What would you do if the fate of the world hung on a child, aged six? Would you make the hard decisions to subject the child to the trials necessary to give that child the capabilities, together with natural intelligence, to actually save the world? Could you?

Earth has been twice invaded by giant insectoid aliens. Casualties were horrific. We were outnumbered and outgunned. The first time we nearly lost. The second time we were saved by the genius tactician Mazer Rackham. Now we are preparing for the third invasion, and while our technology has advanced, so will have the ‘buggers’. Our hopes rest on a pre-emptive strike to the buggers’ homeworld, but we have no commander.

Ender is a Third – a third child in a world where couples are allowed only two. The government had great hopes for his older brother, Peter, but found him too cruel, too ambitious, to lead their fleet. Their hopes switched to his sister, but she was too gentle, and so, in hopes of a child with the qualities of both Peter and Valentine, the government authorised the birth of Ender.

Monitored almost since birth, Ender is taken from his parents at the age of six and sent to a school for talented children destined for great careers in the space fleet. While they make no secret of the fact they hope he will command the fleet in the attack against the buggers’ homeworld, Ender is subjected to incredible pressure in order to force him to learn to think his way out of almost any impossible scenario.

The majority of the training at the Battle School is mock training in zero gravity conditions between groups of other students, where tactics more than brute strength rule the day. Isolated, friendless, and made a target for bullies, Ender nevertheless demonstrates his ability to out think almost any adversary, defeating enemies or making them his allies. Each time he rises to the top, the instructors change the odds, change the stakes, and make the situation almost impossible for him to win.

He is advanced ahead of his age, made to prove his value to the older students, and then, when he does, he inevitably alienates some. When he gains acceptance, he is pulled out of his unit, made the commander of his own unit, and left to sink or swim with too many rookie ‘soldiers’. When he nevertheless turns them into an effective fighting force, the odds are stacked against him when the instructors stage daily battles, and then twice daily battles, instead of allowing the usual rest period.

While the training seems nothing short of cruel, and some of the instructors express concerns they may ‘break’ or ‘ruin’ Ender, if one looks closely you realise that the training is nothing more or less than actual simulated battle conditions. There is no mandatory rest period between battles in war. There is no guarantee that one will always have the upper hand, or that one will always have the best soldiers. A commander must make the most of what he has to still produce victory, and it is this for which Ender is actually being trained.

Will he succeed? At the age of eleven, is he capable of leading a space fleet to war… and winning? Should he even be placed in that position, made responsible for the lives of soldiers? While I, as a mother, mourn the loss of the childhood he never had, I can recognise that Ender’s youth makes him more flexible, more durable, than an adult might be. He comes with no pre-conceptions, no skills or beliefs to be unlearned, and has that resilience so common to children. While an adult might break under the pressure, a child may only bend, and so Ender bends, and is moulded into the tool that is needed.

But the moral question remains. Should a child be taken and moulded into a tool, at great personal expense of that child? Can such actions be justified to save the whole of humanity?

Maybe.

But what if you don’t even know if the enemy is coming? What if, maybe, the enemy has learned the error of its ways and has no intention of invading and attacking enemy space? What if it is now us who are the invaders?

I thoroughly enjoyed the direction in which the book led me, the questions it posed, and sharing Ender’s journey and personal dilemmas. While the book is written, at times, ‘simplistically’, and employs ‘telling’ in some cases instead of ‘showing’, it appears from the introduction that Orson Scott Card did this deliberately, believing it made the book more accessible to a wider audience. Perhaps he was right, and perhaps the style of narrative was appropriate for a protagonist aged between six and eleven anyway.

While not the usual type of book I read, I ripped through Ender’s Game in two days, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to read more in the Ender series in the near future. Highly recommended.