By Orson Scott Card
Published by Audio Renaissance
Read by Stefan Rudnicki and others not credited in the sound track.
Ender’s Game is the first of a series of books and other stories featuring Ender Wiggin, an incredible military prodigy sometimes likened to Alexander the Great. He is a super-genius with an instinctive grasp of strategy and tactics. Oh yeah, he is also six years old at the start of the book and twelve by the end.
The book begins fifty or sixty years after the second of two wars with a species of sapient sort-of-insectile beings known as “Buggers” (in later books they are renamed the “Formics.”) The Buggers have destroyed China in the first war and nearly wiped out Earth in the second and were only defeated due to the actions of a single human commander, Mazer Rackham. In the wake of the wars, the Earthly nations have banded together under three leaders; the Hegemon, the Polemarch and the Strategos and an International Fleet was established in preparation for a third Bugger invasion. The IF has established a series of schools in which to train children for the upcoming war.
Earth has a “Two-child only” policy, but Ender is a third child (it is implied at one point that his parents had to pay heavy license fees to be allowed a third child, although in Ender’s Game Alive, which I will review next week, it is stated that they were forced by the IF to have that third child although they secretly wanted to anyway. I suppose both might be true. Anyway, Ender has a brother, Peter, who apparently was dropped from training because he is an amoral and viciously cruel Sadist, and he has a sister, Valentine, whom like her name implies, got dropped because she was too gentle. All three are extremely intelligent – and impossibly mature – but only Ender is smart enough, clever enough and has just enough of a conscience to make it into the next step, Battle School.
The book mostly follows Ender’s progress in Battle School, but occasionally changes scene and we see Peter and Valentine scheming to make Peter the next hegemon. This is where I have big problems with the story. Seriously, Peter, the eldest, is only a few years older than Ender. Am I supposed to believe that Earth will select a sixteen or seventeen year old kid as their Hegemon? He and valentine might be highly intelligent, but their wisdom is even more suspect. (SPOILER ALERT: at the end of the book Peter does become Hegemon, a situation that can only happen in fiction… and even so I still don’t believe it. He’s probably not old enough to vote yet, but he’s one of three World Leaders? …and a child shall lead them… straight into Lalaland apparently… stay tuned for more volumes in this tale)
Anyway, after a bunch of stuff happens in Battle School, Ender rebels and quits. His resignation only stands until Valentine is sent in to convince him to go back and when he does he is sent directly to Command School, skipping at least one whole school along the way. In Command School he meets the legendary Mazer Rackham, long thought to be dead – in truth he’s just been on a long relativistic vacation. In Command School Ender and his team, most former classmates from Battle School, learn how to command the fleet and then embark on a series of simulations, that later turn out not to have been simulations at all. He was really commanding the fleet and has destroyed the entire Bugger species. Learning this as well as the fact that he did not just defeat two bullying classmates in earlier parts of the story, but killed them, Ender becomes understandably depressed.
Rather than give it all away, I will stop here, but how it all turns out is worth reading for and if you have not yet read it but saw the movie… well let’s just say there are important differences.
Ender’s Game has won a lion’s share of Science Fiction Awards, is recommended reading in the U.S. Marine Corps and appears on several lists as one the best novels in Science Fiction, so while I might pick nits, I do have to admit it’s a good story and well written. I probably should not have put off reading it so long.
There have been several adaptations and recordings of this novel, and since I borrowed this one from a friend, I am not really sure which edition this one was. I suspect it was the 20th Anniversary version, but maybe not. Since I’m not sure I cannot say for certain all the voices on it were except that Stefan Rudnicki was the producer and lead voice and owing to an Author’s Post Script, I know Orson Scott Card was another, since he had a cameo.
In all I think the readers did a very good job and I enjoyed listening to this, well, until I got to Card’s post script. I admit it. I write Forewords and Afterwords for my books all the time, but sometimes, and this was just such a case, I find myself wondering, is this what I sound like when I write about my own work. I really must remember to be more humble if so, because after what was an excellent example of SF, the post script came off as pure ego to me.
So, definitely, read the book and listen to this recording, which Card assures us is the one he thinks is the best (which is why I am mostly certain it is the 20th Anniversary one), but skip past the author’s post script. Maybe it will enhance your enjoyment of the audiobook, but it had just the opposite effect on me.