Defense guest movie critic
only four military science fiction (sci-fi) stories which consistently get
mentioned as must reads in the ‘military' world. I've ordered them in my
assessment of precedence: Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and the
less-known but still significant Armor by John Steakley. All of these books are
notable because they don't labor long over the actual combat. Instead these
books focus on the characters/soldiers who spend much time in preparation and
then briefly engage in combat -- and what happens afterwards. It's the
humanity, frailties, and ethical questions which propel each of these stories.
Ender's Game was one of Card's first successful efforts as
an author. First published as an award-winning short story in 1977, the book
won Hugo (1986) and Nebula (1985) awards for best sci-fi novel. The book
birthed a successful series following Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and one of his key
lieutenants, Bean. The book was added to military reading lists (e.g. the Marine Corps 2011) and a previous
edition included in its foreword a letter written by an Army aviator.
spoiling the story, Ender's Game is primarily about how
a child, "Ender" Wiggin, is selected to attend a futureworld military academy
because of his intellectual prowess and no-nonsense morality. Through several
years of preparation, Ender is trained to kill and to lead fellow children and
an international fleet against an interstellar insectoid race (the Formics or
"Buggers"). This war is couched as a struggle for survival, and Ender becomes
the prototypical ‘last hope' for mankind.
much to enjoy and contemplate in Ender's
Game. The obvious first ‘physical' layers include boot camp training,
collective training, fingerspitzengefuhl understanding of a
three-dimensional tactical battlefield and the use of virtual training/simulation
for Ender and the other trainees. Then there's another ‘mental' layer of
philosophy, politics, and power struggles -- which primarily occur back on
Earth. Finally, for me, the most compelling questions arise from the
‘moral/ethical' aspects of the story.
These aspects include: the use of deception, the misunderstandings that
drive the story and the war against the Buggers, the leadership and
philosophical quandaries (e.g. utilitarian use of children for their innocence,
cultivating hatred and violence, employment of genocide as an ‘only'
alternative, among others) posed.
for the movie, this is the screen foray of a book ‘they' (including Card) said couldn't be filmed -- but ‘they'
say that a lot. I've had worries since the first trailers were released.
actual movie does just an okay job of balancing its desire to provide popcorn entertainment while suggesting tough
questions without really delving into them. Unfortunately, concessions for time and
(likely) the need for a PG-13 rating ultimately undermine the movie. The movie
cycles far too quickly through events. It also infers too much in the
relationships Ender and those who surround him enjoy. In the book, Colonel
Graff is, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than an epic taskmaster
and Machiavellian. In the movie, Harrison Ford's Graff enjoys Ender's progress
a bit too much. There's far too much smiling. Likewise, Ender's relationship
with another older child, Petra, is almost distorted into a budding romance in
the movie. This is sure to please the teen audience, but undermines the
desperate nature of what transpires in the book. Which leads me to the most
critical error in the movie.
the end of the book, Ender is exhausted and desperate. He just wants the
'training' to be over. Ender's team, which he communicates with but does not
see (unlike in the movie where they are all co-located), is similarly
exhausted. The long isolation and never-ending battles take its toll on all of
the children. When Ender contemplates an unthinkable act, he asks for guidance
from his instructors. This is the penultimate moment in the book, and its
omission in the movie is really tragic. Ender does get a good line though; he
recognizes that "the way we win" is as important as winning in the
Generally, the movie was just a few degrees off,
but (as any orienteer would know) that course miscalculation ends up at a much
different place than the intended destination. The movie concentrates almost exclusively
on the 'physical' at the expense of the 'mental' and the 'moral.' The film
hints at the current zeitgeist questions
of the morality of drone warfare, the importance of the
Internet as a medium, and network centric warfare. But ultimately a
great book comes out as something much less on the screen. I highly recommend
the book but can only give a marginal rating to the movie. Rent it.
Much has been made of Card's politics. I've ignored them as irrelevant to the
merits/demerits of the book(s) and now movie.]
frequent commenter on Best Defense, is a combat arms Army Reserve Component colonel
and something of a sci-fi buff. He believes himself to be nowhere as warm
and approachable as Harrison Ford's Colonel Graff.