Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Dyson Sphere

First Edition Provenance:
Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game. New York, NY: Phoenix Rising, 1985. Print.

Current Edition Studied:
Card, Orson Scott.  Ender’s Game. New York, NY: Tom Doherty, 1991. Print.

Orson Scott Card

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card- An Introduction to the Selection by Rachel Bacus:

Orson Scott Card, born in 1951, made contributions to the science fiction genre with Ender’s Game and the sequel Speaker for the Dead.  His specific works examine a dystopian future of a world in peril through a militaristic lens.  Ender’s Game was written in 1985, solidly in the midst of the Cold War era where the threat of nuclear war with Russia seemed imminent.  The political climate of the era influenced many science fiction story lines and led to negative portrayals of future landscapes.  The subgenre of Military Science Fiction generally involves an interstellar conflict with a space opera involving detailed tactics and advancements in weaponry technology.  One of the first novels in the genre, George Chesney’s Battle of Dorking (1871), became a way of coping with current political strife in the Franco-Prussian war.  The novel was a speculation of what could happen in a future where the wrong side wins.  The trope of writing a new history for the future based on current turmoil seems like the consistent thread in many of the subgenre’s plotlines.  Robert A. Heinlan’s Starship Troopers (1959) popularized the subgenre with a wider American audience after World War II.  The movie adaptations generally miss the subtleties of the novels and present commercialized and sterilized forms of mass entertainment.  Some novels and film adaptations, ironically, seemed to glorify war despite the genre’s attempts in the beginning to use fiction as a tool to warn against the horror of human conflict.

Orson Scott Card, an American novelist, has conservative roots in his background as a Mormon.  One of his ancestors was Brigham Young who was an important figure in the Latter Day Saints movement.  The Latter Day Saints had their own form of fiction which was where Orson Scott Card began his writing career in screenplays.  The influence of Mormonism filtered through to Ender’s Game in ways which is not immediately obvious upon a first reading. While the religious facet of Card’s upbringing may seem counter to the science fiction he was writing, his beliefs present themselves in different aspects of the novel.  For example, his use of very white and black good versus evil characters points to a definite morality system embedded in the novel without mention of a specific religious system.  His methods of discussing war through a heavily moralized framework clarify the goals of each character and offer a sense of single-minded purpose to the young character of Ender Wiggin.  Originally the novel began as a short story which first appeared in a leading science fiction magazine called Analog in August 1977.  The story blossomed into a novel and then a sequel after popular success collecting medals, prizes, and movie deals. Today Card teaches literature at South Virginia University.


Plot Summary and Analysis

Ender’s Game begins with a search for upcoming tactical geniuses in a training school for gifted children.  The young students are monitored carefully for the necessary personality, tactical skill, and ability to lead.  Ender is introduced as one of the top choices.  The gifted six to seven year olds are hoisted up into space to undergo intensive military training for a war between Earth and an alien species nicknamed the “buggers”.  The first excerpt describes the children leaving Earth for the first time and how they begin to adapt to a new environment outside of their planet.  Ender experiences disorientation in the new environment on both spatial and psychological levels.  His ability to adapt to the foreign environment is marked by a willingness to sympathize and mimic the behaviors of what he considers to be his enemies (the adults in this encounter).  The adults’ movements within the space are described through non-human attributes which further alienate the children in the environment.  The lack of gravity accentuates movement and nullifies concepts of ground, walls, and roof altogether.  In this passage the adults monitoring every movement of the students with cameras brings to mind a sort of Panopticon-meets-spaceship typology where the students become prisoners isolated in an environment that is completely out of their control.

Later in the novel the Battleroom emerges as the locus of Ender’s tactical training in a foreign environment.  In his introduction to the text, Orson Scott Card references training fighter pilots undergo to get adjust to attacks from all directions.  It is typical for pilots to become confused in the air with the lack of reference points found on land.  In space Ender has no reference point of “down” to use because gravity diminishes.  The hostile environment of emptiness with few handholds and jumping-off-points would be an agoraphobic’s worst nightmare: if the individual ends up floating in space without the use of leverage points to maneuver off of, the individual becomes stuck in a slow drift amongst a wide an empty space.  The architecture of the Battleroom itself is given vague details suggesting a sort of spherical room that may resemble a solar system in miniature with architectural debris floating around to hide behind or grab onto.  This could potentially resemble a Dyson Sphere with a void in the center.  Theoretically the sphere was thought of as a device that could be used to harness the power of a star in its center to sustain civilizations.  In this novel the Battleroom metaphorically powers the ship and its inhabitants.  It lies in the center of the craft as a source of learning from an alien environment.  An understanding of how the body moves through a hostile environment becomes critical for Ender’s training.  A sinister architectural space develops that is at once socially restrictive and physically isolating while being immensely open and hideously vast.





They say that weightlessness can cause disorientation, especially in children, whose sense of direction isn’t yet secure.  But Ender was disoriented before he left Earth’s gravity.  Before the shuttle launch even began.

There were nineteen other boys in his launch.  They filed out of the bus and into the elevator.  They talked and joked and bragged and laughed.  Ender kept his silence.  He noticed how Graff and the other officers were watching them.  Analyzing.  Everything we do means something, Ender realized.  Them laughing. Me not laughing.

He toyed with the idea of trying to be like the other boys.  But he couldn’t think of any jokes, and none of theirs seemed funny.  Wherever their laughter came from, Ender couldn’t find such a place in himself.  He was afraid, and fear made him serious.

They had dressed him in a uniform, all in a single piece; it felt funny not to have a belt cinched around his waist.  He felt baggy and naked, dressed like that.  There were TV cameras going, perched like animals on the shoulders of crouching, prowling men.  The men moved slowly, catlike, so the camera motion would be smooth.  Ender caught himself moving slowly, too.

He imagined himself being on TV, in an interview.  The announcer asking him, How do you feel, Mr. Wiggin?  Actually quite well, except hungry.  Hungry?  Oh, yes, they don’t let you eat for twenty hours before the launch.  How interesting, I never knew that.  All of us are quite hungry, actually.  And all the while during the interview, Ender and the TV guy would slink along smoothly in front of the cameraman, taking long, lithe strides.  The TV guy was letting him be the spokesman for all the boys, though Ender was barely competent to speak for himself.  For the first time, Ender felt like laughing.  He smiled.  The other boys near him were laughing at the moment, too, for another reason.  They think I’m smiling at their joke, thought Ender.  But I’m smiling at their joke, thought Ender.  But I’m smiling at something much funnier.

“Go up the ladder one at a time,” said an officer. “When you come to an aisle with empty seats, take one. There aren’t any window seats.”

It was a joke. The other boys laughed.

Ender was near the last, but not the very last. The TV cameras did not give up, though. Will Valentine see me disappear into the shuttle? He thought of waving at her, of running to the cameraman and saying, “Can I tell Valentine good-bye?” He didn’t know that it would be censored out of the tape if he did, for the boys soaring out to Battle School were all supposed to be heroes. They weren’t supposed to miss anybody. Ender didn’t know about the censorship, but he did know that running to the cameras would be wrong.

He walked the short bridge to the door in the shuttle. He noticed that the wall to his right was carpeted like a floor. That was where the disorientation began. The moment he thought of the wall as a floor, he began to feel like he was walking on a wall. He got to the ladder, and noticed that the vertical surface behind it was also carpeted. I am climbing up the floor. Hand over hand, step by step.

And then, for fun, he pretended that he was climbing down the wall. He did it almost instantly in his mind, convinced himself against the best evidence of gravity. He found himself gripping the seat tightly, even though gravity pulled him firmly against it.

The other boys were bouncing on their seats a little, poking and pushing, shouting. Ender carefully found the straps, figured out how they fitted together to hold him at crotch, waist, and shoulders. He imagined the ship dangling upside down on the undersurface of the Earth, the giant fingers of gravity holding them firmly in place. But we will slip away, he thought. We are going to fall off this planet.

He did not know its significance at the time. Later, though, he would remember that it was even before he left Earth that he first thought of it as a planet, like any other, not particularly his own.

“Oh, already figured it out,” said Graff. He was standing on the ladder.

“Coming with us?” Ender asked. “I don’t usually come down for recruiting,” Graff said. “I’m kind of in charge there. Administrator of the School. Like a principal. They told me I had to come back or I’d lose my job.” He smiled.

Ender smiled back. He felt comfortable with Graff. Graff was good. And he was principal of the Battle School. Ender relaxed a little. He would have a friend there.

The other boys were belted in place, those who hadn’t done as Ender did. Then they waited for an hour while a TV at the front of the shuttle introduced them to shuttle flight, the history of space flight, and their possible future with the great starships of the IF. Very boring stuff. Ender had seen such films before.

Except that he had not been belted into a seat inside the shuttle. Hanging upside down from the belly of Earth.

The launch wasn’t bad. A little scary. Some jolting, a few moments of panic that this might be the first failed launch in the history of the shuttle. The movies hadn’t made it plain how much violence you could experience, lying on your back in a soft chair.

Then it was over, and he really was hanging by the straps, no gravity anywhere.

But because he had already reoriented himself, he was not surprised when Graff came up the ladder backward, as if he were climbing down to the front of the shuttle. Nor did it bother him when Graff hooked his feet under a rung and pushed off with his hands, so that suddenly he swung upright, as if this were an ordinary airplane.

The reorientations were too much for some. One boy gagged; Ender understood then why they had been forbidden to eat anything for twenty hours before the launch. Vomit in null gravity wouldn’t be fun.

But for Ender, Graff’s gravity game was fun, and he carried it further, imagining that Graff was actually hanging upside down from the center aisle, and then picturing him sticking straight out from a side wall. Gravity could go any which way. However I want it to go. I can make Graff stand on his head and he doesn’t even know it.

“What do you think is so funny, Wiggin?”

Graff’s voice was sharp and angry. What did I do wrong, thought Ender. Did I laugh out loud?

“I asked you a question, soldier!” barked Graff.

Oh yes. This is the beginning of the training routine. Ender had seen some military shows on TV, and they always shouted a lot at the beginning of training before the soldier and the officer became good friends.

“Yes sir,” Ender said.

“Well answer it, then!”

“I thought of you hanging upside down by your feet. I thought it was funny.”

It sounded stupid, now, with Graff looking at him coldly. “To you I suppose it is funny. Is it funny to anybody else here?”

Murmurs of no.

“Well why isn’t it?” Graff looked at them all with contempt. “Scumbrains, that’s what we’ve got in this launch. Pinheaded little morons. Only one of you had the brains to realize that in null gravity directions are whatever you conceive them to be. Do you understand that, Shafts?”

The boy nodded.

“No you didn’t. Of course you didn’t. Not only stupid, but a liar too. There’s only one boy on this launch with any brains at all, and that’s Ender Wiggin. Take a good look at him, little boys. He’s going to be a commander when you’re still in diapers up there. Because he knows how to think in null gravity, and you just want to throw up.”

This wasn’t the way the show was supposed to go. Graff was supposed to pick on him, not set him up as the best. They were supposed to be against each other at first, so they could become friends later.

“Most of you are going to ice out. Get used to that, little boys. Most of you are going to end up in Combat School, because you don’t have the brains to handle deep-space piloting. Most of you aren’t worth the price of bringing you up here to Battle School because you don’t have what it takes. Some of you might make it. Some of you might be worth something to humanity. But don’t bet on it. I’m betting on only one.”

Suddenly Graff did a backflip and caught the ladder with his hands, then swung his feet away from the ladder. Doing a handstand, if the floor was down. Dangling by his hands, if the floor was up. Hand over hand he swung himself back along the aisle to his seat. “Looks like you’ve got it made here,” whispered the boy next to him.

Ender shook his head.

“Oh, won’t even talk to me?” the boy said.

“I didn’t ask him to say that stuff,” Ender whispered.

He felt a sharp pain on the top of his head. Then again. Some giggles from behind him. The boy in the next seat back must have unfastened his straps. Again a blow to the head. Go away, Ender thought. I didn’t do anything to you.

Again a blow to the head. Laughter from the boys. Didn’t Graff see this? Wasn’t he going to stop it? Another blow. Harder. It really hurt. Where was Graff?

Then it became clear. Graff had deliberately caused it. It was worse than the abuse in the shows. When the sergeant picked on you, the others liked you better. But when the officer prefers you, the others hate you.

“Hey, fart-eater,” came the whisper from behind him. He was hit in the head again. “Do you like this? Hey, super-brain, this is fun?” Another blow, this one so hard that Ender cried out softly with the pain.

If Graff was setting him up, there’d be no help unless he helped himself. He waited until he thought another blow was about to come. Now, he thought. And yes, the blow was there. It hurt, but Ender was already trying to sense the coming of the next blow. Now. And yes, right on time. I’ve got you, Ender thought.

Just as the next blow was coming, Ender reached up with both hands, snatched the boy by the wrist, and then pulled down on the arm, hard.

In gravity, the boy would have been jammed against Ender’s seat back, hurting his chest. In null gravity, however, he flipped over the seat completely, up toward the ceiling. Ender wasn’t expecting it. He hadn’t realized how null gravity magnified even a child’s strength. The boy sailed through the air, bouncing against the ceiling, then down against another boy in his seat, then out into the aisle, his arms flailing until he screamed as his body slammed into the bulkhead at the front of the compartment, his left arm twisted under him.

It took only seconds. Graff was already there, snatching the boy out of the air. Deftly he propelled him down the aisle toward the other man. “Left arm. Broken. I think,” he said. In moments the boy had been given a drug and lay quietly in the air as the officer ballooned a splint around his arm.

Ender felt sick. He had only meant to catch the boy’s arm. No. No, he had meant to hurt him, and had pulled with all his strength. He hadn’t meant it to be so public, but the boy was feeling exactly the pain Ender had meant him to feel. Null gravity had betrayed him, that was all. I am Peter. I’m just like him. And Ender hated himself.


(page 55- 57)

They filed clumsily into the battleroom, like children at a swimming pool for the first time, clinging to the handholds along the side.  Null gravity was frightening, disorienting; they soon found that things went better if they didn’t use their feet at all.

Worse, the suits were confining.  It was harder to make precise movements, since the suits bent just a bit slower, resisted a bit more than any clothing they had ever worn before.

Ender gripped the handhold and flexed his knees.  He noticed that along with the sluggishness, the suit had an amplifying effect on movement.  It was hard to get them started, but the suit’s legs kept moving, and strongly, after his muscles had stopped.  Give them push this strong, and the suit pushes with twice the force.  I’ll be clumsy for a while, better get started.

So, still grasping the handhold, he pushed off strongly with his feet.

Instantly he flipped around, his feet flying over his head, and landed flat on his back against the wall.  The rebound was stronger, it seemed, and his hands tore loose from the handhold.  He flew across the battleroom, tumbling over and over.

For a sickening moment he tried to retain his old up-and-down orientation, his body attempting to right itself, searching for the gravity that wasn’t there.  Then he forced himself to change his view.  He was hurtling toward a wall.  That was down.  And at once he had control of himself.  He wasn’t flying, he was falling.  This was a dive.  He could choose how he would hit the surface.  I’m going too fast to catch ahold and stay, but I can soften the impact, I can fly off at an angle if I roll when I hit and use my feet-

It didn’t work at all the way he had planned.  He went off at an angle, but it was not the one he had predicted.  Nor did he have time to consider.  He hit another wall, this time too soon to have prepared for it.  But quite accidentally he discovered a way to use his feet to control the rebound angle.  Now he was soaring across the room again, toward the other boys who still clung to the wall.  This time he had slowed enough to be able to grip a rung.  He was at a crazy angle in relation to the other boys, but once again his orientation changed, and as far as he could tell they were all lying on the floor, not hanging on a wall, and he was no more upside down than they were.


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