In this series of posts, I will review a particular work that has helped to shape both who I am as a person and as a writer. I won’t be limiting these entries to just books, however; expect to see some of my favorite films and albums as well, plus a few that don’t easily fit into a such nice, neat categories. Inspiration comes in a variety of forms; I would hate to leave one out simply because it wasn’t the right type of medium.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the fun part.
Several science-fiction works have inspired me. It’s a fascinating genre that just doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Sure, there are cheesy sci-fi stories. There are also cheesy period pieces, cheesy love stories, cheesy teen vampire fiction (zing), and cheesy everything else. For those who don’t know me very well (and for some who do), it may come as a surprise that a great deal of the books I have read over the course of my life so far have been science-fiction and fantasy novels. I find them fascinating. In most other stories, the author chooses a setting, then creates characters and a plot. In sci-fi and fantasy, the author even has to create the setting. Whether set in this world some time in the future or on a completely different world, just the premise itself requires a stretch of the imagination.
Most authors are storytellers. Science-fiction and fantasy authors are world-builders.
I recently began a science-fiction story of my own, one that—like everything else—has been stalled by my 60-day manuscript project. However, once I am finished with that manuscript, I fully plan on going back and finishing the story. In it, I created a future world, along with new technology and culture to go with it. It is a simple story, complete with characters I would love to revisit down the road—definitely not a one-and-done deal. Then again, it seems nothing I write ever is. I love open endings—something that drives my wife nuts.
But enough with the fluff; let’s get to the novel.
Ender’s Game, upon first read, does not seem like it will be remarkable. You follow the story of a young boy who is selected to join an elite school designed to train future military commanders. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a third child in a world where third children are forbidden; from birth, he is an outcast.
As the novel continues, you find yourself drawn into the story and truly caring about the characters. You feel just as angry as Ender does when he is put in impossible situation after impossible situation. Supporting characters like Bean take on a little brother-type quality. By the book’s end, Ender and his friends are as familiar to you as your own childhood friends. And, if you’re like me, you even see parallels between them. I had my own Petra growing up, and I was certainly tormented by a Bonzo or two.
However, it was the end of the novel that shaped me the most.
Much like the previous Works That Shaped Me entry (Watchmen, which you can read about here), it was an ending that I did not see coming, regardless of how obvious it should have been at the time. Like many other fiction fans, I love a story with a good twist. And, as cliche as they have now become, I have always been and will always be a fan of the twist ending. And, like any other twist ending, the end of Ender’s Game made you completely rethink everything that had happened in the rest of the story. With that ending, the author conveyed many points that I feel are too often ignored in today’s world—the first and foremost being that our enemies are rarely who we think they are.
This book is one of those rare works that will withstand the test of time. It was written 25 years ago, and its themes of isolation, inspiration and betrayal resonate just as strongly as they did when it was first published. It has often been described as a “gateway” book—a story good enough to get even the snobbiest of readers to try a little sci-fi. And why not? A little sci-fi never hurt anyone, and I believe it’s helped me to become a better storyteller.
And yes, I’m aware of the controversy that tends to surround Orson Scott Card, but that’s not what this is about. If this book were written by any other author, I would love it just as much. Personal politics too often get in the way of appreciating a work of art. Frankly, I’m sick of it. I know all about his political opinions; they don’t change the fact that he wrote an amazing work of fiction.
With that, I highly recommend Ender’s Game. Whether you’re a science-fiction fan or a just another curious bookstore-browser, this is one gateway book you should definitely not pass up.