Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

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I used the cover I was used to for this book, growing up. It caught my eye because of how goofy it looked, and as a kid I wanted to see other kids in science fiction situations.

Honestly, Orson Scott Card’s most well-known book is one of my favorite books of all time, so it’s worth going through as a book review.

The main character is Ender Wiggin, a “third”. In this society parents are typically limited to two kids at a time. As a result, kids who are “thirds” are disrespected and treated poorly. Of note are his two siblings: Peter and Valentine. Peter is a kind of sadistic sociopath, while Valentine is a kind and loving person.

The story starts with Ender being tested for his capabilities. He is enrolled in battle school to learn to fight the “buggers”, aliens who apparently attacked Earth long ago, and Ender does progressively well. There’s a cast of interesting characters from across the planet (this was released in 1985, and one of the characters is from the Soviet Union). Of note are the zero gravity games, and their mechanics. Then, the twist at the end is widely regarded as one of the best in science fiction.

Critical reception was fairly positive. The novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a rare achievement.

I think my only problems with the novel have to do with the characters. Ender is interesting enough, but Peter is purely evil and Valentine purely good. I always hated that. Real people aren’t like that, and maybe you can argue that from Ender’s perspective that was the case, but Peter should have had something redeemable about him.

Likewise, I take issue to the 3/4 mark in the book, when Ender is established at battle school and they start to throw whatever they can at him to beat him. At that point it felt like there was little to no tension. Then, moving him to another kind of school with other characters felt pointless (at first). There was no tension in the simulated fights, because they were simulated to the character. He wasn’t risking anything by fighting simulations.

Overall, I hope you don’t take away that I dislike this book. It’s honestly one of the best science fiction books I’ve ever read. I have recommended it to friends who aren’t into science fiction and they loved it. It isn’t perfect, by any means.

(NOTE: Card himself has come to be something of a pariah in the science fiction community. I have no interest in his political opinions, and as such am reviewing this purely on the book’s merits. However, I think context is important: Card is a devout Mormon. As such, he has taken the Mormon position on homosexuality and gay marriage, and though I may disagree with him, I won’t burn his books because of it. )

Once again, I highly recommend Ender’s Game for anyone who is interested in science fiction.


 

Check out my other reviews!

Book Review: “The Lost Fleet” Series by Jack Campbell

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Also check out my posts on writing:

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

When To Completely Rewrite

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Book Review: Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson

51z12b6hxbelIt’s hard to give Freehold a fair review, mostly because it’s completely clothed in the philosophy of its titular colony. Freehold is a colony of libertarian-minded gun-toting individualists with lack of modesty. The majority of the book is introducing the values and beliefs of Freehold (or at least Jefferson, the main city in the novel) to the reader.

The main character is Kendra, who is on the run from Earth due to a scandal in her logistics unit in the UN military. She flees to the only place she can go to escape extradition, which in this case is Freehold.

There are two other main characters, but Marta seems to take the focus after a fashion. She is an escort/prostitute (libertarian society, remember?) and makes a ton of money in the process. She and Kendra grow closer until they become lovers. The other main character is Rob, a pilot with the Freehold military, who shows Kendra the ropes.

All in all the story lulls in the first half, mostly becoming an explanation of the culture of Freehold and the differences between it and the UN. The UN is portrayed as a diplomatic bureaucracy that hurts individual rights for collective charity and “the good of the many”.

[SPOILERS AHEAD]

The story picks up in the second half with the UN invading Freehold, for no real good reason. There was never an explanation as to why the invasion occurred except that the UN and Freehold were very different in their worldviews. That never made sense to me because a bureaucracy would hesitate to initiate a war due to how bad it makes them look politically.

There is also a prevalence of sexual violence in the book. Earth is portrayed as having crime problems while Freehold does not, presumably because of the abundance of firearms that nearly 70% of the population openly carries. On Earth sexual violence against women is common and something the Freehold women are not used to worrying about. When both of the female characters are captured by UN soldiers they are violated and wounded emotionally as a result. A good four to five chapters deal with them getting over their trauma.

I wouldn’t say this is a great book, but it was well-written and interesting. I like the idea of a difference in philosophy driving a war, and two cultures being so similar but very different. I would recommend it if military science fiction is your thing, since that’s what it becomes by the end.

 

Book Review: One Day on Mars by Travis S. Taylor

I was introduced to Travis S. Taylor thanks to his work with John Ringo. He had co-written Vorpal Blade with Ringo, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Let me start out with what I really liked: I loved the setting. The idea of a Mars rebellion against US rule mirrored the Revolutionary War perfectly. I also loved that the science was sound. Given Taylor’s physicist past it makes sense.

S950226enator Moore was an interesting character, and I would have liked him to be more developed before putting him in a scenario like this. Sure, the character was explored as he went on and the events shaped how we perceived him, but background to his character was thrown in randomly as he went on.

Another character I really liked was BIL, the garbage hauler. He was interesting and endearing, and I feel like he could have been used better. Ultimately, he was a fun addition to a story riddled with characters.

 

Unfortunately, there was a lot I didn’t like.

The Separatists were painted more as terrorists than anything, and did inhumane and barbaric acts in order for the reader to have a clear sense of what was right or wrong. Shades of grey would have been more interesting, but sometimes it’s not important. Here, it was glaringly obvious and missing. The ending sort of explained why, but not really and felt tacked on.

That also brings me to something I didn’t like: the main enemy General Ahmi. She was wholly undeveloped and mostly uninteresting. I hope she’s developed more in the later books, but in this one she was an “insert bad guy character here”.

Also long stretches of action in the bellies of the carriers kind of halted the story and felt extraneous. I didn’t find them interesting and felt like all the good stuff was missing in those stretches.

 

If it feels like I’m being harsh it’s because Vorpal Blade was so good to me. I can lend it to One Day being a solo venture, and most likely Taylor will improve in the later stories. Also I should note my version had several spelling errors and grammatical issues. I’m not a stickler for that stuff, but it does hit me when I’m reading a book that should have gone through editing.

All in all I would recommend this book, especially if you love what Baen cooks up for military science fiction. It was a good book, but could have been great.

Book Review: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

onbasiliskstationDavid Weber’s On Basilisk Station is widely considered a masterpiece of military science fiction. The main character Honor Harrington is very much a sprout from the same seed as Hornblower, and the setting is a rich and interesting one.

As far as the story goes, the novel explores Honor Harrington, a Captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy, an imperialist and aristocratic institution. Honor and her crew are assigned to Basilisk Station, a dead-end job of sorts, but while there discover a plot that they intervene in.

The space action is well-written and the political situation is explored robustly, but I feel like this book needed to develop some of the ideas it had before actually implementing them. In some cases, entire ideas in the technology and strategies employed were introduced the chapter before they were used (this is a problem of writing I see in MSF as a genre).

That’s not to say that the book isn’t remarkable. Weber is a skilled writer, and Honor is a fascinating character. I know she isn’t as developed in this book as I would have liked, but this is a series and likely intended to be one from the start.

If you like books like that, you will like On Basilisk Station.