After an unforgettable month spent volunteering in Cambodia, I'm back to the blog.
During my time away, I took the chance to catch up on some reading, starting with 'Ender's Game', a book that's been collecting dust on my 'to read' shelf.
As luck would have it, I had the bonus of Gavin Hood's 2013 movie adaptation playing on the journey back to the UK. So I've put together a two parter to keep things interesting. First up is my review of the book (which I read before watching the movie) and, in the next few days, I'll put up my review of the movie.
I hope you enjoy reading them as it's the kind of thing I'd really like to do more of, if I get the chance.
A relative once told me that there was a perfect time to read Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender’s Game’.
‘Sixteen,’ he said, suggesting that it’s impact may diminish the further you are from that prime age.
So, was reading it at eighteen a mistake?
Yes, was my immediate answer. In fact, sixteen seemed a bit steep. To open with a six year-old protagonist seems brave by Card and early chapters left me creeped out by this angsty infant. He seemed oddly self-important and stood as a heavy-handed set-up for the oh-so-familiar ‘chosen one’ tale the book begins by adhering to.
But, as 6 turns to 7, and 7 to 8, thing’s start to pick up a bit.
To Battle School and pages of fiendishly complex and exquisitely planned zero-g skirmishes. They’re thrilling for their relentless pace and provide a real insight into Ender’s highly sophisticated mind. Countless times I was left two or three steps behind Ender as he outwitted his opponents and this, more than any self-aggrandising, sets him apart from us mere mortals.
But, the Battle Room sequences aren’t the whole story and the personal vendetta plot-strand isn’t all that effective. In truth, much of it falls uncomfortably close to military drama stereotypes.
However, Card soon makes up for this by beginning to address the hot-button argument about the futility of war. Like Ender, I was left questioning whether the whole thing was just a great big joke, and to sustain that guessing game right through to the end is a great achievement. As Ender matures, and the adults slowly develop from nameless voices through to highly conflicted individuals, the drama just continues to ramp up.
And, what a climax! Card skillfully manipulates us into a false sense of security; where we think we know exactly how it is. But by the time we release he’s spent the last 50 pages dropping a number of effective red herrings, he’s already swiped our legs out from underneath us and, before I had any time to react, I was left tumbling; disoriented, but gobbling up everything I was given.
Then came the left-field tonal shift of chapter 15, ‘The Speaker for the Dead’. The narrative leaps forward in time and Card provides a beautiful antidote to the jingoistic delirium up until that point. He clears the air, but leaves a sinister calm that is both blissful and unnerving.
His prose dances off the page and paints a vivid portrait of the true nature of war; the loss, the destruction and the resulting ‘peace’. This final chapter, if nothing else is worth the early miss-steps.
And to think, ‘Ender’s Game’ was written a good 40 years before ‘The Hunger Games’ and the ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy. Neither of those stories would exist without Card’s seminal novel. He challenged social norms, whilst still remaining accessible and devilishly exciting. But most importantly he trusted his audience to keep up and question the things that seem so settled in their lives.
If you can make it through the early chapters, ‘Ender’s Game’ isn’t just a book for sixteen year-olds – or even eighteen year-olds – it’s a book for everyone who believes that society isn’t quite as perfect as people make it out to be.