BitDepth#911 - November 12

Thirty-five years ago, Orson Scott Card turned an award winning short story into a remarkable and long-lived book, now there is a film, Ender's Game. How does it fit into the Enderverse?
Entering the Enderverse
Movie poster artwork for Gavin Hood’s film of Ender’s Game.

Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel Ender’s Game is now a film. For most of those experiencing the story for the first time, it will be an intense encounter with an chilling alien invasion story that’s loaded with a quirky twist.
In an all or nothing defence of the planet, children are being trained to direct the spaceships of Earth against the menace of swarming insectoid invaders.

Andrew ‘Ender’Wiggin, the youngest of the most recent batch of children chosen for training, quickly emerges as the best prospect for leading this unusual combination of teen geniuses and interplanetary military might.
The book also serves up one of the most impressive plot twists ever written, a wrenching peripeteia that’s worth at least a sharp intake of breath.

But Ender’s Game is only the opening salvo in a remarkable series of books which follow the life of Ender Wiggin through some decidely unusual interstellar adventures that are nothing like the gung ho militarism of the book that kickstarted the series.
Another parallel series of books follows the earthbound life of Julian Delphiki, known only in the first book as Bean, the brilliant second pick who shadows Ender’s success throughout Ender’s Game.

A film should always be judged on its own merits. It may be adapted from a strong and well-known property, but it can’t conform neatly to the rich world that Card developed in that novel, which itself has been revised from a short story in 1975 through multiple editions of the novel which have revamped and refreshed the book’s perspective on national politics.

Orson Scott Card is himself something of a troubling writer for all his skill and brilliance at developing and sustaining worlds of compelling science fiction.
When he was announced as a writer for DC Comics’ Superman, fans went crazy. Comics readers, already a maligned and marginalised bunch, react badly to intolerance and Card’s views on LGBT issues and same-sex marriage were instant magnets for protest.

The film itself also highlights another problem with Card’s Enderverse, the noticeable lack of minorities in major roles.
Ender’s Game the film corrects this by putting people of colour in very visible roles at the battleschool, most notably Viola Davis as the gender and race re-engineered Major Anderson.

I’d normally give an author a bligh on this sort of thing, except that Orson Scott Card is has proven skilled at introducing and sustaining character in the ten major novels of the Ender Universe and there are notable and quite specific characters of other races and nationalities in the book, including the Muslim Alai and the Chinese national Han Tzu (aka Hot Soup).
And then, there’s this.

In subsequent novels, most notably in the Bean focused Shadow series, Card explores planetary geopolitics on a macro scale, charting the impact of children trained for war with the Formic threat as they return to a politically churning planet that’s quickly forgotten the value of unity in the face of human xenocide.
The film ramps up the excitement of the preparations for battle, an entirely predictable compacting that any reader of the book might have expected, but in doing so, it creates a cinematic version of the story that’s unlikely to sustain further exploration.

Too much of Card’s book is actually about politics, military strategy and the consequences of human ambition and ego amplified by a competitive arena of undeveloped genius and too little of that ends up in the film.
Fans of the bookshelf’s worth of writing about the interstellar war (and its consequences) that’s the subject of Ender’s game will, ultimately, be disappointed by this Cliff’s Notes cinematic retelling.

They are also likely to be hugely entertained by the meta irony of a film that uses modern digital technology to visualise a game that’s supposed to be digitally rendered as part of the school’s training process.
But that’s fair, since anyone who enjoys this film will, in all likelihood, find themselves nonplussed by the relentless politics and ruthless inhumanity that are such an effective counterpoint to the source novel’s story of steadily eroding innocence of the very special children chosen for the front lines of Earth’s space defence.

If you found Ender’s Game to be an exciting but oddly thin film, then do yourself and pick up the book, which is everything the movie aspires to be and a whole lot more.
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