Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game August 22, 2013

It was a longstanding gap in my reading of science fiction literature that I had never read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. With my religion and science fiction class soon to begin, and Ender’s Game being turned into a movie, I knew it was time to rectify things. I already owned a copy, and so it was just a matter of doing it (but I should mention that buy the book for Kindle on Amazon for less than $4).

I won’t summarize the book, to minimize spoilers for the movie. But I will say that the way religious themes and characters are woven into the story is fascinating. Religion is suppressed in this time and context, but the influence of people of faith – Catholic, Mormon, Muslim – is felt, and is positive. The Bible is sometimes studied, but as part of the study of Classics. And in the end, we see a new religion emerge, as a result of contact with new biological forms, and the new ways of communication that human beings intersect with as a result.

The story explores many important questions about the nature of humanity, and unlike many stories featuring humanoid aliens, envisages beings that are sentient in ways so fundamentally different from us that we find it impossible to communicate. Or nearly all humans find it nearly impossible. Deep questions about morality are raised.

I know that Card has made headlines recently for his rather bizarre views on a number of subjects. I find that I can’t dismiss literature on that basis, any more than I can dismiss films because of the problematic views of the producer, or music because of the views of the composer. It seems as though the very creative are particularly prone to this, although it clearly isn’t a general rule. Perhaps they are no more and no less prone to being wrong, to unjustified hatred, to falling victim to the mentality of conspiracy theories, than anyone else – we just notice it more because they are famous, and are more disappointed because their compositions would lead us to expect better of them.

Have you read Ender’s Game? If not, you should. I haven’t read the sequels – if you have, would you recommend them?

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  • x x

    And a child shall lead them?

  • K.T. Stevenson

    In my opinion, Speaker for the Dead is one of the best of the series. Xenocide and Children of the Mind were a bit more difficult to get through. I’m hit and miss with the more recently published books. My son claims that the new prequel trilogy co-written by Mr. Card are also good.

  • Christopher

    The sequels are all good. I agree with KT about Speaker for the Dead, though I did enjoy Children of the Mind. Even the parallax novels (aka Ender’s Shadow series) are also worthwhile.

  • Chris Crawford

    I love Ender’s Game, but it’s getting a lot of flak these days because of Card’s public statements. Regardless of what you feel about him, though, it’s a remarkable book, and ultimately it’s a powerful response to hatred and fear.

    Speaker for the Dead is easily its equal. It is paced differently than Ender’s Game, a very different read, but just as powerful as it expands on some of the themes of the original. As K.T. said, Xenocide and Children of the Mind are tough reads and, in my opinion, more than a few notches down. I’ve read the first three books of the “Shadow” series – the first one is very good, a retelling of Ender’s Game from Bean’s perspective, and the others are decent reads.

    Ender’s Game and Speaker are definitely on my “essential reading” list. The others, not so much.

  • Jessica Harmon

    The Speaker for the Dead-Children of the Mind sequels are DIFFERENT from Ender’s Game. I eagerly picked up Speaker as a middle schooler after I finished Ender’s Game and, while it was very thought provoking, probably went way over my head. It was not the sequel I wanted. However, Card recently published Ender in Exile, which is a sequel that fits into the gap between Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. Now THAT is the book I wanted when I was 12. It’s a PTSD book, but that’s exactly what’s needed after Ender’s Game. The Shadow books are also fun, but have a lot more politics than I enjoy.

    • Thanks so much for that recommendation! I’ve just placed a request for both Speaker and Exile at my public library.

  • Bean

    I had a friend introduce me to this series about 10 years ago. He performed an experiment on me by having me read Ender’s Shadow before Ender’s Game. It totally changed my perception of the series. If you just finished Ender’s Game, you need to immediately read Ender’s Shadow. It’s like reading Ender’s Game all over again.

  • James, I’d love to see the reading list for that course. Is that something you would share?

    • Sure. More than one person has asked. Once the syllabus is finalized, I will try to get a copy online, and then will mention it in a post on the blog.

  • Straw Man

    The atheist+ blogosphere is deconstructing Ender’s Game pretty severely. It happens I agree with a lot of their analysis, though. Card propounds a morality whereby intentions are the ONLY criteria of goodness or badness–which he articulates in so many words in Speaker for the Dead. He tried, in Ender’s Game, to construct a scenario in which someone could be absolutely innocent despite committing genocide. He believes he succeeded, because Ender never *intended* to commit genocide. That’s a deeply disturbing ethical system, to say the least!

    A good deconstruction, chapter by chapter, can be read here: http://somethingshortandsnappy.blogspot.com/2013/03/enders-game-chapter-1-part-1-in-which.html

    • Straw Man

      Card’s disturbing politics also bleed through. Ender murders multiple children, in the course of the novel–but once again, he is perfectly innocent because he didn’t mean to do it, and in fact adults prevent him from finding out that his victims are dead.

      What’s the tie-in to Card’s politics? Card is an outspoken cheerleader of the Global War on Terror. So much so that one of his more insane screeds recently condemned Obama for failing to prosecute it vigorously enough, saying, “From Benghazi to Boston, his policy is to pretend that Muslims never do anything bad.”

      In contrast to Obama, Ender the first chapter beats a bully into a helpless pulp on the ground, and then continues kicking him in the face until he dies (no spoiler–that scene isn’t in the movie; go figure). Asked to explain his actions, he explains that he wanted to “end this fight and every fight after it.” This explanation is found so pleasing that he is immediately admitted to Battle School. It simultaneously makes him a great leader, AND makes him guiltless for killing the bully after having already rendered him helpless.

      The book was published in 1985, based on a short story written in 1977, so it long predates 9/11. And yet… somehow it perfectly encapsulates the right wingers’ view of the war on terror, and explains why the more lunatic fringe do everything to call for the extermination of muslims, except actually call for their extermination.

      • Byron

        My goodness, the spoilers you two talk about! I would suggest taking both of your posts down, or else doctor them. I find a good book to be slightly less enticing when I already know the ending and subplots.

        • Straw Man

          Some of the “spoilers” I mention aren’t in the movie. The punch line–that Ender thinks its a game when he’s actually fighting a real-life war–is pretty much universal knowledge by now, since the story is 36 years old…

          Nevertheless, I hope your enjoyment is undimmed, and if you feel that it’s wrecked for you now I apologize.

  • Byron

    If you enjoyed the religious / scifi aspects present in Ender’s Game, you would be delighted with Speaker for the Dead. It takes place on a future world settled by a group of Catholics, who struggle with the introduction of other species and their role as Christians (among other things).

  • Caleb G.

    Earlier this year and read both Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. Both are good, but I was more intrigued by the religious themes in Speaker for the Dead.

    In Speaker for the Dead, humanity has spread across the Hundred Worlds, and on a small planet another intelligent race is found. This race is referred to as the piggies, due to their hoggish appearance, but they are intelligent, quickly learn human languages, and have their own culture. I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t read it. The point I want to focus on is that the human colony on the piggy planet is a Catholic colony, and near the end of the book the Catholic bishop speaks of translating the Bible into the language of the piggies and sending missionaries to them to evangelize them. My question is this: If sometime in the future, we were to discover another intelligent species on a distant planet with their own language, culture, and morality, would Christians be obligated to go and evangelize them?

    • There have been a number of stories which have explored precisely that scenario, including Ray Bradbury’s “The Fire Balloons” and Poul Anderson’s (aka Winston Sanders’) “The Word to Space.”