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Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

September 21, 2010 8 comments

Spaceships.Summary:
Humanity survived the second Bugger invasion by pure luck.  Now they’re determined to be prepared for a third invasion and actively train children in Battle School, seeking the child who could be the commander to save humanity.  They think Ender, with his ability to perceive and understand null gravity spaces, just might be that commander, but Ender isn’t so sure.

Review:
Card has created a rich, complex, entirely believable future where individual sacrifice is vital to the survival of the human species.  This goal makes the adults’ treatment of the children in Battle School justifiable and allows Card to create a story where children are simultaneously treated as adults and misled by them.  Adults will recognize the feeling of being pawns to those in control of society.  Children and young adults will appreciate that the children characters are treated as adults in smaller bodies.  It’s a fun narrative set-up.

The world-building is excellent.  The complex scenes of the Battle School, Battle Room, and videogames the children play are all so clearly drawn that the reader truly feels as if she is there.  Readers who also enjoy videogames will particularly enjoy the multiple videogame sequences in which the narrative action switches focus to the videogame.  This isn’t just for fun, either.  It’s an important feature that comes to play later in the book.    In fact, it’s really nice to see videogaming being featured in a future as something important to society and not just recreational.  It’s a logical choice to make in scifi too, as the military is moving increasingly toward using weapons that are manned by soldiers behind the lines with videogame-like controls.

These fantastic scenes are all set against a well-thought-out human society reaction to multiple alien invasions.  In spite of the threat of a third invasion, there is still violent nationalism brewing under the surface.  Politicians must worry about their image.  Dissenting voices can be heard on the internet.  The teachers of the Battle School must worry about the retributions for their actions, even as they make the choices that will hopefully save humanity.  The people in this future are still people.  They act in the sometimes stupid and sometimes brilliant ways people act.  They don’t miraculously become super-human in the face of an alien threat.  I really enjoyed this narrative choice, as I get really sick of the super-human trope often found in scifi.

The ending….I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make up my mind on how I feel about the ending.  I definitely didn’t guess it ahead of time, which is a nice change, but I can’t decide how I feel about it.  The fact is, I liked part of it, and I didn’t like another part of it.  I think I may have found the ultimate message a bit too idealistic, and Ender too gullible.

*spoiler warning*
Here’s the thing.  The Bugger queen claims that the Buggers didn’t know that humans were sentient creatures, and Ender believes her, but I call bullshit.  Humans and Buggers built cities that were similar enough so that humans could live in Bugger buildings.  In spite of being drastically different from an evolutionary stand-point, it’s still obvious that humans were sentient enough to build cities and spaceships.  That should have been a warning sign.  So ultimately, I view the queen larva and message to Ender as a last-ditch effort to come back from the brink of extinction and beat humanity, and Ender fell for it.  Of course I don’t want to argue for the extinction of an entire species.  I’m a vegetarian.  I’m pretty much against the killing of species of any kind, but the fact remains that the Buggers attacked humans twice.  What were they supposed to do?  Sit back and let themselves get wiped out?  I’m not one of these nutters who says don’t kill the polar bear attacking you, and in this case, the polar bear had already attacked twice.  I like the message of a possible peaceful coexistence, but I don’t think it was very realistic in that world, and I was left feeling that Ender didn’t really learn anything from his experience. 
*
end spoilers*

Overall, however, Card has achieved near perfection in telling a unique, scifi story.  The world is entrancing and draws the reader in, and the reader is left with multiple philosophical questions to ponder long after finishing reading the book.  It is a book I definitely plan on re-reading, and I highly recommend it to scifi and videogaming fans.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Feed by M. T. Anderson

June 15, 2010 1 comment

Back of a bald man's head.Summary:
Titus is your typical teenager of future America.  He lives in a suburb where his parents program the weather.  He drives an upcar.  He’s got a feed–a microchip in his brain that allows him to chat silently with people, shop, look up anything he wants to know more about, etc…  He’s also got a lesion, but a lot of people have those now.  He is quite ordinary.  But he meets a girl on a trip to the moon who is anything but ordinary.  A girl who got the feed late and dares to question it.

Review:
This book has a great concept, essentially exploring what the world would be like if twitter was implanted into our brains.  This is rather extraordinary given that twitter didn’t even exist yet when Anderson wrote it.  It explores losing our individuality to machines and consumerism.  Ceasing to care about important information due to being bombarded by inane information at all hours of the day.  I just wish Anderson had taken this concept a different direction.

I immediately connected with Violet, the girl Titus meets on the moon.  She’s quirky, is homeschooled, and really is a bit of a nerd who just wants a chance to try out hanging out with the popular kids and doing what they do.  Titus is a complete and total asshole to her.  I suppose I could forgive him for that if he showed that he learned anything from coming into contact with a person as powerful as Violet, but he doesn’t.  He ditches her when she needs him most because she’s making him uncomfortable.  He wants to stay in the cocoon of his feed-driven life, and nothing she does or says can change that.  He clearly goes from girl to girl, using them up like paper towels or tissues, and then on to the next one.  Maybe that was Anderson’s point–that the feed has dehumanized the people who have it–but it made for a less powerful book than if Titus had learned something. Anything.

Similarly some questions just aren’t answered simply because Titus doesn’t care, so we aren’t allowed to know.  In particular the lesions are set up as some sinister mystery, but then we never find out why they are occurring.  Nobody even really speculates as to why they’re showing up.  They’re just there.  I seriously doubt there’d be zero speculation over such a phenomenon, even in a future where people are obsessed with consumerism.

Overall, the concept and writing on a sentence level are good, but the story as a whole left me feeling empty and disappointed.  There’s telling a bleak story, and then there’s telling a story that’s sympathetic to a jerkwad.  This is the latter.  If that type of story is something you enjoy, you will enjoy this book.  Everyone else should look elsewhere, perhaps to The Hunger Games if you’re looking for a YA dystopia.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Swaptree

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