Friday, October 18, 2013

Ender's Game

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card

Publisher's Blurb:
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

My Reaction (with SPOILERS):
This was a read-along with Donald, selected on a whim.  Only after we were well into the book did we learn that a film adaptation of the book is coming out next month (though it's possible that I'd heard something about it a while ago and forgotten).  

I suggested we read this because I'd heard it described as a "sci-fi classic"-- and the young protagonist made it seem more approachable.  It was certainly alright, but honestly, if I'd been reading this on my own, I don't know if I'd have stayed with it to the end.  Though I wanted to see what would happen to Ender, I found the descriptions of battle games and tactics a little dull.  I think Donald liked the book more than I did, over all.  Not that I didn't like it... I just feel a little ambivalent.

I must confess that I didn't predict the "big twist"-- that while Ender and his team thought they were training on a simulator, they were actually conducting live invasions (commanding the movements of battleships already in place).  However, rather than feeling thrilled by their "insta-victory"-- the destruction the Buggers' home planet and the removal of the great threat-- I found it a bit of a let-down.  There was no build-up of "this is it" tension-- no personal risk... I guess that was kind of the point of Ender's not knowing the truth until afterward-- and maybe it was even meant to negate the popular representation in fiction of war as an exciting-- even exhilarating-- experience.  (The remainder of the book definitely does so.)

The same goes for the post-Bugger conflict on Earth and the tying up of the Locke/Demosthenes plot.  It would probably have been boring to read about those things in much detail, but I couldn't help feeling we were cheated of all detail.

I don't know...
I'm probably just too hard to please, and maybe this isn't my ideal genre...

I was annoyed by Ender's reaction to the news that he had defeated the Buggers-- especially since at that time, he had no reason to suppose that they weren't planning another strike against Earth.  Does that make me an awful person?  Am I Peter (minus the ambition or wish for world domination, apparently)?  If I were actually faced with the decision-- given the power-- maybe I would feel more hesitation, but right now, at this moment, I think I'd be the kind to willingly pull the trigger, even if it meant annihilating an entire other world, if I believed it was the only way to ensure the survival of my own-- considering that the inhabitants of this other world had already attacked us twice, showing not the slightest bit of mercy.  (And... they look like bugs.  I'm sorry, but bug-people?  Really?  Now if they were puppy-people...) 

Then there was the end... I was interested by the idea of colonizing the Bugger planets-- the practicalities of it and the gradual development of societies so far removed from whatever was happening back on Earth.  (Makes you wonder how early colonists in America felt about Europe, back before the world got so small...)

It was going well enough (though very sparsely written)-- and then Ender found the "baby-queen-pupa-thing" and magically he could "communicate" with it/them/the Buggers as a collective-- see its memories, know its past, its intentions, its hopes for the future.  Gee, it sure would've been nice if his bug-telepathy ability had worked over greater distances!  Only... Evidently the bugs could pick up on his dreams across that distance... So... Why couldn't they send him "calming thoughts", "we-mean-you-no-harm" vibes, "we're sorry, so sorry" visions-- or something?  (Was this explained, at all?  Not that I noticed.)

Anyway.  In any case, we're supposed to suddenly somehow sympathize with the Buggers?  They didn't understand us, because we couldn't communicate telepathically (or whatever it was they were doing).  O-kay... But obviously we were an advanced, relatively intelligent race.  And even if we weren't-- if we were "the lonely animals who cannot dream each other's dreams"-- would that make it alright for them to come and try to kill us?  (Hint: The correct answer is "no".)

When the hive-queen saw the human attack coming, she felt "sadness, a sense of resignation"-- "They did not forgive us, she thought.  We will surely die."  ...You know what?  YES, we're going to defend ourselves against a perceived threat.  How were humans supposed to "forgive" when they had no way of knowing that you weren't just regrouping before launching an even bigger attack?  Ugh.  Yeah, yeah, to forgive is divine... I know.  But don't ask me to feel sorry for an alien race of bug-people who attacked Earth twice and then decided that they wished they had left us alone. 

...And then, to top it all off, in addition to "rescuing" the pupa and carefully looking for a world where the Buggers can start afresh, Ender cultivates some sort of Bugger-based "religion":  "On Earth it remained a religion among many religions.  But for those who traveled the great cave of space and lived their lives in the hive-queen's tunnels and harvested the hive-queen's fields, it was the only religion."  ...Um, no.  (I am so intolerant!)

So... Clearly, the book ended on a low point for me.  (g)

I liked Ender better before he found Bugger-religion!  I preferred him as a vulnerable, isolated little killing machine who magically won every single game he ever played.