I do not usually have patience for wholly unrealistic protagonists. Andrew (Ender) Wiggin, age nine, has intellectual and strategic abilities surpassing anyone, even experienced adults. Just the same, I could not put down Orson Scott Card’s science fiction novel about an army of children training to save Earth from hostile aliens. It was not so much due to the intricate and fast-paced plot, but the desire to see if Ender could maintain his sense of human decency in spite of the machinations of the adults controlling his life.
All the nations of Earth, friend and foe alike, have banded together to defend themselves against an invasion of insect-like aliens. Military experts believe that gifted children who can think “outside the box” hold the key to the world’s survival. After years of searching and training, they have placed their hope in Ender Wiggin, a bright boy with both a killer instinct and an unusually refined ability to empathize with his opponent. Separated from his family, he is sent to a specialized school where youngsters learn military strategies through computer games and simulated battles. Pre-adolescent students command armies, wins and losses are tallied, and competition is fierce. Ender quickly discovers that it is lonely at the top.
Ender’s progress is monitored primarily by Colonel Graff and Major Anderson. Their conversations indicate that they have no scruples about trying to mold Ender into a ruthless soldier who can lead an army. They do see a few obstacles: Ender’s revulsion at his own strength, his deep regret for harm he does to others, even in self-defense, and his attachment to his sister. Ender, for his part, is too smart to be used. He wants to prove himself, but refuses to manipulate his peers in order to succeed. His leadership rests on his ability to recognize his subordinates’ strengths, his respect for them as persons and the loyalty they share.
Card’s novel lends itself to all the special effects audiences have come to expect in movies. A cast of children will surely appeal to young viewers. There are a few interesting details to look out for in the film. Students at the military school only dress when leaving their barracks, including the one girl-a passing detail in the book that we can only hope is left out of the movie. Additionally, there is an underlying hero-worship theme that is almost religious which comes to the fore at the end of the book. Most young readers will probably be too caught up in the story to notice it. Caveats aside, science fiction lovers are in for a real treat.
Jennifer Minicus is a mother and teacher living in Ridgewood, NJ.