29 September 2012

Ender's Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Audiobook read by Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison and Cast
1986 Hugo Award Winner (1985 Nebula)
Got it from: Public Library
10h 31m

It has been years since humanity won the Bugger War.  Preparing for a second attack seventy years later, we recruit our very youngest and very brightest for military training, hoping for another genius commander to ward off the overpowering Bugger fleet.  And so it is that boys, 6 to 12 years old, come to “Battle School” – an awesome and terrifying place where boys do awesome and terrifying things while learning to fight and strategize in the battle room, a zero-gee training room.  Ender Wiggin is latest and greatest recruit and everyone knows it, but can his teachers mold him into the commander humanity needs to stop the Buggers?

The book
While the story is an incredible page-turner, there are times when Card’s prose leaves a lot to be desired.  He also asks us to believe in a 6-year old with life experiences, attitudes, mental and physical capacities far beyond those of most adults.  There were times when this really hurt the story, but the book not only won the Hugo but also the Nebula so clearly, there were also times when this worked well.  I want to talk about one of those times.

Ender detested his own capacity for violence and for dehumanizing and objectifying his peers.  Not only did he struggle with his own choices, but he also saw his mentors, teachers (adults in general) purposefully cultivating those exact tendencies he hated, encouraging them and allowing it to happen.  Made worse by the ferocity of the attacks against him and his deadly response, Ender battles not only in the battle room (I want one!) but also in his own mind.  His personal turmoil felt real, substantial and emotionally traumatic.  As exciting as each battle was and as terrifying as the dynamic between Ender and the other boys could be, it was his personal growth that resonated with me and made him real.

But then there were things I just didn’t love.  Battle school was as I said, terrifying, but the battle room – the room that dominates the psyches of so many boys – wasn’t really the most philosophically challenging or emotionally gut wrenching part.  Those moments when Ender finds himself lying in bed trembling, crying and just scared and confused out of his mind, those moments were moving and were probably the book’s saving grace.  Ender’s struggles with his peers outside of the battle room were the most tense moments in the book and although the battle scenes were frickin’ AWESOME, they really killed the tension.  Every time.  Sure the battles were generally fast-paced and exciting, but you always knew Ender would win.  This is probably actually good storytelling thing to do, but if you ask me (which presumably you are doing right now), those battle scenes could have been drastically reduced and still worked wonders.

The audiobook
Of course I should say something about the audiobook itself.  First, I was excited that the great Harlan Ellison would be reading, but soon realized I wasn’t really sure how his voice sounded.  Through the process of elimination, I might have pinpointed him, but I’m not sure.  This is my first complaint.  The production went to lengths to secure a big and recognizable cast and fail to recognize them or make it a selling point.  What gives?  Scott Brick, Harlan Ellison, Stephan Rudnicki and others all make an “appearance,” why does the audiobook not include a full cast list and the corresponding parts they read.  People like that kind of thing.  People care.  Audio Renaissance spent money.  Audio Renaissance cares.  Why not go the extra step eh!?

I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way they split the readings up.  Ender’s narrative was so much more dominant than the brief Valentine or Bean interludes and really, those periods didn’t hold up very well.  Especially in the case of the quick Bean narratives, Ender kind of invades the momentary look into Bean’s mind and the combination of some kind of weak/uninteresting/splintered narrative with new readers, ended up being jarring and confusing, instead of helping to define the transition.

Despite those complaints, I actually really enjoyed the audiobook.  The fart jokes and name calling were delivered so that I was having more of those “dangerous” driving moments a little too frequently (sorry other drivers).  Also, I just like Rudnicki’s voice.

This is one of those books that really appeals to my earliest interests in SF.  Fast reads, cool tech, exciting battles, exotic locales.  Of course, even before I started this project my tastes in SF became more wide-ranging and more sophisticated, but this book still had some MASSIVE appeal for my caveman brain.  Even a little for the very tiny other part of my brain.  Ender was such a cool kid, even if it was a little hard to suspend disbelief, he was so inspiring.  Maybe I said this already about the battle room but – I WANT ONE!


Universe 4/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 4/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5
Characters 4/5

Overall 22/25

This week’s book is Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card.  As I’ve already mentioned, this one is carrying over to next.

Next week’s book is Startide Rising by David Brin.  Another big name, and I’m back to actual books…well, it’s a kindle book anyway.


  1. I liked this book when I read it a couple of years back. An adventure story of a self-sufficient hero and moral narrative in which mankind's martial virtues are examined. Together with "Speaker for the Dead" I think these two books are wonderful examples of the combination of exciting storytelling and morale parables. I read "Speaker" earlier this year and was also totally smitten with it.

    I guess British readers found the constant references to "buggers" very ... odd. It is amusing.

  2. I think I mentioned this is one of Natalya's frequent re-reads, and I think it is for the emotionally resonating aspects--and the adrenaline rush of the battle scenes. Ender has a fantastic success rate in creating interest in reading, and in reading sci-fi, among youth. I kinda dread the making of a film version for that reason alone. Of all the books they can and will want to read...

    Now that I think about it, Ender's may be the only Card book I've read. I've read Card recommended books. So I will be looking forward to your thoughts on "Speaker".


    1. Yeah, I'm pretty skeptical about the film too, but the boy playing Ender does look pretty cute ;)

      Wow, if I had read this at her age a whole lifetime of reading choices would have been so much different. N is lucky she has good influences!

  3. I read this one when I was 10, and, at the time, nothing seemed off to me about Card's portrayal of a child. i'm guessing I was vastly overrating my own level of maturity and mental development :). I get the feeling that this novel may not have aged well since I read it last (especially the Peter/Val segments). I was also not really into the battle room scenes-- the only one I even remember at all is the last one. I look forward to seeing your thoughts about "Speaker".

    1. Ha! Maybe it says more about me :) That is interesting though that Ender as a 6-year old didn't seem a stretch to a younger reader. I find that I'm always underestimating what kids can do. Maybe I'm doing it again?

  4. Random comment from a sort-of lurker, but I have found the my remembering that the enemy's gate is down helps to to think differently during my own challenging situations.

    1. I. LOVE. THAT. I am totally stealing it :-)

      You also reminded me how much I enjoyed Ender working through the battles. Thanks for commenting.


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