I have to read by snatching a few scant pages at a time, and I’m reading several books right now. I finally finished “Ender’s Game,” a book which I read upon the recommendation of my brother.
Overall? I was quite impressed.
I have several thoughts and spoilers will abound. ALL SPOILERS.
Basic plot: Distant future after a war with an alien bug race. Genius children are culled from the population to train so that one might be found who can lead a successful (and final) war against the bugs. The main character (Ender) is put into training at age—I think—seven and it is made clear he is supposed to be this great Commander who can lead the earthlings to victory against the bugs. The entire book is the various levels of training, but also not, because in the end the kid finds out that his last series of “mock” battles over the “simulator” were not mock battles at all, but real.
Meanwhile, on earth, his two genius siblings—the brutal Peter, and the kind Valentine—are directing global politics via…essays, apparently?
I don’t know how, but I’m fair certain I heard/read something somewhere that put it in my mind that the ending of the book was a trick. So when those final “mock” battles happened, I knew in the back of my mind that they were probably real, and Ender was actually destroying a whole alien race and world without knowing it. I think, otherwise, this is supposed to come as a great shock. It is well forshadowed, however, in that Ender actually kills two other kids (in a ferocious and highly aggressive self-defense) without knowing it also.
Anyhow, the majority of the book is focused on the sorts of psychological and circumstantial manipulations that occur in military training with the intent to produce certain reactions and capabilities in the soldiers/marines. This is a real thing, I will attest, although the trainers in the book sometimes use certain methods that I do NOT think would produce good results in real life.
It is not a particularly happy book, as a side-note.
There are some speculations in the background about what the politics of earth might have become some years from now, but that is not the focus of the book, so I’m not really going to comment on it.
-It’s an engaging story, and a well-rendered concept
-The psychological aspects are intriguing: firstly it purports that isolation creates excellent leaders because they are forced to rely on themselves. I DO NOT AGREE WITH THIS AT ALL based either on my own military experience or any experience I have ever had (and former infantryman-in-command-of-soldiers husband concurs), but it definitely made me think, and I suppose the idea is that this applied to a very specific circumstance.
Secondly, the powers-that-be put Ender in this position of ignorantly conducting REAL battles, because they wanted him to have the compassion and empathy to UNDERSTAND the enemy, but also the genius and strength to defeat them (which he did). It is an altogether chilling thought.
-The author made a simultaneously brilliant and errant prediction. At home on earth, Ender’s two genius siblings are using “the nets” to become anonymous political commentators who can eventually rule the earth on the foundation of their convincing rhetoric. It is savvy that the author assumed that writing things on the internet with just the right turns of phrase can make you famous, popular, and even wildly influential. But it is rather adorable and naïve of him to have supposed that intelligent, if manipulative, think-pieces would have done most of the influencing. How could he have predicted the power of memes, colorful infographics, and 140 characters? Obviously if you can’t respond to my pithy well-sounding jab on twitter, you can’t possibly have anything valuable to say, can you? Essays? Research? LOGIC? Calm, rational argument that doesn’t involve expletives or calling those you disagree with evil and disgusting and telling them to die in a fire? Actually engaging people with whom you profoundly disagree in a civil, open, respectful manner? Let’s don’t be silly.
-The physical, mental, and moral consequences of war are addressed. Not in their totality, but in a valuable way.
The “bad” by which I mean the things that niggled:
-Ender’s siblings were not well-realized. If Valentine was so smart, then why did she allow herself to be beholden to Peter? If Peter was so vicious, then why would he care what happened to anyone? If he simply wanted power, he didn’t have to be psychopathically cruel to get it. But based on his animal-torturing tendencies, he wouldn’t have cared who lived or died, so if he simply loved cruelty and meanness then he wouldn’t have been rational enough to rule the world, or he would have just let it burn for fun after he got control of it. The mixture of brutality and ostensible rationalism didn’t quite strike true. Why wouldn’t Valentine stop him from destroying Earth if he’s going to be a vicious, cruel ruler who craves to torture people for fun? She was a weak character, and ill-rendered, which frustrated me because she was supposedly so important.
-Why were the parents so oblivious if they gave birth to the greatest three geniuses on the whole earth?
-So in order to fight the bug aliens they needed someone who was just the most perfect tactical genius with that exact empathy/ruthlessness combo. Okay. I get it. They have to see if he passes all the hurdles, they have to have a certain temperament. But did they really think there could only be one? It seemed like a pretty wild bet to bank on a certain personality with a certain IQ at a certain time. Why wouldn’t they be testing scads of people to this at the same time, and not pinning all hopes on eventually finding the “one”. It was a little too fantasy-prophecy-like that all eyes were on Ender, when in reality I feel like there would have been quite a few kids in the running at the same time, or even just a broader strategy altogether. The theory that they needed just the right commander at just the right time kinda makes sense, but in real warfare, success is borne of a lot of people being the right person at the right time at a dozen levels, for a dozen reasons, plus a thousand other factors besides.
Conclusion? A good book, and recommended…although recommending a book after I’ve spoiled everything seems a little pointless now that I think about it.
This book is also on the Marine Corps Commandant’s reading list. So congratulations to me for finally reading it, six years after finishing my service in the Corps. So, one point to Gryffindor.*
*I say this, but there is a slight chance I would have ended up in Slytherin.