Ender’s Game is my favorite book. I read it about 10 years ago and picked it up again in 2020. This was prompted by my recent research into SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. These private space companies – led by tech billionaires – are reenergizing space exploration.
Now, I rarely read fiction anymore. Made up stories can be fun but I gravitate towards educational books with less filler. So, Ender’s Game is a bit out of the normal for me… but it’s still packed with useful lessons. And the book was well worth the read – or second read in my case. Here’s my copy…
This book’s unique story and ideas resonate well. It could easily reach a much wider audience. If you haven’t picked it up yet, now’s a great time. Shutdowns are creating a lot of extra downtime. So today, I’m sharing why I think Ender’s Game is worth filling some of that spare time. Also, I’ll avoid giving away any spoilers and will highlight some key takeaways.
Ender’s Game Background
Orson Scott Card wrote Ender’s Game originally in 1985. Since, publishers have reprinted it multiple times. And the copy I picked up is the first mini hardcover edition from 2017. It starts off with an introduction from Orson – written six years after its first print.
Orson gives some insight into how he developed the Ender’s Game story. As a teenager, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy inspired him. Asimov was a renowned scientist and fiction writer. And Orson realized that too many other fiction writers try to imitate the great ones. So instead, he wanted to come up with a story that was just as startling and new. Which in my mind, he achieved.
One key theme throughout Ender’s Game is military training and strategy. Orson grew up during the Vietnam war. And from his brother’s experiences, he learned about the miserable life of basic training. Orson also read history books that covered commanders from the Civil War. Those stories helped shape Ender’s Game.
Ender’s Game Setup (Spoiler Free)
Set in the future, the government is training children to fight an alien war. It’s in response to an attack by the Buggers, which are ant-like creatures that have hive-like behaviors.
The government monitors six-year-old Ender Wiggin with a device attached to his neck. It helps determine if he’s fit for Battle School and also provides protection against bullies. The other students already had their monitors removed. They didn’t make the cut and this gives some of them a reason to pick on Ender.
Eventually, the government removes Ender’s monitor. This is to see how he manages bullies without the monitor’s protection. Right after, a group of kids gang up on him looking for a fight. Then against Ender’s pacifist ways, he realizes that he has to severely injure the main bully – which he does – to prevent future harassment.
After the incident, the Battle School director visits his home to say that was the final test. He passed. After some convincing, Ender agrees to leave his parents and siblings behind. His sister is kind-hearted and hard to leave but his brother is cruel. His brother has threatened to kill Ender so that’s one motivator to leave. Also, Ender is a third child when the government only allows two. So, leaving takes pressure off his parents.
Now, without giving away too much, Ender struggles at Battle School but also excels. He learns a great deal about human behavior and effective leadership. Overall, the book is packed with thought-provoking strategies and ideas. So now, let’s dig into some of my key takeaways…
Space Orientation: The Battle School revolves around zero-gravity warfare. Teams enter each battle in space suits that lock up when shot. The goal is to freeze the other team’s fighters and pass through their gate. But zero gravity puts our understanding of orientation out of whack. Ender realizes this and to improve his strategy, he changes his mindset of what’s up and down.
Second Order Thinking: Each battle impacts the larger war. With our actions, it’s vital to think about second order effects… “Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they’d leave me alone.” This idea shows up multiple times in Ender’s Game.
Love Your Enemy: “In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.” Empathy is a powerful concept.
Sources of Influence: In my favorite subplot, Ender’s brilliant siblings learn how to write and build a following online. Since they’re so young, they use anonymous identities to be taken seriously. While Ender is at Battle School and fighting the buggers, they gain a huge following. It takes many years but their crafted identities and words help shape the world order.
There are a lot of big ideas packed into Ender’s Game. It’s a thought-provoking book and overall, an enjoyable read. Whether you pick it up or not, I hope my takeaways from the book lead to some unique thinking.
As always, reach out if you have any comments to share or questions.