Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Part I. [The Series, Writing Techniques, and Questions.]

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game
Review, Part I, by Sharon Powers.

DEDICATION: This blog is dedicated to the students at Hardin Middle School in Salinas, California. Ender's Game is part of the curriculum at Hardin Middle School, and is used to help students learn improved reading skills, writing, and literary analysis.

THE SERIES: Ender's Series, sometimes referred to as Ender's Saga or Enderverse, is a series of books creating an epic adventure about what happens to planet earth and its people when the horrific happens--earth is invaded and nearly destroyed. To save the planet, a young man is chosen to train and eventually become their committing xenocide. This series chronicles the story of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, a child gifted not in art or music, but in the art of war and strategy. A visual Chart of the Chronology of the Ender's Game Book Series can be found by following this link. When you get to the template, click on the link that says "show" to be able to see this wonderful template. 

So...what makes this book, arguably, the best sci-fi book ever written? To begin with, Ender's Game appeared in my very first post in this blog on my Top Ten Favorite Books List. Initially, I placed it there simply because it is one of the best stories I have ever read. But...I am not alone in this assessment. [2] Ender's Game won the Nebula Award (1986), the Hugo Award, (1986), appears as #1 on the Sci-Fi Lists "Top 100 Sci-Fi Books", was #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List, and was the "Top-Selling Science Fiction Book of 2012."

Criteria I didn't use. On my very first blog, I placed Ender's Game on a list of my favorite top ten books. I didn't place this book on my Top Ten Favorites Books List because it was a best seller, because it won awards, or because it was popular.

My top ten favorites book list is for me to make a conscious choice about the books I read and to decide what place they have in my life. This list also helps me to know myself better by making me think about why I like a certain book and what about the book makes it important to me. So, now that we know the criteria I didn't use in placing the book on my top ten list, I'd love to show you the reasons I did.

THE BOOK: What did I really like? First, I really liked the way Orson Scott Card opened the book. Let's take a look at the first couple of chapters:
  • As the book opens, we see that Ender was born as a "Third" child, in this society it is a despicable status brought about through no fault of his own. He is tormented by his own brother, Peter, and bullied by other children at school. Ender is a victim. We like Ender and feel sorry for him--it is all so unjust! But then something happens to change his life...his monitor comes out. Just before the monitor comes out, he is told that the procedure wouldn't hurt him; Ender thinks that it will hurt. Clearly, the adults were lying to him. He further considers the nature of "lies." Ender concludes that "lies were just far more dependable than the truth." 
  • Then, the medical staff took out the monitor; since it hurt, his theory about lies was proven true. Most importantly, though, with his monitor out, Ender was no longer supervised electronically. Ender leaves and is confronted in the hallway by Stilson. Ender assesses the situation and begins to think that the looming confrontation would not have a happy ending for him. He decides that he would not be the one who ended up being the "unhappiest at the end" of Stilson's confrontation with him. Ender is grabbed, but he lashes out, knocking Stilson to the ground. Cooly and logically, Ender thought that he had to win now and that he had to end it for good. He stepped forward while Stilson was still laying on the ground and helpless. He then kicked Stilson in the ribs, the crotch and then the face causing blood to splatter everywhere. Ender thought to himself that taking away his monitor had made him just like Peter. But Ender wasn't like Peter...because Peter hadn't killed anyone. Ender had just killed Stilson, he just didn't know it yet. 


So, what is Card doing here that makes the opening of the book so enthralling, so important? Well, first, Card utilizes a relatively common technique of telling the story in third person. In a series of little vignettes, Card shows us why Ender is feeling as he is--the reasons for his state of mind--what he is thinking, feeling and doing. It makes it possible for us to share Ender's emotional state and finally, to adopt Card's main goal of having the reader identify with Ender and to adopt Ender's perspective. In essence, we step into Ender's shoes and look at the world through his eyes. Empathy is another tool Card also uses to get the reader emotionally invested in the story by identifying with Ender.

In the story, the government men have simply "monitored" Ender and watched him from a distance through the monitor implanted in his neck. But, Card is able to guide the reader into making a connection with Ender by utilizing the above techniques; it isn't long before the reader identifies and cares about the boy. After all, who doesn't know what it is like to be misjudged, to be criticized for something that is not their fault, or to be bullied or hurt?

It is at this juncture, once we have been able to identify with Ender, that Card's techniques make the next step possible. The next step is that because we understand what Ender is going through we are able to set aside our judgment and condemnation of Ender in his brutalization and killing of Stilson. We look past the fact that Ender had already stopped the bullying--once Stilson was down Ender cooly decided to make a brutal end of it. Some readers might even feel that Stilson got what he deserved and that the aggression was justified (because, as I said, at this point we don't know that Stilson is dead). We want to cheer for the little guy. In movies, books and in real life, we cheer the little guy when he is able to defeat or get-one-over on the bigger or more powerful foe...just as Ender does, here.

Card uses another extremely important technique throughout the whole of the book and upon which the climax rests--the withholding of salient facts. Here at the beginning of the book, Ender has killed Stilson. But, at this point in the story Ender doesn't know, nor do his parents know--they think that the Stilson boy is in the hospital. Importantly, because we as readers, don't know Stilson is dead, it is easy for us to keep our sentiments aligned with Ender.

So, why is this important? Because it makes it possible to suspend negative judgment against Ender and not expect him to take responsibility for his conduct. Ask yourself how you would look at Ender if you knew he had killed Stilson--would you be so willing to identify yourself with him, then? Few people would want to identify themselves with a killer. The solution is for Card to deny the reader that knowledge, to let it come out much later--after Ender is well into his hero's journey.

A similar thing happens later in the book with Bonzo Madrid--Ender is not told of his death--in fact, it is concealed from him, and the readers...for a while. Then, jumping to the end of the book, we hear that videos of the fights with Stilson and Bonzo were viewed, "that they were pretty gruesome...[t]o watch one child do that to another." We read that photographs of the boy's bodies were exhibited and psychologists argued over the differences of killing and murder. Yet, Ender is never brought up on charges or held accountable.

In all his acts of violence, excuses are made for Ender. For instance, Graff states that "Ender was not the provocateur." Not with the Stilson boy, not with Bernard (whom we haven't discussed, here), not with Bonzo Madrid, and impliedly, not with the race of buggers. So, the question is, going back to the beginning of the book, how can Card keep us from losing our empathy with Ender? The solution is relatively simple:

Withhold salient factsDon't let the reader know about the killings, get others to make excuses for Ender, keep the reader feeling sorry for Ender's struggle, and don't make Ender take responsibility for his actions. Orson Scott Card's masterful writing techniques not only help us to jump into Ender's shoes, but with the additional technique of withholding salient facts, Card keeps us there on Ender's side. We suspend our negative judgment of Ender permitting him to go on his journey towards saving the world.

So, Ender is on his hero's journey. But we have to ask ourselves why would the government select Ender, a little 6 year-old boy for training to commit xenocide? In the first chapter, Card explains to the reader that though brilliant, both the brother and sister tested out as unsuitable for the program. That left Ender as the sole candidate in his family. But even so...

the government men admit that they have questions about Ender's suitability because he is "too malleable." Too malleable? Why would that be a problem? After all, the government men wanted and needed a child who was malleable--they wanted to be able to work and to shape Ender into the kind of tool the government needed.

BUT . . . if Ender had friends, teacher's who liked him, or subordinates about whom he cared, Ender could EASILY be influenced by those people. He might be influenced to the point where he was no longer a boy who could kill his enemies and make an "END" of  them (once and for all).

So, what Card did to create the perfect character who would be the savior of the world was was to create that character to be both sensitive and kind, but with one huge and notable exception--he created a character who would utterly destroy enemies. He created Ender to be an "ender."

To achieve that end, Card created an Ender who "...knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare," an Ender who knew that " was forbidden to strike the opponent who lay helpless on the ground...." And, an Ender who could look at his enemies "coldly" and choose to "win all the" fights at once--to end it all. Moreover, this Ender doesn't follow the rules. He just wins.

Now we know why the government men wanted Ender . . . and we know what they have to do to achieve their goals--they have to keep Ender isolated, from forming too many close friendships, and to surround him with "enemies." Knowing all this, how could the government justify what they were about to do to Ender? They justified themselves by saying, "We're saving the world, after all. Take him."

How can the government be saving the world when it is Ender who must save the world? What kind of game is the government playing, here? Humm. Do you think the terms "game" and "lie" are interchangeable? And where exactly does the theme of "breaking the rules" fit into this consideration? Who's breaking them? Why?

Card waits to reveal the salient facts he has been withholding from Ender (and the reader) until the climax of the action. In Card's big reveal, he has Col. Graff do the explaining. Graff tells Ender (and the reader) how the government made Ender into a tool. As Graff explains to Ender, he says, "...[you are very much] like the Little Doctor, functioning perfectly but not knowing what you were aimed at. We aimed you. We're responsible. If there was something wrong, we did it."

To give the reader even more food for thought, Card has Graff  explain about the government's game and how they tricked and lied to Ender--one of the major themes we've followed throughout the book. Graff further explains to Ender that they needed Ender because of his compassion, youth and recklessness, and...his desire to win against the enemy. As readers, we may have figured some of this out, but many questions may still remain.

Questions: How important is it that some of the major themes seem to center around the nature of "lies," "games," and broken "rules?" Was Ender's hypothesis about lies at the beginning of the book a valid one--that lies are more dependable than the truth? How was Ender able to utilize his hypothesis in Battle School? Was it Ender's immaturity or his nature that kept him from questioning the bigger lies or games that the government was playing with him? Was it OK to let Ender learn that it was acceptable to break the rules--if you have a good enough reason? Was the government justified in their conduct because they were a victim of circumstance? And, do the "exigencies of war" excuse the abuse and deaths of the children? Or, do we blame the buggers for being the "provocateur?" Does Graff saying that the government was "responsible" make it so? Do we absolve Ender from all responsibility, like the government and tribunals, and unlike himself? What do you think?

Please comment and let me know what you think about any of these topics and questions (or anything related to this blog). I hope you are looking forward to Part Two of this post about Ender and the Hero's Journey.

Bonus: I know all of us fans (or followers) of Ender's Game (the book, of course) are wildly excited about the movie being released in November, this year. Please enjoy the trailer (that really has nothing to do with my book review except that it is the book from which they made the movie).

One last question, The title of the book is Ender's Game. What does that title mean to you and what game or games do you think Card referred to in the title of the book? (i.e. the games with Peter and Valentine, the game they played, "Buggers and Astronauts," the game within the computer with the Giant, the ones in null gravity, the games with the teachers or commanders, the games with the students, or the games at Command School and the final battle?) you think the buggers were able to influence the computer game and change it for Ender so he could play a part in their own "bugger" game?

Thank you for taking time to read this post. I invite you to make comments below and come back next week for part two of this exciting story and my take on what's happening in it.

Until next time . . .

Many happy pages of reading!


_____________________________________ Ender's Game, the mass market paperback book from Amazon. Also available in audio, Kindle, hardback and paperback. The Urban Dictionary's definition of xenocide.'s_Game_chronology_chart  A chronology chart showing the listing of all the Ender Saga books by Orson Scott Card.'s+journey&tbm=isch&facrc=_&imgdii=_& Hero's Journey cartoon; Save the world; graphic; malleable; Questions graphic; White Rose. Definition of "ansible" and its etymology & derivation. From the Ender's Ansible (an Ender's Game Fan Resource) site re article published June 5, 2013.