Echoes of Ender

I’m currently reading Head Strong by Michael D. Matthews, which is about how psychology has helped “revolutionize war”. One chapter reminded me a lot of Ender’s Game, another good (?) war book I read not long ago – so, since I’m a bit busy these days, here is a re-post of the review I wrote back then.

A friend had seen a photo of my book on social media, and exclaimed “you’re reading that??” And so the review began…

Indeed, I was. “That” being Ender’s Game, a 1985 sci-fi novel about a kid, Ender, whose sole mission in life is to save humanity from an alien invasion. While it is quite different from my usual reading-diet of journal articles, it is also quite an explicable choice. My thesis is about the moral psychology of war. The book Ender’s Game raises many many moral dilemmas around war and violence, and is even on the reading list for the US Marine Corps. (So is The Art of War, which I recommend much more highly.)

It was… an interesting read. On the one hand, I’ve heard it referred to as “pure wish-fulfilling power fantasy for smart kids who think (are sure) they know better than everyone else”, which definitely fits with my experience of it. Ender is sah isolated, because he is sah much better and more important than all the other little kids, oh paw misunderstood liddle Ender.

On the other hand, that seems too “local” an analysis, since the book also contains themes of “the burden of power (i.e. military supremacy)” in a threatened world. The military leaders are facing “difficult choices” to do with deceiving the population, wiping out civilizations, and using child soldiers; but they can carry those responsibilities, and make those decisions, because they are so tough and important and Know What is Best for Humanity.

My favourite thing about Ender’s Game though – apart from the way it made me think about military dilemmas in a new way; a way involving aliens and games and kids and highly improbably physical combat – was that everyone here in the US seems to know about it, and to have an opinion. I even got talking to a guy on a train about it the other day, who told me that it is quite common to read an anti-war message into it. I’m not quite sure I see that aspect, but I may just not have been looking hard enough.

Still not sure about that. Have you read it?


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