Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ender Rendered

Sci-fi author Orson Scott Card has garnered loads of acclaim for his Ender's Game/Ender's Shadow series', a sequence of novels about two boys involved in a war between Earth circa 2150 AD and an alien race known as the "Buggers". In Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin is a prodigy groomed at an elite battle school for ultimate leadership of earth's forces. First published in 1977, Card later wrote Ender's Shadow (1999) which parallel's the plot of Ender's Game from the viewpoint of Bean, a battle school friend and cohort.

Ender's Game
Destiny was intended for Ender Wiggin; it had to be or else all was lost. Part of a n experimental batch of ultra-gifted children singled out to someday thwart the 'Bugger' onslaught, he's initiated into the International Fleet's Battle School at age six in a desperate attempt to locate Earth's next (and maybe last) strategic hope. Functionally, battle school is intended to train student/soldiers through simulated, anti-gravity encounters--one team against another. But from the outset, nothing's evenhanded for Ender as peers and administrators do their best to expose weaknesses in his vastly superior skills. Intentionally burdened, his only solace is found commanding his team's nightly practice sessions orchestrating maneuvers with his classmates. But little does Ender suspect the training ground as more than just a 'game' and that his leadership applies to more than just 'his team'.

The personal side of things is as much involved; Ender's older siblings Peter and Valentine share the same genetics albeit dissimilar characteristics. What begins as intellectual pandering by each during Ender's absence soon morphs into a far greater sphere of influence, and in the malevolent Peter's case--far more power. It ultimately falls on Valentine, one person not out to use or harm Ender, to shield him from Peter's malice and the unyielding demands of a broader world.

Ender's Shadow
At the tender age of 2, Bean escapes a genetic breeding factory only to end up an orphan in dire poverty on the streets of Rotterdam. Learning life's knocks the hard way, his fortunes place him at the feet of Sister Carlotta, a nun who soon discovers Bean's hyper-intelligence and facilitates his acceptance into Battle School. It's here where Bean meets Ender Wiggin, his war games team captain who's undefeated as a commander. But not all's fun and games. Little is with matches administratively fixed in an effort to fully realize Ender's tactical prowess.

It may not be Return of the Jedi, but Ender's Game shares that same aura of epic challenge, of hero against the universe (literally) in which the immensity of everything is concentrated into one consciousness. But like good science fiction, Card eases the backstory along steadily giving time for the characters to establish an identity prior the inevitable confrontation. Any perplexing aspects of the futuristic world are well-counterbalanced by private issues more close to home. Ender's 'self' is complex, maintaining ethical boundaries even amidst a high-pressure/high-stakes atmosphere, a trait revealed as much through contrasting characters as with Ender himself. Gifted in an almost warped fashion, the 'child' in Ender isn't always visible; a problem Card may have levied with peripheral characters Peter and Valentine and ultimately complemented with Bean's emergence in Ender's Shadow.

Not merely a sidestory, Bean's evolution from street orphan to battle school and ultimately beyond illuminates his own pivotal role in the saga, entrenched in every dynamic of the story. Bean has his own conscience and crisis' befalling him even as much of his energy helps uphold those very issues in Ender. The two books, each spawning several further sequels, are as separate as they are interlinked within the same-time/same-place/similar-person correlation.

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