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In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut--young Ender is drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is.
The story began with Ender Wiggin having his monitor removed. Ender was a brilliant six-year-old boy, born as a third child in the United States that only permitted families of two children each, thus his very existence required permission from the government. He has been closely watched for years by leaders of the International Fleet. At the end of the first school day after the removal of his monitor, the bullies of the school began teasing and mildly attacking him for it. In response and to defend himself, Ender beat up the ringleader, Stilson, in a brutal assault, to end not just that fight, but all future fights with the bully and his gang. Although Ender did not know until years later, Stilson later died in a hospital because of the injuries that Ender gave him that day.
When Ender returned home, he met his older brother Peter and his older sister Valentine. Both Peter and Valentine were geniuses as well, but while Valentine loved Ender, Peter enjoyed abusing and almost torturing him.
Ender was put on a shuttle to go to Battle School , which was actually a space station orbiting Earth. After some initial difficulties with his launch group created by Colonel Hyrum Graff, Ender became friends with Alai. However, Ender was quickly transferred into Salamander Army, whose commander was Bonzo Madrid. Bonzo refused to allow Ender to participate in battles, but Petra Arkanian helped Ender learn basic combat skills. Bonzo's refusal to allow Ender to participate and Ender's own actions caused him to become the highest ranked soldier in Battle School; which helped Bonzo transfer Ender to Rat Army, commanded by Rose The Nose. Upon his arrival, Ender was placed in Dink Meeker's toon. The older student Dink began to look after Ender. Meanwhile, Ender's psychological development was monitored by the Mind Game, a complex computer game embedded in the school's computer system.
Meanwhile, his two siblings Valentine and Peter continued their own unique lives. Every bit as intelligent as their brother, but of differing temperaments, they began to integrate themselves into the political discussions on The Nets. Starting as anonymous unknowns, they began to earn respect from the international community by presenting insightful political analysis. Eventually, they adopted the personas Locke and Demosthenes, Peter writing Locke, the peaceful compromise-oriented writer, and Valentine being forced to write Demosthenes, a rabble-rouser. Both personas began to gain international status.
Ender went through his classes quickly and was soon given his own army, Dragon Army, which was supposedly taboo or cursed. He did not personally know any of his soldiers, and they were all launchies (new students) or soldiers that other commanders were trying to trade away. Ender organized his army strangely, having five toons of eight rather than four toons of ten, and having each toon split into two sub toons. He taught his army that the enemy's gate was down, how to freeze their own legs and use them as shields when shooting between them, and how to think for themselves rather than to rely on him for instructions and formations for structure.
Ender and his army won every battle they fought in, each more difficult than the last as the Battle School teachers turned the rules on their head. Eventually he was forced to face Salamander Army, still commanded by Bonzo Madrid, who had been silently hating Ender for years. After Dragon Army defeated Salamander easily, Bonzo's rage became uncontrollable. The next day, Ender and his Dragon Army faced two armies at once, Griffin and Tiger. Ender realized that he didn't necessarily need to freeze the opposing armies' soldiers like usual; he allowed his army to be slaughtered in order to sneak 5 soldiers into the enemy's gate, thus winning the battle. After this "cheat" of a win, the Battle School teachers changed the rules to make sure such a thing never happens again.
Ender returned to his room, and decided to go to the showers. There, he was confronted by Bonzo Madrid and some of his thugs; Ender convinced him to face him one on one, but Bonzo was soon deeply injured by Ender. Ender, horrified at what he had done, refused to participate any longer in Battle School. He returned to Earth on leave with Colonel Graff.
Not wanting to see his family, he was kept isolated from everyone at a small lake in the woods. He built a raft and spent his time alone in contemplation and self-resentment. The International Fleet, worried that he will not cooperate with them due to his lack of interest, sent Graff to meet with Valentine after school. She was reluctant to trust him again, but he convinced her by stating how he knew Demosthenes's true identity. Graff took her to the mansion by a lake where Ender was staying. Valentine, during her visit, reminded him why he is fighting: to preserve the human race.
After these three months spent in self-contemplation, Ender moved on to Command School, almost six years early, to learn to combat the Formics in space instead of being restricted to the more abstract training games. He was taught by Mazer Rackham, the one who saved humanity during the Second Invasion, and the first man to realize that the Formics are actually a hive mind. There had been no way of communicating with the Formics, and they had shown no inclination to spare humanity of their wrath; thus, plans for an invasion had been underway, and it was the command of this invasion that Ender was being trained for. Fortunately, he was augmented by a cadre of his best friends (and the best commanders) from Battle School, including Alai, Petra, Dink, and Bean; Ender assigned them to individual flights or squadrons of ships while he remains in overall charge.
Once the team had meshed, the training began, against a simulator controlled by Mazer Rackham. Ender and his Jeesh began to fight ever-more-challenging battles, in which his team frequently fought outnumbered by the enemy, who quickly learned to adapt to Ender's tactics. Ender began to be plagued by mysterious nightmares which interrupted his sleep. Fatigued in mind and body, his team slowly succumbing to exhaustion, Ender started to lose hope.
In Ender's final exam before graduating from Command School, he and his team found themselves in possession of a small fleet, approaching a planet literally swarming with Formic ships, outnumbering his own force a thousand to one. Ender, by then, had had enough of being manipulated by the adults, and decided to flunk out of Command School—a true victory for him. He duplicated his final battle at Battle School and used the Molecular Disruption Device to destroy the planet around which the Formic fleet is orbiting (taking the surrounding fleet with it), demonstrating that he was far too ruthless to be trusted with command of an actual battle fleet.
However, when the simulation ended, Ender discovered that the "audience" watching his "final exam" was now in jubilation and delight. Rackham and Graff told Ender that he had not been playing a game, and had never played against Rackham, but instead had been commanding real ships across interstellar distances; the task made possible via the ansible, a form of instantaneous communication making use of Philotic energy. This technology was discovered following the Second Formic War, as the method of telepathic communication the Formics used was reverse engineered. He had just commanded the fleet attacking the Formic Homeworld, and destroyed their entire species once and for all.
When Ender learned that he had been playing a game with real people's lives, he lapsed into four days of exhausted depression, completely void of reality, drifting in and out of sleep. Feeling the full weight of the deaths he had caused, made heavier by his apparent love and respect of the Formics, developed over his interaction with them, he refused to respond to anyone for a time. Immediately after the end of the Formic War, the Hegemony fell apart and war broke out on Earth in a dispute about who was to gain control of Ender. The battle lasted all of five days, but the impact was clear: Ender cannot return to Earth because he would simply be used as a tool of the dominant government on Earth. Fearing for Ender, Valentine blackmailed Peter, who was in position to becoming a world leader, into leaving Ender in peace, allowing him to be sent out on one of the first colonization ships as the governor of the new colony on a former Formic world.
Ender's fame quickly wore off, replaced with the respect of the colonists traveling with him. Years later, after the colony was established and Valentine had written a seven-book history of the Formic Wars, Ender discovered something that the Formics left for him; by using their alien telepathic communication, they were able to extract images from Ender's brain, which were the source of his nightmares during his time at Command School. Using those images, the Formics built a large scene directly taken from the Mind Game at the Battle School. Following the steps from the Fantasy Game, Ender discovered the surprise the Formics left for him: their last surviving Hive Queen, in pupal form. The pupa was able to communicate telepathically with Ender, who learned that the Formics' previous killing of humans had rested on the mistaken notion that humans were not sentient, and once the Formics realized their mistake, they resolved not to attack humans again. Thus, the invasion and extermination of the Formics was not necessary to defend Earth.
Ender wrote about the Formics from their perspective. He named the book The Hive Queen and signed it as the 'Speaker for the Dead'. The book spread throughout the human worlds, and gained fame quickly. Peter Wiggin, who at this point had become Hegemon, realized that Ender wrote it and asked Ender to write a similar book presenting Peter's rights and wrongs in life. The result is The Hegemon. These two books became the seeds of a new semi-religion and profession, speaking for the dead.
Eventually, Ender took the Hive Queen cocoon and left the colony with his sister, seeking a planet suitable for the reestablishment of the Formic race. It was said he looked for a long time.
- "A gripping tale of adventure in space and a scathing indictment of the military mind. Recommended."
- — Library Journal
- "Intense is the word for Ender's Game. 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... The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of 'games' .... Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games....He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?"
- — The New York Times
- "Ender's Game is a guaranteed crowd pleaser."
- — The Globe and Mail
- Winner of the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1985
- Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1986
- Nominated for a Locus Award in 1986