Ender's Game is an award-winning science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards back in the '80s, two of the most prestigious genre awards a sci-fi novel can win, and I'm thinking there'll soon be an increased interest in this novel again now that a film is in production. Most of the novel concerns war games played by child geniuses in a space station against a backdrop of futuristic Cold War-inspired intrigue and an interplanetary war with a race of aliens referred to only as 'the buggers', which I guess will translate fairly well into a big budget movie. This movie will star Harrison Ford and Asa Butterfield, so it will probably be on everyone's radars when it eventually gets released, and I'm assuming the studios are hoping it's a hit so they can turn it into a multi-movie franchise (Card has written around 9 follow-up novels).
So, with all that now said, I want to get in early before the film gets made and say that the whole thing is a horrible joke. Putting aside the silliness of imagining Harrison Ford in a fat suit (his character gets fatter as the book goes on, something I can't really see Ford agreeing to), the novel is a hotbed of conservative wet dreams underscored with bigotry relating to race, gender and sexual orientation. I'm amazed it got the awards it did, though I guess the novel did get released right in the middle of Reagan and Thatcher's '80s. Anyway, before I go too far down that road, I'll break it down into the good, the bad, and the ugly.
As hackneyed as the writing style may be, it somehow works and never gets boring. The book is a real breeze to read in spite of it's many, many flaws. There's also an interesting suggestion that the war between humanity and the buggers escalates so badly simply because it's physically impossible for either side to communicate with the other. The best aspect of the novel is the way it demonstrates leadership styles and strategy in clear and easily understood terms.
All the main characters are so smart that they can guess what each other are thinking, which would be tedious if the book didn't fly by so quickly. I don't imagine I could stand to read another nine books along such lines though. None of the characters really ever seem like children... I know they're meant to be geniuses but they're still kids, right? The entire book is kind of pulpish, which I'm thinking may just be a sympton of the poor literary standards of the sci-fi genre in the '80s.
Okay. There's so much in this book to be offended by, so I just singled out a few examples. The biggest offence is probably just how disturbingly right wing the whole thing is - this book is downright fascism in its purest form. Card plays out concepts of service vs. freedom throughout, and seems to be promoting the idea that individual freedom is selfish and counterproductive. Anyways, here we go...
Page 24 -A character makes mention of girls not usually going to Battle School because they have years of evolution against them. I could handle this if he'd said years of history, but the word 'evolution' implies that Card believes females to be physiologically inferior to males. It also doesn't help that Battle School turns out to be more reliant on strategy than physical activity, which further implies that Card thinks female brains just aren't up to scratch!
Page 48 - Card makes reference to the 'arrogant' French. He explains that they're arrogant in this vision of the future because they insisted on retaining political independence. This plays into his idea that a globalised, homogenised world culture is better than individual countries. It shouldn't come as a surprise that this homogenic culture happens to be very Americanised... I can't help but wonder if Card would be as much a fan of the idea if the world's globalised culture was based on another nation's ideas. It's also somewhat telling that Card uses France as an example of 'arrogant' independence in his scenario, as it's pretty stereotypical and could just as much refer to American views of France in the '80s.
50 - Casual homohobia with characters jokingly bullying each other with the phrase "Cover your butt".
68, 69 - The first black character introduced is meant to be a genius but yet he still speaks in a pidgin-like ghetto slang, EG. "I the sweetest friend you got" and "maybe they in a hurry to teach you everything". Card later explains that this future slang is something that all the kids use, but it's still unfortunate that the first time we hear it it comes from a black character.
69, 70 - Card has the gall to introduce a subtext that makes it pretty clear he thinks religious suppression is bad. So, Mr. Card, homophobia, racism and sexism is okay but religious suppression isn't?
85 - It starts to become clear in Ender's Game that hard maneuvers in the battle games require team work, often at the expense of the individual. This is one of the core themes of the book, that one must give up needs relating to individuality in order to achieve higher goals (which is very fascist indeed!)
100 - Oh look, a random and disturbing rant about Jews unfairly getting into positions of power and the 'false' ways they use claims of anti-semitism to reinforce their 'Jewness' and Jew-related power.
212 - "If you can't kill then you are subject to the power of those who can". I don't think I really need to analyse that one too closely.
312 - "Welcome to the human race, no one controls their own life". The crowning jewel in Card's anti-freedom subtext. He goes on to say "The best you can do is choose the roles given to you by people who love you", which stinks of high religion to me.
So, as enthralling as this novel may be, at the end of the day it's pulpish Nazi doctrine of the worst kind. Orson Scott Card is actually a devout Mormon who actively campaigns against the teaching of evolution in American schools, and also has a history of calling for homosexuality to be illegal (!) and has even suggested that homosexuality breeds pedophilia. What a great guy!