Here’s one that relates to video games! Sort of! For sci-fi nerds like me, no adolescent novel has come close to the acclaim given to Orson Scott Card’s novel, Ender’s Game. I’d like to think that I would have loved the book had I read it when I was ten. It plays into every young nerd’s fantasies about saving the world from aliens, living in outer space, and playing video games non-stop for six years without getting in trouble. The problem is, I first read this book when I was 32, with an IQ higher than my shoe-size that enables me to read the novel as a juvenile combination of Starship Troopers and Full Metal Jacket, with all the psychological realism of a Stephanie Meyer novel.
Ender’s Game follows the exploits of an average six-year-old boy, who enjoys going to school, playing soldier with his big brother, and psychotically murdering the hell out of other six-year-old boys who defy his will. Fortunately, the government is interested in young boys with an aptitude for ruthless slaughter. Earth has, over the past century or so, repelled a handful of invasions by an alien species known as “buggers.” As Card is an outspoken homophobe, I can only assume that he assigned this name intentionally, as like their Earthling counterparts, the buggers’ very existence makes a lot of Earth men uncomfortable. And like many outspoken homophobes, Earth’s answer for the buggers is to murder them out of existence. So when Ender is caught slaughtering one of his classmates who likewise makes him feel uncomfortable, the International Fleet hails him as a tactical genius.
I’ll repeat that; murdering a six-year-old because he scares you makes you a tactical genius. And Ender is so much a genius, that they want him to command the army as soon as possible. Apparently no one in this world had ever thought that “hurting your enemies” was a particularly effective combat maneuver. It sure explains why my attempts to launch Little Debbie cakes at people and invite them to a rousing game of Magic: The Gathering hasn’t deterred the last few people who tried to mug me. So the I.F. takes Ender up to their orbiting combat school to prepare him for battle.
And then be prepared to read about training. And school. And combat simulations. The book turns into Full Metal Jacket, if you replaced all the social commentary with vague descriptions of schoolwork. Although to be fair, Card does allow Ender to murder someone once or twice (once.) just to spice things up. Of course, far from receiving realistic, believable consequences, Ender is praised for being violent enough to frighten Quentin Tarantino. See, while Card wants to write about a tactical genius, it becomes apparent that he, himself, knows very little about tactics, and so rather than devising clever situations for a witty protagonist to reason his way through, Card just has all the supporting characters repeatedly tell the reader how awesome Ender is, and we’re just supposed to roll over like a dutiful whore and accept whatever nonsense he shoves at us without question.
But aside from rampant homophobia, sexism and anti-semitism, fantasies about being a persecuted Christian, enough brutality to make Mortal Kombat look like Sesame Street, and for some reason a strange obsession with fart jokes, the book presents characters slightly less realistic than a Salvador Dali painting. Ender is a six-year-old who responsibly assumes a full-time training regimen. His sister becomes an Internet phenomenon, influencing public opinion under the pseudonym Demosthenes, while his older brother decides to take over the world with inflammatory youtube comments. Props to Card for predicting social media–even though he did somewhat overestimate the effect of flame wars–but trying to explain your lack of skill to create young characters–characters who have more in common with Tryion Lannister and Thorin Oakenshield than with Harry Potter and Ron Weasley–by saying, “Well, they’re smart” has the same effect as Jeffrey Dahmer telling the judge, “Well, I was hungry”–it makes us want a little more explanation.
The book may have redeeming qualities toward the end, but Card sticks to his convictions the way Bill Clinton recounts his sex life. There’s some literary parsley garnishing the end about understanding an opponent diminishing the desire to kill them. But he also includes a handful of other really interesting ideas that dry up faster than the ink on the page. I ended up losing sympathy for the book when Card suggests that the moral course of action would be establishing an age of neo-colonialism on the homeworlds of our slain victims–it is, after all, what Elton John From Outer Space would want.
However, Ender’s Game is a classic member of the sci-fi cannon, and as such it must appeal to someone. I recommend this book for an audience of psychopaths, homophobes (or, really, anyone who was weirded out by Flash Gordon), or just any young boy with delusions of grandeur.