Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: Ender's Game

Written by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game is set in Earth's future and presents an imperiled humanity who have just barely survived two interstellar conflicts with an insectoid alien species known as the Formics (or "buggers" as they are more commonly referred to). Anticipating a third invasion, an international fleet has established a school to find and train future fleet commanders. The world's most talented children are taken at a very young age and are trained in the arts of war through an increasingly difficult games, the main one undertaken in zero gravity where "armies" of children are pitted against each other.

As the name of the book implies, the story focuses on a young protegee named Andrew "Ender" Wiggin. He is the youngest of three children, Ender is enrolled at Battle School at the age of 6 and is sent through the proverbial meat-grinder, hoping these trials and tribulations would groom him into being the fleet commander that will save humanity from their alien enemies.

Ender's Game is an interesting book. For the longest time, I have been rather hesitant to actually read it because of the novel's author. As many know, Card is a devout Mormon and has used his beliefs to justify his bigotry towards those in the LGBT community. Seeing as I am a member of that community (I'm bi-sexual), you could understand my reservations towards Card's body of work. However, I continued to hear good things about Ender's Game with people telling me I should at least give the book a chance. So, after finding a rather cheap copy at my local book store, I decided to purchase it and give it a read.

After finishing the novel, I found myself rather conflicted somewhat conflicted. Ender's Game, if I had to be completely honest, is one of the best science fiction novels I have read in a long time. While the idea behind the book is rather simple, Card does a good job of investing you in the situation and making you feel and understand Ender's plight. While he does some terrible things, you can understand why he did them and in many ways forgive his transgressions because he was either forced into the situation and had to defend himself or the authority figures in his life hid the actual results of his actions from him. While one could argue Card is just making excuses for those who do horrible things during war times (and many people have done so), I feel that its excusable because Card isn't glorifying these actions and when Ender does find out, he is horrified at what he's done and he react's in a rather realistic way.

The book also deals with a number of ideas that I find rather interesting and thought-provoking. As mentioned above, the book asks if we can excuse or justify certain actions if the final result is for the greater good. Card also delves into communication near the end of the book and the tragedies that can result when two sides misunderstand each other without even realizing it. Both are really interesting topics and I believe Card handles them well.

Now, I come to the part that leaves me conflicted. One of the themes that continued to pop up again and again throughout the book was the idea that one should not follow something blindly just because that thing has a place of authority and people will do strange things for the stuff they believe in. Considering Card uses his own religion as an excuse for his stances against homosexuality, I find the inclusion of the idea somewhat hypocritical and strange. While the message is still a good one and one that people should consider and think about, it was still weird when you think about the author's actions.

While I liked the book (even if it let me conflicted at points), Ender's Game is not a perfect book. There are points in the book where Card introduces a new element, but never really explores it too deeply and move onto a new point rather quickly. Also, the last chapter of the book feels a little cluttered with a lot of things happening right after the other in rapid succession. Finally, there are times where Card switches from a third person perspective to a first person perspective when Ender is thinking about something and it can be rather jarring at first.

With that being said, I still really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to those who like a good science fiction story that isn't too complex, but still gives you enough meat to nibble on and think about. However, if you know about Card's personal beliefs, there are a few times during the book where that knowledge might leave you conflicted. While I could handle it and still enjoy Ender's Game, I know some people can't and I would suggest those skip this book.

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