Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do the ends justify the means?

What if the only way to save your planet from certain annihilation is to ruthlessly manipulate a young child into becoming a solder who is skilled enough to destroy billions of your enemy, to make him into a killer?

With Ender's Game, the reader gets to ponder this question. I had many thoughts as I read this story. I didn't always understand what was going on. Like Ender, I questioned where the game ended and reality began. Children in the environment of this book don't get to be kids for long at all, especially when they are genius children. Instead, they become soldiers, training day in and day out to be the best, to win, to conquer their enemies. All for the purpose of defeating the alien race that Earth views as a deadly enemy (called Buggers) in the coming war. I questioned how a six-year-old kid could even grasp this. Even a genius child. As I read, I questioned the ruthlessness of adults who would put a child through these experiences. It takes a certain personality, a particular mindset to able to justify one's actions. It's hard not to judge, but then, I'm not in the same situation. And I was grateful for that.

I just wanted Ender to have some peace and be able to just be a child. I cheered for him to find his way past the many mazes he was manipulated through. I didn't ever lose faith in him, because he had proven himself worthy of my faith. Even though I wondered what was the whole point of everything, I didn't stop believing in Ender. I was glad that Ender managed to find that light that kept him moving forward. Sometimes it was in the form of his beloved sister, Valentine, and other times, it was his fellow students, and sometimes it was the determination not to let them see him sweat. Whatever it was, this kid didn't break. I liked that about the book.

Some things didn't sit well with me as I read. I couldn't always visualize the game setup at Battle School as clearly as I would have liked. Instead of letting this throw me out of the read, I just managed to fill in the blanks around my lack of understanding and keep reading. Maybe Card meant it that way, but it was interesting how warfare became an experience that felt more like playing a video game than a face to face meeting of enemies. I wondered where that was going, but I soon found out, and I was like, "Are you serious?" I don't care much for mind games and boy was there some serious mind-screwing going on in this book. Perhaps his point was that as technology advances, warfare becomes more and more dehumanized, and it takes away the immediacy of the moral questions of taking a life, and using soldiers like pawns on a board to do so. As above expressed, the ruthless treatment of children and its effects hit me hard. They did not make for easy reading for me. On one level, I understand that a lot of psychology goes into training soldiers, and I know that some of it is necessary. I just wonder where the line gets drawn. The aspects of Peter and Valentine's political experiment left me a bit cold. I wasn't sure what Card was trying to get across here. Is the political arena just a big elaborate game in and of itself, a game that has the potential to have very disastrous and wide-reaching effects? Or was he trying to say that age is just a number? Kids aren't really kids, depending on the society and the situation that the child inhabits. Still not sure about either of those conclusions I drew. As close as I can get, anyway. Lastly, the ending got a bit strange. While I appreciated the aspects about Ender gaining an appreciation for the mind (the human-like aspects) of the Bugger civilizations, things got a bit weird and abstract when Ender's empathy with the Buggers became a philosophy that turned into a religion. It felt disconnected from the story to me, and added to a certain lack of satisfaction I felt overall. I appreciate the fact that he examined how war, differing philosophies, external differences, what have you, can separate entities in a way that if we strip down all the differences, there is a lot more alike than we think.

Final Thoughts:

Ender's Game is a well-written work of science fiction that has a lot to say about subjects that can make for hairy discussion. Subjects that I tend to avoid discussing with a ten-foot pole. War is as old as mankind. Literature is a good sounding board to explore those questions of war and humanity. Overall, I think that this novel does a good job of staying in the story and not just acting as a soundboard for the author's opinion. I am sure that others may disagree. For myself, I didn't necessarily feel that it was a preachy work. If it was, I think both sides of the questions were adequately presented in such a manner as for me to feel that this was a book with a story that had some themes that could get a reader thinking. Not mere propaganda for espousing one person's beliefs.

I liked this book a lot, but I felt the ending took it down from a five star rating for me. Also, my sense of disconnection at not quite getting some of the gaming aspects. I'm sure that others better versed in gaming or military strategy, or better read in science fiction might have visualized and understood those elements better than this reader. For what it was, this was a good book, and I can say that I gained a lot from reading it. I still have some philosophical questions running through my head now, and I feel that I have yet to make up my mind about those things, as there are always two sides to every story. So for me, that's a good experience, getting a good story and something to think about in the end.

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