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Authors: Orson Scott Card

1 Ender's Game

BOOK: 1 Ender's Game
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Ender's Game





For Geoffrey,

who makes me remember

how young and how old

children can be












The Giant’s Drink



Locke and Demosthenes


Veni Vidi Vici



Ender’s Teacher

Speaker for the Dead





Portions of this book were recounted in my first published science fiction story, “Ender's Game,” in the August 1977 Analog, edited by Ben Boya; his faith in me and this story are the foundation of my career.

Harriet McDougal of Tor is that rarest of editors--one who understands a story and can help the author make it exactly what he meant it to be.  They don't pay her enough.  Harriet's task was made more than a little easier, however, because of the excellent work of my resident editor, Kristine Card. I don't pay her enough, either.

I am grateful also to Barbara Boya, who has been my friend and agent through thin and, sometimes, thick; and to Tom Doherty, my publishers who let me talk him into doing this book at the ABA in Dallas, which shows either his' superb judgment or how weary one can get at a convention.



It makes me a little uncomfortable, writing an introduction to Ender's Game.  After all, the book has been in print for six years now, and in all that time, nobody has ever written to me to say, “You know, Ender's Game was a pretty good book, but you know what it really needs?  An introduction!” And yet when a novel goes back to print for a new hardcover edition, there ought to be something new in it to mark the occasion (something besides the minor changes as I fix the errors and internal contradictions and stylistic excesses that have bothered me ever since the novel first appeared).  So be assured-the novel stands on its own, and if you skip this intro and go straight to the story, I not only won't stand in your way, I'll even agree with you!

The novelet “Ender's Game” was my first published science fiction.  It was based on an idea--the Battle Room--that came to me when I6 was sixteen years old. I had just read Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy, which was (more or less) an extrapolation of the ideas in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, applied to a galaxy-wide empire in some far future time.

The novel set me, not to dreaming, but to thinking, which is Asimov's most extraordinary ability as a fiction writer.  What would the future be like?  How would things change?  What would remain the same?  The premise of Foundation seemed to be that even though you might change the props and the actors, the play of human history is always the same.  And yet that fundamentally pessimistic premise (you mean we’ll never change?) was tempered by Asimov's idea of a group of human beings who, not through genetic change, but through learned skills, are able to understand and heal the minds of other people.

It was an idea that rang true with me, perhaps in part because of my Mormon upbringing and beliefs: Human beings may be miserable specimens, in the main, but we can learn, and, through learning, become decent people.

Those were some of the ideas that played through my mind as I read Foundation, curled on my bed--a thin mattress on a slab of plywood, a bed my father had made for me--in my basement bedroom in our little rambler on 650 East in Orem, Utah.  And then, as so many science fiction readers have done over the years, I felt a strong desire to write stories that would do for others what Asimov's story had done for me.

In other genres, that desire is usually expressed by producing thinly veiled rewrites of the great work: Tolkien's disciples far too often simply rewrite Tolkien, for example.  In science fiction, however, the whole point is that the ideas are fresh and startling and intriguing; you imitate the great ones, not by rewriting their stories, but. rather by creating stories that are just as startling and new.

But new in what way?  Asimov was a scientist, and approached every field of human knowledge in a scientific manner--assimilating data, combining it in new and startling ways, thinking through the implications of each new idea. I was no scientist, and unlikely ever to be one, at least not a real scientist--not a physicist, not a chemist, not a biologist, not even an engineer. I had no gift for mathematics and no great love for it, either.  Though I relished the study of logic and languages, and virtually inhaled histories and biographies, it never occurred to me at the time that these were just as valid sources of science fiction stories as astronomy or quantum mechanics'

How, then, could I possibly conic up with a science fiction idea?  What. did I actually know about anything?

At that time my older brother Bill was in the army, stationed at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City; he was nursing a hip-to-heel cast from a bike-riding accident, however, and came home on weekends. It was then that he had met his future wife, Laura Dene Low, while attending a church meeting on the BYU campus; and it was Laura who gave me Foundation to read.  Perhaps, then, it was natural for my thoughts to turn to things military.

To me, though, the military didn't mean the Vietnam War, which was then nearing its peak of American involvement. I had no experience of that, except for Bill's stories of the miserable life in basic training, the humiliation of officer's candidate school, and his lonely but in many ways successful life as a noncom in Korea.  Far more deeply rooted in my mind was my experience, five or six years earlier, of reading Bruce Catton's three-volume Army of the
Potomac. I remembered so well the stories of the commanders in that war--the struggle to find a Union general capable of using McClellan's magnificent army to defeat Lee and Jackson and Stuart, and then, finally, Grant, who brought death to far too many of his soldiers, but also made their deaths mean something, by grinding away at Lee, keeping him from dancing and maneuvering out of reach.  It was because of Catton's history that I had stopped enjoying chess, and had to revise the rules of Risk in order to play it--I had come to understand something of war, and not just because of the conclusions Catton himself had reached. I found meanings of my own in that history.

I learned that history is shaped by the use of power, and that different people, leading the same army, with, therefore, approximately the same power, applied it so differently that the army seemed to change from a pack of noble fools at Fredericksburg to panicked cowards melting away at Chancellorsville, then to the grimly determined, stubborn soldiers who held the ridges at Gettysburg, and then, finally, to the disciplined, professional army that ground Lee to dust in Grant's long campaign.  It wasn't the soldiers who changed.  It was the leader.  And even though I could not then have articulated what I understood of military leadership, I knew that I did understand it. I understood, at levels deeper than speech, how a great military leader imposes his will on his enemy, and makes his own army a willing extension of himself.

So one morning, as my Dad drove me to Brigham Young High School along Carterville Road in the heavily wooded bottoms of the Provo River, I wondered: How would you train soldiers for combat in the future?  I didn't bother thinking of new land-based weapons systems--what was on my mind, after Foundation, was space.  Soldiers and commanders would have to think very differently in space, because the old ideas of up and down simply wouldn't apply anymore. I had read in Nordhoffs and Hall's history of World War I flying that it was very hard at first for new pilots to learn to look above and below them rather than merely to the right and left, to find the enemy approaching them in the air.  How much worse, then, would it be to learn to think with no up and down at all?

The essence of training is to allow error without consequence.  Three-dimensional warfare would need to be practiced in an enclosed space, so mistakes wouldn't send trainees flying off to Jupiter.  It would need to offer a way to practice shooting without risk of injury; and yet trainees who were “hit” would need to be disabled, at least temporarily.  The environment would need to be changeable, to simulate the different conditions of warfare--near a ship, in the midst of debris, near tiny asteroids.  And it would need to have some of the confusion of real battle, so that the play-combat didn't evolve into something as rigid and formal as the meaningless marching and maneuvers that still waste an astonishing amount of a trainee's precious hours in basic training in our modem military.

The result of my speculations that morning was the Battle Room, exactly as you will see it (or have already seen it) in this book.  It was a good idea, and something like it will certainly be used for training if ever there is a manned military in space. (Something very much like it has already been used in various amusement halls throughout America.)

But, having thought of the Battle Room, I hadn't the faintest idea of how to go about turning the idea into a story.  It occurred to me then for the first time that the idea of the story is nothing compared to the importance of knowing how to find a character and a story to tell around that idea. Asimov, having had the idea of paralleling The Decline and
Fall, still had no story; his genius--and the soul of the story--came when he personalized his history, making the psychohistorian Hari Seldon the god-figure, the planmaker, the apocalyptic prophet of the story. I had no such character, and no idea of how to make one.

Years passed. I graduated from high school as a junior (just in time--Brigham Young High School was discontinued with the class of 1968) and went on to Brigham Young University. I started there as an archaeology major, but quickly discovered that doing archaeology is unspeakably boring compared to reading die books by Thor Heyerdahl (Aku-Aku, Kon-Tiki), Yigael Yadin (Masada), and James Michener (The Source) that had set me dreaming. Potsherds!  Better to be a dentist than to spend your life trying to put together fragments of old pottery in endless desert landscapes in the Middle East.

By the time I realized that not even the semi-science of archaeology was for someone as impatient as me, I was already immersed in my real career.  At the time, of course, I misunderstood myself: I thought I was in theatre because I loved performing.  And I do love performing don't get me wrong.  Give me an audience and I'll hold onto them as long as I can, on any subject.  But I'm not a good actor, and theatre was not to be my career.  At the time, though, all I cared about was doing plays.  Directing them.  Building sets. and making costumes and putting on makeup for them.

And, above all, rewriting those lousy scripts. I kept thinking, Why couldn't the playwright hear how dull that speech was?  This scene could so easily be punched up and made far more effective.

Then I tried my hand at writing adaptations of novels for a reader's theatre class, and my fate was sealed. I was a playwright.

People came to my plays and clapped at the end. I learned--from actors and from audiences--how to shape a scene, how to build tension, and--above all--the necessity of being harsh with your own material, excising or rewriting anything that doesn't work. I learned to separate the story from the writing, probably the most important thing that any storyteller has to learn--that there are a thousand right ways to tell a story, and ten million wrong ones, and you're a lot more likely to find one of the latter than the former your first time through the tale.

My love of theatre lasted through my mission for the LDS Church.  Even while I was in São Paulo, Brazil, as a missionary, I wrote a play called Stone Tables about the relationship between Moses and Aaron in the book of Exodus, which had standing-room-only audiences at its premiere (which I didn't attend, since I was still in Brazil!).

At the same time, though, that original impetus to write science fiction persisted.

I had taken fiction writing courses at college, for which I don't think I ever wrote science fiction.  But on the side, I had started a series of stories about people with psionic powers (I had no idea this was a sci-fi cliché at the time) that eventually grew into The Worthing Saga. I had even sent one of the stories off to Analog magazine before my mission, and on my mission I wrote several long stories in the same series (as well as a couple of stabs at mainstream stories).

 In all that time, the Battle Room remained an idea in the back of my mind.  It wasn't until 1975, though, that I dusted it off and tried to write it. By then I had started a theatre company that managed to do reasonably well during the first summer and then collapsed under the weight of bad luck and bad management (myself) during the fall and Winter. I was deeply in debt on the pathetic salary of an editor at BYU Press.  Writing was the only thing I knew how to do besides proofreading and editing.  It was time to get serious about writing something that might actually earn some money--and, plainly, playwriting wasn't going to be it.

I first rewrote and sent out “Tinker,” the first Worthing story I wrote and the one that was still most effective. I got a rejection letter from Ben Bova at Analog, pointing out that “Tinker” simply didn't feel like science fiction--it felt like fantasy.  So the Worthing stories were out for the time being.

What was left?  The old Battle Room idea.  It happened one spring day that a friend of mine, Tammy Mikkelson, was taking her boss's children to the circus in Salt Lake City; would I like to come along?  I would.  And since there was no ticket for me (and I've always detested the circus anyway--the clowns drive me up a wall), I spent the hours of the performance out on the lawn of the Salt Palace with a notebook on my lap, writing “Ender's Game” as I had written all my plays, in longhand on narrow-ruled paper. “Remember,” said Ender.  “The enemy's gate is down.”

BOOK: 1 Ender's Game
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