Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Hugo Project: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (1986 Winner)

Overall: 9.2

As I remarked in a previous post, this is a terrific novel. It is, however, occasionally misunderstood.

Plot Synopsis:

"Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses -- and then training them in the arts of war... The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of 'games'... Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games... He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?" - from the New York Times blurb cited on the back of the book.

The Skinny:

In recent years, certain reviewers have advanced some pretty sketchy interpretations of Ender's Game. One writer, for example, proposes that Card's novel is so popular among science fiction fans because it fulfills our "nerd revenge fantasies." Others assert that Card is sanctioning child abuse and genocide. And then there's the critic who ventures way out into the tall grasses and states that Ender's Game apologizes for Hitler. What the hell?

I think what all of the aforementioned reviewers have in common is a failure to acknowledge the difference between merely depicting something hideous and cruel and actually supporting it. Yes -- it is indeed true that the adults in Ender's life emotionally torture him to serve their own ends. It is also true that Ender becomes an unwitting perpetrator of both murder and genocide. But the assertion that Ender's Game is therefore a fascist tract is utterly bizarre. Did Card's detractors completely miss Ender's deep remorse in the final chapters of the book?

And by the way, about that "nerd revenge fantasy" hypothesis: no, that's not why I personally love Ender's Game. I love this novel because I love tragedies. The conflict that shapes the background of this story begins because of a cultural misunderstanding -- and due to the limitations of slower-than-light travel, Earth's reprisal is launched after the buggers have already lost their will to fight. Moreover, the Earthers have become so fixated on their need for revenge that they've stooped to genetically and emotionally manipulating underaged kids. Of course all of this is viscerally disturbing. That's how tragedies are supposed to work.

Characterization: 9.0

Some complain that the children in this book sound far too old, but I wasn't overly bothered by that. As a gifted child, I often preferred the company and conversation of adults to that of children my own age -- and my IQ is quite modest compared to Ender's.

Plot/Pacing: 9.5

Introspection and action are balanced well -- and, of course, I have to give Card credit for the evil twist at the very end.

Concepts/Themes: 9.0

War is sometimes necessary -- but Card, rightly, never lets us forget its potential to warp our sense of right and wrong.

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