Enders game, p.2
Part #1 of Ender's Saga series by Orson Scott Card
For some people, however, the loathing for Ender's Game transcended mere artistic argument. I recall a letter to the editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, in which a woman who worked as a guidance counselor for gifted children reported that she had only picked up Ender's Game to read it because her son had kept telling her it was a wonderful book. She read it and loathed it. Of course, I wondered what kind of guidance counselor would hold her son's tastes up to public ridicule, but the criticism that left me most flabbergasted was her assertion that my depiction of gifted children was hopelessly unrealistic. They just don't talk like that, she said. They don't think like that.
And it wasn't just her. There have been others with that criticism. Thus I began to realize that, as it is, Ender's Game disturbs some people because it challenges their assumptions about reality. In fact, the novel's very clarity may make it more challenging, simply because the story's vision of the world is so relentlessly plain. It was important to her, and to others, to believe that children don't actually think or speak the way the children in Ender's Game think and speak.
Yet I knew--I knew--that this was one of the truest things about Ender's Game. In fact, I realized in retrospect that this may indeed be part of the reason why it was so important to me, there on the lawn in front of the Salt Palace, to write a story in which gifted children are trained to fight in adult wars. Because never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along--the same person that I am today. I never felt that I spoke childishly. I never felt that my emotions and desires were somehow less real than adult emotions and desires. And in writing Ender's Game, I forced the audience to experience the lives of these children from that perspective--the perspective in which their feelings and decisions are just as real and important as any adult's.
The nasty side of myself wanted to answer that guidance counselor by saying, The only reason you don't think gifted children talk this way is because they know better than to talk this way in front of you. But the truer answer is that Ender's Game asserts the personhood of children, and those who are used to thinking of children in another way--especially those whose whole career is based on that--are going to find Ender's Game a very un-pleasant place to live. Children are a perpetual, self-renewing underclass, helpless to escape from the decisions of adults until they become adults themselves. And Ender's Game, seen in that context, might even be a sort of revolutionary tract.
Because the book does ring true with the children who read it. The highest praise I ever received for a book of mine was when the school librarian at Farrer Junior High in Provo, Utah, told me, "You know, Ender's Game is our most-lost book."
And then there are the letters. This one, for instance, which I received in March of 1991:
Dear Mr. Card,
I am writing to you on behalf of myself and my twelve friends and fellow students who joined me at a two-week residential program for gifted and talented students at Purdue
University this summer. We attended the class, "Philosophy and Science Fiction," instructed by Peter Robinson, and we range in age from thirteen through fifteen.
We are all in about the same position; we are very intellectually oriented and have found few people at home who share this trait. Hence, most of us are very lonely, and have been since kindergarten. When teachers continually compliment you, your chances of "fitting in" are about nil.
All our lives we've unconsciously been living by the philosophy, "The only way to gain respect is doing so well you can't be ignored." And, for me and Mike, at least, "beating the system" at school is how we've chosen to do this. Both Mike and I plan to be in calculus our second year of high school, schedules permitting. (Both of us are interested in science/math related careers.) Not to get me wrong; we're all bright and at the top of our class. However, in choosing these paths, most of us have wound up satisfied in ourselves, but very lonely.
This is why Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead really hit home for us. These books were our "texts" for the class. We would read one hundred to two hundred pages per night and then discuss them (and other short stories and essays) during the day. At Purdue, it wasn't a "classroom" discussion, however. It was a group of friends talking about how their feelings and philosophies corresponded to or differed from the books'.
You couldn't imagine the impact your books had on us; we are the Enders of today. Almost everything written in Ender's Game and Speaker applied to each one of us on a very, very personal level. No, the situation isn't as drastic today, but all the feelings are there. Both your books, along with the excellent work of Peter Robinson, unified us into a tight web of people.
Ingrid's letter goes on, talking of the Phoenix Rising, the magazine that these students publish together in order to maintain their sense of community. (In response I have given them this introduction to publish in their magazine before its appearance in book form.)
Of course, I'm always glad when people like a story of mine; but something much more important is going on here. These readers found that Ender's Game was not merely a "mythic" story, dealing with general truths, but something much more personal: To them, Ender's Game was an epic tale, a story that expressed who they are as a community, a story that distinguished them from the other people around them. They didn't love Ender, or pity Ender (a frequent adult response); they were Ender, all of them. Ender's experience was not foreign or strange to them; in their minds, Ender's life echoed their own lives. The truth of the story was not truth in general, but their truth.
Stories can be read so differently--even clear stories, even stories that deliberately avoid surface ambiguities. For instance, here's another letter, likewise one that I received in mid-March of 1991. It was written on 16 February and postmarked the 18th. Those dates are important.
I'm an army aviator waiting out a sandstorm in Saudi Arabia. I've always wanted to write you and since my future is in doubt--I know when the ground war will begin--I decided today would be the day Iw'd write.
I read Ender's Game during flight school four years ago. I'm a warrant officer, and our school, at least the first six weeks, is very different from the commissioned officers'. I was eighteen years old when I arrived at Ft. Rucker to start flight training, and the first six weeks almost beat me. Ender gave me courage then and many times after that. I've experienced the tiredness Ender felt, the kind that goes deep to your soul. It would be interesting to know what caused you to feel the same way. No one could describe it unless they experienced it, but I understand how personal that can be. There is one other novel that describes that frame of soul and mind that I cherish as much as Ender's Game. It's called Armour and its author is John Steakley. Ender and Felix [the protagonist of Armour] are always close by in my mind. Sadly, there is no sequel to Armour as there is to Ender's Game.
We are the bastards of military aviation. Our helicopters may be the best in the world, but the equipment we wear and the systems in our helicopter, such as the navigation instruments, are at least twenty years behind the Navy and Air Force. I am very happy with the Air Force's ability to bomb with precision, but if they miss, the bombs still land on the enemy's territory. If we screw up, the guys we haul to the battle, the "grunts," die. We don't even have the armour plate for our chests--"chicken plate"--that the helicopter pilots did in Vietnam. Last year in El Salvador, army aviators flew a couple of civilian VIPs and twenty reporters over guerrilla-controlled territory and there were no flares in their launchers to counteract the heat-seeking missiles we knew the rebels had. One of our pilots and a crew member were killed last year on a training flight because they flew the sling load they were carrying into the trees at 70 miles an hour. It could have been prevented if our night vision goggles had a heads-up display like the Air Force has had for forty years. I'm sure you heard about Colonel Pickett being shot down in a Huey in El Salvador just a few months ago. That type of aircraft is at least thirty years old and there are no survivability measures installed.
The reason I told you about these things is because I wanted to paint a picture for you. I love my job but we aren't like the "zoomies" that everyone makes movies about. We do our job with less technology, less political support, less recognition, and more risk than the rest, while the threat to us continues to modernize at an unbelievable rate. I'm not asking for sympathy but I was wondering if you and Mr. Steakley could write a novel about helicopters and the men that fly them for the Army twenty years in the future. There are many of us that read science fiction and after I read Ender's Game and Armour three times each I started letting my comrades read them. My wife cried when she read Ender's Game. There is a following here for a book like the one I requested. We have no speaker for us, the ones that will soon die, or the ones that survive. . .
As with those gifted young students who read this book as "their" story, this soldier--who, like most but not all of the Army aviators in the Gulf War, survived--did not read Ender's Game as a "work of literature." He read it as epic, as a story that helped define his community. It was not his only epic, of course--Armour, John Steakley's fine novel, was an equal candidate to be part of his self-story. What matters most, though, was his clear sense that, no matter how much these stories spoke to him, they were still not exactly his community's epic. He still felt the need for a "speaker for the dead" and for the living. He still felt a hunger, especially at a time when death might well be near, to have his own story, his friends' stories, told.
Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by somebody's dazzling language--or at least I hope that's not our reason. I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we know are not "true" because we're hungry for another kind of truth: The mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself.
Ender's Game is a story about gifted children. It is also a story about soldiers. Captain John F. Schmitt, the author of the Marine Corps's War-fighting, the most brilliant and concise book of military strategy ever written by an American (and a proponent of the kind of thinking that was at the heart of the allied victory in the Gulf War), found Ender's Game to be a useful enough story about the nature of leadership to use it in courses he taught at the Marine University at Quantico. Watauga College, the interdisciplinary studies program at Appalachian State University--as immilitary a community as you could ever hope to find!--uses Ender's Game for completely different purposes--to talk about problem-solving and the self-creation of the individual. A graduate student in Toronto explored the political ideas in Ender's Game. A writer and critic at Pepperdine has seen Ender's Game as, in some ways, religious fiction.
All these uses are valid; all these readings of the book are "correct." For all these readers have placed themselves inside this story, not as spectators, but as participants, and so have looked at the world of Ender's Game, not with my eyes only, but also with their own.
This is the essence of the transaction between storyteller and audience. The "true" story is not the one that exists in my mind; it is certainly not the written words on the bound paper that you hold in your hands. The story in my mind is nothing but a hope; the text of the story is the tool I created in order to try to make that hope a reality. The story itself, the true story, is the one that the audience members create in their minds, guided and shaped by my text, but then transformed, elucidated, expanded, edited, and clarified by their own experience, their own desires, their own hopes and fears.
The story of Ender's Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is the one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together.
Orson Scott Card
Greensboro, North Carolina
"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get."
"That's what you said about the brother."
"The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability."
"Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He's too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else's will."
"Not if the other person is his enemy."
"So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?"
"If we have to."
"I thought you said you liked this kid."
"If the buggers get him, they'll make me look like his favorite uncle."
"All right. We're saving the world, after all. Take him."
The monitor lady smiled very nicely and tousled his hair and said, "Andrew, I suppose by now you're just absolutely sick of having that horrid monitor. Well, I have good news for you. That monitor is going to come out today. We're going to take it right out, and it won't hurt a bit."
Ender nodded. It was a lie, of course, that it wouldn't hurt a bit. But since adults always said it when it was going to hurt, he could count on that statement as an accurate prediction of the future. Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.
"So if you'll just come over here, Andrew, just sit right up here on the examining table. The doctor will be in to see you in a moment."
The monitor gone. Ender tried to imagine the little device missing from the back of his neck. I'll roll over on my back in bed and it won't be pressing there. I won't feel it tingling and taking up the heat when I shower.
And Peter won't hate me anymore. I'll come home and show him that the monitor's gone, and he'll see that I didn't make it, either. That I'll just be a normal kid now, like him. That won't be so bad then. He'll forgive me that I had my monitor a whole year longer than he had his. We'll be Not friends, probably. No, Peter was too dangerous. Peter got so angry. Brothers, though. Not enemies, not friends, but brothers--able to live in the same house. He won't hate me, he'll just leave me alone. And when he wants to play buggers and astronauts, maybe I won't have to play, maybe I can just go read a book.
But Ender knew, even as he thought it, that Peter wouldn't leave him alone. There was something in Peter's eyes, when he was in his mad mood, and whenever Ender saw that look, that glint, he knew that the one thing Peter would not do was leave him alone. I'm practicing piano, Ender. Come turn the pages for me. Oh, is the monitor boy too busy to help his brother? Is he too smart? Got to go kill some buggers, astronaut? No, no, I don't want your help. I can do it on my own, you little bastard, you little Third.
"This won't take long, Andrew," said the doctor.
"It's designed to be removed. Without infection, without damage. But there'll be some tickling, and some people say they have a feeling of something missing. You'll keep looking around for something, something you were looking for, but you can't find it, and you can't remember what it was. So I'll tell you. It's the monitor you're looking for, and it isn't there. In a few days that feeling will pass."
The doctor was twisting something at the back of Ender's head. Suddenly a pain stabbed through him like a needle from his neck to his groin. Ender felt his back spasm, and his body arched violently backward; his head struck the bed. He could feel his legs thrashing, and his hands were clenching each other, wringing each other so tightly that they arched.
"Deedee!" shouted the doctor. "I need you!" The nurse ran in, gasped. "Got to relax these muscles. Get it to me, now! What are you waiting for!"
Something changed hands; Ender could not see. He lurched to one side and fell off the examining table. "Catch him!" cried the nurse.
"Just hold him steady--"
"You hold him, doctor
"Not the whole thing! You'll stop his heart--"
Ender felt a needle enter his back just above the neck of his shirt. It burned, but wherever in him the fire spread, his muscles gradually un-clenched. Now he could cry for the fear and pain of it.
"Are you all right, Andrew?" the nurse asked.
Andrew could not remember how to speak. They lifted him onto the table. They checked his pulse, did other things; he did not understand it all.
The doctor was trembling; his voice shook as he spoke. "They leave these things in the kids for three years, what do they expect? We could have switched him off, do you realize that? We could have unplugged his brain for all time."
"When does the drug wear off?" asked the nurse.
"Keep him here for at least an hour. Watch him. If he doesn't start talking in fifteen minutes, call me. Could have unplugged him forever. I don't have the brains of a bugger."
He got back to Miss Pumphrey's class only fifteen minutes before the closing bell. He was still a little unsteady on his feet.
"Are you all right, Andrew?" asked Miss Pumphrey.
"Were you ill?"
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card / Science Fiction / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes