In fighting monsters, do we become monsters?
It’s the theme of this gripping book from Card. The writing is fluid and the characters dynamic and evolving.
Taken from his home at the age of six, Ender Wiggins is trained to be a killer against an alien race, a killer without remorse or pity. Terrified of turning into the bullying brother he hates, Ender is able to turn his anger to fighting mock battles in battle school, where a generation of children and teenagers are being trained to fight for the survival of humanity. At any cost to themselves, psychologically and physically.
The battles are fake and no one gets hurt, but that doesn’t stop Ender from being bullied and suffering psychologically – his brilliance is the target of envy, an envy fostered by his teachers. He responds brutally, without mercy…only feeling remorse when he’s finished.
In some ways, Ender reminded me of the literary James Bond. Bond would kill quickly and efficently; not enjoy doing it, but doing it because he had to in order to survive, and doing it to the best of his ability. Only Ender is a child, and the stress nearly pulls him apart.
One of the problems of the book is that Ender never sounds like a child. We’re told he’s a super genius, but I don’t think any super genius would be that mature. There’s a political subplot dragged in involving Enders sister and brother, but mostly it seems to be there for padding. What’s interesting about it is the way they go about it – they go online (The book was written in 1985) and set up sock-puppet accounts, each holding different opinions and written in a different style.
The biggest problems with the book start when Ender graduates to proper military training. I won’t give away the spoiler ending, but it seems rushed.
Also, 95% of the way through the book, a super weapon is mentioned in passing that has never been talked about before. It’s dropped so casually in the conversation, I thought I’d skipped a page. Half a page later, it happens again. “It will go straight through the Ecstatic Shield.” Oh, that’s all right then. So what is an Ecstactic Shield, since no one has ever talked about one before?
The epilogue seemed a little strained and too long as well. If the book had ended a chapter after the climax, it would have worked better. Instead Card seems to struggle to shoehorn extra plots in to work up to a sequel, and the book drags its feet to the last page.