Science Fiction

Ender’s Game

by: Orson Scott Card

I actually listened to the 20th anniversary edition of this book rather than officially rereading it.   The novel is in 3rd person limited and every character has a different narrator.  With the exception of Valentine’s part, the readers were rather excellent and the voices all pleasant to listen to.  The woman voicing Valentine was a good reader, but she had a very breathy, sensual voice and the way she emoted and stressed words made nearly everything Valentine thought seem either romantic or overly sexual.  It is a bit disturbing to hear a 11 yr old’s thoughts about her older brother being narrated as “Peter had…penetrated her mind” in breathy, excited tones a la Marilyn Monroe.  Also, ew.  The end result, ignoring any incestual implications, was that Valentine sounded like a hysterical 25 yr old woman in a romantic drama rather an an unsure 11 yr old girl in a science fiction adventure for the majority of the novel.  (And one more time, ew. Ew. Ew. Ew.)

If you’ve never read Ender’s Game, it’s the story of Ender Wiggin, born in a future, where mankind has been discovered and attacked by an alien race known as the buggers.  Having already survived two wars against them, Earth fear that it will not survive a third.  In preparation, they select 6 yr old children with the greatest potential and send them off to battle school to become the greatest army the world has ever known; training them to become soldiers and commanders using brutal military tactics.

These children are extraordinarily bright and gifted, so much so that it is easy to forget that they are children.  It is not the areas they excel in that show their age; it is the things they are blind to that truly reveal the tragedy of the situation.They can see and use others’ strengths and weaknesses, certainly, and Valentine and Peter (Ender’s siblings) are masters of manipulating the public in general.  However, with the possible exception of Peter, the – to quote Jeeves – “psychology of the individual” quite escapes them.  They know what to do to manipulate others, but they don’t seem to understand why it works.  With the exception of Peter, they lack both foresight and the ability to think through the implications and nuances of the decisions they make.

As for the characters themselves, Ender is a young boy, destined by birth and training for greatness who is as sympathetic as any football story underdog. Peter, his older brother, is a psychopath, also brilliant, who eludes the understanding of all around him, too cruel for military command (yes, that is actually a thing in real life, too.)  Valentine, his sister, is the exact opposite, brilliant, yet too tenderhearted and empathetic to lead wars.

This book is sexist as hell, if you couldn’t tell from the difference between Peter and Valentine. Its depictions of women are heavily driven by stereotypes.  There are only two female characters and both of them are the wink link, either easily and frequently emotionally manipulated by others or breaking under the strain (emotionally, of course) before anyone else.  Ender’s father’s opinions are an important indicator of current political thought and yet his mother isn’t given a voice on the subject, despite the fact that she was picked to have children that are intellectually superior to the majority of the human race.  What is that nonsense? All the authoritative figures are males, even though it is made clear the women are accepted into military school and trained exactly like the men. Sexism is a huge problem in the science fiction genre as a whole, of course, but it’s especially saddening when it’s so prominent in one of the few scifi books I like.

Ender’s Game is great for complex moral questions.  I can’t explain all of them without spoiling the book, but the questions raised are horrific.  Yet it is easy enough to find a train of thought or belief system that justifies the decisions made.  Would you do what they did, knowing what they know? Would you believe it was the right thing to do?  If not right, was it necessary? I don’t know, myself.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

While I’ve tried to keep the post spoiler-free, I’m not going to do so in the comments for the sake of discussion.  I’d really love to hear others’ thoughts about Ender’s Game, no restriction.  What do you think?


6 thoughts on “Ender’s Game

  1. Why, may I ask, is this one of the only science fiction books you’ve liked? I find it one of the weakest to win the Hugo Award…. And as for female characters, there are tons of science fiction novels with better female protagonists/secondary characters. So yeah…. Especially all of those great sci-fi novels written by women and some male authors like D. G. Compton is damn good at writing female protagonists.

    1. I don’t like scifi as a whole, honestly. (Love fantasy, though). So I haven’t finished a whole lot of scifi books (I keep on trying so maybe one day?). But I like Ender’s Game because it poses questions I can’t answer – less for the setting than for the characters, specifically Ender, and moral complexity of the book. I just read part of a review where the reader basically says Card wrote a sympathetic Hilter – it’s fascinating to me. But I don’t even like any of Card’s sequels.
      And yes, there are other books that have much better portrayal of women/excellent women protagonists. Sexism is still a fairly widespread problem both within the genre (SFF) and in the community but certainly there are more and more books out there that don’t buy into it.

  2. Um…it’s VALENTINE, not Violet, for heaven’s sake!! If you’re gonna review a book, especially one that’s been on the planet for a couple of decades, and considering it’s your SECOND TIME THROUGH IT, you could at least get your characters’ names straight. Good grief.

    As far as it being “sexist”… whatever…I’m a woman and it’s never bothered me once that the author chose to make the cast male-heavy, any more than Tolkien’s array of people in Lord of the Rings has. It actually sets up Petra to be a very distinct and wonderful character…tough as nails because she *has* to be, (which is actually quite realistic as far as a military setting goes). If Card had made it more of a 50/50 demographic, Petra would have just blended into the scenery. As it is, she’s extremely memorable and for good reason.

    And VALENTINE is hardly two-dimensional…she has great love for her brother, seeks to protect Ender from Peter, but also has the balls to stand up to both Peter and Graff when necessary. If you read the rest of the Ender Quartet, you’ll see that throughout the series there are numerous discussions of her virtues and her weaknesses, plus wrestling with the various challenges and moral dilemmas she faces throughout her life.

    I read this book for the first time about four months ago, have since reread it many times, plus inhaling nearly the entirety of the Enderverse books. Ender’s Game has withstood all the multiple readings showing me different facets and details every single time. A rare quality in a story, one which I treasure.

    1. Whoops – fixed. I have the worst memory for names, even fictional ones! Thanks for letting me know!

      As for the sexism part, the sexism is determined by looking at the book and seeing how it plays into and accepts gender stereotypes of our society as truth, as well as general demeaning attitudes towards either sex (but particularly women). Tolkien’s books are also noted for their sexism. This bothers some people (like me) and not others (like you). Portrayal of women and the use of sexist stereotypes are things I regularly consider in my reviews.
      The implication that a female character can’t stand out by virtue of her character alone is disturbing – Bean, Ender, Peter, and Bonzo were all the same gender and yet all managed to be extremely memorable. Griffin, too. Petra’s military acumen and strength of character should have been enough to make her memorable, just like it was for nearly all of the strong male characters in this book.

      I don’t see in my review where I stated Valentine was 2-dimensional, only that she was heavily drawn from sexist stereotypes of women, which is true. Maybe that implied she wasn’t well-rounded? It wasn’t what I intended.

      Regardless of what the sequels portray, I only meant for this review to reflect upon Ender’s Game, not the entirety of the series, which I haven’t and don’t intend to read.

      Thanks for commenting, by the way!

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