(2007/1985) Orson Scott Card, Orbit, £6.99, pbk, 352 pp, ISBN 978-1-857-2-3720-7
(2013 edition) Orson Scott Card, Orbit, £7.99, pbk, 368pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50188-8
In addition to the 1985 edition there was a 2007 reprint and an edition in 2013 to tie in with that year's film. I will start this review by saying that I found this book to be very engrossing. Initially I was unsure of how interesting it would be as it centres on the fates and fortunes of a very young boy known as Ender Wiggin. (Young boys' fiction is not entirely my thing.) Ender is constantly threatened by, and is the victim of bullying from, his sibling, Peter. He escapes by being drafted into a military academy.
Ender is a 'Third', that is a third child in a culture where families are only allowed two children except under special circumstances. Such children are treated with very little respect. At the book's beginning he is being monitored for evaluation was to whether he would be suitable for the International (Space) Fleet. The Earth is fighting a war against a race of aliens, known as 'the buggers', intent on destroying our planet and Earth may not be winning. All resources are being brought to bear on this war including the brightest of children.
Ender soon goes to officers school, finding himself away from home at a very young age and learning how to use analytical tactics and strategy to ensure his physical survival against the odds during his practical orientated training. All the while he desperately misses his sister but not his brother for whom he has no affection. He resorts to innovative tactics to ensure success both in training sessions and in the face of adversity from training groups and comrades, not all of whom take a liking to him. He is forced to choose his allies wisely and ensure they are used effectively especially within the battle simulation exercises. As a result of his successes in training he finds himself being promoted quickly and in a position of cadet leadership. All the while his trainers monitor him. Could it be that that they have bigger plans for him than they are letting on?
I will not spoil the ending but it has a brilliant twist you may not see coming. Tactics, social and otherwise, are present in every element of the plot and this includes Ender's brother and sister becoming media personalities under assumed names in their version of the internet (remember this was written back in the 1980's) and the impact they have on society around them. The observations made about social sub-groups and group culture provides interesting elements as well as aiding the story's telling. It is fascinating to see how various events play out. For example, Ender analysing the strengths and weaknesses of his cadet leaders and how to make the best of any situation.
This book is ideal for younger science fiction readers and anyone who is not familiar with SF simply because of the way it is written. It sets the scene in a futuristic world with advanced technology whilst remaining grounded enough not to blind the reader with science or SF's tropes. The characters are clearly defined and interesting, with character traits very relevant to the story. Ender's character is written in a realistically: for example his reaction to being taken away from his family and how much he misses his sister, the way he finds it hard to sleep some nights, and how he feels the great pressure from the intense training.
As virtually everyone has been in a classroom situation, most will be able to relate to the group cultures Ender encounters. The ages of the main characters - all of whom are children - should not put older readers off as this is a well-written, enjoyable novel and one it would be a shame to miss out on. Indeed since reading the book, I have found out -- as I tend not to keep up with such historic matters or checked for it in Essential SF -- that Ender's Game won a Hugo for 'Best Novel' and that I am told this book spawned several more in a series. Recommended.
(Editors' note: the immediate sequels to this title are more appropriate to an adult readership while the subsequent 'Shadow' sequence, that parallels some of the events in Ender's Game, can be enjoyed by both adult and, because of the teenage protagonists, some younger readers.)
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