Ender’s Game

Orson Scott
Card’s Ender’s
Game is possibly
the single most
commercially
successful science
fiction novel
published in the
last 30 years. As a
novel, Ender’s
Game not only
won both the
Hugo and Nebula
awards in a single
year, it spawned
an immediate
sequel that won
both awards the
year after that.
Since then,
Ender’s Game has
turned into a
regular cottage
industry including
comics, radio
plays, and no less
than 15 sequel
books spread out
across three
different series,
with Card and his
writing partner
now promising
even more.

It is the success of a single trading platform like the 1k daily profit that has led to the invention and introduction of so many other similar systems and all of them are formed and designed with only a single aim which is nothing but taking part in their profit mission.

Hugely successful
upon first
publication,
Ender’s Game has
managed to
escape the
collapse of the
market for grownup
SF by allowing
itself to be reinvented
as
‘young adult’, a
clever piece of rebranding
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resulting in
Publishers
Weekly
proclaiming it the
bestselling science
fiction novel of
2012, despite it
being over 27
years old. Ender’s
Game has made
Orson Scott Card
a very rich and
powerful man and
it did so by
pandering to the
very worst aspects
of human nature.
Lavishly produced
and as blandly
inoffensive as
possible given a
framework of
slavish devotion
to source
material, Gavin
Hood’s cinematic
adaptation of
Ender’s Game
is a work of brutal
ideological purity.
Set on 22nd
century Earth,
Hood’s film
begins with a
young cadet
beating a much
older cadet at a
video game.
Enraged by the
younger cadet’s
ability to ‘cheat’
by exploiting the
game’s
environment, the
older boy decides
to teach his junior
a lesson only for
the younger cadet
to respond with
an explosion of
violence that
leaves everyone in
the room stunned
and appalled. Not
content to merely
beat a much
larger opponent,
the young cadet
humiliates and
terrifies him as a
means of sending
a signal to any
other would-be
assailants. This
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young cadet is
named Ender
Wiggin (Asa
Butterfield) and
he is destined to
save the human
race.
Despite being
pegged as a
tactical genius by
the school’s
director Colonel
Graff (Harrison
Ford), Ender is
stripped of his
uniform and sent
home to what we
learn is a
psychotic older
brother and an
immigrant father
who wants
nothing more
than to raise a
military family.
The brutal
militarism of
Ender’s world is
explained by
some handy
Starship
Troopers-style
news footage/
propaganda
explaining how
the Earth was
attacked 50 years
previously by an
alien race known
as the Formics.
Desperate not to
be attacked again,
the human race
has transformed
itself into a vast
military machine
that trains its
children for war
and teaches them
that there is no
greater calling
than military
command.
The reason Ender
was sent home is
that while his
ability to
humiliate
opponents and
use violence as a
means of solving
problems had
distinguished him
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as a truly
exceptional
human being, the
school’s director
needed to know
that his intentions
were pure and
that he did not
actually enjoy
hospitalising a
fellow student.
Once Ender
points out that he
simply wanted to
end the fight
quickly and terrify
anyone else who
might attack him,
the director is
happy to promote
him to battle
school and send
him into orbit.
Gavin Hood’s
script adheres so
closely to the
source material
that it appears to
have inherited
many of the
narrative quirks
associated with
traditional science
fiction. Indeed,
we are not so
much shown the
world as told
about it through a
series of
(repetitive)
lectures and
instructional
videos. This
fondness for infodumping
is also
evident in the
film’s approach to
characterisation
as everything we
learn about
Ender, his
teachers and his
fellow students
comes to us by
means of either
voice-over or
third-party
narration. Aside
from being
inherently clunky,
this style of
narration also
drains the film of
emotion and
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presents the
characters’ inner
lives as a series of
tactical decisions
and rational
calculations. This
is particularly
evident in the
case of Ender as
the film uses the
battle school
instructors as a
psychopathic
Greek chorus that
dehumanises as it
explains the cold
logic behind his
every waking
thought.
Convinced that
Ender is the child
humanity has
been waiting for,
Graff transforms
his orbital battle
school into a
proving ground
for Ender’s
tactical ability.
Singled out as a
genius from the
get-go, the
naturally solitary
Ender is forced to
learn how to read
and manipulate
people in an effort
to stave off
bullying and
convince the
powers-that-be of
his leadership
potential. Without
the Greek chorus
and voice-overs,
this section of the
film might have
been about Ender
making friends
but the film’s
narrative style is
so
depersonalising
that it effectively
dissolves all
meaningful
distinctions
between social
interaction and
tactical
engagement. In
other words,
Ender does not
make friends but
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allies and his
ability to use
friends to resolve
social conflicts is
presented as
being part-andparcel
of his
ability to solve
tactical problems.
Whereas a more
nuanced film
might have
flagged Ender’s
style of social
interaction as
indicating a
damaged and/ or
introverted
nature, Ender’s
Game allows
Ender’s
manipulative
actions to go
completely
unchallenged. In
fact, the film even
goes out of its way
to demonstrate
Ender’s rising
popularity by
having kids jostle
each other for the
chance to sit next
to him during
lunch.
Having learned
how to make
friends and
manipulate
people, Ender is
promoted and
assigned to the
army of Bonzo
Madrid (Moises
Arias) a hugely
successful student
commander who
inexplicably takes
offence at Ender’s
presence and
promptly refuses
to train him.
Desperate to
become a more
effective soldier,
Ender sets about
undermining his
commanding
officer by first
convincing fellow
students to train
him in secret and
then staging a
series of tactical
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stunts that win
battles and
eventually get him
assigned an army
of his own. Now
in a position to
experiment with
his own set of
radically inventive
tactics, Ender
systematically
dismantles every
rival commander
in the school
before casually
defeating two
armies at once
and completely
humiliating
Bonzo in the
process.
Convinced that he
has somehow
been cheated,
Bonzo confronts
Ender in the
showers only for
Ender to use his
greater size and
tactical skill to
murder the older
boy. Horrified by
the monster that
he has apparently
become, Ender
returns to Earth;
until someone can
come up with an
appropriate moral
framework that
will explain and
justify his latest
act of grotesque
violence.
The similarity
between the end
of the first act and
the end of the
second act is
hardly accidental,
Ender’s Game is
effectively a series
of literary thought
experiments
designed to
generate a
particular moral
outcome: each act
plunges Ender
into a savage new
environment that
can only be
mastered with a
clear mind and a
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cold heart. Much
like Ender’s
Machiavellian
approach to social
interaction, this is
a reflection of the
film’s roots in
traditional science
fiction in general
and one magazine
in particul
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magazine’s
tendency towards
cultural and
political
conservatism is
particularly
evident in what
many would now
consider to be the
quintessential
Analog short
story: Tom
Godwin’s The
Cold Equations.
Despite being 60
years old this
year, Godwin’s
story remains a
work of rare
thematic
brilliance. Set in a
future where a
fragile interstellar
civilisation is held
together by a
small number of
ships with fasterthan-light
engines, the story
takes place inside
a small
shuttlecraft that
has been sent to
deliver supplies to
a planet that lies
outside the
starship’s rigid
itinerary.
Equipped with
just enough fuel
to deliver the
supplies and get
back to the ship,
the shuttle’s pilot
is horrified to
discover that a
young girl has
stowed away in an
effort to get home.
Filled with
sympathy for the
young girl’s
plight, the shuttle
pilot radios his
ship only to be
told that there is
no alternative but
to shove her out
the airlock: the
shuttle has
limited fuel, the
young woman
puts the shuttle
over weight, if the
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shuttle is over
weight for too
long then it will
run out of fuel
and be unable to
make the delivery
and return home.
The reason there
is no alternative
to killing the girl
is that the laws of
physics governing
the shuttle’s path
cannot be
changed. The
universe is
indifferent to
human demands
and so the shuttle
pilot is faced with
a choice between
accepting reality
and throwing his
life away by
refusing to
sacrifice the girl.
Initially enraged
by the cold
equations
governing life and
death, the pilot
soon comes to
accept the reality
of his position
and convinces
both the girl and
her distant
brother to do the
same. The story
ends with a
magnificently
pointed coda:
A cold equation
had been
balanced and
he was alone
on the ship.
Something
shapeless and
ugly was
hurrying ahead
of him, going to
Woden where
its brother was
waiting through
the night, but
the empty ship
still lived for a
little while with
the presence of
the girl who
had not known
about the
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forces that
killed with
neither hatred
nor malice. It
seemed,
almost, that
she still sat
small and
bewildered and
frightened on
the metal box
beside him, her
words echoing
hauntingly clear
in the void she
had left behind
her: I didn’t do
anything to die
for – I didn’t do
anything –
Like most works
of science fiction,
The Cold
Equations is a
carefully
constructed
conceit: the
universe bends
this way, human
nature bends that
way, and
somewhere in the
middle you get a
potential future
that reveals some
inner truth about
humanity.
However, while
Godwin’s story
appears to rest on
the
unquestionable
fact that the laws
of nature are
indifferent to
human concerns,
the conceit that
actually does most
of the heavy
lifting in the story
is on the human
side of the
equation as we
are expected to
believe that:
a) The pilot’s
society views fuel
as a more
valuable resource
than either
trained personnel
or shuttlecrafts
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and so would
rather lose a
shuttle and its
pilot than send
the shuttle out
with more fuel
that strictly
necessary.
b) The cruiser the
shuttlecraft comes
from is able to
able to travel
faster than light
and transport
millions of tonnes
of equipment and
materials to other
star systems but it
cannot find a way
to rescue a
stranded
shuttlecraft.
Godwin’s story
presents itself as
being about the
fact that you
cannot change the
laws of physics
and how the pilot
must accept the
cold equations
governing life and
death but in
reality the story is
all about political
despair and how
the elites in
charge of the
pilot’s society
have managed to
convince people
that a more
humane approach
to interstellar
transport is
physically
impossible. The
story ends with
not just the pilot’s
acceptance of his
society’s values,
but the
acceptance of the
victim and her
family as well.
This is pure
ideology of a very
specific kind.
Godwin’s
repeated use of
the phrase “there
is no alternative”
is fascinating as
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when Margaret
Thatcher set
about dismantling
the welfare state
and privatising
state assets, she
justified her
actions by
claiming that the
only way for
modern societies
to develop was by
embracing free
markets, free
trade, and
capitalist
globalisation. Her
fondness for the
slogan “There is
no alternative”
was so
pronounced that
many
Conservative MPs
began referring to
her by the
acronym TINA.
Godwin and
Thatcher’s use of
the TINA slogan
is part of a much
wider rhetorical
move by rightwing
thinkers to
evade charges of
selfishness by
presenting their
vision of the
world as being
somehow more
realistic and
natural than those
of their
ideological
opponents. When
early
international
relations scholars
such as E.H. Carr
and Hans
Morgenthau
argued that the
international
system was a
Hobbesian
nightmare
populated by selfinterested
and
power-hungry
states that would
stop at nothing to
maximise their
own security, the
name they came
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up with was
‘Realism’, thereby
suggesting that
anyone who
disagrees with
their right-wing
vision of the
world is somehow
being ‘unrealistic’.
This idea that
ruthless selfinterest
is the only
realistic basis for
interacting with
other people was
a brilliant
rhetorical ploy as
it allowed rightwingers
to present
the injustices and
hardships of the
capitalist system
as unpleasant
necessities: ‘Of
course we’d like to
help the poor at
home and the
starving in Africa
but you can’t
change the laws of
economics! We
don’t have that
luxury!’ Now
routinely
deployed to justify
such
administrative
atrocities as
weakening the
social safety net,
privatising public
goods,
deregulating
markets and the
worst excesses of
western militaries
and intelligence
agencies alike, the
‘realistic’
rhetorical stance
not only paints all
opponents of the
status quo as
naive, it also
absolves the
selfish and brutal
of all
responsibility for
their actions. It is
not right-wing
politicians who
brutalise poor
people at home
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and bomb them
abroad; there is
no alternative to
the status quo.
Originally
published as a
novelette in the
same rightleaning
magazine
as Godwin’s story,
Ender’s Game is
built around three
successive reiterations
of the
The Cold
Equations: each
act goads Ender
into an act of
horrific violence
before
immediately
washing away his
guilt with talk of
pure intentions
and a lack of
viable
alternatives.
However, as in
Godwin’s story,
the lack of viable
alternatives is
purely a product
of ideological
conditioning as
Ender neither
questions the
options made
available to him
nor thinks to rebel
against the
parents and
officers
embodying the
system. In fact,
the only people in
the film who do
question the logic
of the system are
the ones who
wind up being
brutalised and
killed by Ender:
the cadet who
feels betrayed by
the fact that none
of his instructors
taught him he
could use the
environment
against an
opponent, the
student who
undermines
group morale by
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picking on one of
the smaller kids,
the commander
who will not allow
Ender to train,
and the Formics
who are so alien
that their
alternative modes
of thought and
social
organisation are
deemed to pose
an existential
threat to Ender’s
militaristic
culture. Just as
Godwin invokes
the laws of
physics to justify
murdering
stowaways,
Ender’s Game
mumbles
something about
breeding rates
and claims that
humanity had no
alternative but to
launch a preemptive
strike
against the
Formic home
world.
Even before the
success of Ender’s
Game allowed
Orson Scott Card
to become a
powerful antiLGBT
activist,
progressive
elements in genre
culture have been
looking at his
work with some
degree of
suspicion. Not
long after Ender’s
Game was first
published, Elaine
Radford wrote an
essay suggesting
that the book
could be read as a
moral apologetic
for the crimes of
Adolf Hitler. Not
convinced by the
(admittedly
hilarious)
biographical
similarities
between Ender
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and Hitler, John
Kessel adapted
this
unsympathetic
interpretation and
used it to
construct a
critique of Card’s
belief that the
only things that
matter when
weighing the
morality of a
particular action
are the intentions
of the actor. While
these readings are
quite correct to
suggest that there
is something
incredibly
unpleasant about
a book that bends
over backwards to
frame genocide as
the blameless act
of a wellintentioned
victim, I think
that the story’s
true darkness lies
in its celebration
of the worst
aspects of the
status quo.
There’s a
wonderful
moment in one of
the DVD extras
where one of the
film’s producers
talks about how
she was first made
aware of Card’s
book by a prepubescent
relative
who adored
Ender’s Game
despite not having
much time for
books in general.
Aside from
confirming our
suspicions that
most Hollywood
blockbusters are
now aimed firmly
at sub-literate
tweens, the
producer’s
comment also
tells us something
about the book’s
enduring appeal.
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Ender’s Game is a
toxic power
fantasy aimed at
people who see
themselves as
having been
marginalised,
mistreated, and
betrayed by the
institutions that
surround them.
The intended
audience of
Ender’s Game is
unhappy at
school, unhappy
at work, unhappy
in life, and
genuinely
convinced of their
own intellectual
superiority. Some
of them are
bullied, others
may do the
bullying but all of
them are drunk
on a cocktail of
dark thoughts and
status-cravings:
why do people
make jokes about
me? Why don’t I
have a girlfriend?
Why aren’t I one
of the popular
kids? Why don’t
the teachers and
bosses respect
me? The appeal of
Ender’s Game lies
in the fact that we
have all had these
feelings at some
point in our lives;
we have all felt
alienated,
frustrated and
underappreciated,
and we have all
had to deal with
the fact that while
we may hate the
social systems
that surround us,
freeing ourselves
from those
systems demands
reserves of
strength and
creativity that few
of us possess.
Sometimes it
really does feel as
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though there are
no alternatives to
the hand that we
have been dealt.
At its best, science
fiction is a means
of seeing beyond
our tyrannical
present and into a
realm of plausible
possibility. When
writers make the
universe bend one
way, and human
nature bends the
other, what they
create is a literary
conceit that
allows us to
reflect upon the
world from an
entirely new
perspective, one
that makes radical
change seem like
a very real and
viable alternative.
For example,
Frederik Pohl and
Cyril M.
Kornbluth’s The
Space Merchants
presents readers
with an advertriddled
future so
nightmarish that
it is impossible to
read the book
without
questioning the
very real and very
negative impact
that advertising
has on our
cultural spaces.
Similarly, Joanna
Russ’ The Female
Man explores the
sexual politics of a
number of
different fictional
societies and
provides a
broader moral
context for real
world political
discussions. The
best science
fiction encourages
us to look at the
world with a fresh
set of eyes and see
the many hidden
ways in which it
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could be different.
The best science
fiction makes us
bold enough to
dream of what is
possible; Ender’s
Game aspires to
make us meek
and grateful for
what we have.
Despite being
designed to pass
for a moral and
intellectual saint,
Ender never once
questions either
his vocation as a
military
commander or
the values of the
society that
provides him with
that vocation.
Goaded into
increasing acts of
violence, Ender
responds to
feelings of
alienation and
betrayal by
working even
harder to follow
the rules and
provide superiors
with exactly what
they expect. At
the end of the
film, Ender is
rewarded with a
free spaceship
and the ability to
assuage his
conscience,
thereby
confirming the
old right wing saw
about how hard
choices need to be
made now in
order that we
might do what we
really want later.
The problem is
not that Ender’s
Game is a power
fantasy wrapped
in a persecution
complex and fired
into the faces of
unsuspecting
children, the
problem is that
this film sends a
5/12/2018 Ender’s Game – DVD review for VideoVista monthly web-zine at videovista.net
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message that the
only rational and
intelligent
response to
feelings of
alienation,
betrayal and
confusion is to
conform to the
demands of the
institutions that
caused those
negative feelings
in the first place.
Ender’s Game is
not content with
telling us that
there is no
alternative to a
life of selfish
brutality, it goes
out of its way to
present that life as
sane, heroic and
oh so very clever.
Gavin Hood’s film
is well made and
elegant to look at,
as beautiful as a
$110 million
advert for fascism
could ever hope to
be.