Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (Tor, 1985)
[originally posted 22Nov2002]
Orson Scott Card says in his preface to Ender’s Game that one of the main criticisms with the book people have is that gifted kids just don’t act and talk like Ender and his battle school mates. To which Card usually responds with something like “they’re just smart enough not to talk that way around adults.”
Been there, done that. He’s right.
The main criticism of the book dispensed with, Ender’s Game focuses on young Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, a genetically-engineered genius recruited by the army at the age of six as a potential battle commander in a war against another race of beings from far off in the galaxy. But, as with most good science fiction, the actual science fiction parts of the book are tangential to the main thrust of the book at best; take out the stuff we can’t do in modern-day society and put Ender and pals in a present-day prep school, and the human drama at the book’s core remains credible. This is a necessity in any novel written in any genre, and Card carries it off with grace and dexterity.
The book’s only real failing is that some of the minor characters (a number of Ender’s schoolmates with small, but key, roles throughout his life) could have been better developed. But what is there is good; unlike most underdeveloped characters, Card’s aren’t there solely to advance a specific political or philosophical point of view; think of this particular set of underdeveloped characters as paler than usual rather than cardboard cutouts. They also don’t get introduced with the words “kill me” already branded into their foreheads a la Stephen King or Joe Lansdale. It just would’ve been nice to see more of them, though that probably would have required a change in narrative perspective.
Other than that, everything works here. The book is eminently readable, the characters are believable, the plot flows along. I didn’t find myself with the same obsessive devotion to it as many of the book’s fans have, but it certainly put me in the mood to continue on with the series, and that can never be a bad thing. Highly recommended. ****