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This year, Orson Scott Card’s famous novel Ender’s Game celebrated its 28th birthday. And this month, twenty-eight years after it was first shared with the world, the novel that Card himself once called “unfilmable” finally opened on movie screens across the country.
This newsletter is entirely focused on Ender’s Game – its past and its present. One way to do that is to look at how the jacket copy has changed, from the first edition to the most recent, published just last month.
First up: the book description from the 1985 edition:
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games; he is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate. Ender is the result of genetic experimentation. He may be the military genius Earth desperately needs in a war against an alien enemy seeking to destroy all human life. The only way to find out is to throw him into ever harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when it begins. He will grow up fast.
But Ender is not the only result of the experiment. His older siblings, Peter and Valentine, are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. While Peter was too uncontrollably violent, Valentine very nearly lacks the capability for violence altogether. Driven by their jealousy of Ender, and their inbred desire for power, hiding their youth behind the anonymity of a computer terminal screen, they begin to shape the destiny of Earth—an Earth that has no future if their brother Ender fails.
The focus of the original copy is on the entire Wiggin family, the results of genetic experimentation. While Ender is a military genius in space, his siblings, driven by jealousy (though really, while Peter is driven by jealousy, but I’d argue that Valentine is driven by love of both her brothers) are political geniuses on Earth.
Now, how about the newest version of the jacket copy?
THIS IS NOT A GAME
Once again, the Earth is under attack. An alien species is poised for a final assault. The survival of humanity depends on a military genius who can defeat the aliens. But who?
Ender Wiggin. Brilliant. Ruthless. Cunning. A tactical and strategic master. And a child.
Recruited for military training by the world government, Ender’s childhood ends the moment he enters his new home, Battle School. Among the elite recruits Ender proves himself to be a genius among geniuses. He excels in simulated war games. But is the pressure and loneliness taking its toll on Ender? Simulations are one thing. How will Ender perform in real combat conditions? After all, Battle School is just a game.
The focus on the newer copy is on the more science fiction elements of the story—the Earth is under attack. The attack may have been decades ago, but we have no idea when the next invasion is coming, leaving humanity in a state of permanent paranoia and fear. That type of emotion can’t be maintained forever, particularly on a global scale, so humanity takes a drastic step and begins training child geniuses.
Peter and Valentine are pushed to the back-burner here, which I’d argue isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The main focus of the story is Ender, after all, and this way, there are still some surprises in store for new readers. Discovering that Ender isn’t the only fascinating Wiggin child is an added bonus.
And now, as a bonus for you, we wanted to share with you the New York Times review of Ender’s Game, published on June 16, 1985:
Intense is the word for Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (Tor, $13.95). Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses – and then training them in the arts of war from the time they are 6 years old. The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of “games,” both physical and computer-assisted. Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games. At the age of 10 he is assigned to Command School. He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?
I am aware that this sounds like the synopsis of a grade Z, made-for-television, science-fiction-rip-off movie. But Mr. Card has shaped this unpromising material into an affecting novel full of surprises that seem inevitable once they are explained. The key, of course, is Ender Wiggin himself. Mr. Card never makes the mistake of patronizing or sentimentalizing his hero. Alternately likable and insufferable, he is a convincing little Napoleon in short pants. –Gerald Jonas
We hope you enjoy this look at Ender’s Game!
From the Tor/Forge November 4th newsletter. Sign up to receive .
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