This science fiction book by Orson Scott Card is the first in the "Ender Quintet" series and is published by Tor Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers.
Ender's Game is written for kids ages 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
In a future where aliens have attacked Earth twice, the government recruits children and trains them to fight in what they believe will be the third and final war with the aliens. The aliens are called "Buggers," due to their ant-like appearance and hive-like behavior.
Six-year-old Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is monitored by the government through a device attached to his neck, to see if he is a good candidate for Battle School. Other children do not like Ender because he is a prodigy, and he is also the third child in a society that has limited families to two children.
The government eventually removes the monitoring device but still watches Ender to see how he will handle not having their protection. Soon after the device is removed, Ender is bullied by the other children and attacked by a boy named Stilson. Ender believes that the only way to permanently stop Stilson and his friends from harassing him is to fight, win the fight and severely injure Stilson in the process, which Ender does. Because of this reasoning, Ender is approached by the Battle School director, Colonel Hyrum Graff, and asked to attend the school, which is located in a vessel that orbits Earth.
Even though he knows he will not see his family for several years, Ender accepts the mission out of a sense of duty. He also does not want to face the other children at his school and wants to get away from his sadistic older brother, Peter.
At Battle School, Colonel Graff publicly identifies Ender as the smartest and most promising student, causing the other boys to resent and alienate him. While Ender excels at his studies and training, he becomes depressed, and the leaders of the Battle School become concerned about his mental health. Graff returns to Earth and contacts Ender's beloved older sister, Valentine, and asks her to write Ender an encouraging letter. This is the first and only letter that Ender has been allowed to receive.
Back on Earth, Valentine misses Ender terribly and is afraid of her brother Peter, who she knows has been torturing and killing small animals in the woods. Peter approaches her and asks her to help him write and publish political essays on the Net (the book's version of the Internet). Valentine recognizes that he is manipulating her to help him gain political power, but she agrees. They use the pseudonyms of "Locke" for Peter and "Demosthenes" for Valentine. After the Bugger War ends, the children post their writings that are both against and for a war with Russia on political forums. Like Ender, Peter and Valentine are prodigies. After a while, their essays receive worldwide attention. Colonel Graff eventually discovers the real identities of Locke and Demosthenes. Using this information against her, he gets Valentine to keep Ender under control.
Ender's emotional state improves. At age 9, he is promoted to command the Dragon Army in the Battle School's fighting league. Ender trains his young and inexperienced soldiers into formidable fighters; he implements innovative techniques and unique tactics. Dragon Army goes undefeated, much to the anger of the other student army leaders, especially Bonzo Madrid, one of Ender's former commanders, who has a grudge against him.
Bonzo attacks Ender. Similar to the fight with Stilson, Ender beats Bonzo into unconsciousness. After the fight, Ender quickly graduates and is promoted to Command School, skipping Pre-Command School altogether. Unknown to Ender, he killed both Stilson and Bonzo in those fights.
Command School is located on the planet Eros, and Ender's instructor turns out to be Mazer Rackham, the legendary commanding officer who led Earth to victory in the Bugger War.
Graff and Rackham explain to Ender that instead of waiting for the Buggers to attack, Earth has sent warships to the Bugger's home world. They are training Ender to command the fleet. When Ender wants to know why Rackham does not command the fleet himself, Rackham tells Ender that he must be in command because he is faster, a better fighter and less cautious than Rackham.
Ender begins training on a new battle simulator where instead of commanding ships, he now commands an entire fleet. His squadron leaders turn out to be the best students from Battle School, most of them Ender's friends. He works with them in the simulator and never sees them in person.
The isolation and grueling training takes its toll on Ender, who starts having dreams of Buggers cutting his body open and viewing his memories like holographs. Sleeping, waking, days, nights and battles start blending together for him, and he thinks he is going crazy. Ender stops eating. Even though he passes out in the training room, he gets no rest and is still forced to fight one simulated battle after another.
On his last day of Command School, Ender fights one last battle to determine whether he graduates. When the program starts, there is a planet in the simulation, and the enemy outnumbers Ender's ships 1,000 to one. Frustrated that he is given an impossible scenario that will result in him failing the test and afraid that everything he has gone through has been for nothing, Ender decides to break the rules of combat.
After briefly battling the Bugger ships, Ender orders his fleet to get close to the planet's atmosphere and aim their main weapon, the Molecular Detachment Device, at the planet. Ender does this knowing that destroying the planet is against the rules of engagement and hopes he will get kicked out of Command School so he can return home.
In the simulation, the device destroys the planet, most of the enemy ships protecting it and some of Ender's fleet that were within range of the explosion. After the battle, Ender is confused because there is a celebration in the room, and no one is angry with him for his actions. Only then does Rackham tell Ender that the simulations in Command School were actual battles with the Buggers, and that he just led Earth's fleet to victory against the Bugger army.
Realizing he caused the destruction of a planet, the genocide of an entire species and the death of numerous pilots in Earth's fleet, Ender becomes despondent and falls into a deep, depressive sleep.
Now that the Buggers have been destroyed, a league war, instigated by years of political essays by Locke and Demosthenes, breaks out on Earth and at command headquarters on Eros. A treaty proposed by Peter under the alias of Locke quickly ends the war. Though he is still a teenager, Peter gains incredible political power, and his age ceases to become a concern. Many people, not knowing the real Peter, view him as a great architect of peace.
Ender comes out of his depressive sleep state only after his friends and the squadron leaders he commands visit him. They tell him about the league war. Ender views video recordings of Graff's courtroom trial, where Graff is acquitted of war crimes against the Buggers. While watching the videos, Ender learns that Bonzo and Stilson both died from the injuries that Ender inflicted on them. Ender waits on Eros to see if he can return home to Earth. The deaths of Bonzo and Stilson weigh heavily on him.
Valentine travels to Eros and tells Ender that he can never return to Earth, as he would be under Peter's control. She asks that he go with her to colonize an abandoned Bugger planet, instead. Ender agrees, becoming the governor of the first human colony in space.
While scouting the planet, Ender discovers an area, constructed by the Buggers, that replicates scenes from a key fantasy game he played during Battle School. Ender explores the area and finds a pupa of a Bugger queen, who communicates with him through a psychic connection. Ender realizes the dreams he had during Command School were from the Buggers trying to communicate with him.
With images, the queen tells Ender that the Buggers thought they were the only thinking beings in the universe, and when they understood that humans were sentient, they did not return to Earth. She asks Ender to help find her a place nearby to hatch, but he refuses, knowing that other humans would kill her. He vows to find a planet where she can hatch in safety and give birth to her children. He also tells her that he will tell her story so that humans can learn to forgive her species the same way Buggers forgave him for killing them.
Without revealing that there is still a living Bugger queen, Ender, under the pseudonym of "Speaker for the Dead," writes the hive-queen's story. It includes the history of the Buggers, and the fact that they did not mean to hurt humans. Peter, now Hegemon (a political leader of Earth), reads the story and recognizes Ender's writing. He asks Ender to write a similar book for him, detailing his life. Together, the books are called Hive-Queen and Hegemon, and their popularity spurs a sort of religion—with fans wishing that when they die, someone would detail their own lives in the same way.
Ender and Valentine board a starship and go from world to world, looking for a place where the hive-queen can awaken and thrive in peace.
Graff tells Ender that Ender's father baptized his three children himself right after they were born. He also tells Ender that Mr. Wiggin was born into a Catholic family. Valentine talks about Daniel interpreting the king's dream, a Bible story, to emphasize the fact that she is not a prophet. After Ender's fleet destroys the Bugger's home world, some of the adults in the room kneel down or lay prostrate in prayer.
Graff tells Ender that even though the government instructed Ender's parents to have a third child, his parents remain ambiguous about him because having a third makes it impossible for them to assimilate into normal society. Graff tells Ender that if he goes to Battle School, Ender's parents will be relieved to see him go. Ender's parents are upset when he decides to attend Battle School. They write him several letters, but he never receives them.
When Ender starts Battle School, he is placed in armies where his commanders are jealous of his strategy and brilliance. Bonzo Madrid is condescending to Ender, refuses to teach him anything and just before Ender transfers out of his army, Bonzo slaps him in the face. Later, Bonzo plots to kill Ender.
Leaders of the Battle School orchestrate several scenarios designed to isolate Ender so he remains creative. They force him to depend on himself for all solutions to his problems. When other students plot to kill him, the leaders of the school refuse to intervene, teaching him that adults will never help him survive.
Ender believes Valentine is the only person who loves him, and when she writes him the letter to encourage him, he feels betrayed that the government has used her to get to him. He later confides to Valentine that he's always wanted Peter to love him.
Mazer Rackham lies to Ender about the battle simulations, telling him they are only playing games. In reality, Ender is using the computer to command Earth's army in a war.
While Graff and Rackham are fond of Ender and concerned that they are pushing him too far, they never tell him this. As a result, Ender feels that no one loves him or feels pity for him.
Other belief systems
Graff tells Ender that his mother was born into a Mormon family, but both she and Ender's father renounced their religions. Graff tells a teacher that if there is nobody to lead Earth's fleet, then God is a Bugger. Graff attributes Mazer Rackham's presence as a military commander during the second Bugger War to fate, God or luck. Ender sets up an identity in the school computer he calls 'God,' and he sends messages to other students from this identity. Rose the Nose assigns Ender to Dink Meeker's platoon and tells Ender to think of Dink as God. When Ender uses the cubit as a measurement, Alai asks him if God has been asking him to build a boat. Admiral Chamrajnagar compares the fleet to a god or a religion. Graff thinks that if Ender goes back to Earth, he will be treated as a child-god. The hive-queen asks Ender to remember the Buggers not as enemies but as tragic sisters who are different from humans because of fate, God or evolution. The books Hive-Queen and Hegemon are considered holy writ and spark a new religion where people speak for the dead.
God's name is taken in vain several times with knows, help you, help us, my, only knows and thank. Profanity used includes s---, a--, a--hole, h--- and d--n. Other language used and name-calling include smarta--, half-a--, slumb--ch, b--ch, b--tard, crap, turd face, fart, farthead, pinpr--k, goy and p-sshead. Ender's classmates bully him and call him 'Third,' a derogatory name for a third child born into any family. His brother calls him 'Bugger lover.' Rose the Nose calls himself 'Jewboy.'
At the school on Earth, several boys bully Ender, and he severely beats the ringleader, Stilson. On the way to Battle School, he is repeatedly hit on the head by a boy. Ender he grabs the boy and throws him through the air, breaking his arm. Bonzo Madrid, the commander of Salamander Army, slaps Ender in the face. Bonzo becomes incensed after losing a battle to Ender and corners Ender in the bathroom while Ender is taking a shower. Ender fights Bonzo and renders him unconscious. Later in the book, it is revealed that both Stilson and Bonzo died from injuries they sustained in the fights with Ender.
After the government monitor is removed, Peter viscously hits Ender across the head, steps on him and tries to suffocate him. He threatens to kill both Ender and Valentine. Valentine stops Peter by reminding him that he can't have a political career if both his siblings die under suspicious circumstances. Valentine finds the mutilated bodies of the small animals that Peter tortures and kills in the woods.
At Command School, Ender fights Mazer Rackham before he knows his identity. Thinking the games are a simulation, Ender, without knowing it, orders Earth pilots to go into battle and die.
In his psychic connection with the Bugger queen, Ender sees male Buggers mating with the larval queen. They shudder in ecstasy and then die.
At Battle School, the boys regularly walk around the dorms and sleep naked. When Ender joins Salamander Army, another boy tells Ender that Bonzo allows Petra to walk around naked but does not want any of the other boys to be naked around her. Rose the Nose uses his desk to animate a large picture of a penis that moves around as Rose holds the desk on his naked lap.
Hugo Award, 1986; Nebula Award, 1985; Margaret A. Edwards Award, 2008
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- How would you describe Ender's relationship with his brother?
Why might Ender still want Peter to love him?
Who is someone you don't get along with?
Why is there a rift in the relationship?
What steps can you take to mend the relationship?
Why would you want to have a good relationship with this person?
- What is Ender's logic about hurting others?
Is he right?
Why does he later regret his decisions?
Have you ever made a decision that seemed good at the time but had an undesirable outcome?
What was the situation?
What could you have done differently?
What did you learn from that situation?
- How did Graff treat Ender?
How does Ender treat Bean?
How does Ender justify his actions?
Do you agree or disagree that someone must be hurt in order to become better at something? Why or why not?
- Why doesn't Graff want Ender to rely on adults for help?
Have you ever needed help from the adults in your life?
Tell about a time that they helped you.
Tell about a time when adults did not help you.
Can you rely on the adults in your life for help?
Lying: A nurse tells Ender that it won't hurt when they remove the monitor from his neck. Ender knows it is a lie and thinks that lies are more dependable than the truth. Adults continually lie to Ender about what he is doing in both Battle School and Command School.
Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-
views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.
You can request a review of a title you can't find at email@example.com.