Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Imagine a time when the Earth's population has grown to the point where population control isn't something done by repressive regimes, but by every nation in order to keep society from overwhelming every resource. Imagine that families are limited to two children and must have the governments approval for a Third. Imagine that religion is forbidden, because the conflicts it causes are too dangerous in such a world. Now imagine that the world is under attack from beyond, an alien race, the Bugger's, has discovered Earth and invasion has begun. How would we handle it? What length would you go to, as a soldier, as an officer, as a politician, to protect the world?
In Enders's Game, originally written by Orson Scott Card as a novelette in 1977, we catch a glimpse of one possible way such a future could unfold. And we follow the story of one young man, a Third, as he makes his way from his home to the forefront of battle, all before he turns 18.
The Story of Ender.
Andrew Wiggen, known as Ender, is a Third. Resented by his brother, loved by his sister, and wanted by the military, he shows a unique and keen strength, and is chosen by the government to leave all he knows behind to take his place in the Battle School, an orbiting training ground where the International Fleets takes the Earth's best and brightest to become officers. It isn't under the care and love of his family that Ender grows to maturity, it's under the watchful eye and careful manipulation of the military.
See, mankind is under attack by the Buggers, and the military knows that to find the right leader, they need to start with someone young that can be molded and developed into the leader they really need. And through testing and observation, they believe they have seen something in young Ender that will fit their needs. But just finding the right person isn't enough, they have to be in the right environment. So the Battle School is built in orbit, away from the distractions of the world and the prying eyes of the politicians. With all the best that the military can offer, young men and women from around the world are brought to the school, trained and tested, before going out to lead the military's fleet.
And Ender is the best there ever was, no doubt. A genius who is the best hope to save humanity. And so the military designs a special program for him, one designed to test him to the fullest, and if necessary, break him, before he can break while leading the fleet. They isolate him, not just from his family, but from his men, from his comrades, from anyone who might keep him from reaching his fullest potential. And Ender survives. Every day he improves. But everyone has their limits and eventually Ender reaches his, and when he does, his decision will leave a lasting impression on a world, and a race.
A Family Affair.
Ender isn't the only genius, though. His older brother, Peter, and sister, Valentine, are finding their own genius. Peter has found that he wants what his brother doesn't, power. Authority. Dominion. And when Ender was home, he found that by tormenting his younger brother. But with Ender gone, Peter chooses to direct his plans outward, and manipulates Valentine into assisting him. Using the Internet and its system of message boards (as Card imagined it), Peter finds an outlet for his dreams and ambitions, and combining his brains with Valentine and her ability to craft words, he is able to slowly begin building support for a political movement that will reshape the planet, once the alien threat has been dealt with.
It seems that Peter is one of the few people who have seen that the worldwide alliance is a fragile peace, at best, and that once the external threat is gone, the alliance will begin to crumble. By appealing to the masses, and building support from the common man, Peter begins to build his base of support so that when the threat passes, and the peace fails, he can be there to hold things together.But he finds he can't do it alone.
Valentine was always there to protect Ender when Peter sought to torment him. Now, with Ender a thousand miles above her, she finds herself in an unforeseen, and unhappy, alliance with Peter. She has seen what Peter has seen, and recognizes the danger. And what at first was a playful way to distract Peter from his more destructive tendencies becomes a far more serious development of ideas that will help Peter take charge of a world.
A Deeper Meaning
Ender's Game, as I said, was originally a short story, intended primarily as an introduction to Ender, as well as the world he's left behind when we find him in Speaker For The Dead. The expanded novel has since become one of the top science fiction books ever, consistently named a top choice by readers. Why should a simply story about a boy and his war have gained so much attention? I believe it's because the story isn't about war, or even politics, but about relationships.
The relationship between Ender and Valentine that pulls him back from his despair to return for the fight. Enders relationship with his team, the way he molds and drives them, and the way that when he needs them the most, they rise up to give back. The relationship between Peter and Valentine and how they find a way to use each other to get what they need. The relationship between Ender and the Bugger's. How he develops empathy for his enemy, and uses that to destroy them . Between Peter and Ender, and how the relationship between family members shapes us and molds us in ways we never expect, and how in the long run we can use it and turn even the worst things to good.
I think it's the way Card develops and uses these relationships, shows how one person can be so strongly affected and influenced by the people around them, that they lose track of what their own limits are and can be pushed to any length. This is, to me the real point of the story.
Ender as Hitler *Spoiler alert*
I recently came across the article "Creating the Innocent Killer:Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality" by John Kessel, and thought it was an interesting look at the Ender story. I disagree with it entirely, but still interesting.The basis for his argument is in the morality of Ender and the death's of some of the boys that Ender fights throughout the book, culminating in an act of genocide, and the fact that Card demonstrates a morality based on intention rather than act: "we are urged many times to judge a character’s actions not on their effect (even when that effect is fatal) but on the motives of the person performing the action."
Kessel cites an essay by Elaine Radford that was published by Fantasy Review in 1987. This essay makes a comparison between Adolf Hitler and the character Ender and states that Ender's Game is an apologia for Hitler. And Card himself has responded in his own defense, pointing out that the actions of the two are significantly different.
I would point out that the intention of the two people are wildly different. Hitler intended to destruction of the Jewish race. Ended intended to end a game. One vital point that both Kessel and Radford seem to have missed is that until the end, Ender was the only person who didn't know that he was being manipulated and that he was commanding real people. Hitler can't say that. Would Ender have made those same choices if he knew? The same basic idea applies to the deaths before: Ender never learned that the boys were killed, only that he never encountered them again.
And how did he react when he learned that he was responsible for genocide? There was no gloating, there was no pleasure at defeating the enemy. He was deeply distraught and upset by what he had inadvertently done. Knowing that he had acted in ignorance, yet still feeling the burden of genocide, he took upon himself the task of bring the Bugger queen t a place where she could live once more. Would Hitler have brought the last Jewish baby to a place of safety to grow?
Intention is everything. A driver that swerves to avoid a kid, and kills an adult, obviously he is accountable for his actions, but would we compare him with the drunk or distracted driver that hits a pedestrian? The doctor who tries to save a life but accidentally cuts a patient, is he as culpable as a man who draws a knife in a bar? How do you judge any action as good or evil without looking at the intention of the actor, as part of the act?
Read the book? Like it or hate it? Which book in the series did you enjoy most or least? I'd love to hear your thoughts and insights, especially any opinions on the "Ender as Hitler" idea. Thanks.