More noise than signal

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

It’s a science fiction book.Wait! Give it a chance. They’re not all as bad as the Star Wars books, y’know.

Ender’s Game sets itself on an Earth of the not inconceivably distant future, with a crowded, population controlled world preparing itself for a seemingly inevitable future war with an insectoid alien menace, an advance force of whom that they’ve just barely managed to fend off. Deciding that nature needs a little help in producing a suitable leader for the Earth forces, a little genetic fiddling of the Wiggan family sees a generation of exceptionally gifted children. Valentine has a little too much empathy in her to make an effective, ruthless military leader, and Peter is a few shades too close to psychotic. In accordance with the Goldilocks theorem, the third attempt, Ender, is hoped to be just right. The consequences if he’s not are grim.

Surviving six years of a childhood alternately tormented by his elder brother and protected by Valentine, Ender is taken away to an orbital battle school by a military leadership determined to push Ender to his limits, even if that does mean alienating everyone else from Ender, already marked as an outsider by being younger than any other recruit, and cutting him loose to survive or fail on his own wits and intuition.

Of course, you don’t get pegged as humanities’ last best hope of victory without having some aptitude for the role. Navigating a course of unwanted rivalries to be put in charge of his own squadron of children for the zero gravity wargames that the school and the book’s title revolve around, the consequences of pushing Ender to his limits and beyond prove to be compelling reading.

Ender’s Game is often held up as one of the best sci-fi novels of recent years, and there’s few bones to pick with such statements. Indeed, enough people seem to be voting with their wallets for the series to support three direct sequels telling the rest of Ender’s story and another three concerned with the kids from battle school and Peter Wiggan’s ascent to hegemony of Earth. Ender’s Game isn’t just a hugely enjoyable novel in and of itself, it’s the introduction to a series that deals with consequence and identity in ways that haven’t been seen since Phillip K. Dick.

Now, I’d be recommending you read Ender’s Game were it the only time Card had put quill to slate, or however it’s done these days. Instead of this, I’m recommending you read Ender’s Game because its direct sequel Speaker for the Dead is as good a book as I’ve ever read, but would be best enjoyed by absorbing this novel first.