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
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?
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.
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!
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Scientific Wonders 5/5
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.