I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Enter Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, the result of decades of genetic experimentation.
Is Ender the general Earth so desperately needs? The only way to find out is to throw him into ever-harsher training at Battle School, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when his training begins. He will grow up fast.
But Ender is not the only result of the experiment. His two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Among the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.
***Spoilers abound!!! Read no further if you wish to remain unspoiled!!!****
This was a re-read for me, but the first time around was back when it was first published. Then, I adored the book. I was curious to see how the reading experience would change for me now, 30 years later.
This time, I really noticed the age of the main characters—they are child soldiers, manipulated by adults with larger agendas. We’ve always sent young men into war, while the older tactitians remain safely behind, but this depiction was extreme at the time. Now we actually do see 10 year olds with machine guns in some conflicts in some parts of the world.
I’m also more aware of the cause of the war—a lack of communication between humans and buggers. Add to that our basic xenophobia; if we can’t accept people of other skin colours or religions, how can we accept a species that aren’t mammals? It’s like asking for someone to hand you a can of Raid and then casually exterminating the insects that have inadvertently invaded your home. If we meet other species, will we be able to overlook their evolutionary differences and almost-certainly very different way of looking at the world?
It also brings to mind drone warfare—where the people dropping the bombs are well out of the field of battle and can do it rather clinically, without experiencing the effects of those bombs. Ender doesn’t realize that he is leading real battalions, as he is still in an environment which he perceives as a school room. He is insulated from the results of his choices & actions at every step of his training, allowing him to exterminate a whole world without questioning what is going on.
The last few pages of the book were the best part, in my opinion—where Ender becomes the Speaker for the Dead. Where he represents the species that he was responsible for destroying, where he finds out how deeply they understood him, especially when he felt completely misunderstood by his fellow humans.
Book number 197 of my science fiction & fantasy reading project.