Ender’s Game Review

In this blog, I take on a very important topic to some: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I have some very strong opinions on the book and the movie.

Tread lightly, sir. So, last summer, at the behest of one of my nerdy friends, I finally got around to reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I’d been bugged to do it since I was a teenager by the nerdy wing of my friend group (basically all of my friends when I put it that way), but just hadn’t wanted to do it. Still, wanting to be able to talk about the movie intelligently, I finally picked up the book and gave it a read.

Now, a note on Science Fiction and Fantasy in general. I do not often read these genres. I love Bradbury and Asimov and Philip K. Dick and Lewis and Tolkien, but that’s about where my interests end. Generally, I’ve found that I do not appreciate the sort of hard Sci-fi and Fantasy that often lacks real and interesting characters. (Plus, with Fantasy, I feel like it’s such a narrow genre, it ends up often feeling like a constant attempt to replicate Tolkien. You can read more on my feelings on the Fantasy genre here.)

You’re going to alienate your only reader, you know that, right? So, I would say, with that qualifier, that I did not particularly enjoy either version of Ender’s Game. And yeah, it boils down to character. The thing about Ender that bothers me the most is that the kid is flawless. He’s super capable at a super early age, never loses in any competition or fight, and every time he displays some violent behavior, he’s wholly justified because it was out of self-defense.

I know Sci-fi does not depend heavily on characters, and as one of my dear friends put it, “It’s about the big picture.” In this case, I suppose we’re talking about themes. And yes, Ender’s Game does make some interesting comments on the morality of war, even just war theory, but for me, that’s not enough. If Card wants to lay down a philosophy on war and how society justifies it, he’d have been better off writing an essay, rather than creating thin type characters to preach his message for him. I mean, we destroy Ayn Rand for this all of the time (rightfully so), but at least she had a fully fleshed-out belief system that no reader could miss (because she beats us over the head with it … again and again and again and again … ).

Well, it’s just you and me again. I feel like this story, while exciting, does little to let us identify with the main character, except perhaps through wish fulfillment. Think about it. Here’s a smart little kid who beats the daylights out of any bullies that cross his path. He’s not an amazing physical specimen. He’s not an athlete. But he kicks so much ass. What nerdy little kid couldn’t want to be that? And I feel like that’s the secret of the success of this book. And that aspect isn’t a knock. It works. We see this sort of wish fulfillment in lots of genres. For example, the Romance genre is full of wooden characters that are impossible to identify with as read people, and yet it’s super popular. This is real fantasy (and yes, I’m talking to you, oh whittler of mannequins and self-proclaimed Hemingway of your day, Nicholas Sparks {WARNING: do not read that interview unless you feel like both laughing out loud and getting angry.}).

You’re a wooden character. Fair enough. So, I think this book does something special for a readership that wants to escape their life and embody one much more unrealistic and exciting. I don’t think it’s a particularly good book, despite its heavy themes. This is just my take.

The book was better than the movie, right? Well, so, I watched the movie adaptation the other day at a very sketchy $2.50 theater. In this case, I kind of enjoyed the movie better. Though the movie was essentially set up like one long video game, it was nice to have victory after victory after victory by Ender trimmed down. And I feel like the movie makers did a decent job of trying to humanize the boy more, though not by much. I’m not saying I loved the movie. In fact, I think I enjoyed my bag of popcorn and cup of Mr. Pibb about as much (though I do love Mr. Pibb … I like it even beter than Dr. Pepper).

You apologize. Sorry nerd fans. Maybe I don’t get the story. Maybe I don’t get the genre. I try to be open-minded about Fantasy and Sci-fi, but generally I am disappointed by my excursions into those genres. What am I missing? Am I approaching them wrong? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

About Adam Nannini

The greatest writer of his generation ... which isn't saying much.
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4 Responses to Ender’s Game Review

  1. Mark says:

    Saw this in GR at the cheap seats too, and also wasn’t super impressed. I would just add that after seeing the movie, I thought long and hard about why I liked the book so much when I read it, and I think it’s Ender’s cleverness, which the movie almost wholly lacks. Reading, I was interested to see how Ender would overcome long odds, and like a sucker, I kept figuring at some point he might fail, so the win was satisfying. Ultimately, it’s not a character driven book, and I think another question you might ask is, are there other sorts of books that could work other than those driven by character? Why? Why not?

  2. Not Vonnegut says:

    Weird. I just finished reading this book myself. I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about it. I read it in about 48 hours while on vacation, so obviously something about it intrigued me. Maybe I just wanted to find out what happened (though the final battle “finale” was a softball pitch and easy to see coming). Personally, I see no wish fulfillment with the character of Ender. I mostly just felt sorry for him. Really I felt sorry for or at least could sympathize with pretty much every character in the book. And yeah, the story is obviously a comment on war, morality and the thin line we tread as a society blah blah blah. I got the point. However, I found the final chapters or perhaps what should be considered the epilogue kinda cool. Maybe it’s just the tone the story takes toward the end or the way it almost reads like a story being retold many years later, but something about it stuck with me. Just two cents from a non-writer.

  3. Elle says:

    So, we were talking yesterday and you went on this rant about all writing being essentially the same in the sense that it all involves rhetoric and tries to teach us things. You said that the lines between fiction and essay were almost completely arbitrary…etc. But in the above review you seem to be holding Ender’s Game to a pretty rigid definition of “story” as something that must be character driven.
    To me science fiction is about ideas, and it’s a mirror (like satire). So when you read a good science fiction work it’s interesting to look at the time it was written in and what it says about that time. I think science fiction stories tend to highlight things we’re normally blind to, drawing our focus to things we take for granted.

  4. Ben M says:

    Well Adam here are my thoughts. I will begin with admitting that I am biased. I love the book. Love it to death. I have read it many many times and listened to it on tape many times on trips. My point is that I am at least very familiar with it and have thought about it beyond the first read when you’re actually trying to follow the plot. That being said: Something I think you should consider is the POV. It’s Ender primarily with some Valentine segments (who I notice you do not mention). So we begin from the close 3rd perspective of a six year old kid who is constantly confused, tricked, and lied to by just about everyone. He doesn’t know much about his own parents, he has unhealthy relationships with most people besides Valentine (and that one could be argued as unhealthy on a dependence level), and we are never actually sure what he is. We are set in a war-driven futuristic society that is breeding soldiers as they also limit population growth on the planet. the term selective breeding is never mentioned, nor is any sort of genetic engineering, but you get the sense that many children are almost being manufactured via the government on some level to find the right kind of genius to lead. Ender never questions the extreme unlikeliness of two parents of no particular intelligence having three genius-level children, but shouldn’t we? How is that possible? The government even allows a Third in this rare situation (or is it rare?). An entire galactic school of hundreds of genius-level children? So again, who is to say what Ender actually is. I assume he is a natural child but I have my doubts about the coincidence of genius siblings and government allowance of extra children on the thin hope of that third child being a genius. But again, we don’t know because we only know what Ender knows. And he is cut off. Watched. He is lied to even about simple things. They say the rotating space station creates gravity through its rotation and yet Ender finds out that unnecessary lie. The limits of technology are never explained. The possibilities are never explained either (Mind Game anyone?). And I accept this because I am Ender and he cannot understand these things because even a genius in a box is as ignorant as an idiot in one. He would simply understand far more about the interior of the box. On your note about Ender’s flawlessness: I would say he is incredibly flawed and constantly frustrated by that flaw. He may have some claim to self-defense in every situation where he had to get nasty and violent but he also tended to entrap himself inside them and once inside, take whatever measures he saw fit. And what he saw was not morality or something like it. He seemingly barely has one. He is flawed in that he barely understands what is “right” or “wrong” and only understands self-preservation. We sympathize with that because we see him as his core self: a manipulated child. But his capabilities on an intellectual level and his fleeting understanding of love through Valentine provide him with anguish. After all, Ender’s sensibilities are crafted almost entirely by Valentine’s care and Peter’s abuse. He understands nothing else and essentially treats people as either a Valentine or a Peter. Or perhaps he treats others as a Valentine until they become a Peter (or he is tricked into believing they are a Peter-like entity). Also, I don’t read too much into the military aspect of the book. I don’t see some great commentary about war and changing people/degradation/whatever. The book hides it in the periphery of ender’s struggle to become human or understand what being human is as he is hardly surrounded by any “normal” person throughout the novel. Perhaps readers identify with him because we all at times feel surrounded by unreadable strangers that are as alien as buggers at times and at our most basic level the fight or flight, kill or be killed instinct may very well be permanently and tragically embedded in everyone. Hence why people kill each other. A bit simplistic but its not about nations. It is about individuals and their choices. So no. I do not see Ender as an exaggerated metaphor of the slowly dehumanized soldier. He is bred into war but somehow rises above it at the same time. He understands how knowing someone intimately is how to best hurt them. these aren’t really traits of war or at least are far more basic traits of human relationships. Anyway, I could blabber on forever but instead have to get back to work. Let me know if you want to talk about it sometime. I clearly have opinions.

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