Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fiction | How to Build an Intergalactic Hero

It's taken nearly two years (pathetic), but I'm closing in on completion of the Read Harder Challenge I began back in 2015. Naturally, the categories I have remaining are the ones I looked least forward to tackling, and among those was science fiction because mehhh, just not my thing.

I was reminded of Ender's Game this past spring when a student checked it out for his independent novel study project. I decided to use Orson Scott Card's classic as my sci-fi novel because a) it is a classic, and b) since I have it in my school library, it'd give me an advantage to know how to recommend it to my readers! Once chosen, though, I pretty much dreaded reading it based entirely on its genre. I rarely, if ever, read sci-fi, and I really didn't like the last one I did read. Also, I had no idea what the story was actually about; no doubt unfairly, I just lumped it into a genre I didn't care for, regardless of the details.

The story is about a 6-year-old boy named Ender Wiggin. He's the third child in his family, his family's third try at producing the commander who can defeat the alien army. Neither his brother nor sister proved to be "the one"—Peter has a sadistic streak, and Ender is pretty sure Peter'd kill him if he had the chance; Valentine is brilliant but an emotional liability. She is Ender's only source of comfort and protection from his older brother. Ender, though, is tough, masks his emotions, and brilliantly manages to get himself out of any scuffle in which he finds himself entangled. After one particularly brutal but triumphant encounter with a bully, Ender is recruited and sent to Battle School where he will train to become the hero the military needs in the next phase of the bugger war.

Ender thrives at Battle School and quickly proves himself to be leagues above his peers. He is able to see what's before him from a different perspective, throwing out the rules as they have been assumed. This trait does him well in the battle arena and at 10, skipping years of training, he is moved to Command School. Ender's leaders, though, increasingly isolate him and throw out seemingly impossible tasks to see how well he will handle each situation. The thing about Ender, though, is that his actions always surprise him. Strategically, he's brilliant, but the swiftness and almost ruthlessness with which he handles threats are never fully intended. To Ender, it makes him a monster, no better than Peter; to the military, he's a weapon and the best shot they have against the buggers.

I was pleasantly surprised by the successful balance of plot and character in Ender's story. As an adventure, the story is engrossing and easy to follow. Ender's world is definitely unlike our own, but the narrative never bogs down with description and reasoning; things simply are the way they are, and as a reader, you don't feel the need to question them. Ender is a character we care to follow. We meet him at such a young age, only six, which seems entirely implausible based on the complexity of the situations and conversations he encounters. But then again, it's Ender's world, and while Card does concede that Ender and his siblings are exceptional, it's mostly just a fact we accept without argument or coercion.

I never expected to like this book, but I ended up really enjoying it. It's an engrossing, accessible adventure for middle school and up kids. And beyond that, it's conceptually complex and full of content and commentary that can be read on a much deeper level—definitely a good one for literary analysis. I'm sure it is and has been analyzed to death by scholars and sci-fi fans, but it can easily be read and enjoyed at surface level, too.

No comments: