by Orson Scott Card
“What is it next time? My army in a cage without guns, with the rest of the Battle School against them? How about a little equality?”
“Ender, if you’re on one side of the battle, it won’t be equal no matter what the conditions are.”
Ender’s Game, originally a short story published in 1977, was adapted into novel format in 1985. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and the next year its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, won both awards again. Card is currently the only author to have performed this feat.
In a near-future Earth, we had encountered our first alien species and they attacked. Years later, they attacked again in the Second Invasion, when it was realized the First Invasion wasn’t an attack at all and more an exploration. When the Second Invasion arrived, it was a full assault, and humanity survived only by the brilliant military tactics of one man.
Now, preparing for the Third Invasion many decades later, mankind has realized the only chance of survival is the cultivation and training of a military mind at least as fine as the one that saved humanity during the Second Invasion. Battle School is formed, and the novel begins with the leaders of the school discussing their most promising future student.
Ender Wiggin, a 6 year old child with two older siblings, is earmarked as potentially containing the mental capacities necessary for a successful commander against the overwhelmingly powerful enemy. His oldest brother Peter, also once earmarked for the program, possesses many of the qualities but is too severe, too ruthless. His older sister Valentine, also mentally capable, is too trusting and mild. Ender is chosen for Battle School, and leaves Earth behind to begin his training with other genius students recruited for the program.
Readers are let in from the beginning that while there are many students in the school, Ender is the one everyone is banking on. Ender is the one who must be crafted into the greatest military mind in history, and Ender is the most likely, possibly only, candidate that may be honed into the commander necessary to save us from extinction.
The boy undergoes brutal training, endures incredible mental stresses, has everything repeatedly stacked against him higher and higher, and wins. Always. As he keeps winning, the instructors add to his stress, add to the odds against him to points of impossibility, for if Ender is not strong enough to overcome the most outrageously severe situations, we’re all dead.
The novel is mostly aimed at a young adult audience, but is certainly not limited as such. Most of us here were likely voracious readers during our youth, which classified us a certain way and made it easier for us to empathize with Ender, probably contributing a great deal to the beloved book’s success. In this intelligent, self-conscious and lonely child we could see glimpses of ourselves, and as the odds mounted against Ender we could feel them also mounting against us as we progressed from children to young adults to adults. Card’s ability to draw parallels and make these connections is uncanny.
Ender’s Game is the story of humanity fighting for itself, the underdog story of facing insurmountable odds, and it’s the story of us.
The perfect novel.