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1985 Nebula Award and 1986 Hugo Award Winner- 'Ender's Game' by Orson Scott Card

Ender's game has seen it's stock fall in recent years.  Almost universally beloved when it was published, Orson Scott Card's first novel joined the ranks of double winners, those books that won both the Hugo and Nebula Award.  The reason Game isn't as loved as it once was stems from a couple reason, the general craziness of the author, the shaky quality of the sequels, and a few essays by critics that place the novel in a bad light.  There have been some pretty wild accusations made about this novel and it's author, but it's too bad that they've been able to take away from the novel's initial reception because it really stands up well as a very entertaining read.

The science fiction community seems to have turned against Orson Scott Card almost as a whole, though not without reason.  He has taken to making offensive statements about a whole multitude of topics, including gay marriage, Islam, and evolution, things that the science fiction community has embraced for quite some time, as well as having a general reputation in the community for being a jerk. 

I try to avoid looking too deeply into the life of an author.  Perfectly nice people can write terrible books, and horrible people can write some of the best books.  We need to judge books by the words on the page, and only by those words.  What has soured 'Ender's Game' somewhat in my mind is the diminishing quality of returns in the sequels to the novel.  As so often happens in science fiction the author didn't know when to walk away from a franchise, returning again and again to the same well until finally ret-conning the original into something terrible.  The same thing happened with the Riverworld series, and no one likes to talk about where 'Dune' ended up.  Never trust a good author to keep on being good by his fifth book, too many authors start off a series not knowing where it will end up and without a strong ability to finish as well as they start.  Sometimes you have to be willing to leave a series unfinished if you don't want to see the characters you love betrayed by their author.

From a literary standpoint it's become almost fashionable to bash this novel, with many reviews saying it's a veiled apology for Hitler, or a justification for the annihilation of the Jewish peoples.  That seems a little ridiculous to me, this is a novel intended for teenagers.  It's a YA novel about kids in an adult situation, that most teenagers appreciate for treating them like adults.  Sure, there's a little bit of self importance, and the novel plays to a teenager's natural feelings of alienation and being misunderstood, but I don't think it's advocating fascism or doing anything weird.  I just think this novel might have been aimed more at teenagers than at forty year old sci-fi critics.  I know my opinion of the novel is skewed because of my age when I read it.  Perhaps one of the reasons I love this book so much is because I myself read it when I was an angsty alienated teenager. 
Anyone who wants to pick at the flaws will be able to find them.  The character of Peter is more than troubling for a ten year old, the adults all appear innefectual and sadistic, and there's far too much child nudity for anyone's taste.   Card, in both this novel and the sequel, advocates pretty hard for the idea that people should be judged by the motivation and intent behind an action, not the action itself.  I'm not a philosopher so I don't know what that's called, but to me it sounds a little weird.  If you're going to write a novel that justifies genocide I suppose that's the angle you have to take though, and a philosophical idea that I don't agree with has never been a good enough reason for me to totally dismiss a novel.  This idea is one I don't agree with but not nearly enough to throw out something as entertaining as 'Ender's Game.'

I think too often people forget that a novel's main purpose is to entertain, it's why we read science fiction.  And 'Ender's Game' is gripping and entertaining from start to finish.  Card crafts a world in which it is impossible not to root for Ender Wiggin.  If you forget about all the craziness that come with Card, and where the series went so bad, the novel really does entertain and stand up as well as when it was published.  This was Card's first novel, and it's not perfect.  Really, I knew very little of the feelings about this novel before I started to write this, I had no idea how much vitriol it has received in recent reviews.  I think it's really undeserved and a disservice to what the author has done here.  Card creates an entire world pitted against one small child.  A world in which no one, not adults and certainly not parents, can be relied upon to save Ender.  Card then goes on to create a carefully structured world in which genocide, murder, and intense violence can be justified from this child.  It's impressive that Card can even keep our sympathy on Ender's side by the end of the novel considering the terrible things he does.  It's a credit to the carefully structured narrative Card creates that Ender Wiggin is able to be seen as anything other than a monster.  That Card is able to do this without devolving into melodrama is equally impressive.

He does all this while writing an incredibly entertaining read.  Who doesn't love the idea of Battle School?  The zero gee battle scenes are impressive and incredibly well written.  The concept of Battle School by itself would be more than enough to carry this novel (as it did the original novella) despite all the rest of it.  Card states explicitly in the foreward that the idea for Battle School was the inspiration for all the rest.  It shows, the zero gee scenes pop, they're compelling, and they're completely original.  These scenes in the book are the ones that I go back to constantly, I've probably reread them at least a dozen times.

I think it's wrong to expect every novel that wins the Hugo or Nebula award to be 'The Dispossessed' or 'Neuromancer' these giant serious science fiction novels that tackle interesting subjects and provide a serious presentation of what the future might hold.  Some of the novels are like that, sure, and they're a big part of what makes sci-fi so interesting.  But I've said it before and I'll say it again here, science fiction has it's roots set firmly in the pulp writing of the early part of the century and it's not hard to see those roots today.  Not every novel can be earthshaking, and most bestsellers these days aren't.  'Ender's Game' has a lot more in common with 'The Boat of a Million Years' and 'Old Man's War' than it does with 'The Left Hand of Darkness,' it's a gripping adventure story with compelling characters that we want to root for.  There's nothing wrong with a novel being fun to read and nothing more, and personally I enjoy taking some time off from the 'Red Mars' and 'Radix' of the world to read something as light and fun as a book like 'Ender's Game.' 
It's sad that Card's personality can put some people off.  It's sad that Card continued the series as long as he did, and that the Ender's Shadow series attempts to rewrite some of what made 'Ender's Game' great.  And it's offputting that some of the morality that Card starts to preach in the novel can start to get a little weird.  But that's not what people should take away from this novel.  Leave all that other stuff out of it and this novel is just fun to read. 

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