Ender Wiggin is just your average six-year old boy, the youngest of three siblings. Average, other than the fact that he’s a budding military genius, taken from his home on Earth and shipped off to be trained in Battle School in space. The human race has been fighting a war against an alien species that attacked the Earth a hundred years ago. They’re called Buggers, for the obvious reason that they look like giant insects. After a fluke victory during the first war, the military has been desperately searching for the next great leader. They hope they’ve found him in Ender. Ender will suffer through five years of grueling training as the men in charge manipulate him and the children he trains with in order to turn him into the best strategist the world has ever seen.
As Ender struggles to survive and thrive in Battle School, his older brother and sister back on Earth are going through their own crucible. Peter Wiggin, the eldest, is a cruel and sadistic boy with grandiose but entirely plausible ideas of ruling the world. Valentine Wiggin is the middle child, protector and defender of Ender and buffer to Peter, trying to keep him from taking out his frustrations and manipulations on the innocents around him. All three kids are scarily smart and intensely calculating; each move they make, each word they utter is analyzed unto the nth degree. Between the three Wiggin children, the world is in for a hell of a ride. But they just might manage to save the human race in the course of all their machinations.
The title Ender’s Game refers to so much more than the mock battles he learns to fight in the Battle School. He is both pawn and player, manipulated by the military men around him, but also trying his best to fight back any way he can. He is very much aware that they are playing with his life, even at the beginning of the story when he is still a child. Although Ender is still very young when the story ends, he stops being a child very early on.
The story asks many questions of us: How far will we go to turn a child into a killer? How much manipulation and isolation can one boy handle for the sake of humankind? Is the price of survival too high? Is the complete and utter destruction of another race really what it takes to ensure our continuation? Is the only true path to power through the means of manipulation and deception?
There are few easy answers in this book. What Ender, Valentine, and Peter endure and engender because of who they are and what they can would be too much for most normal children. But it is very clear that they are in no way normal children. This book is not about childhood. It is about the loss of one, two, or three childhoods for the good of many. Ender is the butt of the worst of the training, but every boy and girl he fights beside and against is a victim of necessity.
Ender, in himself, is not a killer. He has been forced into situations that cause him to defend himself, but on his own, he is a sweet and caring boy. Forces outside of his control cause the literal weight of the world to descend on his small shoulders. Card manages to portray him as very human and very real, even as Ender is pushed above and beyond the edge of human endurance. The people in charge of his life are all bad; many of them care deeply for Ender. But because of the threat of the Buggers, they can stop at nothing to create the ultimate defender. Valentine is also seen as a good sister and a kind person, as she is coldly manipulated both by the military and Peter. Peter is the real bad guy, but he’s bad in such a way that can’t be stopped or proven, but must be endured. He is a megalomaniac in the truest sense, convinced he is the only one that can prevent war between the countries of Earth after the Buggers are defeated. It’s very unfortunate that he might be proven right. In the end, even the Buggers are proved not to be all bad, but merely guilty of misunderstanding the structure of the human race.
The characters and settings within Ender’s Game are compelling. This is a true classic of science fiction. You have space battles, weightless fights, an alien species, and truly genius characters. You also have examples of the best and worst of humanity. There are strong and weak male and female characters, although the boys vastly outnumber the girls in Battle School. Valentine manages to stand out even against her two brothers, though, and she is a genuinely interesting character in her own right.
There are some mixed feelings in the Speculative Fiction community about Orson Scott Card’s works because of some of opinions he has expressed in regards to the gay and lesbian community. Because of those opinions, I can’t honestly endorse buying Ender’s Game, because I feel that the author does not deserve to be supported by the very people he admits to loathing. But sometimes a story reaches beyond petty feelings, and in this case, Ender’s Game is one of those stories. So go to your nearest library or used bookstore and get this book. It’s absolutely worth reading, regardless of the author.