HomeAll postsEnder’s Game (the novel) by Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game (the novel) by Orson Scott Card

A review by Nalini Haynes

Andrew Wiggins calls himself Ender. Ender’s older siblings are geniuses but Peter, the oldest, is a sadistic torturer of people and animals. Valentine, the middle child, is considered to have too much empathy. In a world with a strict two-child policy, Ender’s birth – the third child in his family – was commissioned by the government in the hope Ender would successfully lead a battle fleet against the buggers, alien invaders.

Aged six, Ender agrees to leave his family – leaving Valentine was a wrench – to attend Battle School in a satellite from which he will not be allowed leave to visit his family until he’s 12 years old.

Colonel Graff, the grumpy old sod in charge of the school (to be played by Harrison Ford in the movie), deliberately isolates Ender from his peers by setting Ender up as the elite student. Ender realises everything is a test but how does a student cope with violent bullies?

The style

Ender’s Game is copyright 1977. Orson Scott Card cites 1950s science fiction as significant influences that are obvious in his style. Prosaic prose ‘telling’ not ‘showing’ is common, to the point where Graff’s conversations – where Card shows instead of tells – are the points of interest, ramping up anticipation of conflict.

When Peter and Valentine are reintroduced to the story, their exchanges are more significantly showing with dialogue, again engaging the reader, before slipping into ‘telling’ summaries.

Ender is a sympathetic character only in that he’s the geek who is bullied at school. Otherwise Ender is a good little automaton who does what is required. Ender’s internal monologue explains others’ behaviour; if he isn’t right – because the omniscient narrator knows he’s right – then Ender could have become an intolerable Sheldon-esque character (BBT) largely due to authorial style. As it was, Ender is rather Data-like (STNG) in spite of emotions surfacing periodically.


Orson Scott Card did his research; he was obviously keenly aware of the development of the internet in the 1960s and 70s. Ender’s Game features the net much as it exists today including opinion writing, forums, reportage and trolling. Students’ ‘desks’ also seem like advanced tablets; whether due to research or luck, it makes Ender’s Game seem more recent than 1977.

Orson Scott Card controversy

You’ve probably heard about Orson Scott Card’s homophobic ideology and public financial contributions to organisations campaigning against marriage equality. I was concerned this ideology may have been embedded in the novel.

Throughout the novel aliens are referred to as ‘buggers’ because they are descended from ant-like creatures. Some may argue that ‘buggery’ is a term encompassing gay sex since the 16th century (according to Wikipedia). That connection may be valid to a degree, especially as an explanation for Card’s use of ‘bugger’ over ‘bug’, but it’s fairly ambiguous.

Early in the novel Bernard bullies Shen (both students), teasing him because Shen’s butt wiggles when he walks. As I was on the alert for homophobia, this leapt off the page. Ender’s solution included turning the tables on Bernard for noticing Shen’s butt. While this was a clever means of defeating a bully, it had slight overtones.

Ender’s relationship with Alai could have been a (very sweet) homosexual affair but the boys were primary school-aged children in a book written in the 1970s, making such a precocious relationship unlikely.

My biggest issue with the novel was the emphasis on primary to middle school boys being naked so much of the time. Battle School couldn’t afford shorts and singlets for free time and sleep?

I didn’t pick up on any other homosexual or homophobic references.


If Ender’s Game the movie is at all true to the novel, it’s going to fail the Bechdel Test, a simple test to see if women are treated as individuals.

There are hardly any women in the novel: Ender’s mother barely features; Ender’s sister is seen only in relationship with Ender and Peter; only one female student is mentioned at Battle School and the rarity of female candidates is emphasised because girls aren’t suitable.

The female student isn’t a character in her own right either, unlike male students like Bean and Alai. She’s a purely relational character, teaching Ender, hating Ender, trying to help Ender…

[Spoilers, sweetie]


Card declares an empathic soldier is needed, one who can get into the mind of the enemy to understand the enemy, while declaring that girls are too relational, therefore they’re not suitable candidates.

In the ‘new’ introduction, Card declares that only minimal changes have been made to this subsequent printing in order to correct inconsistencies in the story. Pity he didn’t plug that really big plot hole-slash-inconsistency that was revealed towards the end. By the time the hole was revealed the novel was really in wrap-up mode so it wasn’t too much of a distraction. Plus the actions relating to the hole were, on the whole, revealing of Ender’s character. Kinda. So it wasn’t like there was a random thread.

Apparently Orson Scott Card was engaged to write the script for the movie but gave up, declaring it to be impossible. It’s noteworthy that the Ender’s Game graphic novels credit a different writer.

[Spoilers end]


Due to its style, Ender’s Game is a novel out of its time. Many current readers love it because they read it years ago. Some new readers will love it because of the movie and, perhaps, because of its style, contrasting strongly with current trends in writing and publishing. Other readers will howl, ‘This isn’t the same as the movie!’ (I expect Ender’s Game will be less different to the original than I, Robot but significantly more different to the original than the Hunger Games.)

I enjoyed the novel for its hero’s journey, insight into dealing with bullies (although not the solution) and the slow burning plot relying primarily on Graff’s conversations. Even before I checked IMDB, I ‘heard’ Graff as Harrison Ford. Win.

Three stars.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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