Friday, September 28, 2007

Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" (novel): On leadership & winning

Quote from the novel Enders Game by Orson Scott CardFirst three quarters of this somewhat over-hyped military novel contains the interesting parts, with caveats. Last 5% prepares the background for sequels, & could have otherwise been dropped from the book. Rest is predictable.

On the positive side, it's a very readable & generally fast paced novel. Not always plausible when insisting a 7 year old behaves like a 27 - but add 10 or 20 years to specified age, & it becomes plausible. Occasional kid bullies & psychopaths left a bad taste, but they are unimportant.

To me, the really interesting part of the story was the dramatization of leadership, & the winning attitude.

I collect some quotes from the book here.

Story summary.
Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is the third of the three sibling, all uper-smart - Peter (10), Valentine (8), & Andrew (6). Peter is a very violent bully, Valentine is "too mild" & protective of Andrew, & Andrew is somewhere in between. By the time main story ends, Andrew will be 11. By the time the preparation for sequels ends, Peter will be in his 70s & the ruler of a country on earth, but Andrew & Val will be in their twenties because of the time they spent traveling near the speed of light to another solar system.

Andrew is born in a society where only "the first two children had a free education. Taxes steadily rose with each new child." The shameful label of Third is attached to Andrew.

This also is a rather autocratic society. Each of the 3 kids was claimed by military - if found suitable to their purpose.

"Monitor", a small device attached at the back of your neck & surgically interfaced directly with the brain, can be used by government to directly monitor your deepest thoughts. Each of the three children will get it implanted at very young age, while the military observes them for their suitability! Two older kids get it removed before the age 5 because they are not suitable. Andrew is allowed to be born without third-child taxes because the older siblings were unsuitable to military! Andrew will get his monitor removed at age 6, & nearly die while it is being removed. But he is a winner, & is claimed by military at that tender age; he will never again see his family except Valentine, & that too after many years - military need!

Sol has been invaded twice in the past - last time 70 years ago - by "buggers", interstellar sentient species of hive-beings variety & with telepathic ability. First visit was exploratory, & humans were unprepared. Second was for colonization of Sol, but humans won. Now a third invasion is being talked of - only, this time humans are going to raid & finish them off.

Human military ships are already approaching their worlds, & war will begin in 5 years; Andrew is being looked upon as 11 year old commander of this invasion!!! Silliest & most juvenile parts of the story relate to government big shots handling this aspect.

Anyway, Andrew lands at Battle School, a space station with facilities training in zero-gravity fighting, among other things. It is here that he will show leadership skills that can do a 30 year old corporate executive proud. And he will leave this school when barely 9 (or is it 10?)! Of course, he excels at everything.

After Battle School, he lands at Command School, a facility on an asteroid named Eros; facility was originally built by buggers. Here, much of his time will be spent playing very sophisticated computer games with his friends & junior partners from Battle School.

Until the eventual joke - final "examination" game watched by top military leaders that he wins, & is told this was no game at all. He was actually directing the human military fleet at buggers' home world via "ansible" (officially called "Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator") - a faster-than-light instant communications device. When the game is over, the battle is over, & so is bugger home world & every bugger!

While Andrew is at Battle School, Peter with Val's help, has been planning to become ruler of earth once the bugger war is won. By developing two personalities on the "nets" - Demosthenes will be played by Val, Locke by Peter. Locke is the sane voice; Demosthenes is the rabble rouser. Little after the end of war, he will actually become the ruler, & will remain so at least till he is in his 70s (we are not told his later story).

To save Andrew's exploitation from Peter, Val takes Andrew to colonize one of the bugger worlds, now empty. Andrew will later discover the seeds left for him by telepathic buggers - to restart their breeding; he will presumably do so in sequels. We will also be told that buggers meant humans well, & the Wars were due to communication gap.

There appears to be a bit of a loose end in the story. During the final battle, only the bugger home world was destroyed, along with their fleet defending it - but with a machine called "Dr Device" that does a molecular disintegration of planet. So this planet is not available for colonization later. If human colonists are going to other bugger planets, how come they are also void of buggers? But this doesn't really come in the way of the story.

Major characters.

  1. Andrew "Ender" Wiggin: The hero who does much of his heroics between the age 6 & 11, & is instrumental in destroying buggers & their worlds. His two books - "Hive Queen" & the "Hegemon" - under the pseudonym "Speaker for the Dead" will eventually become the bible of human colonies on bugger worlds, & will presumably play a part in sequels. "Hive Queen" tells the story from bugger's point of view - as told to Ender telepathically by the bugger seed he found. Hegemon is the story of Peter, Andrew's elder brother.
  2. Peter Wiggin: Andrew's eldest sibling, & a very smart psychopath. Also plays the role of Locke. He will eventually rule much of earth for decades.
  3. Valentine Wiggin: Andrew's elder sister. Very smart. Protects him from Peter. Plays the role of Demosthenes, under which name she will eventually write a multi-volume history of bugger wars. I have a feeling these history books will play a role in the sequels.
  4. Colonel Hyrum Graff: Andrew's main mentor in military ("Internation Fleet" aka IF). Also, for a while, the principle of Battle School.
  5. John Paul Wieczorek: Dad of Andrew, Peter & Val. Took Wiggin name later in life - to save taxes because he was born in a large family. He actually has only an unimportant bit role in the story.
  6. Mazer Rackham: Has a bit role in the story. Hero of Second Invasion. He commanded the human fleet that won the war in a very Russellian way. He has spent much of his life roaming in stellar vessels to slow down his time, & hence aging - so he will be ready to train the child commander of Third Invasion 80 years after Second Invasion!! He spends a bit of time with Andrew near end.
See also.
  1. This novel is based on Card's earlier short story, also named "Ender's Game" (download
    full text), Analog, August 1977, according to author's note. But I haven't read the shorter version.

    Update 14 September 2009: Download link above ("", deleted above to avoid confusing search engines) seems to have gone dead, but this archived version at Internet Archive appears ok.
Fact sheet.
"Ender's Game", novel, review
First published: 1985
Rating: A
Winner of Hugo Award 1986, & Nebula Award 1985, both in novel category