Book Club in Session: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

EndersGame_SamWeber.jpgWhat do you do when the fate of humanity rests on the shoulders of one small boy?  Choose it for book club and discuss it, of course!

Heather: Enders Game – it’s more than just a game, it’s a matter of life or death.  Win the game, or DIE!

I’m feeling a bit dramatic today, can you tell?  But in all seriousness, in trying to sum up the premise of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card in just a couple of sentences, that’s really a pretty accurate representation.  And come to think of it, if they were to put that at the end of the movie trailer when the Ender’s Game movie comes out later this year, well… that would be pretty epic.  But without further adieu, lets get to discussing the latest book in the Heimbaugh sisters’ book club!

WARNING: DISCUSSION CONTAINS SPOILERS!

So what do you think we should talk about first?  I forget, do we do brief summaries on book discussions?

Lauren:  See how important Heather is?  She has to ask questions like this.  It was probably just for my eyes too, but sisters are here to embarrass each other.  Don’t worry Heather, I’ll break down the basic story for everyone:

Ender’s Game takes place in a possible future Earth where all children are considered prospective soldiers to fight the war against an enemy that has not been seen in decades (i.e., aliens).  If the children show potential for military glory, they are sent up to a space school where games pitting children against each other are played in zero gravity.  Win the game, or DIE!  Ok, not really, but Heather’s intensity is pretty contagious.

Heather: Maybe I was just feeling lazy and didn’t want to summarize, and I figured out a way to get you to do it for me!  Boom!  Played you for a fool!  And make fun of my dramatic flair all you like, but I was obviously speaking of the fact that if Ender doesn’t win these simulated games set up by school officials, he will never be considered strong enough to lead an entire army into battle against aliens, in which case the entire human race will perish when the aliens really do decide to attack!  For those of you who haven’t read the book, these aliens basically have a shared consciousness, so when one thinks a thought, all the others automatically know it too.  This puts them at an advantage against humans because they can move as a completely coordinated unit almost instantaneously without having to openly discuss the next move like humans do.

School officials have been searching ever since the last war with the aliens for a commander fit to defend the Earth, with little success.  They consider Ender’s siblings for the job, but his brother is too vindictive, without an honorable bone in his body, while his sister is too compassionate to successfully lead.  Both are child geniuses though.  So, they give Ender’s parents the clear to have a third (yes, people have to get permission to have any more than two kids), hoping for a mix between the two extremes.  And so, Ender was born and sent off into space around the age of six.

I found Ender’s age incredibly difficult to get past at first.  At school, they show how Ender hacks into computer systems and does incredibly intelligent things that no six year old should be able to do.  My boyfriend Zach, however, claims that Ender and his siblings are basically genetically modified little mutants (ok – I added the mutant part), which is why their IQs are off the charts.  However, I couldn’t find really anything in the text that could clearly point to that as an explanation.  Did you have a problem with the ages of these kids?  What did you think of Ender and his siblings?

Lauren:  Yeah I agree with that.  There was an introduction by Orson Scott Card mentioning that the age aspect was definitely something that was trouble for some, but it never really bothered me so much because little kids can be pretty perceptive.  So I gave him the benefit of the doubt, especially when considering that there are some true savants/child prodigies out there.  He never mentioned anything about genetically engineering kids or anything, but that doesn’t take it off the table.  I will say that I choose to not see it that way, especially if I remember back to a quote from the book: “As a species, we have evolved to survive.  And the way we do it is by straining and straining and, at last, every few generations, giving birth to genius.  The one who invents the wheel.  And light.  And flight.  The one who builds a city, a nation, an empire.”  It’s not definitive proof, by any means, but these quotes of evolution made me feel like the story stays in the realm of nature, and not genetic tampering or anything quite like that yet.

But this was just with Ender, I will say that the only time I had a problem with their age was during that chapter in the middle in which suddenly Valentine and Peter became really important.  Valentine kept mentioning them being kids over and over again in terms of no one taking them seriously, so why should we take them seriously either?  I did love that Peter said something about not being at fault for not being older yet.  Now that I think about it, that was probably the only time I actually liked him.  Granted, that was also because his sudden transformation from idiotic bully to evil mastermind caught me off guard.

Do you think Peter being in charge on Earth will play a big role in the next books?  You know what they say about kids who kill animals…  Maybe the egg Ender found will be the thing that sets Peter off, especially if Ender does end up helping it hatch, as he is probably far less willing to accept the explanation of the queen for why they were at war in the first place.

Heather:  Pshhh, introductions… I don’t have the patience to read those things.  Apparently I should have though.  Really, there were only a few times when I was noticeably troubled by the kids’ ages (Peter and Valentine’s whole story, for one, and Ender’s hacking) but then I got used to the fact that they were just way more intelligent than I will ever be.

And what do they say about kids who kill animals?  They have lots of fur coats?  Joking, joking.  It wouldn’t really surprise me one bit if Peter became some cold hearted killer or figured out a way to use this alien egg to breed himself an army and destroy the world.  Or, if he got super upset at Ender and tried to kill off the aliens once and for all to take away any potential power from Ender.  First though, I think there will be a war between humans only, and I’m sure Peter and Valentine will play crucial roles in compelling the masses to action.

Lauren:  Either that, of Ender will lead people on the side of the aliens against Peter’s power hungry motives.

I’m just glad Ender survived what the school and higher ups did to him because I was really afraid that he was just going to end up this empty shell of a person reclusive to his tower, talking to the egg, if he ever crawled from the bed after the war, that is.  The book kind of ended with the same feelings that The Hunger Games trilogy did (with Katniss affected by everything she was put through for something she didn’t even choose herself), and that’s not always the easiest to stomach when you grow attached to characters.

Honestly I was starting to get a little impatient with the story because at the pace it was progressing it seemed as if the story was going to end before he actually did anything to save the human race.  Each time Ender was advanced forward in his training, we seemed to repeat the previous cycle all over again, just at a higher level with greater intensity, and this got to be quite redundant.  But then the bomb is dropped that the simulation was real the whole time, and Ender won the war without us ever being aware of it.  My gut reaction was feeling cheated that we were kept in the dark about what was really happening, as if the story’s climax was kept from us, but then I realized how amazing of a twist that was in terms of what they did to Ender.  They knew he had enough of Valentine in him to fight against the need to kill, as well as the importance of keeping as little of the pressure off of him as possible so that he didn’t crumble completely.  He came close even though they were doing him this “kindness,” but then they just dumped all of this built up truth on him and he just shut down.  And it was awesome.

Heather:  Well, Ender better be practising his persuasion tactics if he is going to get the human race to team up with aliens, especially those very aliens they have learned to fear.  And as for your comparison to the great Katniss Everdeen, blasphemy!  Ender is definitely not as beloved as Katniss (at least in my eyes), although I am glad he endured all the relentless training more or less intact.  You wouldn’t think he would be very mentally stable after being duped the way he was though! Sure, it was a cool twist that Ender had fought and won the war against the Aliens and not even known it, but I think it would have been better had the reader been privy to the real nature of the “simulated games” he played under the tutelage of Mazer Rackam and the “final examination,” even if Ender wasn’t personally in on the big secret.  In fact, the whole point was that Ender couldn’t have been in on it and taken the risks he did, so I’m fine with that.  However, my feelings that we were cheated out of an ending didn’t fade, and it made the whole conclusion seem incredibly anticlimactic.  I mean, I hoped that after all the build-up regarding Ender’s training, and the monotony endured, we would at least be privy to some explosive battle scene, but the way it was written I don’t feel we were really given that.  In fact, all of the battle scenes were pretty boring if you ask me.

In my opinion, it would have been more riveting if the reader had been in on the secret all along.  I don’t think the author needed to flat out tell the reader this is what was going down, but at the very least he could have written a few cryptic comments alluding to the fact that something more monumental than simulated games and a final exam were occurring.  I mean, he could have really built up the intrigue around those events.  Perhaps I am in the minority for not picking up on the fact that Ender was fighting aliens all along though.  I should have known better considering the ending was quickly approaching, but I thought maybe we would be left with a cliffhanger and the real fighting would start in book two.

Thoughts?  I really enjoyed Mazer Rackham’s character though – so I’m glad we met him at the end.  Were there any other Character’s that you were drawn to?

Lauren:  First of all, I have to address your freak out.  Katniss is a pimp and she easily backhands Ender with her pimp hand.  Just because they’re comparable doesn’t mean they’re the same, so calm down woman!

Now to the characters.  Honestly?  I couldn’t remember the majority of them.  There was some military man who was kind of sympathetic that intermittently appeared in the beginning pages of the chapters.  I still haven’t decided if I appreciated his sections or not.  We could have easily figured out how horrible these people were to Ender on our own, especially considering a conversation he had with one of the other kids about not taking anything at face value, but rather to really listen to what people are saying. Other than that, there were a whole bunch of kids that blend together because of how quickly Ender moves from group to group, etc.  If anything, the only reason I really liked one character was because she was a sharpshooter, and that’s what I gravitate toward in video games.  So clearly some of the characters could have been made a little bit more memorable.

With that said, I loved the introduction of Rackham because of how comical it comes off, like a cartoon fight where one character is unaware of the full power of the other.  Just swat!  Then Ender turns around and he’s meditating calmly again.  Turns away, swat!  It was just like he was messing with him, like the “I’m not touching you!” kid.  Other than him, it was mostly the characters that Ender had personal moments with, like Valentine and Bean, but other than that I couldn’t really keep one apart from the other.

Heather:  Yea, oddly enough, all I could picture in that first scene with Rackham was a quietly taunting Rafiki-like character; seemingly calm and then busting out a sudden baboon infused smackdown.  The only other character I really felt like we got to know more in depth besides Ender was Valentine.  Although I really like her, I did start to get a little concerned about her “goodness” when she teamed up with Peter to build up a following on the Internet.  Especially when she occasionally said that she was actually starting to enjoy the persona she was taking on, and that she didn’t even need Peter’s help to write it anymore because she had started to think like him.  I guess we will see what the future holds for her and where her character goes in the sequels, but I really hope she doesn’t become corrupted.

Overall, Ender’s Game was a different sort of story than I am used to reading.  And while I don’t agree with all of Orson Scott Card’s choices, I respect them for being slightly unusual and catching me off guard.  I may not be dying to know what happens next, but I am certainly intrigued, and will eventually get around to reading the follow-ups.

Heather and Lauren’s Final Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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