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Ender's Game audio book by Orson Scott Card

01/04/2009. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy Ender's Game in the USA - or Buy Ender's Game in the UK

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pub: Macmillan Audio. 9 CDs 10.5 hours. Price: $39.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4272-0526-1. Read by: Stefen Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison and cast.

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'Ender's Game' is a classic Science Fiction novel. Over 20 years since it was first published, it has established itself as a pivotal novel for the creation of a universe of books of a similar theme. It has been published before as an audio book but recently Macmillan Audio re-released this, digitally re-mastered and re-packaged as a young adult edition.

While it would be correct to say that this edition has been geared towards young adults, such is its scope it can be enjoyed by all ages without feeling as if they are dipping into Enid Blyton's 'Famous Five'. (Apologies to Enid Blyton fans.) The full impact of the novel remains with the ramifications of its philosophy being just the same.

Not many will be unfamiliar with 'Ender's Game'. Set in the future, Earth has come into conflict with an alien race of insect-like beings called Formics or Buggers to give them their somewhat unfortunate name. Mind you, if we were being mutilated by ants of an alien nature we'd be calling them a lot worse! Twice Earth has been almost defeated and with extinction facing humanity desperate measures must be taken.

With everything subservient to the war effort, there's nothing like a good fight with aliens to pull everyone together. Let's face it, nobody would be bothered about being white, black, yellow or brown when confronted by a tentacled monster from outer space.

A good aspect about 'Ender's Game' is that travel takes place in relativistic space-time which involves journeys of decades or more to the other stellar systems. There's no fancy warp jumps here! This adds an extra dimension of reality but at the same time creates mind-boggling consequences for humans used to normal life-spans on Earth. However, although physical travel cannot go faster than light, communication through a special link can be done almost instantaneously. This makes it possible for a commander to direct the battle from light years away.

In order to fight off another invasion from the Buggers, a Battle School of selected children is formed to produce material for the officer corps. Ender Wiggin is a pupil at the School, an exceptionally gifted pupil who never seems to lose a battle. Much of 'Ender's Game' is taken up with his development of warfare strategy, his relationships with his peers and teachers, his family back home and the strange society that has evolved on Earth. To some of the kids, it seems like a fantastic computer game. Even Ender doesn't know how deadly it really is.

There are talks of an 'Ender's Game' movie. In fact, the talks are several years old but according to information on Orson Scott Card's website, the script has been produced and possibilities are hopeful. The book would lend itself to a movie of fantastic special effects, fast and thoughtful in action, but without an overindulgence of hand-to-hand combat against insects as witnessed in 'Starship Troopers'.

Ender Wiggin's path through the Battle School is exceptionally arduous. Thoughts of his sister who is close to his heart keep him going. He also has a malevolent brother who later becomes politically prominent and doesn't do Ender any favours. In a way, it's like having a devil and an angel on his shoulders.

Going from one level to the next as in a computer game, he is presented with a final battle where the odds are stacked against him so highly that there seems to be no possible way to win. Using tactics that go beyond all concepts of morality if only in the vain hope that he will be taken off the program, he wipes out all the Formics ships and their homeworld to boot using a special disrupter-type weapon. It was only later that he knew it was all for real. He had won the war and cleaned them all out. Xenocide!

It was later discovered that the Formics were not really the threat initially envisaged. To some, that didn't matter now that they had been exterminated but nevertheless it was Ender Wiggin who had perpetrated the act. This was to change his life forever. Nothing would be the same.

Although essentially simple, this story explodes with emotional and philosophical dilemmas. Are there differences between the use of boy soldiers in Africa and the boy soldiers in Battle School? Strangely, as the history of science shows, young minds are the most prolific. Not tied down by preconceptions, they are able to produce paradigm shifts which an older mind would find impossible to contemplate. Think only of Albert Einstein who produced his relativity theories at a relatively young age? Young minds are also less hesitant and relatively unencumbered by moral and social philosophy.

Further, when looking at Battle School and Earth society from afar, are they really much different from that of the Formics? While they think they may be individuals playing important parts, humans may be just the same as the insect Formics going about their business under the constraints of a higher plan.

The use of the disrupter weapon in 'Ender's Game' brings to mind J Robert Oppenheimer who said after the first atomic weapon was exploded, 'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.' Both weapons had a monumental effect, one in reality and the other in fiction, but differing in scale. Ender Wiggin had and become like Oppenheimer.

This is an audio book designed for young adults. Serious stuff with light moments and some fun, it will certainly make you think. Well narrated, anyone listening to this should not be bored. The same applies for adults or miserable middle-aged people like myself.

Rod MacDonald

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