In the introduction to his award-winning science fiction novel, Ender's Game, author Orson Scott Card comments that new science fiction writers "imitate the great ones, not by rewriting their stories, but rather by creating stories that are just as startling and new." All styles of writing seek to illuminate those flashes of human nature that readers rarely see in older works, but in the science fiction genre, authors must distinguish themselves through inventive settings and characters as well. Any student of literature eventually realizes that since universal themes stay the same throughout the eras, they become fairly easy to imitate. What makes sci-fi stories so attractive are not so much the deep truths they impart, but rather their capacity to set readers on a path to imagining the future. Although Orson Scott Card published Ender's Game in 1985, a more recent examination of the novel suggests that its accolades are even more deserved in hindsight. Not only does Card provide an engrossing vision of future Earth, his decades old imaginings actually appear very similar to the realities of 2012.
Essentially, Ender's Game examines the conflicts inherent in being a military genius at the tender age of six years old. The protagonist Ender Wiggin is the last hope of three genetic experiments in his family that aimed at producing a leader capable of defeating a buglike race of aliens threatening to wipe out humanity. Since the 1980s, readers have found affinity with Ender's isolation and struggles to fit in as a child prodigy. Now a favorite across generations, Ender's Game certainly has a lot to say about how adults use and abuse gifted children for the purposes of achieving their own ends even if it means depriving the pawned wunderkinder of their childhoods.
Themes of personhood and the rights of minors (and extraterrestials, of course) coupled with lots of personal drama and zero gravity battles make Ender's Game an exciting read, even if the growth of its protagonist and the wider setting of its universe are conspicously unrealistic. In addition to interstellar battles, star fleet personality clashes, and other old standbys of science fiction, today's readers may find elements of Ender's Game make it worth reading or re-reading in 2012. The story describes sophisticated video games, remote combat by flying drones, and even the impact of citizen journalists on geopolitics in a fashion eerily reminiscent of what is happening in America today.
Any gamers out there will certainly appreciate how part of Ender's training takes place not in the battlerooms of a space station, but in video games played during his leisure time on a device called a "desk" that's basically a foreshadowing of the laptop computer. The fantasy game is an open world RPG with levels that can only be beat by solving fantastic puzzles involving clever, sometimes graphically violent solutions. Like the complex and absorbing video games of today, the computer adapts to the player's strengths and weaknesses even incorporating images from the player's own memory, creating a fantasy game uniquely challenging and consuming to the individual playing it.
Even the trainers who created the game lose control of it as the levels become more bizarre. When Ender enters into uncharted digital territory, one teacher gives up trying to figure out the AI's end objective, commenting that "the mind game is a relationship between the child and the computer. Together they create stories. The stories are true, in the sense that they reflect the reality of the child's life." How many of today's children and teenagers are having their lives profoundly shaped by the video games they play in total abstraction from the real world?
In another prescient side plot, Ender's Game spends a few chapters on Peter and Valentine Wiggin, the older brother and sister of Ender. Just as intellectually gifted as their brother, these supporting characters were ultimately rejected from battle school due to personality flaws. Their exaggerated behaviors mirror aspects within Ender's own personality. When balanced correctly, the Wiggin family genes promise military brilliance, but become dangerous and out of adult control in the imperfectly crafted older vessels.
Extremely intelligent but unwanted bi-products of genetic experimentation, the neglected Peter and Valentine rival Ender's ability to dissemble adversaries. Peter possesses a powerful killer extinct, but he too easily turns to cruelty as he deals with the shame of being overshadowed by his younger brother. In contrast, Valentine is so caring that she could hardly destroy any lifeform herself. But her empathy lends this middle child the ability to understand other humans' thinking so well that she can manipulate them into following her even to their own self-destruction.
While Ender is away in space preparing for a showdown with aliens, his brother and sister plan to use their rhetorical gifts to steer Earth's politics into their control. Peter explains his quest saying, "the world is always a democracy in times of flux, and the man with the best voice will win." Publishing their political opinions on worldwide information forums called "the nets", the pair adopt the suggestive pseudonyms of Locke and Demosthenes, build their journalistic chops and fanbase over several years, and eventually become culturally relevant enough to impact world events. Not unlike the political commentators and bloggers of today, their words alone help the elder Wiggin siblings become more influential than the politicians and generals they claim to analyze.
When considered alongside real life examples of the video game-like remoteness of current wars, increased military drone activity in the Middle East, and the ongoing clamorings for war with Iran coming from opinion leaders who rarely hold any elected office or combat experience themselves, Ender's Game may soon enter the literary category of books widely considered to be ahead of their time. As winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards, Ender's Game is a must read for any fan of science fiction, especially for those who favor Star Wars-influenced tales of fighter pilots battling strange new intelligences across the galaxies. But even for those who usually steer clear of the genre, this novel contains some interesting themes with an uncomfortable degree of real world relevance atypical for supposed science fiction. Whether in the present day or in the fantastic future, Ender's Game points out an immutable truth of human nature; unless united in defeating an external threat, the human race will inevitably turn its capacity for cruelty and horror into wars waged against each other.