Let me start by acknowledging that this book is weird, even by my extremely permissive standards. I’ve read a lot of weird-ass books, is what I’m saying. (Wide Open by Nicola Barker comes to mind. Maybe I need to reread it, see if it’s better now that I’m older and weirder?) This one, about a teeny-tiny savant nicknamed Ender who was specifically bred to become the ultimate military general and humanity’s only hope of escaping extinction at the hands of their alien enemies, definitely maxes out the weird meter.
However, I gave it a fair shake, not because I’m particularly fair-minded, but because Adam really liked it and gave it a strong recommendation. I said I would read it sometime. And then he pestered me for many years, until I read it out of exhaustion and annoyance.
And, ok, it’s pretty good. Futuristic, dystopian books are, in general, awesome. The premise is fascinating; why would a scrawny six-year-old boy be the focus of such intense government scrutiny? Why would he get preferential treatment, wearing a monitor implanted in the back of his neck, skipping years ahead of his contemporaries in training? What exactly is planned for Ender—and for that matter, who is doing the planning? All the adult characters are shadowy and out of focus, with glimpses into their conversations kept brief and opaque. We don’t know (and for that matter, Ender doesn’t either) exactly what’s going on until the last few pages reveal a startling yet satisfying twist. Watching as Ender is at turns manipulated and manipulating is pretty interesting.
But there’s some weirdness going on that I couldn’t quite reconcile with. For one, the children (primarily boys) who are in training with Ender spend a fair amount of time naked. Nothing untoward happens, and I suppose it could just be meant as a cultural oddity of the society, but I found I didn’t enjoy the mental images of prepubescent boys letting it all hang out. Also, at the end of the book, Ender goes on a bit of a strange tangent in which something he dreamed actually appears in his life. Though presumably a way to set up the second book in the series, the ending felt drawn-out and a bit maudlin, which was a shame, because it could have ended with a bang after the aforementioned awesome plot twist.
So, if you can get past the naked children and weird, spiritual grasping, you will likely enjoy this book.
Bottom line: Touché, Adam.