Card – Ender’s Game

28 Nov

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)

I’m Ender Wiggin’ Out.

Despite this novel’s glaring failings, I did still enjoy it to a certain extent.  Will I be rushing to order the remaining Ender volumes on amazon?  No, but I wasn’t planning on it anyway.  I typically read science fiction in between more mentally taxing novels.  Ender’s Game is a novel that had been recommended to me a dozen times by a dozen friends of mine who know that I like science fiction.  Well, I finally read it, and now I can move on.

I suppose I’ll start with the bad news…

The narration is far too bland and expository at times, so much so that it could have been just as effective in 250 pages without rushing the ending.  The dialogue is weak, particularly between the children.  “How about you shut up, fart-sniffer?”  “No, you shut up, pisshead.”  Come on.  Was that supposed to make the children more human?  Or do child prodigies sound like South Park characters?

Not a single character in the novel is particularly likeable, not to mention “fleshed out.”  We are given Ender, the ridiculously talented (he never loses…ever), unknowingly self-righteous and entirely one-dimensional child hero.  For the movie, I’m thinking they could cast a cut-out of Justin Bieber in a flash suit.  His brother Peter is an animal torturing maniac who’s smart.  His sister Valentine, at one point the most sympathetic character in the book, becomes less a character and more of a literary device to drive Peter and the final chapters of the novel (into hyper-speed mind you)…oh, and she’s smart too.

The other students at the battle school are smart.  They may not be characters, but they’re smart.  I’m sure I was expected to care about Ender’s relationship with Alai and Petra and Bean…but I just didn’t.  If anything, Card was able to capture how cruel and vindictive children can be with characters like Bonzo.

The teachers and military men were bland to say the least.  Adults seem to be the enemy for the majority of the story: forcing Ender into isolation, driving the children beyond their physical and emotional means, placing an unmanageable burden on the shoulders of 12-year-olds…

And I don’t think I’m digging too deeply when I say, what’s with the pedophilic homoeroticism?  A lot of people talk about that in this book, but seriously. There are more shower scenes than Top Gun.  Maybe it just seems more ridiculous with Penn State in the news, but I noticed it most when I was thinking of the movie as a potential blockbuster.  These kids are going to need some battle briefs.

*SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT*…if the children are actually fighting the buggers at the end of the novel and not a military simulator, why the hell were they training children all along?  Do you mean to tell me that the military couldn’t have been cultivating an adult militia that would have been more capable than a handful of gifted children??  I went through the whole novel thinking that it would either be set up for a bugger battle at the end with the children as adults, or a cliffhanger that implied that the next volume in the series would tell their war stories.  Instead I’m left feeling like Ender did for interplanetary warfare what the Muppet Babies did for the Muppets.

Lastly, the end is all too convenient and way too rushed.  The final chapters show some of the most interesting narrative potential in the book, and it’s like Card ran it through a compressor.  I could have gone for five less battles at the school and another 50 pages of denouement.

So, what did I like about the novel?

The Battle Room.  I thought that was a really cool idea and would translate particularly well to film with all of the “in depth” narration of zero gravity battle strategies.

“The End of the World” desk game.  This was one of the few times that the novel broke off from the linearity of the narrative structure and tried to explore along with Ender.  The symbols were ridiculously heavy-handed, but with revision (particularly because the game acted as a catalyst for Ender’s introspection) and some symbolic layering, it could make for an interesting device.

The desks themselves that are like modern day iPads where kids can tweet and blog endlessly.  In 1985, Card predicted that children would be able to take over the world via blogging.  I’m trying to do the same thing with the world of pop culture at 26, but I’m only a 2nd (my little sister is the hyper-talented 3rd).

I liked the fact that the reason Ender could never find anything useful in the tapes from Mazer Rackham’s bugger invasion was because the first wave was actually so anticlimactic.  Rackham was made a hero out of taking a shot in the dark (literally).

Ender as the “Speaker of the Dead.”  This concept could have been extremely interesting especially considering the collective intelligence of the bugger race.  Instead, Card offers little or no reason for Ender to empathize with the dead enemy force and then dedicates less than twenty pages to the final chapter.  The reader is left feeling that Ender, idealist that he is, is going to incubate the enemy pupa and then destroy human kind for all time.

In conclusion, I’ll give Orson Scott Card another shot, but not for a little while.

Rating: **1/2

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