Saturday, February 5, 2011

Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

Title:  Ender's Game
Author:  Orson Scott Card
Publsiher:  Tor Science Fiction
Date:  1985 (Original)
Pages:  352
Genre:  Science Fiction
Age Range:  7th Grade and Up

Summary (from Goodreads):
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

This novel, which won the Hugo and Nebula Awards, has been on my to-be-read list for a while.  As a science fiction fan, I felt that I needed to read it just to say I had.  I didn't expect to enjoy it-the premise of turning children into soldiers did not appeal to me one whit, especially given that there are actual children being conscripted as child soldiers all over Africa and Asia today.  But it is one of the classics of science fiction, so I finally agreed to give it a chance.

I should have known my fellow science fiction fans wouldn't have steered me wrong.  Ender's Game is gripping and intense.  There is violence from the very beginning, when Ender is attacked by some bullies at his school, but despite the violence the whole thing feels very controlled and rational, almost cold.  None of the characters are easily pigeonholed, as the usual good vs evil dichotomy doesn't really apply here.  All of the characters have flaws, pretty major ones for the most part, but it is hard to judge them too harshly.  How much can you blame a person for acting in a certain way when they have been genetically manipulated to be predisposed that way?   

Ender himself commits some pretty horrific acts, but is kept from the knowledge of their consequences so that he will continue to train, to "play the game".  I will admit to being as surprised as Ender to find that the final battles he fought were real, at least partly because I knew there were other books in the series, so I was expecting a continuation of the war.  But imagine the discussions you could have with students about what was done to Ender.  He was manipulated into xenocide, blithely sending what he thought were fake fighters into battle, only to kill them in real life.  What would that do to a person?  What reasons would make it OK for a person to be manipulated that way?  Would it have made a difference if Ender had been an adult?  This novel has a lot of  social commentary in it that makes it a great read with high schoolers.

Teacher Resources:
Unit Plans and Study Guides 
Character Lesson Plan 
Web English Teacher Plans 


  1. Ah, Ender's Game: a modern YA classic, no doubt. It's one of the few nearly-universally admired novels for my ninth graders...
    I admire your format here, Heather: clean design, with reliable and useful features. Not only that, but you've created a clear niche for your blog and your bloglist also supports your focus. Might I have your permission to use this blog as an exemplar with my students next year?

  2. Laurie, I'd be happy for you to use it. It actually started as a project for my master's degree in reading. When I took a children's lit course, we had to write several book reviews, and I already had a blog for my general reading, so I asked if I could use this format, rather than submit paper copies. Thank goodness my professor was sufficiently literate in web 2.0 to be OK with that.

    My goal is to have more frequent posts. It's been difficult finding time to support two blogs and finish grad school, but I would really like this blog to be a resource for people.

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