Ender’s Game

enders-game.jpgOrson Scott Card is a writer that for many years existed in my mind as part of an amorphous mass of ‘Hard SF’ writers, most of them American, that I had not read and did not have any great interest in reading. Not due to any particular dislike for Hard SF, or for Americans, but because they were on the wrong side of my mental map of the SF/F geography. Which is a round about way of saying – I didn’t know anything about him or them.

This goes someway to explaining why Ender’s Game didn’t get any more than a first page test before hitting my ‘might read someday’ pile. The rest of the explanation can be found in knowing that before the ‘might read’ pile is the ‘will read’, then the ‘want to read’, then the ‘must read’ piles. And lets not forget the ‘MUST READ URGENTLY’ pile. There was nothing wrong with the book, but on page one nothing leapt out and my preconceptions did the rest. It took one of those fortuitous weeks of hearing OSC’s name three times in three different places to peak my curiosity again and get me on to page 2. Then page 3. Then pages 4,5,6 and on and on…

 I tore through Ender’s Game in three sittings over a weekend. The reasons for my excitement were manifold, a great story, intricate characters, brilliant pacing and an imaginative world both claustrophobic and escapist. By the evidence of this, his first novel, Card is every bit the writer his reputation says he is…and more.

But the most fascinating aspect of Ender’s Game was the presience of the novels predictions for our future, which originaly made in the late 70’s largely seem to have come true by the early noughties.

Ender is a young man caught into a game organised by the future military to train a new generation of star generals who will defeat Earth’s ever present alien menace, the buggers. Whilst this forms the spine of a complex tale of space warfare, the subtext of this story is the pressure that society places on the young in the process of forming them into adults. Enders experiences during military training parellel those that any young person being trained into an elite or simply towards high achievement would face. Where this subtext becomes spookily accurate is in the game metaphor that emerges repeatedly throughout the novel. In an era where many young men spend ever greater portions of their lives plugged into virtual game environments OSC’s novel has an ever more important emotional and intellectual message to deliver.

***SPOILER ALERT*** 

If I have a criticism of the novel it is a subjective one based on my reaction to the content of that message. The climax of Ender’s Game arrives when the young hero, having been put through what amounts to a programme of mental and physical abuse and brainwashing, defeats Earths alien enemies. All of the complex moral arguments that OSC weaves into his story are ultimately trumped by the rather straight forward ‘get them before they get you’ message. Somehow this struck me as incongruous, like a Hollywood happy ending tacked onto a Eurpean arthouse movie. It is as though OSC constructed the story in a logical fashion, found he disagreed with its morality and therefore abandoned the ending he didn’t like and replaced it with one that suited his own ethical framework. For this reason the end seems a little contrived, although there is no doubt it achieves a surprising twist and read purely as the climax of the adventure it works wonderfully.

My run in with Orson Scott Card may well direct me twords picking up a few more of the contemporary US Hard SF writers that I know so little of, although whther they will make it onto the ‘might read’ or the ‘must read’ pile I’m not sure. What I do know is that the next part of the Ender Saga is now on the ‘MUST READ URGENTLY’ pile, as will be most of Mr Cards other books when I can lay my hands on them. 

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Director of creative writing at UoL, published with OUP and Cambridge. Currently travelling the world and writing a book.

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