My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A brilliant young boy is molded into a military leader to save humanity from an alien threat in this classic work of science fiction.
I was inspired to reread this novel by the release of the long-awaited movie version. The gorgeous visuals fail to convey the emotional complexity of Ender's Wiggin's journey from six-year-old boy to pre-pubescent general, so I was glad I went back to the original to refresh my memory.
It's a classic Chosen One story, much like Harry Potter or Dune, where a special child is the only one who can save his people from total annihilation. Ender is special, so special that he was actually requisitioned by the government in the hopes that he would balance out the traits of his sociopathic brother, Peter, and his compassionate sister, Valentine.
Humanity is united by two previous invasions by an alien species known as the Formics (or colloquially as the buggers). Having barely won the past two encounters, Earth's government sets up a special Battle School designed to train young children to be tactical geniuses.
Battle School is full of games to challenge Ender. The most important of these games takes place in the battleroom (like zero-g laser tag), where children fight each other in armies. The students at the school are brilliant, aggressive, and frightening: Ender is the best of them all. He's manipulated into a precision weapon, proving himself lethally competent to face whatever the adults throw his way. Ender is aware of the manipulations and hates them, but he chooses to fight, recognizing the greater threat.
There are intriguing characters (mostly children), tense and clever battle sequences, a bizarrely unsettling mind game, and an overarching mystery about the true nature of the enemy. It's Lord of the Flies in space, and the perfect intro novel for those who have never read science fiction and want to try it. Its exploration of free will, warfare, and the helplessness of childhood is part of the best tradition of classic science fiction.
Ender's Game stands alone but is the first in a series, and the sequel Speaker for the Dead follows an adult Ender into self-imposed exile. There is also the great parallel series, beginning with Ender's Shadow, that tracks the Battle School life of Ender's second-in-command, Bean. Bean is a unique character, and his story may echo Ender's but ends with very different results.
If you want another sweeping novel about fascinating alien species and child protagonists, definitely try Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep.
"Survival first, then happiness as we can manage it."
"Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart."
"Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given to you by good people, by people who love you."