In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut–young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.
Executive Summary: relevant
I was mandated to read this book by my husband since the movie is coming out at the end of this year. Apparently it’s a popular high school required read but I definitely missed it then. I usually like sci fi and I like being “in the know” about books. I’m kind of surprised it took me so long to read this one.
I actually started off really hating it. It’s definitely a “man book” in that there are only 3 female characters throughout the entire book and they all have some issues. I decided to push through my dislike of it and I am glad that I did.
The book starts out with Andrew (Ender) Wiggin having his “monitor” removed. The monitor records his life and feeds it back to the people at the International Fleet to determine whether or not he is a viable candidate. Both his brother and sister were checked and were found to not be acceptable (Peter was too disturbed and Valentine was too soft and emotional. Of course she was. She’s a girl 😉 ) so his parents were allowed to have a third. Ender is a small six year old who gets bullied a lot (you’d kind of think he would know how to handle bullies at school with a brother like Peter but I guess not) and he beats the snot out of this classmate Stilson to prove a point that he is not to be messed with and to prevent future bullying attacks. (Since he no longer had a monitor, he was on his own to defend himself.) Ender goes through a mental meltdown of becoming just like Peter (this is a recurring point.)
Colonel Graff from the International Fleet appears to take Ender to the Battle School. Ender agrees (his parents already agreed by having him in the first place) without much hesitation despite not being able to see his family until he is at least 12. We learn that the Battle School is a series of classes and military tactic games to prepare boys (only a few girls since evolution has worked against them) to help fight the buggers. We also first hear the name of Mazer Rackham who destroyed the buggers in the last battle.
On the flight to the school, it becomes apparent that Ender has better spatial intelligence than the other boys as he has figured out that in weightlessness, orientation is whatever you want it to be (aka there is no “up”). Graff realizes that Ender has figured this out and uses Ender to make the other boys feel stupid and therefore making Ender the object of bullying. A boy starts hitting Ender in the head and taunting him. Ender grabs his wrist and swings him through the ship, breaking his arm. Ender has another “oh no, I’m just like Peter” moment and he has successfully ruined any possibility of having friends (not really a big deal as he has no personality or sense of humor anyway.)
Ender figures out a way to sort of unite his group, including Bernard (broken arm kid). School is a series of video games and training exercises for battle. Ender (of course) wins the video game, getting past the giant who no one has ever gotten past by killing him (again woe is me, I’m just like Peter). Ender becomes the first “launchy” (aka newb) to be drafted into an army. He joins the Salamander army under the rule of Bonzo Madrid. He also meets the only girl mentioned to be at the school–Petra. While Bonzo is cruel to Ender, Petra teaches him all she knows. But of course, she’s not very good (eye roll) so Ender soon surpasses her. Ender creates an army of sorts during free play time, teaching the launchies what he has learned with his toon. He uses them to try new manuevers and practice his skills.
Ender eventually disobeys Bonzo’s orders of never firing his weapon during the battles and wins them the battle. Bonzo trades him to the Rat army where he falls under command of “Rose the Nose” and Dink Meeker. Dink turns out to be a powerful ally and teacher and almost a friend (as close as Ender gets). Dink plants the seed in Ender’s (and my) head that there is more to this school and that the bad guys are actually the teachers. Despite Rose’s rule, Ender continues to teach the launchies during his free time, leading to a battle with the older boys which Ender and the launchies win.
Around the same time, Peter and Valentine decide to be political bloggers (although this is pre-blogging so it wasn’t called that). They feel they can influence this way due to their genius while hiding the fact that they are 10 and 12 years old. Valentine is Demosthenes and Peter is Locke. Valentine has mixed feelings about being powerful due to the fact that it is mostly Peter’s idea. Peter who tortured her and Ender.
Ender starts feeling sad for himself because no one likes him and the school has no point. Luckily Graff solicits Valentine to write Ender a letter to get him back on track. All her previous letters were kept by the teachers. Obviously Ender knows that it was a forced letter, but it still manages to do what Graff intended. Ender also “solves” a section of the video game where he has been stumped.
Ender is made commander of the newly formed Dragon Army. Most of the soldiers in his army are launchies, most notable of them a kid named Bean. Bean is a lot like a young Ender, and Ender uses this to his advantage. Bean is encouraged to think up new creative ideas to use against Ender. He stops using formations and has every platoon working on its own. He wins every battle by a long shot, making him no new friends. When he inevitably beats Bonzo’s stupid army, Bonzo is pissed and corners Ender in the shower (a bit homo-erotic?) despite Dink’s warning to never go anywhere alone. Ender beats Bonzo to a pulp to prove to Bonzo’s friends that he is not to be messed with (similarly to Stilson) and yet again has the “oh no, I’m just like Peter” reaction. Bonzo gets “sent home” and the instructors continue to be hard on Ender and his army sometimes having him fight two armies at a time or twice in one day. Finally Ender figures out that he doesn’t actually have to play their game and instead of actually fighting the battle, he creates a formation to get the mandatory amount of soldiers to the door as fast as he can to end the battle. And in response, he is sent to pre-command school.
The “authorities” have discovered that Locke and Demostrenes are actually children so they decide to just ignore them (I did too). Graff picks up Valentine after school because again Ender is lost and doesn’t want to continue his training. She talks to him and tells him that even though he’s young, he can make a difference and alludes to Peter wanting to rule the world. Ender continues to command school where he meets Mazer Rackham–the hero of the previous bugger invasion–who is going to be his teacher.
Ender goes through many simulations and learns from Rackham that the buggers are actually insect-like in their behavior. They have a queen who controls their decisions and they move from her. His last simulation is watched by Anderson, Graff and a few others and involves controlling a fleet of Dink, Bean, Petra, Alai and many others. At the sacrifice of many of his fleet, he explodes the planet with the “Little Doctor” (a large scale atomic bomb). After his final exam, he learns that it was not a game and he has just destroyed the entire bugger population. And he also learns that this is not the first time that he has killed. In fact, he already killed Stilson and Bonzo. (He is less distraught over all of this than I think that he should be.)
And then in 20 pages, the book wraps up. He learns that Peter has taken control of the world. He’s not allowed to return so he goes with Valentine on an exploration mission on planets previously inhabited by the buggers. He arrives on one planet to find that it looks identical to the video game that he played back when he was a launchie. When he arrives at the mirror where he was stuck for so long, he removes it to find a bugger’s queen pupa who explains that the buggers communicate mentally and she had been communicating with Ender (obviously he didn’t realize that) and he was communicating back with her since she created this world. (Um, how does that work since he didn’t realize he was communicating to the buggers? And also if he was communicating to them, how did they not know he was going to kill them?) He decides he should make up for destroying their race and takes the queen to find a planet where they could live.
Verdict: 3.5 stars
There are a lot of great things about this book. I was legitimately surprised by the twist in the story. I had thought the whole time that there were not going to actually be any buggers and that the teachers had made them all up. I also thought for a book written in 1985, it has held up shockingly well. The gaming and the Internet (especially the blogging) is very modern and took a surprising amount of forethought.
What I didn’t like was how anti-women the story was. Not only were there only two actual females in the story, they were both portrayed as weak. I found the storyline of Demosthenes and Locke disconnected and irrelevant to the rest of the story. And I found the ending to be wimpy and too quick (although perhaps finding a new home for the buggers is addressed in further books). Also, I found it a little ridiculous that Ender never ever once faltered at all. He was never beaten at anything ever. How realistic is that? And I didn’t understand how there was a mind link between Ender and the buggers. Or maybe just a partial one? I don’t know.
Also it took me a while to write this because I know this is such a hugely popular book. I went back through as I wrote this to review, and there are still gaps in it to me. If you have explanation of it that I missed, I would love to hear it.
Anyway, I have fulfilled my requirement of reading the book before the movie comes out. I’ll rehash and compare similarities and differences after I see it. 🙂