I was twenty when I first read “Ender’s Game” back in 1987. I was completely absorbed in it, turning the pages eagerly to know what would happen next and being shocked, even outraged, when I understood the sustained deceit and betrayal on which the book was based.
Thirty-six years later, I decided to listen to the audio book version. It was a delight. The narrators give it the feel of a radio play without missing a word of the original prose.
Perhaps because I knew the ending or perhaps because I am older, this time my attention was caught by the sadness of the book. Ender is almost always alone, almost always being pushed into situations where none of his options are good, and always burdened by the knowledge the choices that he takes change who he is. I was also more sympathetic to the adults who do the terrible things that shape Ender’s fate; knowing that they are terrible, necessary and unforgivable. Ender’s assailed innocence and the compromised integrity of the adults are a lesson it what it means to be “grown up” and why children deserve to have time to be children.
The book focuses relentlessly on the violence we are willing to commit and the “sins” we are willing to live with in order to survive. It doesn’t glorify these things but it doesn’t diminish them either. It tackles what it means to be different and how often an inability to communicate turns difference into conflict.
At its heart, “Ender’s Game” tells us that all games are real, all choices matter, everything that creates an enemy has a consequence. What makes the book remarkable is that it tackles all this while doing a good job of seeing the world through the eyes of a (very bright) vulnerable, lonely, child who is equally gifted with empathy and ruthlessness.
Re-reading the book more than twenty years on adds other points of interest: Card’s imagining of the role of the web, the “desks” the children work on and the concept of war executed by tele-presence are all pleasingly accurate. This time round I was very aware that the ending of the book felt like an add-on to set up “Speaker for the Dead” – which I also read twenty-six years ago.- whereas, on the first read, I saw it as a slightly clumsy effort at redemption. The audio book includes an interview with Card, where he explains that he did indeed rewrite the ending and how that came about. I now find Card’s politics a little thin and unconvincing – too American to be truly global- but I found the way he writes Ender’s sister much more moving than before.
The movie will be out soon here in Europe. I don’t have high hopes of it, although I’ll watch it all the same. In my view, the most entertaining and engaging way to experience “Ender’ Game” is to listen to this audio version. I recommend it to you as twelve hours worth spending.