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by Orson Scott Card
Published by Tor Books, 1985 (Revised, 1991)
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Recommended by: Greg Slade
Any time I get to talking with science fiction fans, and the subject of Christianity in science fiction comes up, Orson Scott Card's book Ender's Game is invariably the second book to be mentioned. (The first book, of course, is Walter M.Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz.) Of course, as soon as people mention Card's name, the conversation turns to the distinction between Mormonism and Christianity, and so we almost never get to talk about any other books, which tends to make that sort of conversation fairly short. (Which, in turn, makes it that much more difficult to do research for this web site.) Because Card has acted as such a conversation stopper (or at least derailer) for so long, he hasn't exactly been at the top of my "to be read" list. However, since his work comes up so frequently, he has at least been on it.
Originally published in novelette form in Analog in August, 1977, the story was reworked into a novel and published in 1985, winning both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for that year. The premise is that Earth, which has suffered greviously in two wars against alien invaders called "buggers", is so desperately in need of military leaders that the powers that be have attempted to breed and train them from childhood. Imagine, if you will, basic training which begins at the age of six, and you'll begin to get an idea of the setting of the story.
The protagonist, Ender Wiggin, is one such genetic draftee. Destined for military service since before conception, Ender must be the greatest military mind of his generation. He must, I say, because if he isn't a military genius, there's nobody to fall back on, and humanity is likely to be wiped out in the next war. The trouble is, can he stay sane through the pressure of the training? Can he become the made-to-order military genius which Earth demands, and still remain human? I rather suspect that the reason that Card has won such accolades for this work is the way he managed to combine so many ideas about methods of training for space combat (and Ender's amazing ability) with a compelling inner story.
In the introduction to the revised edition which I read, Card mentions the difficulty which many adults had with the children in the story: the characters' actions, speech, and thoughts did not strike these people as sufficiently child-like. Personally, I had no problem with Card's depiction of children at all. I have long argued that kids are a lot smarter than most adults give them credit for. (When I was a kid, I thought that kids should run the world, since grown-ups were manifestly unsuited for the job. Now that I am a grown-up myself, I haven't really seen much evidence which would cause me to change my position.)
The religious aspects of the story are fairly minor: Ender's mother is a Mormon, and his father is a Catholic, two religions which are subtly discriminated against in Ender's world, due to their refusal to practice birth control, as mandated by the government. (Why it is that the government would be attempting to reduce the birthrate, rather than breeding as many potential soldiers as possible for the next war, is not made clear in the story itself, but becomes clear in retrospect.) (March, 2005)
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