Critical Overview

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Ender's Game presents the age-old science fiction conflict of human against alien. While the plot is timeworn, many critics have observed that Card's storytelling ability, as well as the story's details and characterization, are vivid enough to maintain the reader's interest. Reviewer Roland Green, for example, stated in Booklist that Ender's Game is "a seamless story of compelling power." Card's peers and fans concurred, as the novel won both the Nebula (given by science fiction writers) and Hugo (given by science fiction readers) Awards.

Card originally wrote Ender's Game as a short story that he submitted to the leading science fiction magazine Analog after having had one story rejected by the publication. Not only did the editor like Ender's Game enough to publish it, others took notice. The short-story version won for Card the World Science Fiction Convention's John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1977. Encouraged by his success, Card continued to write and to further develop his skills. He began working on the novel Speaker for the Dead and realized that the main character should be Ender Wiggin from Ender's Game. This inspiration led to Card's writing the full version of the short story Ender's Game. When Tor Books published Ender's Game as a full-length novel in 1985, reviewers especially applauded Card's compelling portrayal of Ender as an innocent child being manipulated by controlling adults. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that "long passages focusing on Ender are nearly always enthralling—the details are handled with flair and assurance."

Card depicts Ender as an "abused" child in the sense that adults use him for their own purpose to save the world for the good of mankind. This manipulation, and the resulting sympathy readers feel for Ender, underlie the "compelling power" about which reviewer Green spoke. Readers can identify with Ender throughout the story, even though he eventually annihilates an entire species of beings. Ender is very much the typical kid— loving and hating his siblings, playing video games, and missing his family when he is separated from them. Yet he possesses a genius and mature assuredness that makes him a target for abuse by peer-group bullies and adults who are in control. Readers feel compelled to side with Ender because he is a child, and because they understand and relate to the problems Ender encounters as a child who is different. In the New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas noted the complexity of Ender's character, stating that "alternately likable and insufferable, he is a convincing little Napoleon in short pants." Tom Easton, in a review in Analog Science Fiction, agreed that Ender is believable if readers withhold their skepticism and remember that "the kid's a genius."

Other critics, however, offer more negative viewpoints. While admirers praised Card's characterization skills and his storytelling ability, his most severe critics denounced his use of violence and standard science fiction elements. In a segment of Los Angeles Times Book Review, Michael Lassell stated bluntly, "Orson Scott Card is not a great writer, nor does Ender's Game break any new ground." In particular, the critic faulted the climax of Ender's Game as "a trick (on the reader as well as on Ender) for which there is no adequate preparation." Other reviewers have criticized Card's use of violence. Elaine Radford, for instance, views Ender as another brute of history; in her Fantasy Review article, she likened his character to that of Adolf Hitler. She asserted that Ender "goes Hitler one better" because he not only kills an entire race, he also robs them of their heritage. Other reviewers, however, have recognized...

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thatEnder's Game does not advocate or apologize for violence, but rather explores the moral issues surrounding its use. Analog's Easton observed that by stressing Ender's empathy, Card saves the novel from becoming a story about a truly ruthless villain. The violence is seen as "evil for the sake of good.... [Card] goes to great pains to shield Ender's childish innocence from truth, to keep us from calling him one more brute of history."

Other reviewers have taken issue with the believability of Ender's character. Some critics felt that although he is gifted, young Ender is still not credible as a child. Lassell noted that while "likeable," the novel's protagonist "is utterly unbelievable as a child his age, genius or no." In contrast, many young readers who have written to Card have applauded him for his realism. Card says in the Introduction to Ender's Game: "They didn't love Ender, or pity Ender (a frequent adult response); they were Ender, all of them. Ender's experience was not foreign or strange to them; in their minds, Ender's life echoed their own lives. The truth of the story was not truth in general, but their truth." Calling the work "the best novel I've read in a long time," Dan K. Moran echoed this assessment in the West Coast Review of Books: "Ender Wiggin is a unique creation. Orson Scott Card has created a character who deserves to be remembered with the likes of Huckleberry Finn. Ender's Game is that good."


Essays and Criticism