I am Ender

Posted on November 4, 2013


I saw the movie Ender’s Game on Saturday. The book has been on my “must read” list for well over a decade but keeps slipping off the top 5 due to other “commitments” (aka Wheel of Time). With it being released on 1 Nov I felt I must read the novel prior to seeing the movie. This post is more of a book review than it is a movie review. That said, I will mention the movie briefly. Also note: for those who have NOT read the book or seen the movie this may contain some spoiler information.

Onto the review…
Yes, I am (or was) Ender. Growing up I was always on the fringe of pretty much everything. I was a scrawny little kid (I graduated high school at 6’2” and 170 pounds), got picked on in the schoolyard, and picked last in most gym activities. Like Ender, I always felt I had to prove myself, to show that I was the best at everything.
I enrolled in organized sports, to prove that I could hit a baseball with the best of them: I still got picked near the end when choosing teams. I was starting strong safety and corner back on the Optimist league and on the junior high football team. I led the team in interceptions yet got no respect in pick-up games. I was always proving myself, just like Ender.
One question I have regarding Ender is this: What or where is the source of his drive to be the best, prove himself the best. Is that internal to him and a part of who he is, or is it manipulation from Colonel Graff, his parents, and others? My drive was mostly internal, fueled by my peers. I knew I was as good as them and the only way I could be accepted was to outperform them. I feel like part of that is within Ender as well. It is evident in his reaction to his brother Peter. But, is that trying to prove that he is better than Peter or is it more survival? There is significant external pressure and manipulation by Graff. But again, there is as much survival instinct in Ender’s drive to prove that he is the best. Ender is placed in situations where there seem only 2 options: Succeed or die. Stilson and his cronies will most likely him. Bonzo and his cronies will kill him. The buggers will kill him and Valentine.
And there, I believe, lies the ultimate manipulation of Ender: Kill the buggers before they kill us. I believe all along that Graff intended for Ender to utilize the “Little Doctor” on the bugger home planet. Thus the manipulation: Tell Ender that all the battles are simulations and training. Don’t ever let on that they are real and that you are killing actual buggers, losing your own starships, fighters, men and women. Because if Ender does, he’ll realize he’s a killer just like Peter. And yet, that’s one area where I am a little confused about Ender. He is very smart and sees through a lot of Graff’s manipulation. Why then, does Ender not see through the simulations? He knows they used him with Stilson. He knows they used him with Bonzo. He knows they are using the games to manipulate him. Why didn’t he see that they were using him in the simulation?
And in the end, all the manipulation was for a lie. Ender’s sad, lonely life, his isolation, his reason for even being born, was based on a lie: The buggers are going to come back and exterminate the human race. As the book progressed, I began to challenge Graff’s assumption during his many debates with Major Anderson. If the buggers were going to attack again, why had they waited? It was apparent that they outnumbered humans. So why not send in the 3rd wave and crush the humans before they had a chance to rebuild and advance their technology? And as the simulations in Command School continued with Mazar Rackham “playing the role of the enemy”, it seemed that bugger formations were all defensive and not aggressive. As smart as Ender is, why didn’t he see that as well? Why didn’t he question Graff and Rackham? Was Ender so absorbed and wrapped-up in Graff’s logic that he failed to see through the lies? I think part of that was his love for his sister. It wasn’t to save the human race, it was to save Valentine; and not from the buggers, but from Peter as well.
It’s not until Ender has decimated the bugger home planet in the “simulation” that he understands the full truth: That this was not a game or a simulation. He is solely responsible for the decimation of not only a species, but an entire civilization.
So here I am, at 48 years old. I weep for Ender and myself. I feel his isolation. I feel his manipulation. I feel the lies. For me, it’s not that the buggers will return and destroy earth, but that we are told “Enjoy your youth and have fun for after you graduate, you will work hard, raise a family, retire, and then die”. I recently discovered a flaw in this. We are told “You need to get a good job”, “You need to go to college, get a degree so you’ll make a good salary”. Why? Why not be happy? Why not work hard when you’re young so you can party and have fun the rest of your life?
As far as the movie was concerned, I felt it was fairly true to the book. Harrison Ford is spot on as Colonel Graff. The director captured the remote evaluation of Ender by Graff and Major Anderson exceptionally well. I do wish they had covered the Demosthenes and Locke dynamic. By omitting that I feel they had to alter the game sequence with the giant and the End of the World which is pivotal to Ender’s ultimate decision to colonize bugger planets. Not only that, it feels like the movie only captured the tip of Peter’s essence and cruelty. Again, a critical part of Ender’s development in that he as much of a killer as IF makes him, he struggles so as not to be like Peter and more like Valentine. I did feel pity and empathy towards Ender in the movie. But, maybe that’s because the book was still fresh in my mind and I was transferring my emotion from the book to the screen. There was also a bit of disconnect between Ender’s Dragon army and that of the outnumbered army with Salamander. Knowing he’s outnumbered, Ender gives them the formation in order to reach the enemy’s gate and win the game. He reminds his toons that “The enemy gate is down”. Without the reference, the ending when confronted by the bugger army at the home planets feels out of context when Bean reminds Ender “Remember, the enemy gate is down”.
On a 5 star scale, I definitely give the book 5 stars. The movie, 4.

I’ll leave my readers and follower with this and I believe it ties into my last argument about lies. This was my take-away from the novel: “Nobody controls his own life. The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given you by good people, by people who love you”. I think we DO control our own lives (to an extent). We can make choices to make ourselves happy and feel fulfilled. Just like Ender at the end. He makes a conscious choice about his future, one where he can feel happy and with a purpose.