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Book review: “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

Ender Wiggin is six at the start of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and eleven by the time the novel’s action has concluded.

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.

A page-turner

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


  • Michael Miner Posted January 15, 2013 12:47 pm

    A daughter read this book in school and touted it to me so insistently that I read it too. I thought it was terrific, and richly deserved the important place it occupied in my daughter’s moral education. When adolescents tout books to their parents it’s not simply because they’re exciting; it’s often because they’re revelatory–having led the reader to understand right and wrong and the workings of the world in a new and deeper way. A book that had the same effect on me when I was that age was “All-American” by John R. Tunis.

    • Patrick T. Reardon Posted January 16, 2013 9:44 am

      Like you, Mike, I read this because my nephew, now in his 20s, gave it to me for Christmas, saying it was his favorite science fiction book. He also gave me the follow up. His gift was in response to the one I’d given him a year earlier which was a group of science fiction books I’d loved as a teen, including “Daybreak — 2250 AD” by Andre Norton. Knowing my nephew, I could see why “Ender’s Game” was appealing. For me, “Daybreak” was a way of trying to understand how to live as a mutant which, I suspect, is how every teen thinks of himself.

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