Thursday, October 09, 2014

I Should Have Read Ender's Game A Long Time Ago

I've know about Orson Scott Card for a long time, but until three weeks ago, I'd only read one of his books. He wrote the novelization for "The Abyss", which I read back in high school. I liked that movie at the time. I watched it at the Imax theater in San Antonio, where Ed Harris' bald spot was over three stories tall in one shot.

I found The Abyss book at a book store. Up to that point, I hadn't read a good novelization of a movie. I found out why. I tend to read the Author's Notes, Preface, and Introduction in books. I can sometimes learn interesting things from them. Card wrote in the book how when a movie is novelized, the novel is often based on an early version of a script. The script changes as the movie production goes along. Card refused to turn out a crappy book, so he was able to get a late delivery date and worked closely with the production crew to ensure his book matched the movie as close as possible. And he did a great job. You could almost follow the movie exactly with his book open.

I knew the Ender's Game movie came out recently, and I kept seeing the book on lists of "books men should read" on manosphere blogs. I finally bought it and read it. I finished it in three days.

It was a very enjoyable read. Ender strikes me as a messianic figure, as in he was born to do what he did in the book: command the fleet as a preteen boy.

The book had an interesting premise, especially considering it was written in the 70's or 80's originally. A slightly militaristic society only allows families to have one or two children, who are then tested almost from birth for military ability. Ender's older brother and sister failed out of the program, so his parents were permitted to have a "third" in the hopes he would be the one qualified for the fleet.

Ender becomes the one. He is given a test of rejection where his monitor is removed, leaving him to believe he was rejected for military service. He is attacked by a bully, and when he wins the fight, decides he needs to win all the future fights too so he won't have to fight them. He beats the boy mercilessly so he will never be bothered again. The Fleet decides that's what they want.

Ender is taken for military training, where he is pushed hard. He is unknowingly forced into isolation so he believes he will always be on his own. He is left to figure things out for himself, and to build relationships that eventually evolve into followers who trust him implicitly as their leader.

I was talking to a coworker about the book recently. He said it was required reading when he was a young Marine officer. He said he didn't like the ending, because "Ender wasn't a patriot at the end. They had to fool him into commanding the battles."

I thought about that for a while, and that's when I realized that statement is exactly what makes Ender such a great character, and Card a great writer.

This is the way war works: you have to dehumanize the enemy. Look at history; at what has to happen within a population for wars to take place. Especially wars in faraway places. Perhaps it's easier to get Germany to invade France. Here in America, it took a lot of propaganda to drag this country into WWI and WWII. In WWI, there was a ton of propaganda about how the Hun (German) would bayonet babies and was just a cruel, evil monster. Look at cartoons from WWII; like the Popeye cartoon with him fighting the Japanese caricature in a submarine. He kept popping out saying "So solly!"

In order to mobilize a population for war, you have to convince them that the enemy is evil. The enemy isn't human; he has no feelings, no family, no barbecues, no goals in life. No future. The enemy is an inhuman killing machine, so we have to get in there and kill him so he can't kill us.

Ender had such an enemy, but even in his case, it wasn't that simple. Nobody thinks of himself as evil. That's Hollywood bullshit.

In Ender's case, the enemy was an ant-like species. It had queens, and the rest of the bugs just followed orders. When the queen died, the troops just stopped.

Ender, in addition to being a great strategic thinker, was also able to think for himself outside of strategy. He was able to ask questions like "What are they thinking?" "What do they want?"

Ender's enemy had a motivation: their planet was overpopulated and they needed more room. But they couldn't communicate with humans. There was no apparent way for either species to sit down and talk and maybe find a solution besides war. This I find a great premise in science fiction. The Star Trek Universal Translator would not work here.

He did what was required of him. He won that battle, and all future battles, so they would never have to be fought. Of course, this was at the price of genocide. Ender had to be tricked into this though. His superiors couldn't see past "We have to kill him before he kills us!"

I think, rather than being an "Ooh-rah! Kill, kill, kill!" patriot, this is the strength of Ender's character.  If Ender had been that two dimensional, it wouldn't have been as good a book.

Unlike my coworker (whom I shared this with, and he said he'd have to think about it for a while), I thought the ending was very powerful. The enemy had found a way to communicate; through Ender. They enemy told him "We tried to colonize your planet, but once we realized you were an intelligent species, we couldn't kill you off. So we never came back. We understand why you had to do what you did, and we forgive you."

So rather than a two dimensional killing machine, the enemy, like Ender, was intelligent and complex. But they suffered from the same communication problem. So after it was too late, Ender became the bridge. I assume this is part of the messianic nature to his character. Ender is also the means to bring back the bug species; again, a messianic theme. Redemption and recreation.

I can see more clearly why this book would be required reading for the military. (Starship Troopers is on the Navy's Professional Reading List). Although Starship Troopers truly does feature a two dimensional enemy. (I don't quite get the "skinnies". They don't seem to serve much purpose).

So, I should have read this book back in high school. It is a very good read.

You can buy Ender's Game here. It's a great book.
Post a Comment