Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stephen's Game with Ender

So, as many of you know I have become addicted to reading and as soon as I finish one book I just have to go and consume another.  The book I just finished has been a staple in geek culture.  The book is also by the LDS author Orson Scott Card.  It is none other than the classic called Ender's Game.

This post isn't so much a review as it just a collection of my thoughts on the book.  I've found that books and movies I'll read will often line up with things going on in my life.  When I first saw the movie Kung Fu Panda I was dealing with a lot of aspirations and doubts of becoming a famous animator someday and joining the heroes I idolized.  What was interesting about reading Ender's Game is that I felt like I could empathize with Ender much more than I thought.  More on that later.

First, a brief summary of this book.

Ender's Game is a story about a young boy named Andrew "Ender" Wiggin who is accepted into a military Battle School at the age of 6.  He is the youngest in his family of 3 kids.  He's also very shy.  I was also a pretty shy guy when I was a kid.  I did almost a 180 and became pretty extroverted when I hit 8th grade. (A miracle when you consider the nightmare of 7th grade.  *shudder*  Who actually likes 7th grade?)  I still have introverted tendencies and this allowed me to feel more connected to him.

Anyway, so Ender goes to the earth-orbiting Battle School in order to prepare for a future invasion of an alien race nicknamed "Buggers."  Buggers have invaded the earth twice now with a devastating toll on the earth's civilization.  Ender is one of many children who are trained at a young age to prepare for possible future invasions.  In Battle School, Ender is manipulated by adults to be the best commander he could possibly be and bring out his killer instinct.  What happens to Ender at Battle School would make the CPA send a SWAT team for a quick extraction and then complete destruction of the Battle School.  Ender is isolated and allowed to be tormented by his older peers.  Ender rises above these challenges and begins to investigate a conspiracy in a controversial and taut ending. (SPOILERS AHEAD!!)
"Hey Ender, you're a genius so we're going to make everyone hate you."

The fascinating thing about the story is how perfect Ender is.  He's a bright military strategist child prodigy who overcomes any and every trial thrown at him.  The real conflict Ender faces is in the loneliness he feels as a genius/commander and being controlled by the adults.  While reading it I thought to myself, "Card is breaking all the rules.  Ender has no weaknesses... at least not in his talent.  Why is this book so engaging despite that?"  I'm not 100% sure but it seems the conflict of Ender trying to face his inner demons and the conflict with the teachers is what makes the book engaging.  He's a genius and incredibly gifted.  How do societies treat these people?  Like Gods?  Like tools?

In my life right now, I actually feel like there's a lot of great things happening in my life.  My future and internship actually look pretty promising.  I'm even one of the best employees at my call center job.  What's interesting is that I've also been facing a lot of isolation like Ender.  Ender struggles with his killer tendencies that the human race needs to bring out of him in order to be protected from annihilation.  Thankfully, I'm not experiencing all that pressure.  My reasons for solitude are, of course, quite different.

Still, I could definitely relate to Ender.  Ender really wanted to connect with his soldiers and his peers at battle school.  Externally, the teachers of Battle School have set up emotional and logistical situations to cause him to be isolated.  Internally, Ender quietly battles with accepting his killer instinct and keeps students at arm's length probably not feeling worthy for such connections.  He narrates that he must be seen as a commander and not as a friend.  Even then, I feel the deeper issue for him is that he doesn't believe he's worthy of connection.

There's an interesting commentary on friendship within Ender's Game.  There are friendships that form from a common enemy, friendships that form from being in a minority or being outcasts, there are friendships that form from assignment, and friendships formed from a common goal.  Orson Scott Card doesn't say if one is more important than the other but explores how these relationships exist in Ender's world.

In Ender's first year of Battle School he is bullied by another boy in his group named Bernard.  Bernard teases some of the other boys in their group and this give's Ender an advantage in forming friendships with the other boys mocked and abused by Bernard. One of those boys is Shen.  Though the quality of friendship isn't very strong, Shen is a solid friend for Ender up until he's promoted.

Petra is a friend that Ender makes because she is the only girl in the Salamander Army.  Both of them are gifted outcasts that learn from one another.  Like his other friends in the Novel, Ender questions the validity of his friends when he becomes a commander and is forced into isolation once again.

After graduating early from Battle School, Ender goes to Commander school and is assigned a mentor and war veteran named Razer Mackhem.  Razer tells Ender that he is not his friend and must remain his teacher.  The dynamic is that Razer actually is Ender's friend.  Razer will not comfort Ender or is ever a listening ear to him but few characters understand Ender better.  Both Razer and Hyrum Graff are commanders and mentors to Ender that show compassion by challenging him.  Though they have the appearance of being enemies and in some ways were "assigned" to be Ender's friend, they are probably some of the most important.  I think as a church people we forget how important home teachers are for this reason.  Sure, they may have been assigned to be our friends and support but that doesn't make their love for us any less sincere.

Alai is a friend that Ender finds when he presents his ideas to practice battle maneuvers.  Alai becomes a very close friend to Ender and has a deep emotional bond.  This bond comes from the two knowing one another in a way that only comrades could know one another. They are both simultaneously scared and determined.  They're on a spiritual wavelength and quality that is only seen in friendships like King David and Jonathon or Frodo and Sam. What breaks my heart about this friendship is that Ender describes it as the word "we" coming more readily than the word "I" right when an emotional wall forms between himself and Alai.  Ender speaks of them as two trees with intermingled roots separated by a wall.

The wall that separates Ender from Alai comes when Ender is made a commander of an army and cannot practice with Alai anymore.  Alai isn't in his army and they will have to compete against one another.  One could argue that before they competed with one another and not against.  Ender is hurt and feels alone when this happens.  He wonders if he'll ever be friends with Alai again.  At this same point in the novel, Ender questions the loyalties of Petra and some of his other friends as well.

So, what's the point of building friendships with these people if it's only for a moment in Ender's life?  Why put forth the painful effort in being vulnerable if your heart is simply doomed for heartache?

I don't know if Orson Scott Card has an answer for us.  He seems to imply that many of these friendships, if they're true, never go away.  Ender at the end of the book finds himself surrounded by his friends.  Yes, they do acknowledge and respect him as a commander but they also know he is their trusted friend.  He also implies that we can find friends in unlikely places.  Throughout the entire book, the human race perceives the bugger race to be the enemy and is hated.  At the end of the book, Ender receives a message from the buggers and finds that they weren't the enemy thought to be.

Heartache, pain, fear, sadness, anger, it's all a part of growing up.  I've found that solitude is healthy from time to time but isolation destroys me.  It's painful to reach out beyond my comfort zone especially when I've been hurt before.  What I've learned from Ender's Game is that it takes courage and it is not without it's losses.  Despite that, it's always worth the risk.


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