Sunday, 4 November 2012

discussion: Ender's Game

Disclaimer: Efforts have been to avoid spoilers, but please read at your own discretion. Also, this post is long. JSYK.

This sci-fi novel of Orson Scott Card's is obviously a classic, but I'd never read it until a week ago.

Guys, it's taken a week for this book sink in.

The summary:
Ender's quick mind makes him the ideal recruit for Battle School, where the commanders train him to battle against the buggers, with whom the residents of Earth have already had two wars. Meanwhile, Ender's older brother and sister, Valentine and Peter, dominate the Net in their grown-up personas, sharing opinions on the political situation to a cult-like following. If Ender does succeed in killing the buggers and saving Earth, it'll be Valentine and Peter who have the power to rule it...
Ender's Game is a sci-fi novel, but the themes here are those relating to humanity; basic social issues; children; and war. Not to mention the way Orson Scott Card wields his plot like a weapon. I think I'll break this post down into parts, so I can attempt to talk about this book coherently, and pose my questions in a logical fashion. Lord, this book left me pondering oh so many questions.

He's eleven years old, I think, when the plot twist arrives, when the game turns out not to be a game. It's hard to remember this. It's hard to remember, while reading the novel, that Ender Andrew Wiggin hasn't even hit puberty. And I do think that his steeply curved maturation is realistic; but it helps to drive home the point that Ender and his mates are not normal children. And who made them so? Was it the commanders, who took them from their homes and alienated them? Or is it a result of their own precocious minds?

Ender also goes through an internal struggle (one of many) as he tries to determine whether or not he bears any similarity to Peter, who is extremely sadistic. Whenever Ender causes pain--or death--he fears; he doesn't want to hurt anyone. Yet people keep insisting on threatening him, and he understands that to eliminate that threat he must hurt them. And that conundrum in itself is perplexing, the fact that some people will only understand pain, danger.

Yet even though Ender's mind is so matured, the reader resonates with him throughout; I wanted his successes, I wanted him to stand up to the commanders. So when Ender realizes that the game is real, this shock is electrifying, terrifying. It changes everything, for Ender, and so it changes everything, for the reader. I think this is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the book, that Ender always will have to live with this; in fact, in the end, he says he's not used to being without pain anymore, that he cannot live in pure happiness. That's absolutely slaying.

Species & communication.
The buggers aren't human. In the videos Ender watches, he understands that they must somehow have a way of communicating without speech; their starships move perfectly in sync, they react as one. Ender realizes they don't communicate the way humans do; the communication is internal. And the buggers, it turns out, thought that a species with no internal communication could not be any kind of civilized race. Hence the First Invasion; hence the Second Invasion; hence Ender getting roped into Battle School to attempt a Third Invasion.

The idea that it was all a misunderstanding is astounding. It has perpetuated the dichotomy between the humans and the buggers; it's the source of the intergalactic warfare and the terror reigning over Earth. But because neither side could--or would--communicate to the other, both must destroy the other. It's a lack of communication that's at the root of this war, and applying that concept to the real world is potentially very, very scary.

Every child who is more than a minor character in Ender's Game is, in some way, shape or form, gifted. Are they still children, then? How do we define "child"? Alai says "Salaam" ("peace") and gives Ender something to hold onto in the isolation forced upon him by the commanders. But later, Ender grows distant as the others joke about. He's the leader, the one they all look up to; but he has no one. Is he still a child?

Let's talk about Peter and Valentine--the latter hates the former, the former uses the latter, and they both understand each other a frightening degree. But they were both created by the government (though this is something I'm still not sure on). So are their extremist personalities and mind-blowing minds natural? If they're not, does that give them a right to wield so much intellectual power over the Net, where words convey so much more than letters and everyone is someone else?

It's because adults have tricked Ender that he plays their not-game; it's because of adults that he's isolated, that he's forced to harden. It's because of adults that the Third Invasion was launched. It's because of adults that Peter and Valentine have so much power over the Net--because their power is associated with adults, other adults give them their own power. Commander Graff uses Valentine to persuade Ender to stay in the battle program. The two children are aware of it; they (outwardly, at least) do nothing to counter it.

Is it worth it to go against adults who have so much power? They rule the world children live in. Dink triggers the questioning of the adults' reign in Ender, suggesting that the Us and Them is really the boys versus the teachers. Is this really the right way to look at it, though? Does it help? And how do we know if we should go along with Them or not?

If you made it this far, please have a hug. *hugs* Thoughts? Is there anything I didn't talk about that you found crucial to Ender's Game?