Ender’s Game is About a Bunch of Children Doing Un-children-like Things

pictured: not Ender's Game. original illustration by ed ehmswiller

pictured: not Ender’s Game. original illustration by ed ehmswiller

First, a bunch of unrelated shit:

I first started this blog roughly this time last year, ostensibly to write film reviews, but that didn’t work out at all. So, like any sane person and at the expense of all (two) of my loyal readers, I’ll start over. Try things again. Nuke everything to oblivion and let the tigers rule the Earth.

When I realized that I was starting to have a backlog of books I haven’t read, I made it my resolution to try and finish them all in 2015. It won’t be too hard, since it’s just six books. So I decided to do the next logical step: finish one book a week in 2015, every week. Thus a new-found impetus for this blog was born.

Which brings us to this. This week I decided to start working on my back-log and I started the new year reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I personally feel a bit ashamed that it took me this long to finally pick up the book, but fuck it; I’m reading this.

When I think of science fiction, I think of Robert Heinlein. If I’m being completely honest, I will say that I have not read a lot of science fiction, or much of anything, really. But when I think of science fiction, I think of Robert Heinlein; and I think of Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. It’s the quintessential space-age science fiction novel for me. It’s about a boy who dreams of going to space, does, has great adventures and ends up saving the Earth for it. I know, science fiction is so much more than space operas, but if I had to pick just one story to describe what science fiction is, I would pick that one.

Ender’s Game takes a lot of cues from Heinlein, but it differs from his work in so many more ways. There is this little introduction from Card where he talks about the novel for a bit, about how Asimov and the Civil War inspired him and the fan mail he’s received over the years. I don’t think it’s just Asimov that inspired him, in terms of fiction. Card talks about as a science fiction writer he had to innovate, build upon the work of past writers, and I think he did it beautifully with Ender’s GameEnder’s Game is a continuation, a sort of next step in the evolving science fiction genre. Or maybe he was just making a pun about building upon the foundations. Who knows? I certainly hope not. That’d be a dick move, to be honest.

Card paints space as a terrible, yet majestic place. He makes space out as this beautiful expanse of stars and planets, infinitely vast and eternally tranquil, and that the presence of humanity has sullied this interstellar purity because of his savagery and violence (a common trope in science fiction). Space isn’t something people should look forward to going to. Space isn’t romantic. But, for all the talk of space, and even though the novel is set above Earth, Ender’s Game isn’t about space at all. Ender’s Game is ultimately about the characters, and it is about Ender Wiggin.

pictured: not Ender's Game. original illustration by ed emshwiller

pictured: not Ender’s Game. original illustration by ed emshwiller

Ender’s Game was a lot of things to a lot of people. Most people who read it had their own take on it, picked something up from it. What I picked up when I read this was that Ender was a boy in a world that isolated him and wanted somebody to help him bear the brunt. He was special. He was the hope of the entire human race and all he wanted was somebody to support him.

Ender Wiggin was, above all, a boy who wanted nothing more than to be loved. It’s a theme that’s present throughout the book: Ender was the lonely King on top of the mountain. He desired neither victory nor adulation, but rather, a person to share the spot with. All Ender wanted was to fit in with everybody else, for his brother to stop hating him, for his friends to treat him as a friend and not as their commander, and for Valentine to love him.

But at the same time, Ender couldn’t help but push away everybody who tries to come close. He interprets all of Graff’s acts of affection as calculated and so comes to mistrust everything. He pushes away Valentine every time she tried to talk to him. He alienates Bean, mirroring the treatment he got when he started Battle School. He keeps a safe distance from his subordinates at all times, never letting them get too friendly. If you count the number of times Ender was really physically close with another person, you’d note that aside from Alai and Val, most of the instances were of physical violence.

In the end, Ender does find a sort of peace within himself in the form of the hive-queen egg, since it was the only being besides himself who knew his entire thought process. In the end, despite the utter genocide he inflicted upon their entire race, it was with the buggers that he found some measure of forgiveness and belonging. Despite all the pushing away, he finally found an entity that was understood him in a way that was meaningful to him. I think that was the entire point of Ender as a person: he was just trying to find somebody who understood him as much as he understood himself. His sister loved him but she always framed Ender in relation to herself or to Peter. Everybody else just couldn’t hack it in Ender’s mind. The hive-queen was the first and only other being in the universe who understood him completely.

And that says something about everybody. Ultimately what we all want is a sense of belonging, even as we push each other away. Sort of like hedgehogs who want to get close to each other but end up just hurting each other for it. Ender was dealt a bad hand: he was simply too good and too special. He was Jesus Christ, he and he alone can carry the cross, and Simon of Cyrene won’t help him out if he stumbles and falls.

I think one of the most beautiful parts of Ender’s Game is that it’s not just about Ender’s quest for love and understanding, but it’s so much more. It has so many messages about militarism, about children, about the loss of innocence, and about human nature. There is this part in the novel where Val talks to Ender while they’re on a raft he built, on a lake. The entire sequence had everything the entire novel stood for: the tense moment between the now-reunited siblings, the loss of Ender’s childlike innocence, the IF controlling Ender and (somehow) Val’s fates, humanity being out of place in a world of natural tranquility. It was a short chapter, but definitely my favorite one. People called Ender’s Game ‘simple’, sometimes derisively. I like that. I like simple books. Sometimes the best messages are found in simple books.

So that’s basically it. Tune in next week where I talk about… another book.

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