Title: Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Adults don’t understand much, do they?
You thought it as a kid. So did I. Older people were stupid. They didn’t see answers right in front of their noses and when we pointed it out for them it was impossible for them to have not found it themselves and so they claimed the small victory, because we were children and we didn’t understand. The dedication of Ender’s Game- For Geoffrey, who makes me remember how young and how old children can be- speaks to the moment of epiphany, when we are understood finally for who we are and for what we know.
Then we have to go grow up and spoil the whole thing.
I’m not going to lie. I avoided reading Ender’s Game because- like Lord of the Rings, like the The Shining- it has become genre dogma. Science fiction changed forever when the book was released and because of this, it is one of many Bibles. I do not approve of genre dogma. True, there are fantastic books and these books are used as examples and tools for other books. That’s the way of things. In my short life, however, I’ve met plenty of eternal dicks who believe that dogma should control all aspects of their work. For example, a starship is not a starship unless it has massive laser guns.
To those believers in the false faith I say: have you ever fucking read Ender’s Game?
The premis can be summed up nicely: in a future where aliens have struck earth twice, a boy named Andrew Wiggin is selected, despite being a Third child, to go to Battle School. There he is trained to become an elite commander before he reaches puberty, because if the aliens invade a third time, the human race will likely not survive.
That is the synopsis of Ender’s Game. It doesn’t touch even remotely on the utter majesty of it.
Sci fi rarely impresses me. So much emphasis is put on the what and the how and the why- this alien species, this obscure historical fact, this voyage to the stars. I expected the same out of Ender Wiggin. I was proven wonderfully wrong. Ender is all too human, and that is what makes this story. He grapples with what no one wants to talk about- the fact that we as human beings, who live individual lives mentally cut off from others, are often controlled not by our desires but by the destinies others shape for us. The shapes these destinies take are not always pleasant, and definitely not always fair.
To understand what makes Ender’s Game, you need to be empathic, and no, I’m not talking Xmen. Empathy is the ability to see or sense another person’s emotions and mimic them. Empathy and sympathy are closely linked; you can’t truly have one without the other. I fancy my empathy is maybe at the Alpha stage. This book tore my heart out and stomped on it. Of course it hits close to home in ways I’ll leave put, because that’s what personal blogs are for; suffice to say that Ender has all of my sympathy.
The style of the book is a new one for me. Regular descriptive sentences are linked in with more poetic verses and then touched with dialogue that seems better suited to a book of philosophy than a war with aliens. Of course a large part of the war with the aliens is philosophy; destroy your enemy and don’t you destroy yourself? If a war ends, what do soldiers then become? If one sibling is evil, and the second is only slightly less evil, will the third overpower them both?
Uncomfortable questions. Ender Wiggin asks a lot of them, and sometimes he gets answers. More often than not the reader intuits the answers and has a moment of dawning and sometimes horrific realization. It’s a typical thing reading this book. Despite the discomfort of knowing that you can see the train coming, you can’t step off the track. The climax of the book comes as a surprise only if you wanted to have faith in the desire of the old to contain the innocence of the young.
This is a book about growing up. Not your typical growing up- chest hair, weird feelings, losing your dog or going on your first date. This is that hard slide from third base to home when you think you’ve got it in the bag and it turns out that all this time you didn’t know anything at all, they were just humoring you, the base moved and the duggout’s gone. It is in that moment that you grow up. Maybe some of us don’t remember it like that. But it was like that.
There are all kinds of sayings about the wisdom of children; Ender’s Game addresses all of them in due time. The sad fact of the matter is that as people isolated in our own worlds we feel the need to break that which comes to us fresh and new, in a way we once were and will never be again. Do we actively seek to destroy children? Maybe. That’s a debate for another time. Let’s get back to Ender.
How can a book simultaniously be about the movement to adulthood and the regression to a childlike wisdom? Tell children war is a game. Isn’t that all it is, really? Two opposing forces with expendable resources going at one another to prove who is the bigger man, who is right, whose way of governing is best? Dedicated soldiers and political conservatives would argue, I suppose. The purest war on earth could be fought by children with small wooden swords on a playground. Instead of a wooden sword, Ender is given a battleship; the conclusion is inevitably the same. You remember pulling off a fly’s wings, or a daddy longleg’s legs, or drowning anthills in water. Only a child could kill so callously. Only a child can win a war.
There is a question of genetic intent in Ender’s Game. Is Ender really a killer? Was he made one? Does it matter? To him. We all ask ourselves questions as we grow. Why am I doing this, does it make me happy, am I like my mother or brother or grandfather? What says that we have to be what others have put forth? Fear. Ender fears becoming his brother and so he is the best commander, the kind who can negotiate losses and casualties without reveling in the murder. In doing this he becomes what others want him to be. From the beginning, he had no choice at all.
Everyone should read Ender’s Game. What you will get out of it is dependent upon you. If you think of it only as the Grandfather of your favorite sci fi series, open your eyes; sci fi is as much a tool, a symbol, as anything in the regular fiction section. It teaches a lesson we all have to learn and, in my humble opinion, learn soon.
It’s almost too late. But, like my father before me, I say: almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.