Ender’s Game is the story of a young boy genius named Andrew (Ender) Wiggin who is taken from his family at the age of six and trained to be a supreme commander in the war of mankind versus the alien “buggers.” Ender’s older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are also brilliant, but Peter’s cruelty and Valentine’s kindness are too extreme for the needs of the government, and so Ender is chosen for the task. He is taken to the Battle School and, with a corps of other elite children, learns tactics and leadership through computer games and zero gravity simulators. Haunted by his brother Peter’s cruelty toward himself, Ender fears that he too will become a cold-blooded killer. When he is persecuted by older students at the Battle School who are jealous of his abilities, Ender is forced to fight back. He does what is necessary to stop their aggression but descends farther into an abyss of self-recrimination and doubt.
The abilities Ender demonstrates at the Battle School are extraordinary, and the commanders quickly see that he is able to assess battle situations and command troops like no one they have ever seen. Ender has the empathy to understand the needs, desires, and motivations of the bugger race, and thus the ability to destroy them. But with that empathy and understanding comes a decreased desire to do that very thing. The buggers are the first intelligent life that humans have discovered within the galaxy. Although the buggers initially tried to invade our planet, they have attempted no further aggression in decades., and Ender discovers that they made no attempt to fight back in the last encounter we had with them. While Ender continues to play his simulated war games, the commanders conspire to make Ender destroy the alien race without knowing what he is doing. In this act, he becomes the hero of the human race, but also the greatest war-criminal the world has ever seen, the man who wiped out an entire sentient life form, Ender the Xenocide.
The second book in the Ender series is entitled Speaker for the Dead. Picking up where Ender’s Game left off, this book tells the story of Ender’s guilt and attempts to atone for his unwitting atrocity. Through a secret message from the computer program he had used at Battle School (which has mysteriously gained its own autonomy and taken the name Jane), he discovers that the buggers protected one cocooned Hive Queen, even while their entire planet was being destroyed. Ender takes this cocoon and swears to find a new home for it where the bugger race can again thrive. Disappearing from public life, Ender becomes a Speaker of the Dead, writing the story of the bugger race and evoking pity and horror in the hearts of humans everywhere. He spends the next three thousand years traveling from planet to planet (growing barely older on each trip as he travels at velocities approaching light speed) and telling the hidden stories of dead men and women who need the truth revealed about their lives.
When he receives word that the planet of Lusitania has discovered a new sentient species, pig-like creatures known as the pequeninos, Ender travels there immediately, hopeful that he can avert warfare between mankind and this new species, and excited that this might be the very place where the cocooned Hive Queen can build a new colony. When he arrives at Lusitania, he finds that the pequeninos have already “murdered” two human xenobiologists who were attempting to study them, and that the humans on the planet are up in arms against them.
Ender does much good at this colony, adopting a broken family and healing their wounds, and learning enough about the pequenino culture to show that the “piggies” did not murder the xenobiologists intentionally. Along the way, however, Ender’s friends discover that while the pequeninos may not be their enemies, an invasive virus known as the descolada certainly is. The Hive Queen, whom Ender has released to build a new colony on Lusitania, offers to give the pequeninos the technology of space travel. This means that the piggies will be able to spread the descolada virus, which is an inherent part of their life cycle, to other planets, potentially destroying humans and all other life.
When the Starways Congress, the governing body of the human-controlled galaxy, hears of this ominous threat, they order a fleet of ships to head to the planet Lusitania and blast it to pieces before the virus can spread.The third and fourth books Xenocide and Children of the Mind continue this story, as Ender, the autonomous computer named Jane, and Ender’s adoptive children struggle to save the pequeninos, the newly-restored buggers, and themselves from being destroyed. The scientists work desperately to reengineer the descolada virus into something that will not harm humans. Jane discovers a way to perform instantaneous starflight, sending refugees from one planet to the next in a blink of the eye. And Ender continues to wrestle with his past guilt, as the two faces of his personality come to life in the form of his childhood siblings, cruel Peter and kind Valentine.
Orson Scott Card writes a masterful saga, deftly weaving futuristic technology with believable characters and ethical dilemmas. One of my favorite things about science fiction is its ability to take a past era and project a parallel situation into the future (such as Renaissance Italy in the warring families of Frank Herbert’s Dune). Card shows a special fondness for many great human civilizations, portraying a Roman Catholic Portuguese world on Lusitania, a Chinese world on the planet of Path, and a Japanese world on the planet of Divine Wind. Instead of discounting religion (as some science fiction writers do) as a barbaric relic of the past that the future has certainly evolved away from, he presents the philosophies of each of these cultures in a manner virtually identical to the way they are believed today. It is refreshing to see that experiencing instantaeous interstellar travel does not negate a belief in Jesus Christ.
One of Card’s clearest messages is that humans show themselves to be merely animals when they try to destroy other sentient beings who are willing to live with them in peace. Throughout the books, Ender rebukes those who give way to fear and hatred of the aliens they don’t understand. Having a lifetime fear of insects, I must confess that I felt a lot more akin to the mob of humans who wanted to burn out the aliens than I did to Ender. After reading the scene where Ender descends through dark tunnels to talk to the Hive Queen (who is busily engaged in tearing off workers’ limbs so that their bodies can be a food source for the new eggs she is laying), I woke up with nightmares of giant insect abdomens. The pequeninos (who were described in more cuddly terms as piggies) were a little easier for me to embrace. By the end of the fourth book, however, I had stopped wishing death on all the buggers, and I could tepidly appreciate Card’s tenets of non-violence.
This series was immensely enjoyable and I highly recommend it to those interested in science fiction, though I do warn you–you can’t read just one!