them. This victory was only attained, however, by giving up playing the game when winning; he realizes it is not worth the cost. The moment of victory for all mankind is a moment of defeat for Ender.

As Ender was learning to fight and overcome his enemies, his former foe, his brother Peter is, with the help of his sister Valentine, establishing himself as the heir-apparent to the hegemony of earth. When the war ends Peter decrees that Ender will not be allowed to return to earth, and is essentially banished to the colonies opened up by the end of the war. Ender will spend the rest of his life traveling to these colonies with Valentine working to undo the damage his defeat of the Buggers, who Ender had destroyed, by giving back their place in the galaxy.

Ender’s Game began life as a sci-fi short story, but in novel form it establishes itself as a model for all SF which ought to work to show, through the use of spectacular plot and setting, the strength and weakness of the human character. Ender’s story is the story of the growth of character throughout life, not just childhood. Even as Graff thinks, and accepts, that he is responsible for the terrible actions Ender was forced to take in his training, Ender puts the weight of the destruction of the Buggers on himself. Ender showed that, although life is not fair and balanced, and surely ignorance of the implications of one’s actions does not exempt one from them, each person must take up his burden.

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