At last he came to a door, with these words in glowing emeralds:
THE END OF THE WORLD
He did not hesitate. He opened the door and stepped through.
2016 has been marked already by the release of Star Wars, the Force Awakens. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan, but after having seen this episode I am absolutely buzzing with sci-fi excitement. This must be what people felt like after the first trilogy! The sky is the limit – oh snap, it isn’t!
Coincidentally, I’ve spent my holidays reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game quartet. I had read the first book already, and I have to say, together this quartet is absolutely addictive! So for those whose space needs have been awakened by the latest Star Wars, I present to you: Ender’s Game.
In this book Earth has been attacked twice by the Formics, an alien race commonly referred to as Buggers. In response to this threat the Battle School is raised, where the most brilliant children are trained as soldiers and strategists. The main character, Ender, is one of these kids. He is the only one in his family who is “successful” in being sent to Battle School, while his brother Peter was too violent and his sister Valentine too compassionate. The administration at Battle School systematically isolates Ender from his peers and assures his being ostracised and bullied, so they can test his strength and leadership skills.
At Battle School they have all kinds of cool, zero gravity simulations to train their strategical thinking and understanding of space combat that allow for some pretty cool imagery. He also plays a game which interacts with his subconscious, more on that in the spoiler section below. On Earth, Valentine and Peter are infiltrating the world’s intellectual and political spheres online, influencing the people’s views on the war and human politics.
This book is great. The storytelling is very gripping and the emotional stakes are very high. The military’s treatment of Ender is cruel and abjectionable, but you can also understand it in a way: they are trying to save all of humanity, after all. Ender himself does some shockingly terrible things also, and this does raise some interesting ethical questions. Does it matter that he is only a child? Or that he was not fully aware of his actions or the repercussions thereof if they are so destructive? We are also lead to ask ourselves how far you can push someone for the greater good before it becomes amoral – this is a story about training kids as killer machines.
And now for the spoiler section…! As per usual, the next spoiler-free point will be marked by the picture. See you there!
Ender quickly turns out to be the best pupil and gets promoted often and quickly. The reason the administration loves him so much is that he is a genius with features from both his compassionate sister and sociopath brother. When he gets bullied at school Ender beats the bully so severely that he dies, and this happens again at Battle School. These deaths are kept from him, which actually makes it sadder. Ender suspects that he murdered other children and hates himself for his violence, but does not know it.
The biggest moral issue here is when Ender finds out that what he thought was a game, mere simulations, was real. He led real people into battle and caused their deaths. And when he decided to “cheat” in the game by destroying the Buggers’s home planet, he unknowingly committed xenocide by destroying almost all of the Bugger race. He later finds out that the Buggers weren’t going to attack again, and that this xenocide was uncalled for and unnecessary. Appalled and ashamed of his own actions, he writes The Hive Queen and The Hegemon, about the Buggers and humans respectively, under the pseudonym of Speaker for the Dead to show people the true nature of each race and both sides of the war.
This aspect of the book is what really sets it apart for me. Throughout, the Buggers are portrayed as Evil, and humans as Good, the victims struggling to survive. Towards the end, however, this story stops the reader to show that each war has two sides, and that you need to understand what is happening and why to be able to put an end to it. The ruined generation of children,the constant fear and rush to advance the military – none of it would have been necessary if only the two species had been able to communicate.
This book is important. Because of its call for empathy and understanding, because of its complex and humanising portrayal of conflict. Child soldiers are a thing. War is a thing. Ignorance, too, is a thing. By putting an innocent face to atrocity, Card created a wonderful, chilling tale of humanity and inhumanity.
(If you are as much a Demosthenes fan as I am, worry not: Valentine and Peter will get their turn in the sequels, coming up next!)
What tea goes well with sci-fi? Or war literature? That’s still a story about children? This novel is brutal in bits, but all filtered through the innocent eyes of a very young child. There’s adventure (in space!), love between siblings, loneliness and regret.
This tea should not be floral, or light. Green and white teas are ruled out because they are too soothing and refreshing, and Rooibos is too fresh and fruity. It should also not be too heavy, as to draw attention away from the book. Therefore, I have decided to go for a more basic tea: Cassiopeia by Alveus.
Thistea has an Assam base, and light notes of lemongrass, cinnamon bark, cloves, orange peel and rose petals. Because of the lightness of this mixture the tea is seemingly unremarkable, but fresh and soothing in an understated way. In that, it is reminiscent of home, in a way. It’s nice and relaxing, but you don’t really know why.
So before you set off into space,pour yourself a nice cup of home. And don’t forget your lightsaber.