Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Tor, 1977
Genre: Science Fiction Satire
"They have a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice."
Six year old "Ender" Wiggins has been born and bred to be a military genius. The third child of two geniuses, he was allowed to be born (beyond the two-child government mandated limit) only to serve in the world's all-out battle of survival against an alien race know as "Buggers" for their ant-like hive mind. You see, the Buggers are far more technologically advanced than humans, and the only way they were able to win the first invasion was with another military genius, who discovered how to stop them once. It won't work a second time.
But the first invasion was 100 years ago, and unlike most sci-fi novels, in this one, we have not figured out how to travel through space wormholes. I liked that realism, that instead of making up some futuristic technology, Scott uses our limitations and writes the novel around them. So they need the perfect general to defeat the enemy. But Ender's enemies are right here at home, not millions of miles away, and he has to survive them before he ever gets to fight against the far-away alien race.
This is a VERY controversial book. It's written in an almost satirical style, and that is how I read it. You will see throughout history that the entire satire genre is largely misinterpreted by the masses to be how the author feels about something, thus enraging the uneducated populace. (Brave New World much??!) They do not realize that the terrible things written in the book are a warning to humanity, to show us what not to become.
There are many points that will horrify you in this book. Aside from the fact that they are sending children to war, ripping them from their parents forever to drop them into an almost Hunger-Games style battle to win the spots in the top ranks, Scott writes that very few girls get into the program. I mean, like only 1. Not for their lack of intelligence, but for their lack of viciousness, "thousands of years of evolution working against them." Anybody who has ever seen a mother bear knows this to be laughably false.
And then there are the children. Left, and frankly encouraged, to bully each other, they are still supposed to develop the proper personalities to make a good general, to be able to not only strategically plan battles, but to instill loyalty in their underlings. You can see how one of these things does not lead to the other. They make no move to protect Ender. They want him to believe that no one will save him, that he must always save himself, no matter what odds are against him. This kid has multiple attempts at his life and they just let it happen, hoping that he will figure out a way out.
Let's not forget that we defeated the Buggers and they left. Now, 100 years later, we are planning on a return that has not come yet. Now it's one thing to prepare, but it becomes obvious very quickly that they know almost nothing about the Buggers. Sure, the government has issued plenty of propaganda promoting Bugger hate, but we have no idea what their motivations are, and have not had actual communication with them at all. Ever. They don't even know if they're coming back. It makes you wonder whether the human race, or what has become of it in this book, is really worth saving.
This book is probably one that some people DNF, because it's hard to watch someone get knocked down over and over and over and never really get back up. There's no hope it will end, only the constant drudgery of watching a small, insecure little boy get beat down chapter after chapter. It feels a bit like Season 6 of The Walking Dead, like you just can't take it any more! Well, I was committed, I had to see it through. And I did.
And the plot twist at the end was not entirely unexpected.
I'll rate this a 3/5. I enjoyed it, and it made me want to read more Orson Scott Card, but I'm not sure I could put myself through a re-read.