“Peter, you’re twelve years old. I’m ten. They have a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice.”
36 years today, Orson Scott Card’s military science fiction Ender’s Game was published, and there are few today who wouldn’t mention it in a conversation about English sci-fi. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is the best piece of sci-fi I have ever read, but it is remarkable.
(Source: Goodreads )
The premise of the book is the cause of every war in one sentence—old men instigated war, young men must fight them and bear the consequences too— taken to the extreme. Set in an undefined future, the government of Earth runs a breeding programme to shape children into perfect soldiers, capable of battling the impending second wave of alien invasions, in order to safeguard Earth from a hostile extraterrestrial race called the Buggers.
Cue our main protagonist, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, third genius sibling in his family, who is snatched from his family for Battle School at the age of six. A misfit, Ender’s closest friend was his loneliness, a consequence of the adults making decisions for him. At the Battle School, Ender is challenged and manipulated to no end. His classmates admire him, and even despise him. His teachers push his limits and control his environment in order to mold him into the soldier they think will be perfect.
It’s a character study of a little boy whose childhood is being denied to him by adults who are pretending to pander to it. Battle games are simply that: games, but the outcomes have real-world ramifications. Ender’s unblemished track record – his knack for innovative thinking ensures that he never loses, even when the odds are impossibly stacked against him — earns him adversaries, and an assassination attempt is made on his life. Ender’s blinders come off when he successfully defends himself against one, employing the same quick-thinking skills that helped him win in the Battle Room. The brutal realities of life and death are dealt with in this realm of children’s games. The book sheds gruesome light on the psychological link between war and child abuse, two of humanity’s most heinous crimes. The perceived alien hostility, to me, is metaphorical to humanity faced with overwhelming threat, and the book is a tale of just how quick humanity can turn to sheer brutality in the name of survival, or even lesser emotions such as jealousy.
Card has woven inclusiveness into his most famed story. Ender’s Game is a rare example of a Muslim character in American fiction who is portrayed positively. It’s even better that it comes from a hugely popular Christian novelist with generations of American ancestors.
I have my reasons to not love the book. The lesser one, perhaps is this- I feel like most characters never really grow. People change occupations, attend other schools, and rise in ranks. Despite the fact that Ender grows from six to eleven years old during the length of the novel, we see no evidence of growth or change in any of the characters, they are one dimensional to a great extent.
The larger reason is ideology. I cannot conclusively decide on whether one should separate art from its artist, or if there is a level of crime and hatred to warrant hating art because of the artist. Card is homophobic, and outrageously so. Rare as it may be, the homophobia, and even sexism peek through here and there. Orson Scott Card’s views on and against homosexuality have gotten a lot of attention, and these can’t go unacknowledged. Card’s ideas are especially irritating because they contradict what makes “Ender’s Game” good. The novel explores how we value life, particularly when the life we are valuing is that of a perceived threat or enemy. It forces Ender, as well as the reader, to ponder whether actions might be considered moral or immoral in the face of danger.
“Human beings are free except when humanity needs them. Maybe humanity needs you. To do something. Maybe humanity needs me—to find out what you’re good for. We might both do despicable things, Ender, but if humankind survives, then we were good tools.”
It’s saddening that a novel on the worth of life could have been written by someone who can’t accept the sexual identities of millions of people.
“Human beings may be miserable specimens, in the main, but we can learn, and, through learning, become decent people.”