The novel “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card was published for the first time in 1985. It’s the first book in the Ender’s Game series. It won the Hugo and Nebula Awards as the best novel of the year.
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a so-called Third, meaning that he’s the third child of his parents. His birth is an exception to laws that impose a limit of two children for any family and was approved in the search for humanity’s next leader against the Formics, the aliens that were already repelled in two invasion attempts.
Ender is only six years old when he’s admitted to the Battle School, the first phase of training for the next commanders of the International Fleet, after reacting brutally to the aggression of a group of bullies. Ender is subjected to tremendous pressure and manipulation by Colonel Hyrum Graff, the School director. Will he be able to resist to lead humanity’s fleet or will he be broken?
In 1977, Orson Scott Card published the John W. Campbell Award-winning novelette “Ender’s Game” in which he recounted some events involving Ender at the Battle School and Command School. Subsequently, the author greatly expanded the plot also including some important parts concerning his family.
Orson Scott Card uses the classic alien invasion theme as a starting point. In this case, the invasion failed twice by an insectoid species of which in reality very little is known since there was never communication with the aliens. A century after first contact with the Formics, generally called the “buggers”, humanity remained scarred by the war and is preparing for a final clash. The youngsters deemed the fittest are trained but in Ender Wiggin’s case that starts when he’s only six years old.
“Ender’s Game” is among other things an out-of-the-ordinary coming-of-age novel since at the beginning, the protagonist is just a child. The novel spans several years of his life during which you can say he’s forged to lead humanity to the final victory against the Formics.
The plot alternates moments of great intensity such as those connected to the training with simulations of battles with slower and more introspective moments. The emotional side of the protagonists is important in the story and not just Ender’s. Colonel Graff believes the ends justify the means when he puts pressure on Ender but he has the intellectual honesty to admit he does even despicable things to get the results he deems necessary.
There’s introspection in Ender’s family as well. His brother Peter was rejected despite being brilliant for being too cruel while his sister Valentine was rejected for the opposite reason. Their machinations offer an insight into the political and social situation in that future marked by the Formics.
Valentine Wiggin is among the very rare important female characters in the novel along with Petra Arkanian, the only girl at War School. From this point of view, today the novel is really dated, also considering the justifications given to the alleged inability of women to be good commanders. Orson Scott Card has often been at the center of controversy due to many of his positions, which are strongly influenced by his Mormon faith. Probably, when he writes his stories, he somehow holds back because he’s aware that otherwise he could be damaged professionally.
However, ethical and moral problems are present in this and other Orson Scott Card novels. In “Ender’s Game” especially the problems connected to war and the training of young boys for war are developed. The peak is in Ender’s training, which also includes his isolation from the other kids.
For the ideas it contains, “Ender’s Game” gained a reputation that goes far beyond the field of science fiction and not just among kids who identified themselves as the protagonist. For the elements connected to military life, it’s become an important reading even in real military corps. For these reasons, I consider it a must-have in the collection of every science fiction fan and I recommend reading it regardless of genre labels.