Alright, I needed a break from coding, and I thought I’d write a bit about one of my favorite books, which is actually the series called Ender’s Saga. Overall, as far as I’m aware, there are 9 books by now. It’s a Science-Fiction novel, and the first book is – not by a too high margin – the best in the series, so don’t feel too bad if you don’t read the sequels.
It’s about this boy, who is a “Third”, which means he is the third child in his family. In the future envisioned by author Orson Scott Card, overpopulation on earth led to birth policies that forbid people to have more than 2 children. But Ender, the boy, is a legitimate child, because he was born by request of the International Fleet. That is the military organization that has the task of finding extraordinarily intelligent children and to train them in military tactics. Why would they use children? The IF has a method of determining geniuses from birth (or even when they’re in the womb). They implant a device called a “monitor” that is linked to the brain of the child, so as the baby discovers the world in their first years, the IF is supervising the mental growth of the child. They know them inside-out and can determine if they are fit to be shaped into super-genius generals with their super advanced training methods at Battle School, which is basically a military academy in space, taking advantage of the higher learning speed of children. Why do they need them to be generals? Because humanity has been invaded and heavily damaged twice in the past by the alien species called the “Formics”, or “buggers” in the common language.
So Ender, who is chosen to enter Battle School at the age of 5 (I’m not too sure), leaves his family behind. That is the basic premise of the story.
What makes this story so great are a few things. First, to me anyways, I’m by default interested in science fiction that takes itself serious and does not entangle itself in clichees. For pretty much all of the major scientific concepts in the entire series, there is at least a pseudo scientific explanation, and taking into account logical consequences. This is most clear with near-light-speed travel, which has a very significant impact on the story and the characters in the book. It makes you really think about space travel and the implications thereof. I also found the technology of the ansible and philotics fascinating ideas, which aren’t total bogus invented by Card.
The other thing I love about the novels is the way they tell the story and inner thought processes of the various characters. Since they’re all absolutely logical little beasts, who differ mostly only by their genetic disposition in personality, the reader can very much identify with most of them, and of course, most of all with Ender. Card pulls off an incredible feat of making a story of a 5 year old child who is learning to lead entire space fleets into battle against a seemingly invulnerable enemy by the age of 10 or so, and make it all not only believable, but entirely plausible. You can’t help but suffer in your thoughts along with Ender, delve into his psychology and let yourself by awestruck by his intelligence, that is so not childlike.
The sequels can be grouped into 2 sub-series. The first would be the immediate 3 sequels, which all are basically one big novel. It has a distinctive style of its own and deals with a totally different situation about 3000 years after the events of Ender’s Game. I won’t tell you too much about the story, because it has a major surprise right up front. All I want to say about it is that it is more esoteric and more thought provoking than the first novel. Card seemed to have been very much into philosophy when writing those 3 books and I really liked them for not being simple milk-the-franchise sequels.
The second group could be called the “Shadow” series which consists of the next 4 books. The first of those is somewhat special and stands as a novel in its own right. It essentially is Ender’s Game but from the view of a second character. Don’t let yourself be fooled – it’s a masterpiece. The next 3 books are the actual “Shadow” series in my opinion, even though all 4 have the word “shadow” in their title. They are more of a hollywoodesque thriller series, with lots of action and suspense – not so deep as the previous books, but entirely enjoyable. They deal with the immediate events following the end of the first book, and you’ll be happy to finally find out what happened after Ender’s Game. After all, you’ve skipped 3000 years during the first sub-series.
A great thing about the entire saga is that the side characters are all protagonists in their own right. Really few are there merely to be support for the main characters. They have their own interesting back stories and personalities, and you’ll find yourself wanting to know the fate of each one of them. It’s really amazing how Card managed to make each novel relevant and have a consistently high quality of writing.
The only gripe I have is that Card sometimes seems overly eager to communicate his ideas to the reader. This isn’t so bad, because I personally agree with him on a lot of points. I haven’t read the 9th book yet, but I surely will. I heard that Ender’s Game is required reading in some schools in the USA, which should say something about the educational value of the book(s).