If you were to ask me to pick my favourite books of the year so far, I'm almost certain that I'd choose both Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card to be on that list. (but please don't ask!) I don't generally read a lot of science-fiction, but I've fallen under the spell after reading these two. There's just something about them both, I can't quite put my figure on what it is. Is it the super-intelligent children saving the world? Is it Ender and Bean's personal struggles while under pressure to save the world? Is it all the wonderful characters, plus the action? Was it the military strategies in Ender's Game? Was it the added details in Ender's Shadow? I don't know, and I guess it doesn't really matter.
So, first there's Ender's Game. And we learn that the earth has been attacked by an alien race, the Buggers, years ago and were defeated by the brilliance of a leading commander. Now the threat from the Bugger is again imminent, and in order to save the planet, the government has set up a special Battle School for super-intelligent kids.
Among them, is Ender Wiggin, the golden child, the one one whose shoulders lay the hopes of his commanders to learn what he can of military history and strategies, to train to be the next leading commander in order to save the world from the threat of this alien race. In order to do this, Ender must leave his family and beloved sister, Valentine, and sent to Battle School. There, he is isolated from his peers, struggles to belong and struggles with his own personal demons, and this pressure to succeed. Throughout Battle School, Ender is sort of fast-tracked through his military training, along the way making strong and loyal friendships, including that of little Bean.
Honestly, it's hard for me to not just interject 'god, how much did I love this book?!' into every paragraph, but I did. I loved the descriptions of the battles between the children, I loved the psychological games that Ender is put through, I loved his relationship with his sister Valentine, and the sub-plot of Valentine and Peter back on Earth, writing their newspaper columns. It was so difficult for me to put this book down and went I finally did, I dreamt about it at night. When I was finished, I kept thinking about it weeks afterwards. So, I tracked down Ender's Shadow.
I was very surprised to hear about Ender's Shadow. I was thinking a rehash of Ender's Game, really? as it covers the same timeline as Ender's Game and a lot of the same events occur. Except it's told from Bean's perspective. I wasn't sure at first, but picked it up anyway. And again, I sped through it and couldn't bear to put it down. There's enough new about it and enough different for Ender's Shadow to stand on its own feet. Card writes such wonderful characters, it's hard not to feel sympathy for them right from the start.
Bean's personal history is so different from Ender's, as we're introduced to him as a starving child on the streets of Rotterdam, manipulating the street children to organise for his own survival. He's a bit cold and emotionless when he arrives at Battle School. He's even younger and more intelligent than anyone else there, including Ender Wiggin. Once there, Bean is able to work out how things are, he understands what's going on, what's at stake. He plays a much more pivotal role in the war against the Buggers than originally given credit for in Ender's Game, and goes through a very different emotional journey.
I think what I like best about these books is the focus on the humanity of these children who are put under pressure to become soldiers and kill without thinking. The morality of war, of sending children off to do the dirty work. What it means to be a leader of an army, to gain a person's respect and loyalty, the limitless possibility of intelligence and where that can lead to. Such beautiful books, both of these. I'd imagine that everytime I read either of these books, I'll find something new that stands out, that I hadn't thought of before. But what will always remain is my absolute love of these characters.
Having said all of that, I'm not sure about the sequels. To either Ender's story or Bean's. It all seems a little more focused on more political matters or on aliens. Should I carry on? Read the rest? I'm still undecided.
Science-fiction - is it for you? Do you have anything to recommend for me now that I've devoured these two?