Saturday, January 21, 2006

B.W.'s Book Report: Ender's Game

Don't ask me how I managed to go this long without reading Orson Scott Card's masterpiece Ender's Game. I just did. Often, the timing of these things is perfect, and this was the time of life when I needed to read Ender's Game. Not 21 years ago when the novel was first published, not 29 years ago when the story first came out in novella form, not last year. Now.

Once again my Firefly/Serenity obsession had something to do with the choice of finally picking up a book I had heard buzzings about forever. It was Card who wrote, "I'm not saying Serenity is the best science fiction movie, ever. Oh, wait. Yes I am." And Card wrote that a major reason he has not yet allowed Ender's Game to become a film is that Hollywood usually does not make science fiction films as intelligent as Serenity.

Last month when we watched the new film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I found myself wondering why warfare plays such a dominating role in our fantasies (not to mention, as the saber-rattling continues over Iran, our realities). I've never sat down with C.S. Lewis' series of children's books, and I was surprised that the movie was so reminscent of Lord of the Rings with its epic-scale battles between fantastic creatures. Did Lewis really emphasize the importance of swinging a battleaxe and handling a bow? Can't we all just get along?

So I was drawn to Card's story of a little boy who is robbed of his childhood and trained to be the greatest military strategist of his generation. At least this time the battles would not be treated as a glorious Klingon spectacle; there would be soul searching and regret and even examination of the thought "Can't we all just get along?"

And there was this eternal dilemma that is not unique to warfare or even to childhood:

"And the despair filled him again. Now he knew why. Now he knew what he hated so much. He had no control over his own life. They ran everything. They made all the choices. Only the game was left to him, that was all, everything else was them and their rules and plans and lessons and programs, and all he could do was go this way or that way in battle."

In his 1991 introduction to the "Definitive Author's Edition" that I read, Card notes how creative work tends to gain new meanings as readers react, and he concludes, "If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something we made together."

So to me, perhaps reflecting the themes I've been writing about lately, Ender's Game has much to say about maintaining your individuality in a world where individual rights are increasingly devalued, about maintaining some semblance of control in your choices. And in the final scene that sets the stage for the first sequel, Speaker for the Dead, Card neatly addresses my discomfort with war as the default solution of conflicts.

I can understand why Card would revisit this group of characters in seven other novels over the past couple of decades; this is meaty stuff and they are memorable people. Based on its reputation, I dove into Ender's Game fully expecting one of the best novels I've ever read, and I wasn't disappointed.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Iran Crisis getting worse

6:54 PM  
Anonymous kyfho said...

Interesting coincidence; I just read Ender's Game for the first time myself.

It was one of those books that I thought I MUST have read sometime or other over the years. Since I didn't remember it, I thought I'd brush up my memory recently. Turns out it was brand new for me.

I know I have at least one other of his works. It looks like I'll need to add another shelf to the bookcase!

So many books, so little time. *sigh*

9:06 PM  

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