About the Book
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, 1977
Tor Books, ISBN-0-812-55070-6
After two almost-lost invasions by the alien race called the Buggers, the International Fleet, the space defense forces of Earth, have launched a special programme:
The brightest children of Earth are sent to Battle School, a space station where they learn how to fight the Buggers in space. The kids are organized in „armies“ of forty plus a commander. These “armies” stage mock wars in special zero-gravity Battle Rooms.
This training effort is so important to the IF that they even permit promising couples to ignore the birth control laws, which normally limit couples to two children.
Ender Wiggin is such a “Third”, a child conceived with the permission of the IF, provided that his parents turn him over to the IF if he tests out well. The two other children, Peter and Valentine, also looked very promising, but were rejected because Peter is too cruel, while Valentine is too mild.
At the age of six, the monitor device that protected Ender so far is removed from his neck. Without this device, he gets picked on by a bully called Stilson and his friends. When it comes to a fight, Ender attacks him so savagely that Stilson is killed. Ender gets sent to Battle School, leaving his siblings behind.
There, he is isolated from the other children by excessive praise. This is done in order to make him want to win the respect of the other children. He does that after some initial struggles.
At the age of seven, he gets promoted early to soldier in Salamander Army. He doesn’t get along at all with the commander of Salamander, Bonzo Madrid. Finally, he is traded to another army.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Peter and Valentine, who are just as incredibly intelligent as Ender, plan to take over the world. They take the roles of two political demagogues on the Internet, Locke - Peter and Demosthenes - Valentine. They manipulate public opinion, Locke by appealing to the intellectuals, Demosthenes by pandering to the masses.
Sometime later, Ender gets the command of his own army - at least two years early. He makes his Army the best by introducing new, far more dynamic tactics than previously used by anybody.
The teachers start stacking things more and more against Ender. Unlike normal armies, who get one battle per week, Ender’s Dragon Army get a fight every day. But even this proves possible for Dragon Army, so the teachers give them two fights a day. Ender starts getting weary. When he wins in an unfair fight against Bonzo Madrid’s Salamander army, Bonzo and a few other envious commanders decide to get rid of him. They confront Ender in the shower room, just after a game. Ender bluffs Bonzo into single combat and manages to kill him.
Ender’s last battle is against two armies at the same time. But he has had enough, he doesn’t want to play the teacher’s game anymore. So he performs the victory ceremony at the enemy gate even though his army is losing, ending the battle.
Shortly afterwards he is taken on leave on Earth. Valentine visits him there by request of Graff, the commander of Battle School. She persuades him to continue with his training.
Ender gets transferred to Command School. On the way there Graff tells him that the third invasion he has been preparing for is in fact a counterattack on the Buggers, a human invasion of their space in a desperate attempt to prevent further attacks.
At Command School he learns to use a space combat simulator. When he has achieved mastery of the simulation, a new teacher appears: Mazer Rackham, the hero of the second invasion. Together they analyze the enemy. When the simulations resume, Ender now commands several subcommanders - comrades from Battle School.
Together they battle the Buggers in simulations that become progressively harder as the enemy learns. Ender has trouble sleeping now - in his dreams he relives the worst moments of his life, he dreams of Buggers dissecting him. He fears that his performance will suffer.
The final battle - the graduation test. His last fight. Many people have come to watch it. It features a new element in the simulation - a planet around which the vastly overwhelming alien forces are clustered. Ender knows that he has the option of destroying the planet, killing millions of Buggers. But due to the special nature of his weapons, this would also destroy most of the enemy fleet.
Ender realizes once again that he doesn’t care any more, just like in the last battle at Battle School. He decides to tell his teachers to go to hell by blowing up the planet. Despite overwhelming odds, he manages to do that, even though most of his ships are lost.
When he unhooks from the simulator Mazer Rackham explains to him that the battles he fought weren’t a simulation. They were the third invasion. He has just destroyed the home planet of the Buggers.
With the Bugger menace gone, a fight for power breaks out on Earth. Locke and Demosthenes manage to stop the fighting with their huge influence. To prevent getting used by Peter/Locke for his purposes, Ender and Valentine leave for a conquered Bugger colony. There, Ender finds the last hive queen of the Buggers. He writes two books: „The Hive Queen“ and „The Hegemon“, which set the stage for the sequels.
Ender’s Game is not about winning or losing, it’s about ending. Ender doesn’t care about winning, but he wants for his problems to end. He never is happy about winning. After killing Bonzo, he asks why they can’t just leave him alone so he doesn’t have to hurt them. Four times he gets into such a situation where the only way to end his problems is by winning. In his fight against the boy Stilson, in his fight against Bonzo Madrid, in the last game at Battle School and in the final battle against the Buggers. In all cases he doesn’t care about winning, he only wants to end it. In the fights with the boys, he wants to make sure that they can’t hurt him anymore, so he hurts them so badly that they die. In the game in the Battle Room, he doesn’t want to play anymore, so he performs the victory ceremony even though his army is being destroyed. In parallel he destroys the Bugger planet in the final battle. He doesn’t want to kill the Buggers - he just wants to go out with a bang to tell the teachers he won’t play anymore.
But why didn’t he just retreat in these battles? Because he has to be sure that the problem will never return. He does this with these gestures. Also, he knows that he never can lose. After all, only by
being brilliant and unbeatable he was able to win his place: „Be so good that they can’t ignore you.“
Thus his name: Ender, for ending, not winning is what he does.
A recurring theme in Ender’s Game is destroying an enemy to prevent him from hurting you. Ender did it to Stilson and Bonzo Madrid, and he commanded the human fleet that almost destroyed the Buggers. Is such behaviour legitimate? Preventive self-defense? Preventive war? The Germans discussed such a preventive war before World War I. The fear of such a sneak attack was a mayor factor in provoking the conflict. In fact, the concept of „preventive war“ is ridiculous. Prevent war with war? However, the situation in Ender’s Game is somewhat different: the Buggers have already attacked twice before. So is it just self-defense? Yet the manner is extreme: wouldn’t it have sufficed to hurt these boys instead of killing them? On the other hand, if you attack, you must be prepared for retaliation at any scale. It is hopeless to expect of people that have been hurt not to retaliate disproportionally. Often, only the irrational element of revenge is involved, but sometimes the aim is to end the threat, an entirely rational response. Ender clearly isn’t interested in revenge, so he is more rational than most people or even countries. Many acts of violence, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the death penalty, are only based on revenge. (No, the argument that the death penalty scares people into not committing crimes doesn’t work. After all, these people plan on not getting caught, so they’re not scared of punishment.)
Conclusion: Attacking because of revenge is despicable. Attacking in order to end a threat isn’t nice either, but understandable. The question is, however, whether complete extermination of the enemy is really necessary to protect yourself.
Ender’s Game is one of the best SF books ever written. If you are looking for a good book to start reading science fiction, then give this one a try. Also recommended for those who don’t believe that SF can be literature.