Jul 26, 2011

[Books] Ender's Game

Enders GameThe problem with science fiction and fantasy books in this country is that bookstores typically don't put that much importance in their value. It's easier to decide to invest in stocking up on faster-moving bestsellers that appeal to a wider audience than to a science fiction piece that may or may not work with the already limited audience that caters to these kinds of stories. Thus you stick to the bestsellers of the genre - the big books that have already proved to do well in international book markets and thus should be a reasonable risk. So other authors get marginalized and forgotten except within smaller reading circles where such treasured books are shared among like-minded individuals as brought in from other countries or more generous bookstores.

Admittedly, this is not some marginalized book. This is in fact a rather popular series that I only found the time to read just recently. But my initial thoughts on the science fiction challenges within the context the local book market was just something that I thought about when I was reading this book. It's sort of related, although maybe mostly not.

It's probably ironic that what helped me get around to reading this book is the fact that I now have a Kindle. As much as there's a sense of fulfillment in finding the actual paper books in stores, bargain bins and wherever as you assemble a particular series. But then having access to all of them at once with an ebook reader does save you a lot of legwork. And if anything, reading this book convinced me that it'll be worth the adventure to try and collect physical copies of the various books in this series.

Ender's Game is a science fiction novel written by Orson Scott Card, based around a short story by the same name that he had written some years before. The book also marked the beginning of a whole line of books documenting the adventures of its protagonist and the effects he had on the universe at large.

In the rather distant future, the human race lives under the constant threat of war. It's first encounter with an alien species called the Formics but more commonly known as the Buggers lead to the near annihilation of our race. But thankfully humanity prevailed and since then the world has been united in preparing to fight the Buggers should they ever return. Perhaps the best symbol of this global thrust is the existence of the Battle School - a military academy of sorts where the best and the brightest that humanity has to offer are sent to for military training from a very young age. Each child is a genius in his or her own right. Each has the potential to become the kind of military commander that will lead the Earth fleets to victory when the Buggers inevitably return.

Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is one such boy. He is one of the many selected to be sent to the elite Battle School and yet he is also completely different. Colonel Graff, who runs the school, has very distinct plans for him in particular whether he realizes this initially or not. And thus we follow Ender as he goes through his "education" at the school and tries to overcome the challenges presented against him. But these are more than just tests and assessments - his very day-to-day existence at the school is perhaps the greatest test of all. After all, everything that happens in the Battle School is designed to prepare its students to become the best military officers and soldiers than they can be. One way or another.

The book pretty much follows Ender around his life at the school and thus we're made privy to some of his thoughts as he faces every new day. But at the same time, each chapter begins with a conversation between other members of the "faculty", all trying to evaluate Ender and what he's done or as they figure out what they're about to do. And other times, we're given glimpses of what Ender's elder siblings Peter and Valentine are up to back on Earth. All tracks move steadily on their own as we reach the eventual climax and resolution of things, and do so fairly well.

Ender is a fascinating character. Some might say he's a great model for trying to understand gifted children or prodigies. Others would say that he's a glimpsed into the thinking of a typical child as they perceive themselves even though it doesn't always match how we see them. And yet more will probably argue that Card got it all wrong and that children would never behave the way they do in the Battle School. But who's to say, really? The kind of stressful situation that Card has imagined for these kids is definitely not something that ordinary kids face. And I feel that they way they behave as coupled with their predisposition towards greater intelligence and related technical aptitude would account for their very adult behavior.

Orson Scott Card at Life, the Universe, & Ever...Image via WikipediaThe book was based around Orson Scott Card's ideas around the Battle Room itself - the zero-G environment where the kids wage mock combat simulations against one another. He's explained this in many different interviews and discussions about the book and even in the foreword of some editions of the book. And this makes sense - the battles are the highlight of the novel after all and they really illustrate a rather in-depth understand of how the lack of gravity might affect tactics, at least on Card's part. And the battles are practically beautiful in how they're mapped out and executed - thus a sign of his ability in terms of both being able to conceptualize these scenes and to describe them in a manner that makes them vividly real for the reader.

The overall plot is interesting, fairly gripping although perhaps arguably predictable towards the end. But for a first venture of this scale, one can't blame the author for falling into certain tropes or exploring weird side paths. The whole Peter and Valentine angle was a bit unnecessary, at least to me. It could have been better explored as accompanying novel of sorts. I'm sure he meant well and had a point he wanted to get across in terms of the political climate at the time of the book's writing, but then it didn't quite mesh well with the rest of the tale.

Regardless, Ender's Game is a powerful novel that does have the potential to be a lot more timeless than some people realize. It's a story to help young adults better understand some of the pitfalls ahead of them and it's a book that older readers can find nuggets of wisdom in should they keep their minds open. Despite its flaws, I still give the book a full 5 disturbing images in the fantasy game Ender plays out of a possible 5.

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