CLASSIC YA MONTH: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card


piranha stars green 4

“A book you’ll go on thinking about long after you’ve stopped reading it.”


Ender’s Game, first published in 1985 as an elaboration of a short story written in 1977, is the story of Ender Wiggins, a child genius whose skills along with those of other not-quite-equals are harnessed by the military to battle a terrible foe in space, the insect-like Buggers. We witness Ender’s training as he is pushed and challenged by his elders in order to turn him into an unbeatable battle machine. They are trying to build a superhero to save the world, but in doing so, they may be destroying the human being that is Ender. The format of the training Ender and the others undergo is a series of games, some played by teams against other teams and some as apparently individual recreation. All of them are stressful and dangerous and lead, for Ender, to him becoming more and more isolated from his peers. At last, Ender is asked to participate in one final assessment, a mock battle against the Buggers. His success, and what it means, put the reader in the position of having to reassess everything that went before.

Ender’s Game is not the easiest read. When I got to the end, I had that urge you get when you read a detective story, to start from the beginning and pick up all the clues I’d missed. It’s absolutely worth all the concentration though. It’s a book you’ll go on thinking about long after you’ve stopped reading it.

I had a problem – as many readers have done – with Ender’s age. To me, he seemed too young to be having the thoughts that the author places in his head. The author defends himself in the introduction in my copy, saying that Ender is a child genius, and that this is the way such children think and speak. I don’t know any child geniuses, so who am I to judge? Mostly I tried not to think about his age, but perhaps that is just because I was squeamish about the idea of a child so young suffering so badly.

I had difficulty too, now and then, picturing the games that were being described, but I think perhaps this a more a failure of mine, a lack of time spent playing computer games, than any failure of the book. I did absolutely understand Ender’s strategies, and that is the point of the thing.

I’d heard of the film, vaguely, but I’d never heard of the Orson Scott Card. I don’t read science fiction regularly, though I do dip in now and then and I love the type of books where science fiction and fantasy walk hand in hand. I might never have read Ender’s Game if I hadn’t been writing something that needed an external voice to tell what was happening from a different perspective than the main character’s. ‘You’ll need to read Ender’s Game,’ a writer friend told me and so I looked it up. These voices are key to the book. Through them you see how Ender is being used, how his tragedy is played out by higher powers. You see that he is not a hero but a pawn. In the introduction to my copy, the author says: ‘Children are a perpetual, self-renewing underclass, helpless to escape from the decisions of adults.” There’s a truth for you.

Why should you read it? Because you’re going to start thinking about how war works. Who is the enemy? How do you get people to fight? Why? Is it worth it? Loads of big ideas (like all really great sci-fi!).

Claire Watts

More to Read!

Ender’s Game is just the first in a series of books written by Orson Scott Card.

Claire Watts writes and edits fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. Her latest YA novel is How Do You Say GOOSEBERRY in French?

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