Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

I like science fiction. I remember reading Anne McCaffery stories beginning when I was a tween (before "tween" was even a word), reading Isaac Asimov as I got older, and eventually looking for books by authors who weren't as well known. Shame on me for not putting Ender's Game on the top of my list years and years ago.

What is unique to me is that this book poses the question, "What if the fate of the earth was in the hands of children?" How do you deal with them? How do you train them? How do you impress upon them how vitally important they are to the human race? How do you choose who is trained, and who isn't? How do you know you've made the right choices?

The story is very easy to fall into. Haven't we all had moments, especially in childhood, where we didn't feel we quite belonged? Didn't we all have fantasies of overcoming the odds, and even the people, that stood in our way? This feeds into all of those dreams, but at the same time, it takes a different path than most traditional story telling.

The chapters were like small stories unto themselves, beginning with a question or problem, and having it resolved by the end of the chapter. There were some issues which became a main thread through the whole, but I especially enjoyed the fact that I could read a chapter, be satisfied enough to take a break, and still have a real desire to come back to it for the big resolution.

What I hadn't expected, because I've been so careful not to learn too much about the books I'm reading before I pick them up, was Ender's age. And not just his youth, but the way he dealt with it, and the wisdom and struggles he had that were more suited to an older boy. But I didn't find myself questioning it because all of that was explained quickly and satisfactorily.

There wasn't a time when I didn't feel empathy for Ender. Card does such a terrific job of mixing the reader in with the character's feelings, that there isn't any room to step back and wonder if Ender might be "odd". Why? Because you find yourself being "odd" right along with him, and it seems as natural as breathing.

The secondary characters were marvelous to read about. They were so fleshed out, so complete, and each one played nicely into the overall story. It was great to see varying viewpoints (the boy who doesn't trust the teachers or higher ups, the girl who focuses on being nothing but a great soldier), and it was just as fun to see it all come together and play like overlapping parts in a symphony.

What is also great about this book are the subplots. They are there, and not just hidden in the corners, but presented to you on a silver platter. There is no guessing about what's going on, but there are still the questions about why, who, and how, and that's what keeps it streaming along.

I will admit to being a bit uncomfortable about the way Ender is treated, especially in the beginning. But then, most good stories do make you feel that way, so I was okay with it. And the way the main characters dealt with the issues helped me get through my discomfort quickly enough.

The ending isn't just satisfactory, it's absolutely perfect. You feel as if everything is precisely where it should be, that the people have become what they should, and while not everyone got what they deserved, I still walked away with a feeling of "rightness".

There are two twists in the book, neither of which I'll tell you. What I will say is that these revelations were perfectly timed, perfectly executed, and were brilliant moves by the author. Each brings about it's own "tied in a bow" feeling, while still allowing the reader to have a chance to use their imagination and struggle with their own moral questions. If I say anymore I'll give it all away.

Would I recommend this book? I'll do one better. I'd buy this book for any sci-fi enthusiast (who doesn't own a copy) as a present without any doubt that they would love it. Actually, I'd purchase it for anyone who enjoys reading and still be just as sure they'd like the story. In fact, now that I've read the first one, I plan to go out and buy the entire series. I hear the next ones are just as good, and I can't wait to see where Card goes with his characters from here.

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