Thursday, July 01, 2010

Book Review: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

You could describe Ender's Game as Harry Potter in space. It'd be a pretty shitty way of describing it, since Ender came long before Harry , but the similarities are there. We've got a school full of kids who are special, an upcoming war, a sport that involves flying around and reaching a goal, and one really special angsty kid who's destined to save the world.

The similarities "end" there, though. Ender's Game is not fantasy, but hard science fiction. For a geek like me, it was a delight to read the intricate details of how to maneuver in zero gravity; not only how it affects people physically, but mentally as well ("the enemy's gate is down").

The sci-fi doesn't come at the expense of character development, however. Ender is a flawed, rounded out character. Flawed in a Jack Bauer kind of way though; you always know he'll figure out a way to deal with any obstacle. Often violently.

I was amazed at the prescience of Card's vision of the future. The short story the book is based on was written in 1977, yet many of the technologies described are just coming to maturity in 2010. The Internet plays a large role (especially in the interesting but ultimately rather pointless side plot about Ender's sister), taking over media and political influence in a way we are sure to see soon. He even threw in a line about kitchen appliances being online; in the 80s, the idea of a human being able to type something up then post it for the entire world to see (hi) would have been mind-blowing, but somehow Card was already imagining Twittering fridges.

Part of his genius was keeping descriptions just vague enough that your mind fills in the details with plausible technology. For example, the students' "desk" computers are described as fitting on a lap and having a screen, but the exact control mechanism is never specified. Of course, I imagined them as iPads.

Speaking of which...I got an iPad. This is my first post written on it. My typing is slower and I can't figure out a way to include a picture, but I still feel like I've arrived in the friggin future. Full impressions coming up later.

7 comments:

Jen said...

I haven't read this book, but have heard about it since I had to act it out for Charades. WORST CHARADE CLUE EVER. But maybe now I'll read it.

Phronk said...

Hahah I can't imagine acting out Ender's Game, even having read it. Are you even allowed to make PEW PEW lazer sounds in charades?

Although there aren't really lazers...

Yeah I dunno.

Haggis (Sean Loyless) said...

You should read "Ender's Shadow" as a follow up. It's the same story, only told from Bean's point of view and nicely fleshes out the other side of the story. It was a wonderful companion to the already great novel.

Tatiana said...

I just read Ender's Game last year, and loved it. But I'm a bit disappointed in your review, especially given the fact that you're a psych major.

I mean there are so many complex themes - selective breeding for traits needed to humanity, a very plausible relationship humanity may have with an alien species, dovetailing with a nice xenophobia angle. Manipulation of children by brilliant and ruthless military psychologists, the mental skills necessary to survive a hostile environment and on and on.

To compare it to Harry Potter is simplistic and not accurate. It's a novel that touches on many complex subjects alternating between deftness and heavy handedness. It's more complex than a simple battle between 'good' and 'evil' and that's what makes it such a good book, it's more gray than that.

Speaking of sequels though, I thought Enders Shadow is so not worthy of the original, it's dumbed down to the point of frustration. But Speaker For The Dead is just as good as Ender's Game and well worth reading.

Dead Robot said...

Did you read the forward by OSC? Did your copy have it? I swear it ruined the book for me.

Not the fact that he's a raging homophobe or his stance on gay marriage is troublesome (being kind here), no. His bloody EGO ruined my reading of it. The forward had page after page of how much of a great writer he perceives himself to be, through letters from fans. How he found it "natural" to write dialogue for geniuses. How geniuses responded with love. How his mom loves gay hand jobs. etc.

I did enjoy the book, but he's a fucking jerk.

Phronk said...

Haggis: Nice. I might give that a shot, and/or Speaker for the Dead (as Tatiana recommended).

Tatiana: You're right, it does touch on a lot of deeper themes; it'd be fun to go into them, but I gotta keep my reviews short. Like I said, comparing it to Harry Potter is shitty, but I think it's got enough surface similarities that it's a way of quickly describing the book to anyone who's unfamiliar with it.

DR: I avoided the intro in fear of spoilers, but I'm reading it right now. Haha wow. I do love reading about the processes a writer goes through, and most of this is okay, but his ego is running a little out of control.

He makes a few references to his Mormon upbringing, which may have something to do with the crazy aspects of his views and personality.

Still, good book. I'd hate to let an opinion about an author colour my opinion about their work (although already, I can feel that happening in my own mind :).

Dale said...

I found the concepts in Speaker for the Dead fascinating but haven't read his other work. How's that for simplistic? :-)