I had no clue what Ender’s Game was, but since everybody else was reading it, I decided to jump on board. Originally, I got it confused with the game Red Faction, but upon realizing the action was not set on Mars, I envisioned a landscape with all the palliative comfort of Rainbow Road.
Thankfully, this was not the case.
Instead, Ender’s Game follows Ender Wiggin, a small boy who is recruited into an interstellar commander’s school. The titular game initially refers to a capture-the-flag sport the boys and girls at the school play incessantly, but as the plot thickens into a politely viscous stew, Ender realizes he has to play the game the teachers and officers have organized for him, one of duplicity, unfairness, and near-fatal exhaustion. It eventually comes to light that the teachers, especially Colonel Graff, are pushing Ender to the farthest edge because of the impending Formic assault; the Formics, or “buggers,” are entomological aliens that attacked Earth in a colonization attempt seventy or so years before the events of the book. It was only with the help of Mazer Rackham that the humans were able to fend off the attack. Now, Graff and the other joint chiefs of staff want another Rackham, and since Ender is their best bet, they put him on a ridiculously accelerated training program, which prominently includes the CTF game. What Ender finds out is that even when he thinks he finally has control, he has been played the entire time.
The more famous cousin to this book is also one of our core texts. The Hunger Games concerns boys and girls forced to play a game the ruling adults designed. However, where that book brushes over the training phase so important in these sorts of books, Ender’s Game is nothing but training. It seems strange, but Card flips around the common trope of the enthusiastic student studying under his master for many months before facing the enemy in a straight duel and defeating him using the skills his master taught him earlier in the story. Without ruining the story, Ender never has a chance to face his enemy in a straight duel, since the duplicity is so deep it burbles speech. I liked it. Don’t get me wrong, I live for Rocky montages with the steps and the eggs and the sweatpants and whatnot, but Card plays the reader like the establishment plays Ender, luring him into a trap of familiarity and complacency before turning all the commonalities on their heads.
The problem with teaching this text is that the characters are all exceedingly young, and yet if we were to show the book to the age groups the book features, it would possibly disturb and frighten them. Ender is only 7 or 8 when the book begins, and it is a little silly to visualize these little kids running around blasting each other and doing intensely coordinated military maneuvers behind floating cubes, but luckily all the characters age, so maybe someone who is 16 or 17 could relate better to the ages and experiences of the kids at the end of the book rather than the beginning. However, if young adult science fiction is your game, Ender’s your main man (that was quite as a bad as the Tony Danza joke, and yet it wasn’t even funny to begin with).