Tuesday, February 21, 2012

[Lisa’s Take] Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

I don’t remember how I originally got a hold of a copy of Ender’s Game, but I do remember that it came into my possession when I was 13, in eighth grade. I read most of it during stolen moments on a team-building retreat for school, and I finished it on the bus-ride back to civilization after a few days in the woods.

It was the first book that I finished, turned over, and immediately restarted.

After my second read-through, I think I managed to go about a month Ender-free. Then I read it again. The cycle repeated over the next 5 years; I read that book 13 times between 8th grade and my freshman year of college. When Ender’s Shadow came out, I read Shadow and then sat the two books side by side and read them in tandem to see how the pieces fit together. At some point I tried to read the other sequels but never got into them; I just kept reading Ender’s Game over and over.

Being busy with class finally broke off my frequent re-reads, and then suddenly it was 10 years later. Saturday night I sat in my living room chatting with friends and out of the blue it came to me that I hadn’t read Ender’s Game in a full ten years.

Sunday morning I got up and immediately pulled my favorite old copy off the shelf. It is easily my most-loved book; the edges of the pages are soft as velvet, and the corners are completely worn away (making each page look like paper out of Battlestar Galactica). I curled up with coffee and brunch, and I didn’t look up until 2 hours later. As always, I made it to page 120 (Locke and Demosthenes) before I was jolted out of my reverie; that chapter has always broken up the flow of the narrative for me. I think on my first read-through it took me longer to get through that one chapter than it did the rest of the book combined. I picked the book back up Monday morning and finished the remaining 200-odd pages on the plane to Baton Rouge.

This is hardly a real review – surely the fact that I’ve read Ender’s Game 14 times, and the fact that it is one of the most renowned pieces of science fiction out there should stand as reason enough that I think it’s fantastic and worth reading. I did, however, want to get some thoughts about it written down now that I’ve read it with an adult perspective.

First and foremost – in 15 years, I have never before taken the time to read the introduction to Ender’s Game. I wasn’t interested the first time I read the book, and then every subsequent re-read I was too eager to get into the story to stop and read the introduction. This time I read it and was pretty entertained – I had no idea that Card was so inspired by Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. He comes across as a bit arrogant at times, but it was an intriguing glimpse into his mind and motives.

My second observation was how much more I was engaged by the adult-exchanges at the beginning of each chapter (between Graff, Anderson, and whomever else). When I was a kid the exchanges just seemed sinister; as an adult I found humor (and sometimes wistfulness) that I had never detected before. I was also much more attuned to Graff’s state of mind throughout the book – I had never before noticed his weigh/stress issues and never really understood the legal repercussions of his actions.

The last big difference between this read-through and when I was younger was how much more I questioned the skills, intelligence, and capability of the children in the book. When I was 13 I was very nearly of an age with them, so it did not seem at all out of the ordinary that they spoke and acted like adults (as I perceived myself to do at that age). The mindset stuck with me through all my subsequent re-reads. This time, looking on it with a critical eye, I found myself more doubtful and skeptical as I compared them to children in my life – my 6-year-old twin sisters, or JD’s 8-year-old nephew. In some ways I still found the childrens’ depictions realistic; especially their energy and sponge-like minds, and also their cruelty. But every time I tried to frame their focus and intellect in line with “would my very precocious sister ever manage that?” I found myself answering no. It was interesting what a difference 15 years can make in my mindset.

If you read and loved Ender’s Game as a kid, I definitely recommend giving it another read as an adult. Of course if you have never read it – shame on you; you need to remedy that right this minute.

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