The Ender Saga
by Orson Scott Card
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted November 3, 2013
Edits & Addendum on June 20, 2019
Ender's Game / Speaker for the Dead
Ender's Game began as a novelette, first published in the August 1977 issue of Analog. It was the first of Card's science fiction to be printed, and it was nominated for a Hugo the following year. The novel came eight years later, and it won both a Hugo and a Nebula, establishing Card as a major player in the genre. There are a few continuity and character differences between the shorter and longer works, but the novelette does include the major focus of the novel, the Battle School and Command School training of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and other children. The action in the novelette comprises about the last quarter of the novel, so the book gives us a lot more background for the characters and the reason for their training.
Years before, Earth had been attacked by an alien force, and either by sheer luck, or maybe an extremely intelligent perception by one commander, Earth forces were successful in foiling the invasion. The time period varies in the two versions of the story (as well as in the new film), but it was approximately fifty years prior to Ender's story. In the intervening years, Earth's military has planned a counterstrike against the aliens, building a succession of starships and weapons for the assault on their homeworld. Card borrowed a technology from another author, Ursula Le Guin's ansible, a simultaneous communication device which will enable a commander in our solar system to direct the starship forces light years away when they arrive at the alien's home system.
Thus the military leaders are up against the clock, needing to find the best commander for the task by the time those ships arrive at their destination. There isn't an indication in either of the stories how long the Battle School has been in operation, but it is possible similar training was already used prior to the invasion, just greatly expanded for the future campaign. It had already been long established that children were more adept at the complex games systems in use, and over the years the recruits become younger and younger, both because some have diminished cognitive ablility as they age, as well as many burning out from the stress of the training. Children are monitored from infancy to determine those best suited to the training. Before Ender, his older brother Peter and his sister Valentine were in the running, but both were ruled out for what were perceived to be personality faults. Both were as intelligent as Ender, but Peter was too volatile and violent, perhaps even sociopathic, while Valentine was seen as too empathetic. The hope is that Ender will strike a balance between those extremes. He is only eight years old when he enters Battle School, and he is promoted quickly as he proves his abilities, and becomes the youngest ever to graduate to Command School. Colonel Graff, the head of Battle School, had personally picked Ender, and he feels Wiggin is not only their best prospect, but possibly their last and only hope. For if Ender fails to live up to the challenge, it is likely there will not be enough time to train anyone else to take his place.
There is a lot more to the novel than just Ender's training. The societal and governmental structure is well described, albeit with several dated elements. For instance, this was written before the end of the Cold War, before the Berlin Wall came down, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Most of the developed world is united in the League, while Russia and other Eastern European countries still operate under the auspices of the Warsaw Pact. While there is an uneasy alliance between the League and the Pact, they each maintain separate military forces, the League's headed by the Strategos, with the Polemarch in control of the WarPac's troops. There is an undercurrent of fear that if the alien menace is eliminated, that alliance will break down and there may be another world war. It would be a total spoiler to reveal how Peter and Valentine figure into that part of the narrative, but it is a story almost as interesting as Ender's ordeal.
Card's religious upbringing is evident in his depiction of the family unit, how strong bonds within the family (in this case between Ender and Valentine) can shape a person for good, as well as how a fault in the family structure can lead to stress, anxiety and anti-social behavior. Another highlight of the book is a look at how a society harms its citizens when the over-riding focus is on military might. Long before Suzanne Collins used The Hunger Games as a metaphor for how governments continually send their best and brightest young people to die in wars, Card showed us how such a single-minded purpose as hatred or revenge can strip a society of any of the freedoms it had attained in the past. It isn't really a spoiler if I reveal that Ender is not always a sympathetic character, in fact there are times you might feel guilty thinking he is a hero. In the end, even he does not think of himself as such, at least not until he makes a discovery that transforms him into a Speaker for the Dead.
I had not read this book since it first came out in paperback, shortly after its Hugo and Nebula wins. I liked it then, and still do. Card may hold some opinions with which I can't agree, but I do recognize him as a very good writer (at least when he doesn't allow his prejudices to show), in tune with the emotional core of what it means to be human. I won't say it was the best book of that year, because it did have quite a bit of excellent competition, but it will have to wait until I read or re-read the other nominees to decide where this one should reside in the history of the genre. I don't think it is even the best of the Ender series, but at this time I do give it my recommendation.
Card accomplished something that no other SF writer has done, before or since, winning both the Hugo and Nebula two years in a row. Speaker for the Dead also won Locus and Kurd La▀witz Preis (in German translation) awards, and was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Memorial trophy. In several ways it is better than Ender's Game, particularly in the maturation of Ender's philosophy of life, as well as other well developed characters, and the world-building of the planet Lusitania and its native species. It seems evident that Card's religious and sociological opinions have changed over the years. Ender and others exhibit more tolerant attitudes toward those of other faiths and belief systems, including alien ones.
At the end of the previous novel, Ender and his sister Valentine traveled to several planets opened for colonization, some of which had been held by the buggers. On one of them he found a cocoon of a bugger hive queen, with which he established a telepathic bond. She informs him that their original attack against Earth had been a mistake, since they had not considered humans to be a sentient species. The misunderstanding derived from the fact that buggers had a hive mind and humans didn't. Ender attempts to explain that misunderstanding in a treatise titled "The Hive Queen," published anonymously as by Speaker for the Dead. No one but Valentine knew he was the Speaker and also the Xenocide, the murderer of the buggers. In essence, Ender cast himself as the villain, even though he had thought he was just participating in training exercises, not actually directing the tactics of military ships against the buggers' homeworld. He later wrote "The Hegemon" at the request of his dying brother Peter. These two works formed the basis of the Speaker for the Dead movement, wherein many other people were called to conduct services for the departed, in which truth was preferred over a false idolization of the deceased.
Due to the paradoxes of relativity and the time-space continuum, interstellar voyages at near light-speed might take decades of "real" time, yet the people on the ships would experience only a few days or weeks. Thus nearly 3000 years later, both Ender and Valentine are just in their 30s, and no one is aware he is Ender, the Xenocide, and she is (or was) Demosthenes, anonymous writer of other political books. Part of this doesn't make sense, because Ender, in his capacity as a Speaker, goes by his real name, Andrew Wiggin. People are aware of the paradoxes of space travel, and even though no one else from the bugger war era is still alive, surely the name Wiggin would still be known, and it seems likely records existed of the fact that Ender's real name was Andrew. "Ender" became his nickname due to the fact that Valentine, just a year or two older, had difficulty pronouncing Andrew as a child. They are both on the planet Trondheim, an icy world settled mainly by Scandinavian Calvinists. Ender is a teacher, and while I can't recall what Valenine had been doing, she had married, and the birth of her first child is imminent when Ender responds to a call for a Speaker on the planet Lusitania. They had always been close, before and after the war. He doesn't want to leave her, doesn't want to miss the birth of his niece, but feels he must respond not only in his capacity as a Speaker, but also because he is still looking for a planet suitable for the hive queen to come out of her cocoon and start a new colony of buggers. Lusitania might be a likely place for that.
Lusitania had been settled mainly by Portuguese-speaking Brazilian Catholics, and while the Church does not control the goverment it does exert considerable influence in other ways. The primary laws are set by the Starways Congress. Lusitania is the only other among the Hundred Worlds that is home to a sentient species, variously referred to as the pequeninos (the little ones), or the piggies. The SC injunction in this case says the pequeninos can be studied, but they cannot be informed of any human technology. The call for a Speaker is because of the death of one of the xenologists, apparently tortured and murdered by the pequeninos. A few days after calling for a Speaker, Novinha changes her mind and rescinds the request, but Ender is already on the way. His journey takes nearly twenty years in the life of the Lusitanians, by which time there have been two other xenologists killed in the same manner. It is up to Ender to decide for which death he will speak first, but he also attempts to unravel the clues about the pequeninos' motives in order to avoid another xenocide. And to find out if Lusitania is a fitting home for the hive queen.
This is a good book, full of thoughtful rumination on morals and responsibility, along with unique explorations of other cultures and ideas. However, I only re-read and reviewed it because it's on the list of award winners I've pledged to cover. I recall enjoying other stories from early in his career, and while I have other novels in the Ender Saga, along with some unrelated, I don't think it likely I'll read them any time soon, if ever. I may sell, trade-in, give them away, or perhaps trash them. There are too many other books to read, other authors whose political and religious opinions haven't alienated me. Yet at least. I suppose it's possible Card might recant some of his objectionable opinions. Until then, I'm moving on and won't think much about him anymore.
My review of Ender's Game, the movie.
Would you like to contribute an article on your favorite SF, Fantasy or Horror book?
Just email me.
We would appreciate your support for this site with your purchases from
Amazon.com and ReAnimusPress.