Ender’s Game Alive
By Orson Scott Card
Published by Brilliance Audio
Performed by Kirby Heyborne, Stefan Rudnicki, Theodore Bikel, Scott Brick, Samantha Eggar, Harlan Ellison, Susan Hanfield, Roxanne Hernandez, Janis Ian, Rex Linn, Richard McGonagle, Jim Meskimen, Emily Rankin, John Rubinstein, Christian Rummel, Gabrielle de Cuir
The Story and the Full-cast Production:
This is the same basic story as Ender’s Game which I reviewed just last week and I actually listened to this one first. But when I was about to sit down and write a review I realized that I had never actually read the original novel and the only basis of comparison I had was with the movie… Well, I decided it would be incredibly stupid to say anything about the novel if I had not actually read or at least listened to an unabridged edition of it and the audioplay is several hours shorter than the novel so I knew there had to be differences, so I reversed gears and listened to the novel and I am very glad I did!
Anyone remember the definition of “retcon” (see here) from a couple weeks ago? Well, it applies here too. This whole production is a rewrite of the original, keeping the basic same story but adding in a few changes that took place as Card wrote the series. The most obvious, of course was that while in Ender’s Game, the invading insectile enemies were called “Buggers,” sometime around the turn of the millennium, he must have realized how politically incorrect it was to use that term and in later-written books called them “Formics” instead which leads to some chronological discontinuities. Well, here, as in the movie, they are called Formics and it seems that this radioplay was written in preparation for the movie as the story presented, while the same at the basic level as the novel, differs on many details and perspectives and therefore is actually an expanded version of the story as seen in the movie. In essence, Card got a free pass and was able to rewrite the story as if he knew “then” what he knows now. Well, that’s not too surprising considering he has rewritten certain details to reflect changes during the late Twentieth Century, such as the decline of the Soviet Union.
Of course, to be fair, I have to admit that in an adaptation of any novel into a performance there are going to be necessary trade-offs and changes. In some cases I believe that is exactly where some of the differences come from, but other changes, such as changing a pencil-beam light gun into a weapon formed just by holding one’s hand in a gun-like shape were obviously done just because the author thought it would sound cool. Actually it might have made an interesting effect in the movie, but in that production, the cadets had guns again in the battle rooms.
None of the voices in this presentation are that of children. That might not work for many listeners although I personally did not have a problem with it. That may be because I saw the movie first in which none of the “children” were within the 6-12 year old range they were in the book. Not even close. Then again that whole concept of using children to fight/command the war as though it is a game does not ring well to me. When Card first published Ender’s Game in the Eighties (and earlier), I probably would not have had this objection. For one thing I was a lot younger at the time myself, but more to the point, we have learned a lot more about cerebral development since then. I seriously doubt anyone less than sixteen years of age could manage to do everything Ender does, regardless of how intelligent and at that I believe I am stretching it a lot. I’ve read papers that inform me that the human brain is not fully developed until the individual is about twenty-four. Of course we have military schools, but they are not as intense as Ender’s. I think that if young boys and girls were really put into schools as Card describes them there would be a heck of a lot more deaths than the two mentioned in the book (the second of which is Bonzo Madrid at Ender’s hands) and a rather serious number of psychological breakdowns as well.
However, I think the story might work better had the characters been the apparent ages of the cast in the movie than in the original novel. Actually, in the case of the movie, a cast of 6-12 year olds would have just been creepy. However it should be noted that Ender’s Game is recommended reading at several ranks by the U.S. Marine Corps. Just add 10 years to everyone’s age and it works quite well. Even Alexander the Great remained a student until the age of sixteen and did not start his war of conquest until he was eighteen. By the way, that especially applies to Ender’s brother, Peter, who in the Book, although not the play, is the new Hegemon by the end of the story. Geeze, at least get him old enough to drink first! I found it quite unbelievable that a young man of, what was he, 14? 16? Could ever be selected as a national leader once his true identity was known, but then I only accepted the concept that a child was best suited to lead the war fleet for the sake of the story itself, but Card never convinced me he was correct.
So what do we have here? A slick and well-produced, but somewhat rewritten version of the original Ender’s Game. I should mention that the book goes on beyond the ends of both this production and the movie and I thought finding the Queen egg at the end on a former Formic colony made a lot more sense than on Eros. However, this story has been rewritten by the author more than once and differences are going to occur. Take Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, for example. It changed with every rendition. So if you liked the Ender’s Game, the novel (whichever edition) you should like this production, so, by all means, look it up and when you have a chance listen to it.