As some of you may know, one of my all-time favorite books is “Ender’s Game”. Whenever I’m asked for a book recommendation, EG always pops up. Recently though, I recommended it to one of my best friends, and she didn’t like it. And not a mild dislike either – apart from finding a few parts “interesting”, she out-and-out disliked the book and took away a message completely different from the one I did. She also thought the book was given to me too young. (EG was introduced to me through a book club at school at age 11.) As always, in book-related things, I’m going to now issue a spoiler alert. If you haven’t read the book, this article will probably spoil some parts for you – not many, but some. If you have read the book, or don’t mind, welcome aboard.
First off, what really impressed me about EG, as I’ve said in other posts, was this: Orson Scott Card gives the children in the book real voices – he portrays them as actual people with intellect and opinions, people a child can identify with, instead of the typical adult’s view of children – as ignorant dependents who parrot adults’ words, easily influenced and tantrum-prone. It gives older children a chance to explore conflicting viewpoints about important things by putting themselves in the shoes of various characters who think and act as they might do – the same privilege most fiction books afford adults. I therefore maintain, adjusting for the maturity of individual children, that the age at which I read “Ender’s Game” was the exact age at which the book could have the maximal effect on me; the age at which I was old enough to comprehend the points of debate, and yet young enough to take that journey through the protagonist’s eyes.
“Ender’s Game”, to me, was always a no-nonsense book about human motivations and capacity for good or evil, and an opinion piece on the grey area. Although it highlights the use of empathy as a tool for war, the end result it had, at least on me, was an increase in my estimation of the importance of empathy as a character trait. The “Ender’s Game” series gave me my first lesson in politics; it taught me the importance of the internet and free speech; taught me that age is just a number; taught me that grey areas exist, and the consequent importance of putting the power of decision in the right people’s hands. “Ender’s Game” also, now that I think about it, echoes Ayn Rand’s philosophy of ability and efficiency, and the command that springs from it.
My friend, on the other hand, thought the book was racist. She thought several of the plot points could have been corrected by introducing sci-fi norms such as hyperspace travel and better communication systems. Frankly, I always thought the racism made it a more plausible portrayal of Earth’s future. I read an article somewhere in which the author finds it strange that most plots based in the future show humans no longer divided on the issue of race, but instead working on a new problem. While accounting for the fact that we would bind together in the face of a new enemy or problem, I find a situation in which some remnants of passed-down racism remain to be a much more believable version of the future.
In fact, that constitutes the majority of my counter argument – EG illustrates human progress at a realistic rate. We still have problems with intergalactic travel and we still have problems with each other. My friend thought that fighting off the buggers just to ensure they wouldn’t attack again was stupid, and that an intergalactic treaty would’ve been smarter. The latter point would have definitely made sense if we could have communicated with the buggers; the fact that we couldn’t makes it a moot point. As to the former, while I don’t support xenocide, I understand it in an “it was either us or them” scenario where no communication could take place and the future of the human race was potentially at stake.
Lastly, my friend thought EG ended on a kind note with the whole “Speaker for the Dead” thing, but that kindness should be all-pervasive, and that, in her words, “all this rubbish about Ender not wanting to hurt them, why don’t they just leave him alone, is a pathetic attitude. You hurt because you want to hurt.” I understand where this point of view comes from, but I feel like the book already addresses this: Ender isn’t in denial about his capacity to hurt – he’s afraid of it, afraid to become like the image he has of Peter. He wants to be kept away from a position to inflict pain like a recovering alcoholic wants to be kept away from drink. Ultimately, she says that mostly what hurt her was the mistreatment of kids; that I can get on board with. I remember my anger towards “the teachers” still today. But. Although I don’t believe that the ends always justify the means, I also understand where Graff is coming from when he says, “Human beings are free except when humanity needs them.” I don’t like it, I would hate it if it was me, but I understand it.
I began writing this piece because I hold my friend in good esteem, and her immediate dislike of a book that has shaped me shook me. I guess I wanted to find out what my own counter arguments were. I always say that when I write, my opinions come pouring out from my brain to my fingers without passing through a filter; I write to know what I’m thinking or feeling, and now I can rest knowing why, reading this book, I came to the conclusions I did, and not the ones she did. If you have a point of view you’d like to share, or a question to ask, I’d love to hear it, so drop me a line in the comments section, and we can talk about it. Thanks for listening!