My mom didn’t have a television as a child. She made weekly trips to the library and devoured dozens of books every month. But she read one book over and over again, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Little Women brought peace and comfort to her little world. Even today my mother loves to relive that story in book and movie form.
In many ways I take after her. But the book that brings me peace and comfort is full of aliens, battle school, bloody fights, and intergalactic war. Sorry, Mom.
Of all the science-fiction, defend-the-planet-from-alien-invader stuff out there, one book is set apart. In the midst of a classic set-up (powerful alien beings are returning to destroy Earth), an author embeds a profound understanding of human nature and a compelling story of redemption.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card tells the story of a boy-genius who becomes the hope of mankind in a war against an alien race that threatens humanity. This is an old story. What distinguishes Card’s version of this archetypal plot is his complex understanding of the inner-workings of people. The dynamics between Ender and his siblings, his teachers, his friends, his enemies, his parents, and the aliens, are so palpable that I must listen to the audio book regularly to soak in all the reality that is in this novel. When I finish a chapter, I have such a grasp of the emotional climate of the scene, that I feel like I could just jump in the book and play a role myself.
Secondly, I am challenged by Card. This book is about war. Orson Scott Card doesn’t let that be simple or easy. The two series that follow Ender’s Game (Ender’s Shadow series, Speaker for the Dead series) unravel the consequences of war, and I come away from the story with a profound sorrow for the violent wars I see in the world today. Most pulp science-fiction glorifies the technical side of war. Orson Scott Card lets the impact of war cry from the page. These are not gory books. The impact is felt in the soul. War destroys people. I will never see war the same way again.
Nor will I ever see “aliens” the same way again. Book one is about the defeat of the fearful alien race. Speaker for the Dead turns this notion upside-down. Card finds a way to make this cold, empty group of distant aliens appear more human than those who sought to destroy them. I find this to be challenging to my faith and my own ability to love my neighbor. There is always a deeper story to what is going on under the surface.
Thirdly, Ender is a hero that I relate to. Yes, I find myself in this boy-genius who will save everyone. That may expose a dark side of my ego, but it also says something about the writing of this novel. I don’t find myself in Superman or Neo from the Matrix. They are too perfect. Ender is tortured. Ender loves and feels pain. Ender almost suffocates under the pressure to fulfill what he is called to do. Ender kills. I read the book over and over because I am Ender.
There are two spin-off series that I mentioned above. I prefer the Ender’s Shadow spin-off series, but most prefer Speaker for the Dead and the books that follow it.
An Ender’s Game movie is in production. These are the ways they could ruin it for me:
1. Cast kids that are too old to play the characters.
2. Emphasize the action of the battle school and battle games instead of what is going on inside the characters. The whole point will be lost if they do this.
3. Add humor. The book is virtually humorless. The kids take themselves very seriously. If they add humor, it will be a Hollywood gimmick.