Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Ender’s Game is a dystopian sci-fi fantasy that explores themes of deception and control, and how individuals think of themselves in response. It’s quite dark and pessimistic, with just a glimmer of hope at the very end.
“Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth” (2). People are just tools when humanity needs them (35), capable of great wickedness and cruelty even when they try to do the right thing. “Power will always end up with the sort of people who crave it” (239). In one sense, this fits with the Christian view that people are twisted and depraved in every aspect of our lives (total depravity) – that we are either in bondage to sin or servants of righteousness (Romans 6). But without the understanding that we are made and loved by a Creator, bound to the poisonous doctrine of evolution, this leads to despair. There is nothing but to endure patiently and search for places where the good is winning out over the pervasive evil.
And it’s a long search.
The theme of control is also quite dark. The military establishment deceives extensively, so that the main character is just a pawn. Life is a game of figuring out and beating the system, but ultimately you can’t until they let you. You will need the help of others (Ender’s siblings), who are probably controlling you in other ways, to get out from under their control. In the end Ender has achieved a high level of personal autonomy, but how do we know the bad guys won’t rise again and reassert control? Even the people who love you and want the best for you can be used by the bad guys to get you to do what they want. There is a lot of undue resentment here – when Ender is persuaded that x is the right thing to do, he still feels manipulated into believing it.
Redemption and reconciliation show up in the last few pages. The only atonement for our crimes comes from the forgiveness of our victims, and our search to restore what we’ve done. It is works righteousness of the secular variety. This is the best a materialistic worldview can do. The bad guy aliens suddenly become pristine and holy, and thus the source of forgiveness. But why are they so lovely while humanity is so corrupt? It doesn’t fit, but this is the only explanation for sin and atonement that atheists can cope with.
I realized while reading that these themes are repeated in recent films I’ve enjoyed: Matrix, Battlestar Galactica. Not wandering into this genre much in books, I have only an inkling and hunch that Ender was quite influential on the last couple decades of film writers.
I did find some value in reading this, to get into the mind of the questioning next generation, trying to figure out their identity while rejecting their elders’ folly and wickedness. Young people hurt by their parents and their generation can easily turn to this kind of thing for a quantum of solace. But ultimately it provides little, and only the truth as God reveals it in Scripture can point us the way to restoration.
View all my reviews