Book Review: Ender’s Game

In the futuristic world of Ender’s Game, an alien race has attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed mankind. To prepare for the next encounter, an international Battle School has been established, where the world’s most talented children are drilled in the arts of war. Their early training takes the form of “games”: simulated battles in null-gravity.

Enter Andrew “Ender” Wiggin: a genius among geniuses. His training begins at age six, and when he joins Battle School, his tactical prowess becomes obvious. With humanity’s survival in the balance, everything hinges on Ender’s ability to surmount every challenge he’s given. The authorities are determined to make him or break him. Ender will grow up fast.

As far as science fiction goes, Ender’s Game isn’t good, nor is it great – it’s brilliant. Winner of the Hugo and the Nebula awards, this bestselling novel by Orson Scott Card is a stellar fusion of action and ideas; a story as intellectually challenging as it is relentlessly entertaining.

Card’s prose is of the clear, clean-cut variety, in the tradition of George Orwell, who said that good writing is “like a windowpane.” He doesn’t draw attention to himself as the author; instead, he steps aside and focuses on enveloping the reader in Ender’s world. Crisp dialogue. Taut pacing. Meticulous world-building. Tremendous characterization. What’s not to like about the way this book is written?

The action sequences are absolutely thrilling. In some ways, they reminded me of the zero-gravity combat in Inception (2010), except on a grander and more sophisticated scale. Excitingly-rendered as these sequences are, however, it’s the rendering of the characters that ultimately makes Ender’s Game as good as it is.

This is especially true in the case of Ender himself: since much of the story consists of his own internal dialogue, it’s crucial that we feel a strong emotional connection with him. Card accomplishes this perfectly, making Ender a well-developed and wonderfully sympathetic little hero. We get inside his head, feel him struggle, feel him triumph. We know him. And because of this, his growth in the harsh arena of Battle School is both compelling and painful to watch.

Ender’s Game is home to a multitude of tough and interesting ideas. Exploitation of children. Lost innocence. Abuse of power. Self-sacrifice. Personal responsibility. Family. And the war-time balance between ruthlessness and compassion. You may not agree with everything in the way Card handles these ideas, but he deserves credit for making us grapple with them in the first place.

Of course, Card isn’t touting a distinctly Christian worldview, and readers should keep that in mind. There’s a bit of quasi-religious weirdness at the very end (it’s brief and hardly central to the story), as well as a smattering of crude language, some violence, and quite a few mature themes. Don’t let the hero’s age fool you: this is no children’s book.

28 thoughts on “Book Review: Ender’s Game”

  1. It may not be for kids, but it sure is good :) I’m on my fourth (fifth?) re-read right now. So glad you like it :) I hold that book in pretty high esteem, as a reader and a writer.

    Do you pan on seeing the movie when it comes out next year? I don’t have exceedingly high hopes, considering the some of the cast (Jeff Bridges as Graff? Neh…), but I thought they cast the Wiggin children well. Especially Ender.

    1. Yes, I definitely plan on seeing it. And actually, judging from the list on IMDB, it looks like Harrison Ford will be playing Col. Graff. I think he’ll be perfect. As for the Wiggin children, you’re right: the casting was spot-on. Asa Butterfield as Ender = awesomeness. :)

  2. “As far as science fiction goes, Ender’s Game isn’t good, nor is it great – it’s brilliant.” I was crushed as I read that sentence, until I got past the dash. I was going to be very sad that you disliked a book I consider one of my all-time fiction favorites. Like the Director from an earlier comment, I, too, have read this book many times. I actually have an upcoming post about what the book taught me about higher education.

    For anyone that hasn’t already read it, I recommend Ender’s Shadow, which follows the same plot line from Bean’s point of view. It’s nearly as good as the original, and it provides a new look at the story.

    1. “I was crushed as I read that sentence, until I got past the dash.”

      Ha! ‘Twas my intention to throw the reader off with that sentence. Glad it worked… :) Looking forward to reading your post on the book!

  3. The quasi-religious weirdness continues in Speaker for the Dead, but I dig it in terms of the science fiction aspect of it if not the creed of the Speakers themselves (actually they have no creed). Keep in mind that OSC is Mormon, so he has a slightly different view on things.

    I’ll second the recommendation for Ender’s Shadow, but I’d go with the Speaker series first.

    1. Just downloaded Speaker from earlier today. Looking forward to reading it. As for OSC… yeah, I did a bit of “research” before reading Ender’s Game and found that out. *now on guard* :)

  4. This is a classic. Agree with the weirdness but it doesn’t really bother me all that much, gives you something to think about. I’d go with the Speaker strand next too. But I also love the Shadow books. Even though OSC is a Mormon, there are some gems of wisdom in his personal essays and pov on worldly topics that agree with a Christian mindset. I’d rather mull over what Card has to say in his books than an atheist author.

  5. So “Ender” is a genius… I wonder what the fascination is with geniuses? Why authors like them so much? Even I have a genius in one of my books… I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I just wonder why they’re such favorites. I find it interesting.

    A very well written review! Reading your Science Fiction book reviews, makes me wonder if I should try reading a few, outside of Jules Verne…

    To the KING be all the glory!

    1. Sci-Fi is probably my favorite genre, so of course, I’m biased. :) Still, there’s so much potential in it. Contrary to what some think, it’s not all about aliens and pulpy action with laser guns. There are quite a few sci-fi books/movies that deal with serious stuff. (No, Star Wars isn’t one of them :))

      A couple of my favorites that I recommend you start out with are:

      Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
      I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
      Knox’s Irregulars by J. Wesley Bush

      And of course, Ender’s Game would be a good intro, too. :)

  6. Hmm it was interesting to read your review, I’ve heard a lot about the book though I’ve never really planned on reading it myself. However if you want to, you’ve been tagged at my blog, take your pick.

  7. I started reading this book awhile ago, and the narrative really captivated me. It’s one of those worlds that shocks you with its starkness, in a good way. Also, the writing style was brilliant, I agree.

    I didn’t have time to finish it… but I plan to.

  8. Great review. I agree — this book is one of my all-time favorites. I’d also recommend his book Treason. It has nothing to do with the Ender series, but I liked it a lot. Just be warned — it’s a very strange book. And the first couple of chapters will make you wonder if you should really stick with it. But try to — I think it’s well worth it.

  9. Greetings. I just stumbled upon this blog while looking for a review for Ender’s Game. What a relief to find a Christian take on it! Thanks! I was thinking about checking out the book before seeing the upcoming movie, but wanted to make sure it was all right first. Based on the last paragraph of your review, do you think it would be worth my time? I am nineteen, which is why I ask.
    ~T, aspiring author.

      1. Great, thanks! Great blog you have here, by the way. I bookmarked it and subscribed, and will be coming back. Keep up the good work!

  10. P.S. Out of curiosity, do you let others do reviews of books as well? I saw that you didn’t have a few must-reads. ;)

      1. In that case then, you might want to read Christopher Paolini’s Inheritence Cycle, starting with Eragon. It’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read. There’s also the Fablehaven series, by Brandon Mull. Neither are heavy on conveying themes, especially Fablehaven, but their still both great reads. Just my 2 cents.

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