Card: Ender's Game
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Orson Scott Card has been one of the most successful science fiction and fantasy writers of the past two decades, as measured by sales, awards and the devotion of his fans. He has often proven exceptionally adept at the craft of storytelling, constructing plot and characters so as to involve the reader. But behind the slickness of his plotting lies a powerful, almost frightening, intensity. Card is a devout Mormon, having served his church as a missionary in Brazil and written a number of explicitly proselytizing works and an allegorical fantasy sequence. He sees homosexuality and adultery as unequivocally sinful, but is also suspicious of corporate capitalism. Even his less directly religious work exhibits an obsession with morality, the joyful infliction of pain and guilt in the service of a higher cause, messiah figures, and a Truth which can be known with certainty.

Ender's Game is his most popular novel. In much shorter form it was his first published story in 1977, and it appeared in book form in 1985 to win both Hugo and Nebula awards. It seems a very personal story for Card -- he based Ender's relationship with his brother on his own life, and the emotional force of the book is considerable. It contained few original ideas, but Card binds together the elements of his story with conviction and amplifies their intensity. He has no apparent sense of humor, and uses the apparatus of science fiction to dramatize the struggles of childhood into a universe-shaking battle. If you visit the Amazon reviews, you will discover that there are more reviews for this book than for any other science fiction or fantasy work (including Dune, Snow Crash, The Lord of the Rings, or Neuromancer). Only the high-school perennial Catcher in the Rye seems to have inspired more reviews, and both books have a similar appeal. Most of the Amazon comments show a deeply teenagers who have made a deep personal connection with the book, many claiming it as life changing. To quote one review, it "changed my life by influencing my mind to be more open... When I finished I actually felt smarter."

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the book have such a powerful appeal? It appeals to many people who do not like other science fiction. How does Card draw readers into the story and persuade them to believe in his world?
  2. What is Card's view of childhood? Are his depictions of gifted children plausible?
  3. Ender does some bad things, but the reader's identification with him never falters. How does Card manage this? What is the moral message of the book? How would you compare it with the similarly moralistic Canticle for Leibowitz?
  4. How would you compare the use of computer technology here with that in Neuromancer? How would you compare the books overall?
  5. There are striking similarities between many of the plot elements of Ender's Game and earlier works of science fiction (some of which we have read, others of which you may be familiar with from films and books). What similarities do you notice?
  6. How are the female characters depicted? What traits does Card associate with masculinity and femininity? Where does Ender fall between them?
  7. The book is deeply shaped by the cold war and the period in which it was written. What political and technological echoes do you see? How are the Russians depicted?


bulletFor an interesting and revealing account of an interview with Card, focused on the contradictions and beliefs underlying his work, see here.
bulletCard has a website of his own.
bulletIf you want to see what other people thought, this personal review page has links to a bunch of others.
bulletEfforts to film the book are underway, and have been for several years. A major problem appears to be finding real pre-teenagers who could play the parts. I think seeing it with real children might be rather disturbing. More information on this fan website.
bulletThere are sequels. I tried reading the next book "Speaker for the Dead" once, but gave up quickly. (It did win the Hugo and Nebula awards, so some people clearly liked it). To me it seemed to have too much editorializing, dull characterization and ponderous philosophy. Apparently it gets worse with the further ones. 

Page created by Thomas Haigh. Last edited  01/12/2002.