The post I had planned for today fell through, so we’re going to review a throwback Thursday novel, ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card!
This book, made famous by the Hollywood movie of the same title, was first published in 1985 during the thriving era of several sci-fi classics, STAR WARS probably being the most popular title of that time. I, however, did not read this novel until this summer. I sought out Card’s popular novel after reading his book on writing entitled ELEMENTS OF WRITING FICTION: CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT at the suggestion of an editor. I truly enjoyed that book and intend on reading it again.
But I was less than thrilled about ENDER’S GAME.
I know, who am I to criticize a man who has made millions of dollars in his writing career? But the writing landscape has changed a lot since 1985, and I wonder if ENDER’S GAME would have ended up on the slush pile of a number of agents had it been submitted today. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is intriguing – I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and especially the twist at the end. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, here’s the gist (spoilers not included).
Sometime in the distant future, the world has united to prepare for the next ‘Bugger’ invasion – an attack from a distant alien race that has nearly destroyed Earth in previous wars. Now the nations are gathering the best and brightest children with plans on training the next generation of military leaders. Among those chosen is Ender, the third child chosen from his family for the training, and the one with the most promise.
Everyone identifies brilliance and leadership in Ender the moment he steps into the school. Instructors rave about him, competitors despise him, and his companions immediately seek to follow him, even at his very young age. Fearing that special adult attention will stifle his drive to problem solve and advance, however, Ender receives no help from his guardians when interactions with competitors turn confrontational – even when violence is involved. In fact, if anything, the adults in Ender’s life do whatever they can to create more challenges for Ender whether that be by isolation, sleep deprivation, or extreme physical exertion – all in the pursuit of creating an unbeatable commander to destroy the ‘Buggers.’
As I said, this is an exceptional plot (and I’d love to see the movie again) but what I found disappointing was the actual writing. Now, that’s not to say the writing was bad, but it was functional at best. Not much attention was given to prose. Perhaps that was in the interest of word count – there was a lot to fit in this novel meant for children – but there were, I thought, several pacing issues, and the final act was a bit rushed. Much of the literature is about emotions and, although I felt sympathy for Ender in many situations, it never translated much into empathy.
I bring up this novel today more to note the change in literary expectations from then to now. It’s not enough anymore to write well or to have a good story. There has to be a spark, a life behind the words that pierce the soul. Competition has never been so high in the self-publishing era. With the click of a button, anyone can publish their thoughts, but not everyone can sell. Indie authors ESPECIALLY know this, but the Big 5 Publishers are feeling the pinch as well. I don’t have any advice about how to proceed in this current climate – I’m trying to figure that out as well – but it’s always interesting to look back to see what was considered great for the time as compared to now.
I am accepting submissions for reviews at this time. I am primarily interested in thrillers, suspense, magical realism, dystopians, and light sci-fi. I have a taste for the grim and love novels that make you think. Leave me haunted but hopeful.