Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Post by Jenni.

It seems to me that Ender’s Game is about the fragility of Childhood. Ender is an extraordinarily gifted child who must be challenged to the verge of destruction of his identity – his ego is manipulated and tortured during the trials, by isolating him from his family, preventing the formation of friendships in his new environment, and changing the rules he thought were set to be fair; followed by sleep deprivation, overwork and savage and extreme competition. Ender lives the life for years, struggling to survive and hold on to a sense of the world and his place in it, then eventually he hallucinates, becomes hysterical and loses the will to live and succeed, and his torturers use his only remaining positive emotion – love for the sister they took away from him – to attempt to bring him back from the brink of self destruction.
His id, on the other hand, the side of himself that he least likes and tries to repress so that he can be a person with self esteem; this they force out of hiding and burst open, to unleash Ender’s uncompromising aggression, vengefulness and ruthlessness.
It is somehow even more affecting to watch the transformation of Ender because it is carefully orchestrated by his minders (Graff and Anderson) in the military as they prepare him for his role as the new destroyer of an entire planet. Graff and Anderson discuss the danger of toughening someone compassionate so much that they lose their empathy, their motivation, their humanity. The choice of a pacific personality who can fight when forced, rather than a vicious sadistic type was deliberate, and reasonable, but massively damaging to the subject. It is painful to watch the trashing of Ender’s innocence and its replacement with cynicism and despair. What’s more, it’s very difficult to decide right and wrong in this novel, for the world is apparently under immediate and massive threat, and needs a skilled saviour and strategist to understand the methods of the enemy aliens and decide the best course of dealing with the menace. There is a very real sense that Ender’s sense of fair play, of safety, of the world being a place where he can play a role, as it is destroyed by these minders, might end up resulting in the destruction of his very morality. And how to decide on the moral nebulousness of Ender’s sister Valentine’s letter being used as a tool to make him go on with confidence? And later her presence in person is used to give him the will to continue during a brief visit home? Ender, Valentine herself, and the reader all share a feeling of ambivalence towards her for being used in this way, tinged with an understanding of her love and longing for his company, and tainted by a sensation of moral disintegration.

All of this inversion of personality is counterpointed and highlighted by Ender’s own fear that he is becoming like the monsters he has to fight, that there is no right and wrong in this universe, and that all victories will be paid for in blood. Back on Earth, Valentine and Peter begin an experiment in manipulation of their own in a morally equivocal universe, and Valentine takes on the persona of the warmonger Demosthenes whilst Peter becomes the peaceful Locke, and both seem to be changed by their personas and grow into them, certainly to Valentine’s discomfort; Peter remains a divided personality of whom we have only witnessed one half through Ender’s eyes. Ender’s fears of becoming the monsters he is fighting culminate in their queen integrating her personality with his via a computer program and turning him into their new potential saviour. What a lot of inversion!!
For me, the destruction and remaking of Ender was a harsh and harrowing tale to read, softened by what seemed to be an appreciation of the beauty of the beauty and fragility of the child. Card’s understanding of psychology seemed like truth, and the compassion informing the depiction and destruction of Ender’s character, sincere.
A couple of reservations. The final chapter of the version that I read had a very ‘tacked on’ feel about it, very clearly set up for the next book in the Quartet (Speaker for the Dead). Even the strange interleaving of Valentine’s and Peter’s adventures back on Earth lacked seamless integration with the main concerns of the novel, and read like a later editing in order to introduce the complication of the later parts of the Quartet. Now that I’ve read the whole The Ender Quartet Box Set
(Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide and Children of the Mind) I have to say that while Ender’s Game reads like a stand alone and brilliant novel, the others seem to be add-ons to a successful theme, gradually becoming less proficient, IMHO.