Confession time: Ender’s Game is a book that floated on the periphery of my literary awareness for ages but I’m ashamed to admit that I passed on it for a long, long time because the old cover was completely unappealing to me (I know, I know, I KNOW!!! I should stop making these stupid cover judgments! There are so many fantastic books on my “Thank heavens I read that” pile that I almost didn’t read because of the cover… It’s like that “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” adage was RIGHT or something!)
Anyway, one magical day the stars aligned and not only did I see a rather appealing trailer for the movie but someone mentioned to me (again) just how awesome the book was. Next thing I knew, Ender’s Game had hopped right off the bookstore shelf into my hands and I was half way through it before dinner. Actually, I’m pretty certain I forgot to eat dinner that night I was so thoroughly engrossed.
First of all this book was hands down one of the most heartbreaking stories I have ever read. The curious thing however is that I didn’t even notice I was having my heart torn out, tossed around and chopped up into bits until after I had closed the book and wanted nothing more than to drown my sorrows in a glass of wine, stare out the window and contemplate the tragedy of Ender’s broken childhood. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Let’s start with the genre. I have read quite a bit of science fiction and while Ender’s Game isn’t particularly dense or “scientifically progressive” it instantly rocketed right to the top of my list of all time favorites. (I’m SORRY Asimov! You know I love you!!). The way I see it, the job of science fiction is to reach into the ever shifting well of possible futures and draw out bits and pieces of knowledge and wisdom in the hope of expanding our collective mind, preaching caution and perhaps guiding us into a better world. While many MANY works of science fiction are chalk full of hard science and have been incredibly important in the creation and evolution of science “fiction” into everyday science “fact” Ender’s Game really isn’t one of them. Rather, Ender’s story is a fairly simple and beautifully subtle philosophical exploration of childhood, the abuse of power and the meaning of life (not yours and mine per se but Life and what defines it. A consciousness? A soul?). You know, fluffy stuff. Really though, the philosophy in this book is pretty understated when you consider that it was written as a predecessor to Speaker for the Dead which is overflowing with theology and all such seriousness.
So what was it that made this one so special?? (Fair warning y’all spoilers ahead!)
Well, for me it has absolutely everything to do with Andrew Wiggin or rathar Ender (a decidedly prophetic nickname) and his inconceivable brilliance, utter brutality, innocence (and the total destruction of that innocence) and most of all his overwhelming compassion. People, this kid stole my heart the way he stole the hearts of every other character in the story, except maybe Peter… and Bonzo…and that other kid he killed…. Ok, Ender is also a little scary.
Even before he is shipped off to battle school Ender is a force to be reckoned with. Hell, in the first freaking chapter we witness him tactically analyze and implement the destruction of his childhood bully effectively putting an end to the possibility of being bullied by anyone. Ever. (It turns out this is actually kinda Ender’s thing. Foreshadowing Whhhhhhaaat?) Oh and did I mention he’s only six years old?
Actually, it took me a while to reconcile myself to the ages of the children in this book. Once I made the mental adjustments however, the stark contrast between their chronological age and mind numbing genius set the stage for what would turn into me trying to drown myself in the wine. There was just an unrelenting loneliness attached to all that brilliance. And no one was lonelier or carried a heavier burden than Ender…I seriously doubt he would have let me but the big sister/future mother in me very, VERY much wanted to reach into the pages and scoop that child into my arms…oh and then smack the HELL out of the stupid military asshats who sent these kids off to war.
Ender’s isolation is really a driving theme in this book. First of all he is a “third”. (In a world with a two child limit, thirds are sanctioned only to be given to the elite military for training.) Then of course from the moment he steps into battle school he is singled out as the “most brilliant” by the adults with the express intention of segregating him from his peers. In fact every single milestone in Ender’s journey is marked by another soul crushing level of isolation, most of it manufactured in order to see if he has what it takes to fend for himself and manipulate his circumstances to win the respect and devotion of those he must lead.
And of course he does.
Dear readers, there is a REASON I chose Ender to be the leader of my Zombie apocalypse survival crew. (no clue what I’m talking about? Here’s the post) Even with the likes of June & Day on team apocalypse I am still convinced that Ender’s unique ability to intimately understand what motivates everyone (friends and foes alike) will be the deciding factor in our survival. (OMG I sound like Graff… quick where’d that wine go?!) Anyway, I could try to describe this to you all day but I think I’ll employ the power of a good old fashioned quote instead:
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. And then, in that very moment when I love them – I destroy them.”
Yep. That about sums it up. Total destruction is not just what is Ender is capable of it’s what’s expected of him and ultimately what he accomplishes. And THAT my friends is what destroyed me… Because Ender is not a cold blooded killer (even when he is) he is a child with an extraordinary capacity for empathy and at the end of the book when he has successfully reduced an entire planet to ash and annihilated a race of sentient beings (albiet under the impression that he was playing a “game”) only Ender understands the tragedy of his victory. Well, Ender and perhaps Valentine.
Speaking of Valentine, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the other Wiggin children in this discussion because in many ways they exist in the story to help the reader fully understand Ender. Despite being equally as brilliant as their baby brother the elder Wiggin prodigies were rejected for battle school because of their temperaments. Valentine is far to pacific and empathetic for war and Peter, to quote the text, “has the soul of a jackal” which is a rather poetic way of saying he is a manipulative psychopath (kills small animals and everything). Ender it turns out, is a perfectly balanced blend of his brother and sister which apparently makes him the ideal “savior” for the human race.
It is clear that if Valentine is Ender’s conscious Peter is the Id and the deeper he is sucked into the military the more he fears that side of himself. For me, one of the most fascinating parts of this book was watching Ender delve deeper and deeper into his psyche and face off against his inner Peter in the mind game (BTW in Speaker for the Dead we learn that the mind game was in fact far more significant than it seemed!).
While it’s true that Peter and Valentine serve to provide insight into the heart and soul of their little brother they are still fascinating characters who have a truly unique and thought provoking story of their own. The sociopolitical commentary the author makes through the medium of Demosthenes & Locke is not only impressively advanced for a book technically categorized under “children’s lit” (proving once again that one should NEVER EVER presume to talk down to children or be so ignorant as to think that adults could not learn from stories written for them.) the way in which these two kids are able to essentially lay the foundation for world domination via the “nets” (which was in it’s infancy at the time this book was written *high five SciFi!!*) is incredibly relevant today. I love when that happens!!
So I know this chat has been full of long ass sentences and even more “discussion” than usual….But if you’ve made it with me this far I want you to know that there are many things beyond the soul searching and philosophy; like the relationships Ender builds with the other children in battle school (Bean, Ali, Dink and Petra) not to mention the awesomeness that is Mazer Rackham and ALL of the battle school battles (Really, I seriously want to try that ZeroG thing) that made this book wonderful.. But when I’m honest with myself one thing made this one of the best books I have read this year (and I know you’re all ‘But LJ you love every book’ I don’t. I just skip discussing the ones I don’t like).
It moved me.
When the story was over and Ender had shouldered the full weight of the xenocide he was “responsible” for I sat there staring into that glass of dark red wine and my heart was actually broken for Ender Wiggin as if he was a real child who had become a part of my soul. I felt this way for days… So I did what any rational adult would do….I called my mother and launched an Epic conversation on life the universe and everything (42 by the way) and still I felt a little empty… and that’s when I knew that Ender’s Game is one of those books I will read over and over forever. I have already read it out-loud to my husband (because I do that) and passed it on to anyone who will listen to me ramble (I can be very persuasive…though my sis might call it demanding). I will save it for my children and accidentally slip it into their backpacks and right now I will tell you, if you haven’t already, to go wander by your local bookstore and see if it accidentally jumps into your hands. You won’t be sorry.
Of course if you have read it… I would love NOTHING more than to know what YOU thought!!! Did you explore your feelings and your wine cellar (I don’t actually have one of those) too??
And if you haven’t and by some miracle you’re still reading and would like to read an actual, well organized REVIEW go check out this excellent post by Nath over at One Woman’s Opinions (she’s so much better at talking plot!) 🙂