Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review - Ender's game

Ender’s game – Orson Scott Card
I really want to be a fan of sci-fi novels. I love Star Wars more than is humanely healthy (although ironically I haven’t read many of the EU books), I am also a big fan of Alien movies, predator, total recall and a lot of other films within the genre. When it comes to books though, I just cannot get into them.
The books I have tried all seem to be unnecessarily scientific, to the point where they are pretentious. For example, Dan Simmon’s Hyperion is supposed to be an absolute classic. Whilst I enjoyed parts of it, there were large portions of the novel where I zoned out as all the technical babble just bored me.
Still, I am convinced that there are sci-fi novels out there that I will enjoy.  Ender’s Game is my attempt to find one of these. I have often heard it mentioned with fondness and so the premise sounds quite good.
The blurb:
When humanity is under threat from an alien race, Ender Wiggin, at the age of six, leaves his family on Earth to journey to the Belt. There he enters Battle School, where his life is strictly disciplined by mind games and computer mock-battles fought in deadly earnest. Instinct, compassion and genius make Ender unequalled. But while he trains, the invasion approaches fast. And Ender will be pushed to the limits of endurance, for he is a unique destiny...
Yes, Yes, YES. Finally a sci-fi novel that is a great story and has good characterisation, without all the scientific detail weighing it down.
Ender is a great character. Monitored at an early age, he has always stood out as a highly intelligent child with massive potential. He has grown up hating his brother, Peter, who he views as cruel and dangerous, whilst at the same time fearing he may share the same traits himself. His only true love is reserved for his sister Valerie who is the opposite of Peter.
When Ender is approached by the IF to join the battle against the Buggers, he sees it as an opportunity to escape his life and also save the life of his sister and parents in the process.
Ender is immediately likeable. He is a victim but has a strong moral compass and is not afraid to stick up for himself. When he joins the academy, the teachers are keen to isolate him from the other students and push him to his limits at every turn. The result is a relentless assault on Ender’s endurance and Orson Scott Card (OSC) does a terrific job of making the reader empathise with Ender whilst also tempering this by demonstrating his superior ability.
The novel feels has a classic schoolyard feel to it. The bullies take out their frustrations and own inadequacies on Ender whilst he struggles to win them over. However, underlying this, you get the sense of a far more serious issue of the potential threat of the Buggers and the mystery of just how and why Ender is being manipulated so much.  
The supporting cast is solid. The few friendships Ender does manage to make are interesting as they always seem on the verge of betraying him. The enemies are more than cardboard cut outs, each having a reason to despise Ender.
OSC also ensures that Peter and Valerie are not forgotten and both grow in stature as the plot progresses, so that they are involved in an important sub-plot.
The pace of the story is good. Despite the novel being focussed on Ender’s development, you always get the sense that it is moving towards something. Ender’s growth is well portrayed as his development from a scared boy into a confident teenager.
OSC uses a good technique to having each chapter open with a short conversation between two senior officials discussing the current situation and Ender’s progress. It is effective as it draws the reader’s attention to the sub-plot whilst not detracting from Ender’s story.
The ending is great. I for one was not expecting it despite having an inclining that something might happen. Many may feel cheated but I think it is a great way to wrap up the novel and definitely leaves you thinking long after you put the book down.
The sci-fi genre is very broad. It is the sci-fi set in space that I really wanted to find a good story too. I found that in Ender’s Game and will definitely be reading more of the series.
My rating: 9.2