Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
There are books that you read when you're younger that, for some reason or other, when you go back to re-visit them, they seem to have changed on you. Of course, it's you that's different, but it doesn't feel that way. It feels like the book has betrayed you; has messed with your mind in some way so that what it was able to do was to plant false memories, so that over the years, you've convinced yourself that the book had impacted you, had meant something that, it turns out, it didn't. The disappointment is devastating. Luckily, Ender's Game does not suffer from reader's remorse. It is as fully engaging, adventurous, and heartbreaking as it first seemed to me when I read it in high school.
It had been a long time, about 10 years, since I had first read the book. However, with a novel so fully-fleshed out as this, it's a difficult one to forget. It's the kind of novel, I've learned, that gets passed around from friend to friend, word of mouth, until, when you meet someone that hasn't read it, at first there's the shock of such a statement, then a fleeting sadness for something that's clearly missing in the person's life and then the immediate recommendation and/or handing over of a battered copy filled with turned-down pages, coffee-stains (well you hope they're coffee stains) and a spine that's been so overused that it frequently falls open of it's own accord. Perhaps I'm over-romanticizing this, but the bottom line is that, if you're a fan of science fiction and you have still managed to not read this book, please, immediately finish whatever you are in the middle of and then kindly pick up the nearest paper or electronic copy of this book.
I myself was the unwitting target of the "you have to read this" recommendation and being the gullible 18 year old that I was at the time, I accepted. I found out two things about myself after reading it: 1) I could only wish of having an imagination and the wherewithal to tell such a complex story in such a straightforward way (I'm still wishing this and hoping that someday it comes true) and 2) I was indeed the geek that I had always feared I might be. Ender's Game will always be the book that finally helped me come to terms with the fact that I was a Sci-Fi fan.
The premise is deceptively simple. Set in a future in which space travel is not only common, but necessary, a 6-year-old, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin has, for all intents and purposes been "manufactured" to become the next great military commander. Removed from his family, he attends Battle School with other children his age, the next great era of soldiers, all specially chosen to defeat an alien race that none of them have ever actually had any contact with. He's a genius, a brilliant tactician, everything the military could have asked for, and yet, he's still, ultimately a child. A child who reasons with adult logic, but who still feels things as intensely as you can only do when you're young. For a while, the novel seems mostly fun and games, literally, but with political and religious undertones that bring what could be an other-worldly story squarely to the human level.
Now, I know that there are people who have an issue with Orson Scott Card for his own political standings, and some people who are incapable of separating author from story, but I hope that more people are able to read this novel with an open mind. Ultimately it's a story not about any category of ideals, but about humans and human nature. What we expect, what we teach, what we want, and most importantly what we need. It's a novel about how, even in the darkest, coldest places of the world, where it seems like only cruelty and calculation can make a difference, love, friendship and forgiveness can still be found, and that best part of us is always what we hope to come back to.
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