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Pretty good, but not great
am 9. Mai 2000
I've had a paperback copy of Ender's Game on my bookshelf for years, but for whatever reason, I never got around to reading it. When I found out there was going to be a movie of it coming out, I decided to look the book up on Amazon.com and read some reviews. Wow! I've never seen so many five-star reviews for anything. Not Citizen Kane, Star Wars, Animal House, Shakespeare, not even the Bible. I figured it was time I give the book a shot. Now that I've read it, I can add my opinion to this ever-expanding forum.
I think I should premise my remarks with a couple of preliminary statements. First, I'm 27 years old and I've been a huge fan of science fiction since I saw Star Wars when I was four. I've read one previous book by Orson Scott Card: the novelization of James Cameron's The Abyss, which I thought was pretty good. I know Ender's Game is a very well-loved book, and in expressing my opinion, I'm not trying to anger anyone, but am just trying to say what I feel. Here goes...
I really wanted to like Ender's Game, but I just didn't think it was all that great. It wasn't bad, but it just never really involved me the way that a great book does. What bothered me first off was the quality of the writing. I thought it was extremely poor in places, and at best mediocre. Card doesn't even seem to follow the basic conventions of fiction writing. He'll be in a third-person descriptive paragraph and then throw in a first-person thought mid-stream without any set-up. I found this kind of thing distracting. It's not that the rules and conventions of writing shouldn't be challenged and bent (good writers are always doing this) it's just that I felt in this case, it wasn't Card using artistic license, but rather just writing poorly.
Other aspects of the writing itself bothered me. The lack of vivid description was one of them. Except for in the case of some of the better action sequences, I generally felt that I was reading about something that had happened to somebody else instead of feeling like I was there experiencing it myself. That's the first job of any great writer, to be able to paint with words in a nuanced way that makes the reader feel he or she is uniquely experiencing the world of the story in the first person. I never felt that in Ender's Game. Also I felt the language was overly simplistic and at times unceasingly idiotic. What's with all the fart talk? Surely by having them use a certain amount of slang, Card is reminding us that his characters are children. But I really got tired of reading the word "farteater" after a couple dozen times. That one in particular became very grating. Even the adults say it to one another. Coupled with the weak writing, the language choice and crude dialogue just seemed to undermine the integrity of the story-telling.
Now on to character. I just felt these characters weren't very deeply drawn. I wanted to sympathize with Ender, but from the beginning, didn't feel very close to him. He's supposed to be superhuman (either a Christ-like figure or a second coming of Hitler, or maybe a mixture of the two, depending on how you read the character) and I felt this just made me feel extremely distant from him. I could never see myself making any of the choices he makes. There's too much cold calculation in Ender, and not enough genuine human feeling. I felt that Card's attempt to humanize the character through his relationship with his sister Valentine was forced. There's a lot of telling in this book. Card tells us that Ender loves his sister, that Ender is a genius, that Ender is afraid of becoming the killer that his brother Peter is, but there is precious little showing. There was never a quality scene between Ender and his sister that made me feel what they felt for each other. I have a sister that I love very much and I know what that love feels like, but I never felt those kinds of feelings while reading about these characters.
I don't want to be overly critical. There were some good things in this book, too. It was definitely a page-turner. Despite my earlier criticisms about the writing, the story itself is well put-together. Once you get involved, you're compelled to finish it. If you're a somewhat fast reader, you probably won't need to bother with a bookmark for this one. Also, I would say overall it was a pretty fun read. I'll give this book three stars, because I think there's some great potential here that, in my opinion, is just not fulfilled.
I don't mean to slam this book if it's your favorite. I don't like it when some one says this or that is a "bad book" or a "bad movie" period. I don't believe in those kinds of absolute labels. Every reader brings something unique to a work of fiction and experiences it on a special plane that no one else can ever quite know, even if that other person is your twin brother and has read all of the same books you've ever read and seen all the same movies and known all of the same friends. The experience of reading a book is a magic one, a sacred one even. If you loved Ender's Game, I have nothing bad to say about that. In fact, I think books are a great thing to be passionate about. This one just didn't do it for me. My favorite science fiction book is hands-down Hyperion by Dan Simmons. That whole series, in my opinion, is some of the best written, most thought-provoking, emotionally-involving storytelling out there. Thanks for your time. Here's to good reading....