Earth has united under an international alliance in order to defeat another race known as Formics (buggers). The alliance was created after earth narrowly escaped defeat in the first bout with the buggers. General Mazer Rackham led force that defeated the buggers.
The story starts with the removal of a surveillance device from Ender Wiggin as a coming of age tradition. He is the third child in family whose kids are geniuses. It is hinted at in the story that genetic manipulation may have occurred. Having a third child is somewhat odd due to the governments two-child policy that was instated sometime after the war. Since Ender is a third, he is often bullied. During his return to school following the removal of his surveillance device, Ender is cornered by a group of bullies. He decides to fight back and causes severe injuries to his tormentors. It is later revealed that the instagator of the fight died because of his injuries. Once the government catches wind of his actions, he is sent to Battle school, an elite Institution dedicated to training the next generation of soldiers to combat the Bugger threat.
The Battle School is unique in that it divides the students into several different teams. These groups then compete in a zero gravity environment involving freeze guns. The teams are managed by older students of the battle school. Ender is quickly abused and is refused help by the administration who are told it is to toughen him up. After training with the Phoenix team; Ender is put in charge of the Dragon Army, a newly resurrected team. The administration puts the worst members possible in this group. Ender ,however, is able to mold the army into the best group of them all. Ender fights the administration in many ways including winning matches in an unsportsmanlike fashion.
Due to his reputation at the battle school and his distaste for the Battle school's administration, he is sent to Command School early. Command School exists to teach those who were successful in battle school to be successful commanders. It is there that Ender begins to train in simulations against a bugger fleet controlled by Mazer Rackham, who was kept alive by relativity and being kept at high speeds. Eventually Ender is able to reach the final stage, which consists of an impossible to win scenario and a weapon known as the "The little doctor". Ender being fed up with being abused and played around with and decides to cheat by using the the weapon against a nearby planet. This destroys all the ships in the simulation and has Ender believing that they the administration can not use such a crazy person such as himself. However, as it turns out the simulations were actually real scenarios against a real bugger fleet. The planet that Ender destroyed was the Bugger home planet.
Ender is hailed as a hero by the people of earth. He, however, only sees himself as somebody that committed genocide. Due to the alliances on Earth breaking apart, Ender can not return, so leaves for another solar system, now empty due to the mass killing of the buggers.
On the new colony Ender is able to find the cocoon of queen Bugger, who pleads with him to take her to another planet so that the Bugger race may live again. Ender accepts the quest and thus leaves to find a suitable planet for the queen - proceeding on a crazy, super philosophical journey riddled with sentient AIs, murderous sentient monkeys that turn into trees, and relativistic time-travel with almost no relation to previous books.
The theme of humanity in this story is just as important as in our other readings. Ender is a genetically modified human in order to become smarter and capable of defeating the bugger race. However, Ender takes the question of what is human a step further by also involving morality. Even non-knowingly Ender helped the genocide of an entire sentient race. Somebody capable of such destruction is not very human like.
Another theme goes back to the hacker principles and fighting against the system. Ender does this throughout the book. He always trys to beat the system by breaking out of their confines or rewriting the rules to the game. This is just like the hackers we read about at MIT and in our Boing Boing contributions. They try to beat system, by other breaking into it or going around the rules made up by the creator.
The theme of freedom of choice also plays a big role in this story. Throughout the story Ender is never really ever given a choice on what he can do. Even the final simulation of him going against the rules was a planned calculation of the administration in order to make him win the war.
Most importantly the difficulty to distinguish between what is real and fake plays a major part in this story. Unlike in the other books that we read, were the characters were always able to tell when they were in a virtual world, Ender does not know the difference. The whole time that he is playing the simulation: he is in actuality sending people off to their deaths and ordering the deaths of others. This shows how non-existent the line between fake and real can be. This also brings into the question of whether Ender is guilty of his deeds even if he did them unknowingly.
Connections to Class Readings and Themes (Spring 2011)
On their futuristic "desk" computers, all students of the Battle school are required to play a game known as the "Mind Fantasy Game" - a psychological virtual-reality-esque program that constantly adapts itself to the students' mental development. In the novel the Battle school commanders use it to analyze the students' minds, for example a situation involving a lose-lose decision representing the growth of suicidal tendencies in a student.
The use of a virtual reality that is closely tied to its occupant relates to Neuromancer's use of the beach construct to stall Case. Neuromancer, like the Mind Fantasy Game to Ender, knew exactly what buttons in Case to push by constructing an image of Case's ex-girlfriend Linda Lee. In addition to provoking Case via Linda Lee, one of Neuromancer's arguments for Case staying relates to the border between reality and fantasy. Neuromancer tells Case to "Stay. If your woman is a ghost, she doesn't know it. Neither will you," implying that in "his" beach construct there is no difference between reality and the construct. After all what is real? Is it something we can taste, touch, feel, smell? All sensations easily replicable by a powerful computer AI.
The 2nd version of the Battle game (where Ender commands his fellow students in a video game-like program involving spaceships and bombs) also closely parallels the ambiguity of reality. All throughout the game Ender believes it is just that, a training game designed to mold him into the ultimate commander. It is not until the very last page of the book does he realize that the battle game was real and that he in fact (via Bean's proxy) committed genocide by beating the game.
All of the students in Battle/Command school are prepubescent children - all the product of genetic engineering a la the Shapers of the Schismatrix universe. Shown through Bean's storyline in the Ender's Shadow series of books, Bean has a genetic "key" (aptly titled "Anton's Key") turned on that allows his brain to continuously grow and adapt and learn new things - at the cost of his body never stopping growth as well and eventually leading to his death.
The Shapers use of psychological training also parallels the use of the "Mind Fantasy Game". A differing aspect however is that Card never fully describes what exactly the Mind Fantasy Game does, just mentioning that it is "good for the students."
Ender's Game, (Jan 1986, Orson Scott Card, publ. Tor, 0-812-53253-8, 357pp, pb)