Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Ender's Game: a Review

As a family we just finished reading “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. I was very apprehensive about reading it with the kids because of the quite serious theme, especially near the end. Not surprisingly Rachel has been having a very hard time with it. I remember being disturbed by the book when I first read it in High School. I shared my concerns with my father who encouraged me to continue on and read “Speaker for the Dead”. The sequel does redeem many of the seriously unethical aspects of the first book, but on its own I cannot recommend that anybody read “Ender’s Game”.
Lately I’ve been reading several book s on psychology, decision making, ethics and philosophy. It’s with this extra education that I was even more disgusted by “Ender’s Game”. If you haven’t read the book and don’t want any spoilers, stop reading now.
In the first Chapter the government has intentionally bred a child to be the commander of the next army. They even violated local laws in order to allow the child to be born. Not only did this child have little to no choice about his future, this is just the tip of the iceberg for the ends-justifies-the-means mentality that influences every single action of the government as it pertains to Ender.
At an age when he can still show you how old he is with his fingers Ender is intentionally put into situations where he is forced to defend himself. Eventually he even is forced to kill. He is also praised for not stopping when the threat is simply gone, but to continue until he completely destroys his enemy. In the most brutal scene he continues to attack a fellow student after he is knocked unconscious. As if allowing this wasn’t unethical enough Ender’s handlers told him that his victims were merely transferred and concealed the true horror of his actions from him.
All this was foreshadowing for the last few chapters. There Ender is deceived again, this time into destroying an entire species. Again the full scope of his actions was held from him. He was told that the war he was fighting was just a game. They encouraged him to be unethical and to not play by any rules. By his own admission he cheated. He just wanted to end the game. They weren’t real. He was encouraged to believe that the enemy was teachers and that’s the only game he was trying to win. Had he known the full scope of his actions he likely would have responded differently.
The really disturbing part of the last chapters came when you realize that the war was over before he had attacked. The buggers were trying to apologize for their mistaken invasion but simply didn’t know how to communicate with us. Victoria and I even speculated that the second attack, which was a complete victory for the humans, was even a peace offering to make them feel victorious and not pursue the issue any further. Had they not encouraged totally destruction as the only definition of victory there would have been no further conflict.
So why am I getting so upset about this? It’s only fiction, right? Unfortunately we live in a world where far too many people believe that once you’ve defined and enemy the only thing left is too destroy them. We live in a world were decent people will succumb to situational evil and commit unspeakable atrocities. We’ve sacrificed American values and liberty in the name of victory and didn’t even give diplomacy a fair chance. Our leaders define political opinions as if there were only patriots and terrorists and nothing in between. We post hoc justify all of this as if the actions themselves are proof of their efficacy. Just because we destroyed a counties ability to wage war doesn’t prove that they were planning an attack. We have manipulated congress, the public and the media with false information to support going to war. Etc. etc. etc. The parallels from this book are far too many for me to simply dismiss it as fiction.
Card has had numerous calls from Hollywood to turn this book into a movie. I confess that I think the training at the battle school would make for good action scenes. I am just very concerned that those scenes would be the only take-away and the overwhelming horror of his childhood would be lost.
We’re going to read “Speaker for the Dead” next. It’s a much better book for exactly the opposite reasons that I disliked “Ender’s Game”. Ender is allowed to think. He doesn’t rush to judgment. He has a conscience and diplomacy is encouraged. But most of all he understands what he is doing and why. It makes him a much better leader and a better human being. I think Rachel will be able to sleep a little better once we finish it.


  1. If you haven't already done so, I would recommend Ender in Exile. It covers the gap between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.

  2. Cool, I just finished reading Card's latest, Ender in Exile! It is a direct sequel to Ender's Game and preceeds Speaker for the Dead. But yea, Speaker does a nice job of letting Ender think and helping him cope with his guilt. Sounds like some fun family time reads.

  3. It's on my reading list but so ae quite a few others too. Thanks for the recommendations.

  4. FYI
    Release date Nov 10, 2009
    Orson Scott Card
    The authorized Ender Companion written by Jake Black

  5. Anonymous5:46 PM

    Acutally you should read all the Ender series. I think there is six books in it now. The later books do a great job explaining the first and making your point.

    Adam K.

  6. I've read the first four and I'm currently working on Ender in Exile. I own Ender's Shadow but haven't cracked the spine on it yet.

  7. Anonymous4:41 PM

    I have also been reading the Enders game series and have put some stuff on my ideas behind the philosophy behind it on my blog check it out if you want to