NOVEL, n. A short story, padded.
- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
By now, you have read several accounts of how Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel changed people's lives, and of the complex web of themes that makes it one of the greatest works of science fiction. It is not my purpose to do that, but neither am I here to take away from their experiences. I too felt the same when I read the opening pages of Ender's Game, packaged in its SFBC edition with the sequel, Speaker For The Dead.
In fact, I want you to join us. Feel the angst all over again. Feel the thrill when Ender kicks Stilson that last time. Feel redeemed all over again. Now let it out.
Wasn't that cleansing? Good. Because I'm here for an entirely different reason.
"Whatever your gravity is when you get to the door, remember -- the enemy's gate is down."
Long ago, there was a magazine called Analog, edited by Ben Bova, who had
stepped into the shoes of one of the giants eternally looming over the genre.
Bova accepted for publication a novelette by a new writer, whose work had rarely been seen outside the likes of The Friend (a Mormon youth magazine). This story appeared in Analog's August 1977 issue.
At the beginning of the story, ten-year-old Ender Wiggins, the youngest commander ever at Battle School, is training his ragtag army of six-year-old greenhorns how to play the Battle Game. He's about to blow the game wide open, stringing up an unprecedented string of victories despite
all of the ways the adults running the school could bias the game against him, and, and -- well, you know the rest. Or at least, you think you do.
"Ender's Game" was received well, earning a Hugo nomination (the award that year went to Joan D. Vinge's "Eyes of Amber"). Orson Scott Card's career was well launched.
There's a war on, they said, and that was excuse enough for all the hurry in the world.
They said a little password and flashed a little card at every ticket counter and customs check and guard station. It got them to the head of every line.
If you can imagine it, the novelette that appeared in Analog is far darker than the novel that followed. "Ender's Game" is Ender's Game trimmed to its sleek, black, nasty core. The overriding theme of the story is adults using children for their own purposes. It contains none of the "unappreciated bright child" or "alienation" themes some find in the novel. There is no Valentine, no Peter, no Stilson, no Bonzo Madrid, no Demosthenes or Locke. The character's name is "Ender Wiggins" -- no childhood mispronunciation here, no explanation at all.
"An enemy, Ender Wiggins," Maezr whispered. "I am your enemy, the first one you've ever had who was smarter than you."
Also absent are the "buggers" -- no insectoid horrors here; these children are being trained to destroy a nameless, faceless enemy.
I am reminded of The Towers of Toron, the middle third of Samuel R. Delany's The Fall of the Towers.
In the early 1980's, Card was bogged down in a sequel to "Ender's Game", a morass provisionally titled "Speaker of Death". He decided that without an expansion and reworking of "Ender's Game", the latter work would die. By 1985, Card had produced the novel everyone talks about. And so now you know why the last chapter of Ender's Game
seems to beg a sequel. Card probably considers his novel Ender's Game a better work, but for some reason I find the short story "Ender's Game" cleaner and more powerful.
If I had been prepared to give the novel * * * * * (explanation) in the past, I must now
demote it by half a star (for it still surpasses nearly everything else you will read) and put the short story in its place.
Maps In A Mirror: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card
Omnibus trade paperback, 1990, Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 0-765-30840-1