Friday, January 14, 2011

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card


I absolutely loved this book! Sometimes science fiction can get a little technical, and the heart of the story is lost, but Card centers the story around a very empathetic protagonist. Card presents the reader with the all-too-rare complex villain. Or rather, he has no villains at all. Each individual, no matter how cruel his or her actions may seem, has a reason for the way he or she behaves. And while the reasons are not always good, they are always understandable. Thus while the 'villains' are obstacles that must be overcome to achieve the necessary goals, they never merit hatred or total condemnation. Instead of good guys and bad guys, you have a bunch of fallen individuals in conflict. A reader can, at various times in the story, feel empathy for even the worst of the antagonists.

Card also explores utilitarian ideas in an interesting way: What is an acceptable price to pay for victory? What can you put soldiers through in order to ensure survival--theirs and that of the human race? What if the soldier is a child? What is the right thing to do? When is compassion cruel and cruelty kind? Do the ends justify the means? What qualities should a good soldier--or leader--have? How do you create soldiers who can kill without crippling psychological trauma, and yet avoid turning them into psychopathic killing machines? How do you cultivate and encourage empathy without breeding weakness?

This is why science fiction is such a rich genre: We get to ask real questions that are played out and answered in a fictional world.

I wonder, though: Is the rest of the series this good?

NOTE: The audiobook is also excellent. Like the audiobook version of Speaker for the Dead, it's voiced by several narrators--one for the Ender-focused sections, one for the Valentine-focused sections, and other for the various conversations between various government officials. (The Ender-narrator and the Valentine-narrator also appear in Speaker for the Dead.) It's not quite a dramatic production, though, which leads to the occasional awkward transitions between narrators. The narration is well done and goes by quickly, though as with most audiobooks, the steady narration pace forces the reader to slow down, where the written page might tempt an excited reader to blister through portions of the book.

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