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A novel by Orson Scott Card
(2006, TOR books)
[Original copyright: 1985]

Ender's Saga, book 1

A young boy is isolated through a series of war-games, as he is groomed to be the commander of Earth's forces against an invading army.


-- 3rd reading (hardcover)
February 24th to March 13th, 2021


This is my third time reading this novel. Knowing the story so well, I was able to appreciate the smaller details, and the less-memorable points. Ender’s character is well-developed, and although he grows in knowledge, he barely grows socially. He has loyal friends, but they are less friends than co-workers, and they all know how much better than he is than them, so there’s always a distance. It’s the isolation of a supreme commander. My favorite parts of the book were the battles, as Ender figures out how to beat each of his opponents using unique strategies as each battle becomes stacked more and more against him. Even the battles on the simulator in Command School were intense and very interesting. I could have done without Peter and Valentine’s stories, but they contrasted well with what Ender was doing, and I appreciate them more having read a couple of the sequel books.


-- Second reading (hardcover)
January 16th to 28th, 2017


I didn't remember this book starting off slowly. It's not something that I would have loved from page one, but the way it builds up kept me mesmerized again. Things keep accelerating until Ender manages to defeat everybody in the battle room, even with the odds stacked against him. The worse things get, the better and more innovative he gets. But he is damaged. I see that throughout the book, now, which I didn't catch the first time I read this novel.

I thought that reading the Bean series would help me understand this book a little better, but that's not the case. Bean's point of view from Ender's Shadow only gives a small glimpse of what's going on in the sidelines. Bean, of course, is the one who realized first that they are actually fighting the buggers, not a simulation, but he doesn't tell Ender. The scene where Petra fails at her duty because she's pushed too hard is short here, but expanded in Bean's book, where he helps save the day. It was nicely complementary in that sense.

I still loved this book, but I don't remember it the way it's written. It's a strange feeling.


+ -- First reading (hardcover)
April 23rd to 30th, 2008


Its rare that a book comes along like this one. Ender's Game is special. It is not perfect, by any means, but it is special. And I loved it.

Spoiler review:

The edition I have has an introduction by the author, describing how it became popular with smart people who are always being bullied, especially in military circles. In it, he describes how so many people have mailed him over the years, telling him why they love or hate the book. Most people who love it have been bullied because they are smart, and don't want to play the physical bullying games most people are forced to go through in school. The people who hate the book can't seem to get over the fact that Ender is six years old, and is put through this kind of rough training. One states that six year-olds don't talk like the characters in the book, using all sorts of adult language in their taunting. The author retorts that perhaps they don't speak like that when the letter-writer is around, but they do. The only problem I have with his response is that Ender and his friends (and enemies) don't change their speaking patterns between the ages of six and twelve. So is it the six-year-olds who are speaking like this, or the twelve-year-olds?

Ender is a brilliant child, in a society of brilliant children. But there is something special about him. He can see solutions to problems that evade everybody else, or that nobody considers to be problems. In the opening chapter, he is assaulted by a gang in school. He hates being bullied and wished everybody would just leave him alone. But when there is no escape from the gang, he decides to end the bullying as fast as he can. He knows that if he submits, he will be submitting all his life, and the others who want to bully him will get braver every time he submits. He also knows that the gang will want revenge if he simply embarrasses or hurts them. So he pounds the leader to a pulp; he never learns that he actually killed the kid.

Ender lives in a society build around fear. Hive-like aliens that humanity calls Buggers have invaded twice, so the space military can do whatever it likes to make sure they get the best kids to fight for them. They thought Ender's older brother would do the job, but he was much too unstable, so they let him go. Peter tortures Ender (actually a nickname for Andrew) and torments everybody and everything. They thought his older sister was too tame.

Ender, being the title character of the book, and being such a brilliant strategist, even when he isn't even thinking of strategy, is taken up to Battle School at six years old. He has already been tagged as the future leader of humanity's forces, so the chief instructor, Graff, singles him out so that everybody will hate him. By congratulating him on his inherent understanding of zero-gravity, Graff has made Ender the teacher's pet. As everybody in elementary or high school knows, being seen as the teacher's pet is exactly what you don't want, unless you want to be picked on or bullied.

In his training as a newbie, he manages to make friends, of a sort, and breaks the hold of the one who tried to bully him on the shuttle up to Battle School on the others. Ender becomes the leader by default, because he can do things like create new security systems for his locker and computer, and can send anonymous emails humiliating his enemies. In the battle room, where people wear special suits that can be frozen joint by joint by a special tagging gun, Ender experiments with weightlessness as the others try to figure out which way is up. He is bouncing off the walls and figuring out action-reaction when one of other newbies manages to copy him. There is his first new friendship.

Just when he is starting to feel comfortable, he is sent to a new group, at an age and experience level when nobody has ever been sent to a Team. The leader of the Salamander Team doesn't want him, so essentially sits him on the bench for the first few games. Instead, Ender observes, and sees that kinds of strategies the teams use, and knows instinctively what they are doing wrong. Nobody uses imagination at all. That changes when Ender disobeys orders and freezes almost an entire opposing team from behind, where nobody was looking.

Not yet comfortable with his new team, but starting to get some respect, he is sent to the Rat team, where he learns even more strategy by a leader reluctant to have him. And he learns how to be hated even more. He continues to practice with the newbies he came to Battle School with, learning how to be more of an asset to his Teams, and the newbies learn some of his technique. Essentially, he becomes their leader, or co-leader.

When he starts getting comfortable with Rat Team, he is shifted out again, this time to Dragon Team, where he is the leader, and all of his team-mates are newbies from different shuttles. Without getting practice time, and prevented from practicing with his old comrades, he forms them into a fighting team to contend with, and they never lose. Even when Ender gets fed up and aims to finish the game fast, not caring if he wins or loses, his strategy always works. Not because the other teams are giving him leeway; just the opposite occurs. They all hate him and his team. They try hard to beat him, even to the point of cheating. But Ender always has an imaginative strategy, and the others are trying to imitate what he had done last time. He never does anything the same twice.

Add to that the plot to keep him off-balance, the reason for which is only revealed at the end of the book. Every time Ender starts to feel somewhat comfortable, the teachers change the rules on him. When he gets too good, they give him minutes' notice before a Game, while the other team gets hours. They give him two games in the same day, something previously unheard of. His first game comes weeks after forming his team, instead of months. They forbid him practice time, they ban him from seeing his old newbie team, and finally, they pit him against two teams at once. Each time, he gets more and more fed up. Not knowing the rules will put that kind of a strain on anybody. Each time, he takes on a strategy more and more blatantly direct, to end the game early and get his team back to rest.

The best part about this book is the way Ender meets the challenges. Each time he faces a problem, he invents a solution not seen before. In the video arena, he can mentally catalogue all the attacks the computer throws at him, or at others, and handily defeats it every time. He forces the other teams to change their strategies, because, for example, he froze them all as they entered the arena. When faced with a team that had already been in the Room for a long time before Dragon arrived, he sends out a single frozen man, knowing the opposing team is hidden around the edges of the entrance. Bean freezes most of that team before they know he is out there. When a "star" blocks his entrance, so he doesn't know what is on the other side, he ties his team together in a block and uses action-reaction to throw five men to the gate to claim it, even though practically the only person left unfrozen was the one who entered. And every time he does something inventive, the teachers change the rules on him.

The thing is, the reader can't believe any challenge can be worse than the one that came before. But enter the next section, and it is. The reader also can't think that Ender could ever get his way out of the situation by winning, either, yet he does. It's that amazing.

Two parts of this book drag it down a little, and I didn't think they were necessary, though perhaps they are to the sequels. The first is the Giant's Drink. It is a virtual reality computer game, I think. In it, the players fight their way up to the Giant's table, and choose one of the drinks the giant lays out for them. The players always die. Even the teachers don't know what is beyond that point, because as few students ever reach the Giant's Drink, none have defeated that part of the game. Yet Ender kills the giant after being so frustrated with everything around him. He enters a fantasy realm, which becomes very bizarre. The sequence becomes important in the last chapter of the book, as humanity colonizes the worlds of the annihilated Buggers. One Queen egg remains, and as he was defeating them, they took from his mind the image of the fantasy realm, so he could find the egg, and the story of the Buggers, how they didn't even realize humanity was sentient, because humanity cannot share a common mind, so they didn't even know they were invading. They just thought they had found a habitable planet to colonize, with all sorts of animals on it. So the Giant's Drink was used as a method of communication.

The other slow part of the book concerns Ender's brother and sister. As they get older, they see how the world is falling apart. They are ten years old, and nearly as brilliant as Ender. So they become on-line personalities, taking different sides on worldly issues, even inciting people against certain governments, especially the Russian confederation, which they know will make a bid for world domination after the Buggers are defeated and the space military is obsolete. They do a good job of it, too, and Peter becomes a world leader at a very young age, reducing the turmoil of the post-Bugger-war war.

So how does Ender defeat the Buggers? He nearly doesn't. After humiliating one of his old leaders in the Game, Bonzo tries to kill him, but he kills Bonzo, just like he did in the first chapter of the book with the gang leader. Everybody leaves him alone after that, but he is promoted to officer's school, after a short rest time on Earth, because he is just not willing to go on. But the leaders recruit his sister Valentine, which they know will make him continue, because Valentine is the only thing in his life worth saving the world for, and the only person he loves. Valentine hates the leaders for using her like that, but she knows the risk of losing Ender, too.

At officer's school, Ender finally finds somebody smarter than him: the person who defeated the Buggers in the last invasion. He is put through more drills, until he gets good enough at defeating potential Bugger maneuvers. He finally gets to see the footage of the last battle, where the Earth military destroyed one ship, which sent the rest out of control, killing all the Buggers. It becomes obvious that they had destroyed the Queen, who telepathically controlled or at least maintained the sanity of the "worker bees".

Ender is given his old Dragon team as commanders in his next drills, and he defeats Bugger attack after Bugger attack. What he doesn't know is that these are real attacks against real Buggers. Humanity has invented the means of communicating instantly across space, to ships that are already hopping out of near-lightspeed travel to the known Bugger worlds. We don't get to figure out how humanity knows where all the worlds are. In the final battle, which is less climactic than the Games were, he annihilates every living thing on the Bugger homeworld, destroying all the Queens.

Throughout the entire book, even to the final battle, he just wishes people would leave him alone. His guilt when he finds out what he has done makes him very receptive to the last Queen egg when he finds it, and he knows, when the time comes, he will be able to let it hatch to recreate the species.

Although not perfect, I liked Ender's character a lot. We are in his head the entire time, and not much of the story is wasted with conversation. We get Ender's thoughts on everything, so we can see him strategizing, analyzing, and get to know him so well. He is not the most likable person, but it doesn't matter, because he is incredibly creative, which makes it so much fun to watch him defeat everybody with the deck stacked against him so unevenly. The first chapters were quite low-key, which made me wonder why so many people thought this was such an amazing book. What I didn't realize was that the book was ramping up and accelerating, so it had to start that way. It barely let up on the acceleration until the end. While it might be hard to understand that all of this his happening to a six-year-old, if the reader can get over that, and treat Ender like just any other character of any age, watching that acceleration, and Ender's response to it, is what makes this book so special.


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