Ender's Game (Audio CD) by Orson Scott Card
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: September 9, 2004
Publisher: Macmillan Audio; Unabridged edition
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Several centuries in the future, planet Earth is at risk from a third invasion of fearsome aliens whom the people of Earth have nicknamed "Buggers." Because of the enormous threat posed by these aliens, an uneasy peace has been maintained for several generations, in the years since the first invasion, between the three political factions who control the planet, the Hegemon, Polemarch, and Strategos. Each group has continuously contributed soldiers to the International Fleet (IF) which was formed to protect the planet from the Buggers. In order to prepare for the Buggers' presumed inevitable third invasion, the IF created the Battle School, a military program located on a space station whose goal is to locate and mold children with high intelligence into leaders capable of planning and launching military attacks in space against the Buggers. The children are subjected to rigorous, often brutal training conditions in order to prepare them to defeat the Buggers once and for all in a final Armageddon of a war. At the start of this book, the IF has only a few years left to come up with a general who is capable of saving the Earth from Bugger destruction, a force that outnumbers Earth's fleet by an enormous margin.
Ender Wiggin is only six years old when he is selected for training at the Battle School. In the world of this story, Earth is overpopulated, and couples are penalized for having more than two children. The Wiggin family is different, however. Ender's parents had him at the request of the IF command. Their eldest son Peter, who is 10 at the start of the story, is utterly brilliant, and the IF had previously hoped he might be the candidate for military leadership they were seeking, until they discovered Peter to be a budding sociopath who tortures and kills animals and terrorizes Ender and his sister. They had also considered the second Wiggin offspring, 8-year-old Valentine, as a possible future general, because she, too, is immensely intelligent, but ultimately they removed her from consideration as well; her disposition is too soft and yielding for her to ever be a general. Fortunately for the world, Ender seems to be just the right combination of brains, backbone, and emotional empathy to potentially lead Earth's efforts to defeat the all-powerful Buggers.
I'm not personally a reader of science fiction. Prior to this book I had read, tops, perhaps three science fiction books in my life, therefore I can only judge this book as a fan of popular fiction in general.
This book is phenomenal in every way imaginable. The character development is absolutely amazing--Ender is one of the most fascinating characters I've encountered in years, and the major subcharacters are all distinct and compelling, without ever upstaging Ender. The world-building, especially the battles in zero-gravity, is so marvelously done, that even someone who doesn't enjoy the high-tech details of typical space operas can understand everything that is happening in every scene.
I experienced this book in the audio format. I love audiobooks, and this is one of the best of the best I have ever encountered. The main narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, has a lusciously mellow voice that is a joy to listen to, and he imparts terrific emotion and acting skill to his narration. I am definitely going to be seeking out other books he has narrated. A cast of additional voice talents contributed to this production but, unfortunately, I cannot find a listing of their names in credits for the audiobook anywhere, other than the name of the famous author Harlan Ellison, who was one of the readers. A female narrator read the sections from Valentine's point of view, and she did a great job, too. The author also read one small part of the narrative, but lamentably, I also could not ferret out which part he read either.
All in all, this audiobook is a truly worthy production of a classic book, which is an awe-inspiring example of sophisticated writing. In the author's discussion of this story at the end of the reading of the book, he explains that in writing this work, he envisioned it as best experienced being read out loud. It is definitely a book that merits audio production. Not every novel can withstand being read out loud, which is a much more leisurely way of ingesting a book than reading it silently to oneself. At such a slow pace, every flaw is spotlighted, but since this masterpiece has no discernible flaws, listening to it narrated becomes an experience of savoring a gourmet feast for the mind.
I rate this book as follows:
Fantasy World Buidling: 5
Science Fiction Plot: 5