Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review: Ender's Game

Ender's Game

I thought it only fitting that the first book I reviewed here was probably my favorite science fiction novel of all time.

I really got into the Ender's series late in the game.  It was always on my reading list, but somehow I could never find the time to pick it up and read it.  There was always something else to do, or I'd forget about it when I was at the bookstore.  Well, I finally did a few years ago, and I wish I would have much earlier.  It's a fantastic book, and it has become one of my all-time favorites.

Ender is a kid, smaller and younger than anyone chosen for the special International Fleet's Battle School training.  Aliens are coming, and it falls to Ender and the rest of the children from the Battle School to learn the concepts and methods they need to fight off another impending alien attack.  The last time the aliens came, they came a hairbreadth from destroying earth's human species completely.  This time they won't be so easy to repel.

Orson Scott Card does a magnificent job showing us the struggles of the protagonist, and creates a character with which we can easily relate and empathize.  Ender is young and deals with issues of bullying, being too small, separation from loved ones, a dangerous older brother, among other smaller problems.  Oh, and there is the threat of imminent alien invasion, for which he seems to be the only hope the world has.

This easily sets the plot up for the climax.  We can see where this is going.  The aliens are coming and Ender will be faced with repelling or destroying them.  But it's not that part which grabs our attention.  It's the interpersonal relationships throughout the book.  It's the way Ender deals with myriad other characters in the book that is really the fascinating part.  Every other character seems completely opposite than the other characters, as much of an oxymoron as that seems.  Each of them has different goals and concerns, and each goes about achieving those goals in a different manner.  Even if the common goal is the ultimate defeat of an alien invasion, those other issues in the book feel almost equally important at times.

This book is also one of few that bridges the generation gap in its audience.  I was in my 30's by the time I finally got around to reading it, and I couldn't put it down.  But it's equally appealing to a much younger crowd.  In fact, many teens and pre-teens love the book, even though it's definitely not young adult fiction.  Maybe that's because the original idea came to the author when he was just 16, but I think more so because he refuses to write the actions and thoughts of the children in the book as juvenile or childish.  Their thoughts mimic adult thoughts, and while that has drawn some criticism of being unrealistic, I wouldn't agree with the critics.  I never thought of myself as being mentally juvenile at any point in my life.  My mind looked out from behind my eyes and saw the same world as anyone else did, it was just from my point of view.  My guess is that's the way you saw things too, and when you read Ender's Game, that's what you get.  Not some faux juvenile point of view the author thinks kids think like, but a genuine one.  One to which we can all relate.

Of course, once you get drawn into Ender's world, there are plenty more books in the series written from the success of this book.  Most of them are very good as well, especially Ender's Shadow, which is a parallel story that happens at the same time as Ender's Game, but from a different perspective.  I might even be persuaded to confess that Ender's Shadow is a better book, but that's probably because I'd already read Ender's Game, and I was back for more of the same story I loved so much the first time I read it.

Ender's Game is definitely one of the better books in the genre.  It stands out from the rest of the spin-offs and retreads that sometimes sound more like fan fiction than anything else.  To get a perspective of what real science fiction is all about, I highly recommend reading it.

Ender's Game is still in print and most bookstores carry copies.  It can also be found here:

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