Orson Scott Card and the Dark Side of “Ender’s Game”

Summary: The trailer for “Ender’s Game” brings this interesting book to the attention of a wider audience. Rightly so, as it’s themes are important to today’s America. Dark themes, evoking aspects of ourselves we prefer to hide (as popular art so often does). This is a revised and expanded version of a September 2010 post.

Ender's Game



  1. Background on the author
  2. Why is Ender’s Game popular?
  3. Its powerful, weird dynamics
  4. Ender as an appealing Hitler-like figure
  5. The narrative structure of Ender’s Game: porn
  6. Why generals like Ender’s Game
  7. For More information — & link to free copy of the story
  8. Trailer for Ender’s Game

(1)  Background on the author

Orson Scott Card has become the latest pawn in the culture war.  DC Comics hired Card to write Superman comics. The Left protested Card’s right-wing views (especially his anti-gay stance). DC fired Card (i.e., put the project on indefinite hold). Now Card has another shot at influencing the wider Audience of Americans — and the world (it will be interesting to see the film’s reception in foreign markets).

My nickel review: the short story is brilliant, fascinating, well worth reading. I found the book to be unreadable.  If you have not read the short story or book,  before continuing either scroll to section 7, or read this free post of the short story.

(2) Why is Ender’s Game popular?

One aspect of its mass appeal: it tells the story of modern America. The world’s superpower — bigger, richer, stronger than any other nation — but we see ourselves as victims. We are forced to invade our Latin neighbors, repeatedly, to see that our businessmen get a fair deal. Attacked on 12/41, 8/64, and 9/11 — forcing us to bomb nations into oblivion (the total weight of bombs dropped on Vietnam was 3x what we used in WWII). But we remain unsullied in our own eyes because our motives are pure.

Others see the story’s appeal in the personal history of its readers: “Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender’s Game, Intention, and Morality“, John Kessel, update of an article originally published in Foundation – the International Review of Science Fiction, Spring 2004 — Excerpt:

Ender gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean. Nothing is his fault. Stilson already lies defeated on the ground, yet Ender can kick him in the face until he dies, and still remain the good guy. Ender can drive bone fragments into Bonzo’s brain and then kick his dying body in the crotch, yet the entire focus is on Ender’s suffering. For an adolescent ridden with rage and self-pity, who feels himself abused (and what adolescent doesn’t?), what’s not to like about this scenario?

An even more pointed answer comes from “Ender’s Game: fascist revenge fantasy? Nah, geek revenge fantasy.“, posted at Wax Banks, 21 August 2006:

{Click here to read the rest of this post; post your comments there}

13 thoughts on “Orson Scott Card and the Dark Side of “Ender’s Game””

  1. roberto buffagni

    May I suggest reading this analysis of American – better: “Americanist” psychology by a Belgian writer, Philippe Grasset?
    Title: “L’“inculpabilité” comme fondement de la psychologie americaniste”. “Inculpabilité” means “being incapable to think oneself as guilty”.

    An excerpt:

    “Il n’y a pas de machiavélisme, ou d’autres sentiments aussi élaborés où la contradiction est instrumentée, — goût de la provocation, goût du paradoxe absurde, etc., — chez les Américains lorsqu’ils procèdent dans leurs actes de politique extérieure, et, particulièrement, dans le cas décrit ici. Les contradictions ou les absurdités, les soi-disant hypocrisies, trop énormes pour être de l’hypocrisie qui par définition se dissimule, ne sont pas le fruit d’un calcul ; elles ne sont qu’en apparence, pour nous, des “contradictions ou [des] absurdités, [des] soi-disant hypocrisies, trop énormes pour être de l’hypocrisie…”.
    La puissance d’influence considérable de l’américanisme est fondée sur sa sincérité, souvent décrite et/ou expliquée, à tort nous semble-t-il, comme “naïveté”, comme “infantilisme”, etc.”


  2. Pingback: Orson Scott Card and the Dark Side of "Ender's Game" - agamesforgirls.com | agamesforgirls.com

  3. Is Enders Game popular? Lots of Sci-Fi fans have read it, but I couldn’t say its popular, or even that well liked.
    The Battle school elements were excellent, and powerful when I read it as a teenager. But it would be unwise to overestimate its wider cultural influence. There is no typical sci-fi fan, we are not all rage filled nerds.

    1. I read it during my early days in university. It was battle school and life got harder every semester. The same feeling I got from Rollerball, or from North Dallas Forty. Every round got tougher, never any prize, only the chance to run faster, then faster again, and then next time even faster than that.

      1. That is not quite accurate. The big wins are there, but for a small number of people.

        Structural changes in the US have increased the returns from being at the top of most fields. The size of the prize is immense for the best neurosurgeons, quarterbacks, actors, singers, dress designers, authors, etc. The superstar effect.

        In the past these people did well. Now they are billionaires.

    2. Is Ender’s Game popular? Well-liked? The evidence is overwhelming that the answer is yes, to both.

      The book sold millions of copies; the short story has been reprinted in many anthologies.

      It has been translated into 29 languages.

      It generated 11 sequels (follow-up novels). IMO this and sales are the most definitive answers.

      Being on the USMC’s suggested reading list brought it to people who seldom or never read science fiction.

      The novel won the Nebula Award for best novel in 1985 and the Hugo Award for best novel in 1986 (the two most prestigious awards in science fiction).

      In 2008 Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow, won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for young adult literature.

      In 1999 it placed #59 on the reader’s list of Modern Library 100 Best Novels. It was put on American Library Association’s “100 Best Books for Teens.” It was in Damien Broderick’s book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010.

  4. There is no cake! No prize, no reward, nothing there to be won. Only the opportunity to take on a tougher crowd next time.

  5. robertobuffagni

    As soon as I’ll be back home I’ll translate a summary (the full article is too long, at least 15 pages)

  6. Interestingly disturbing.

    Not to diminish the message here but it is not news that the Adults left the Room in America, oh maybe, 40 yrs ago. That is so very obvious and so seldom recognized; that convergent reality alone can cause passive nihilism. Adolescent fantasies as a or the Purpose of life have come to dominate contemp American culture. Many others see it…..we don’t.


    1. Breton,

      “is not news that the Adults left the Room in America”

      What I find odd is that we’re doing so well in so many fields. Technological innovation, for example. The best of our medical care and universities are among the best in the world. We’re overcoming discrimination steadily — perhaps not doing it a the fastest in the world, but far better than the slowest nations.

      We seem to be experiencing decay of our political regime that leaves other aspects of society undiminished. But political failure affects many other aspects of society.

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