Over those five years, he has endured isolation and ostracization, has fought off two crowds of bullies with deadly results, has become a star at Battle School and a superstar at Command School, and has been asked to win a war with an alien people known as buggers.
Not what you’d call a normal childhood.
It’s a moment in Earth’s distant future. Humanity has survived two incursions by the ant-like, telepathic, highly centralized buggers — just barely. And, now, the planetary military forces are preparing for a third and decisive clash.
Creating a commander
For this, a commander of the highest genius is needed, so the powers-that-be set about to create one.
Ender is just one of a plethora of children who are candidates. Indeed, his two older siblings were considered, but his brother Peter was too cruel and his sister Valentine too compassionate.
At level after level of his training, Ender rises to the challenge. But he pays a steep physical and emotional price, even suffering something of a nervous breakdown at a couple of points.
Much of the action in the story takes place in the war games that Ender and other students play at their school, to hone their skills and strategies. Card presents these “battles” with verve and clarity. It’s easy to mistake them for the real thing.
“On the playing-fields of Eton”
Yet, at heart, that’s the point of Ender’s Game.
After all, it’s a truism of British culture, attributed (apparently erroneously) to the Duke of Wellington, that “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of [the aristocratic boarding school of] Eton.”
In Ender’s Game, that’s even more apt.
The games at Battle School and Command School, in their way, are as real as the flesh-and-blood campaigns with casualty lists. What is learned — and not learned — in these contests will have a direct impact on what Ender and the other players are able to do when, in the fullness of time, the war with the buggers resumes.
Written originally as a short story in 1977, Ender’s Game was published as a novel in 1985 and updated in 1991. It has spawned six other related novels as well as a host of short stories.
It is a story that uses the unusual and intriguing idea of a child soldier-commander to examine such subjects as war, power, compassion, language, violence, leadership and, even, family planning.
It’s also an addictive page-turner of a yarn.
Patrick T. Reardon