I came to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game late, even though I’ve been a sci-fi fan all my life. What impressed me was its emotional depth and philosophical sophistication for a book that was in the young adult genre before that category hit the big time in recent years.
Ender, like his older brother Peter and sister Valentine, is brilliant. Yet he is also a complex mixture of his brother’s brutal tendencies and his sister’s empathy. (While a genius, Valentine, as her name suggests, is all heart.) Ender’s empathy makes him a strong leader who understands those who might follow him. That same empathy (and brutal streak) makes him capable of defeating (ending) his enemies for the same reason–he can anticipate how and why they might act.
What struck me even more (spoiler alert) is that while there is the rush of adrenaline at his final victory, Ender ultimately takes no joy in his triumph. He is all too aware that even though he saves the human race, it is at the cost of the near extinction of a sentient species. There are no easy answers in war, even a just war. And Card’s book purposefully gives us none.
The recent movie version of the book does a solid job of reminding us of these tensions. The conflict between Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) also requires viewers to ask if even the end of saving humanity justifies the means of turning children into virtual killing machines.
As I watched the movie, I wondered if those who hadn’t read the book would be able to follow the plot line. It is faithful to the book but moves very fast, only hinting at many plot features as we race on to the next scene. The book also requires the scriptwriter and director to take the risk of putting the emotional weight of a major motion picture on the shoulders of a very young actor. We know that didn’t work out so well in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, but Asa Butterfield (age 15) bears that well as Ender Wiggin.
The movie is worth seeing. And if watching it motivates some to read the book, that will be an even better end.