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?