Books: Ender’s World

Orson Scott Card is a prolific writer, and there are a number of his books that I haven’t read, but whenever I see another book related to Ender’s Game, I read it. First he wrote sequels, starting with Speaker for the Dead, then later he went back and wrote a parallel series in which the central character is Bean rather than Ender.

I don’t think any of them are as good as Ender’s Game, but I read all of them, because Card is a good writer and I’m interested in the characters and themes he explores in the series. So when I saw Ender’s World in the library, it was a given that I would read it, even before I knew what it was about.

Ender’s World is a book of essays, rather than fiction, and written by other people about Card’s classic novel (but edited by Card, who includes Q&A about how and why he wrote various aspects of the book the way he did). As one reader review at amazon.com says, it’s a bit like having a book club discussion about Ender’s Game. Everyone has a slightly different take on it.

When I read Ender’s Game sometime in the early 90’s (I think that was when, anyway – unlike one essayist, I don’t remember exactly where and when I read it), I thought it was a very powerful book. But I don’t know that I could have articulated why.

I wasn’t surprised when I read, some years ago, that Ender’s Game had become required reading in many schools. Besides being a great story, it lends itself to serious discussions on a variety of topics.

I was surprised, however, to learn from one essay in Ender’s World that it is on the reading list for the U.S. Marine Corps. John Schmitt, author of the Marine Corps doctrinal manual Warfighting, read Ender’s Game and “felt an instant connection, like Orson Scott Card had taken the ideas of Warfighting and converted them into a novel.” One of the discussion guides produced by the Marine Corps University helps readers explore the ideas of leadership, training and team-building, and Maneuver Warfare/tactics using Card’s novel.

Some of the essays focus on the fact that Ender is a child. People tend to discount what children can accomplish, but Ender saves the entire human race (or so it is believed at the time) while he is still a child.

One essay argues that Card changed people’s expectations of child heroes in fiction. In most previous fiction, Aaron Johnston says, children tended to be “passive participants in their own stories,” leaders only over other children, or at best small-scale heroes. Since Ender’s Game, the market has exploded with books where children are strong, take decisive action, and make their own destiny – even when they’re not saving the entire world.

One essay – the very first one – helped me understand the novel better by showing why the book does not end where it feels as though it should, after the climactic battle. This is because Ender’s real battle is against becoming what he hates – a cruel killer like his brother Peter.

Another essay deals with why Ender later (in the sequel) came to be vilified by society rather than regarded as a hero – another thing that had always bothered me. Neal Shusterman explains that the world needed a scapegoat to clear its conscience.

If Ender’s world didn’t come to hate him, that would be a dark portent for humanity. It would mean that humanity approved of the xenocide.

Other essays deal with rules for writing – and when to break them, characters as mirrors of ourselves, and lessons on leadership and on life from Ender’s Game. But the one other viewpoint that I think worth pointing out is from one of the Q&A by Card, in response to the objection of some people that Ender’s Game glorifies war.

On the contrary, if anything, Ender’s Game shows with brutal clarity just what war costs those who fight it, so that even when war is necessary, only a fool goes into it joyfully.

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