Ender’s Game: Your Audience as the Problem

enders-gameEnder’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, is one of the best books I’ve read, and I don’t say that lightly. Both the story and the characters are compelling, and even though it’s a prime example of genre fiction it still has several strong themes.

One of the biggest things that stood out to me was the twist at the end. It changed my whole expectation of the world and the morality the author was operating under, and it explained a theme that had been building, unnoticed, through the book.

(Spoilers ahead)

Ender’s Game is a dark book. When I first read about Ender fighting (and killing) Stilson or Bonzo, or playing the giant’s game, I pulled myself back, steeled myself. Even now, it’s a harsh reminder of the reality that Ender is growing up in.

Most of the book is spent telling the reader that a single life means nothing, that Ender and his squadron can be sacrificed for the greater good, that in war, people die. Every act of violence that’s shown underscores this point.

Not that an ordinary reader will walk away from a chapter thinking children can be sacrificed, but as you read, the darkness means less. It’s easier to entertain the possibility of surrendering people for the ‘greater good,’ hypothetically. Normally that numbing effect is an accident that authors try to avoid, but this time it’s very intentionally done.

Because after all that, Ender talks with the Bugger Queen.

He discovers that they have hive minds; they didn’t know that every human they killed was sentient. When Mazer destroyed the Queen in the first invasion, the buggers realized that every human is like a bugger queen. They were horrified with the thought of the people they had killed, and they stopped their colonization immediately.

Lives matter. That’s not a controversial statement. But fiction likes to play with that idea, asking us, “How much do lives matter?” I do think it’s important to ask questions like that, but it’s dangerously easy to get complacent with the answer.

Ender’s Game set me up to question a person’s value, then showed me a whole race where there’s no uncertainty. It’s not even considered.

That made the ending hit home, involving me in the storytelling in a way I never expected. It made me, in a tiny, hypothetical way, part of the problem, part of the less compassionate side. And that is masterful storytelling.

Then again, that was just my interpretation of the ending. There’s some stuff in later books that contradicts a little of the buggers’ nature I explained, but I view Ender’s Game as a standalone book. What did you think of the ending?

 

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