Ender's Game (1985) is the best-known novel by Orson Scott Card, set in a future where mankind is facing annihilation by an alien society, the insectoid "Formics"—more commonly referred to by the pejorative, "buggers." Having barely survived two separate Bugger invasions, humanity is obliged to accept the rule of a heavy-handed hegemony and select children are sent into military training at a very young age to supply commanders for their fleets in hopes of surviving a projected third invasion. Ender is chosen as one of these children.
The book originated as a science fiction novelette in Analog magazine (1977) and Card later expanded the novel into the Enderverse, dealing with the long-term results of the war.
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 begins as Ender Wiggin is getting his Monitor removed. Andrew Wiggin (Ender) is a brilliant six-year-old boy, born as a third child in the United States that only permits families of two children each, thus his very existence required permission from the government. He has been closely watched for years and with his monitor removed, he goes back to school .At the end of the first school day after the removal of his monitor, the bullies of the school begin teasing and mildly attacking him for it. In response and to defend himself, Ender beats 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 returns to his home, the reader meets Ender's oldest brother Peter and his older sister Valentine. Both Peter and Valentine are geniuses as well, but while Valentine loves Ender, Peter enjoys teasing and almost torturing him.
Ender is put on a shuttle to fly up to Battle School , which is actually located in a space station orbiting the Earth. After some initial difficulties with his launch group created by Colonel Hyrum Graff, Ender becomes friends with Alai, who becomes the leader of the launch group. However, Ender is quickly transferred into Salamander Army, whose commander is Bonzo Madrid . Bonzo refuses to allow Ender to participate in battles, but Petra Arkanian helps Ender learn basic combat skills. Bonzo's refusal to allow Ender to participate and Ender's own actions cause him to become the highest ranked soldier in Battle School; which helps Bonzo transfer Ender to Rat Army. Ender is placed in Dink Meeker's toon. The elder Dink begins to look after Ender. Meanwhile, Ender's psychological development is monitored by the "Fantasy Game", a complex computer game embedded in the school's computer system.
Meanwhile, his two siblings Valentine and Peter continue their own unique lives. Every bit as intelligent as their brother, but of differing temperaments, they begin to integrate themselves into the political discussions on the newsnets (which presaged the modern-day Internet and may have been inspired by Usenet, known by many of its early users as netnews). Starting as anonymous unknowns, they begin to earn respect from the international community by presenting insightful political analysis. Eventually, they adopt the personas Locke and Demosthenes, Peter writing Locke, the peaceful compromise-oriented writer, and Valentine being forced to write Demothenes, a rabble-rouser. Both personas begin to gain international status.
Ender goes through his classes quickly and is soon given his own army, Dragon Army, which is supposedly cursed. He does not personally know any of his soldiers, and they are all launchies (new students) or are soldiers that other commanders are trying to trade away. Ender organizes his army strangely, having five toons of eight rather than four toons of ten, and having each toon split into two sub toons. He teaches his army that the enemy's gate is 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. They fight often and win each battle.
Because of the pressure the teachers place on him, Ender gives up command to Bean and turns the rules of the Battle Room on its head: the winning condition of the battle is technically not to wipe out the enemy but rather for five soldiers to activate the opposing team's entry door (the "Gate"). Ender realizes he doesn't necessarily need to accomplish the former to win by the latter; he allows his army to be slaughtered in order to sneak 5 soldiers in to the gate, thus winning the battle. He is then promoted to Command School by the teachers, who do not realize that Ender has given up on the game, but first is allowed to go home on a short leave. Not wanting to see his family, he is kept isolated from everyone at a small lake in the woods. He builds a raft and spends his time alone in contemplation and self-resentment. The IF, worried that he will not cooperate with them due to his now lack of interest, sends Graff to meet with Valentine after school. She is reluctant to trust him again, but he convinces her by stating how he knows Demosthenes's true identity. Graff takes her to the mansion by a lake where Ender was staying. Valentine, during her visit, reminds him why he is fighting: to preserve the human race, with its connections like his to her.
After these three months spent in self-contemplation, Ender moves on to Command School, almost six years early, to learn to combat the Buggers in space instead of being restricted to the more abstract training games. He is taught by Mazer Rackham, the genius behind the previous human success against the buggers, and the first man to realize that the Formics are actually a hive mind (see group mind (science fiction)). There has been no way of communicating with the buggers, and they have shown no inclination to spare humanity their wrath; thus, plans for an invasion have been underway, and it is the command of this invasion that Ender is being trained for. Fortunately, he will be augmented by a cadre of his best friends (and the best commanders) from Battle School, including Alai, Petra, Dink, and Bean; Ender assigns them to individual flights or squadrons of ships while he remains in overall charge.
Once the team has meshed, the training begins, this time against Mazer Rackham. Ender and his "dream team" begin to fight ever-more-challenging battles, in which his team must frequently fight with outmoded hardware, and the enemy frequently outnumbers them and quickly learns to adapt to Ender's tactics—even the ones that won yesterday's battle. Ender also begins to be plagued by mysterious nightmares which interrupt his sleep. Fatigued in mind and body, his team slowly succumbing to exhaustion, Ender begins to lose hope.
In Ender's final exam before graduating from Command School, he and his team find themselves in possession of a small fleet, approaching a planet that is literally swarming with Bugger ships, outnumbering his own force a thousand to one. Ender, by now, has had enough of being manipulated by the adults, and decides to flunk out of Command School—a true victory. He duplicates his final battle at Battle School and uses the Molecular Disruption Device to destroy the planet around which the Bugger fleet is orbiting (taking the surrounding fleet with it), demonstrating that he is far too ruthless to be trusted with command of an actual battle fleet.
However, when the simulation ends, Ender discovers that the "audience" watching his "final exam" is now in jubilation and delight. Rackham and Graff tell Ender that he has not been playing a game, and had never played against Rackham, but instead has been commanding real ships across interstellar distances; this task was made possible via the ansible, a form of instantaneous communication making use of Philotic Energy. This technology was discovered following the Second Bugger War, as the method of telepathic communication the Buggers used was reverse engineered. He has just commanded the fleet attacking the Buggers' home planet, and destroyed the entire race once and for all.
When Ender learns that he has been playing a game with real peoples' lives, he lapses into four days of exhausted depression, completely void of reality, drifting in and out of sleep. Feeling the full weight of the deaths he has caused, made heavier by his apparent love and respect of the Buggers, developed over his interaction with them, he refuses to respond to anyone for a time, until conflict breaks out at the command center. Immediately after the end of the Bugger War, the Hegemony falls apart and war breaks out on Earth in a dispute about who gains control of Ender. The battle lasts all of five days, but the impact is clear: Ender cannot return to Earth because he would simply be used as a tool of the dominant government on Earth, eventually led by Ender's older brother, Peter Wiggin. Fearing for Ender, his sister Valentine Wiggin blackmails Peter 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 bugger planet.
Ender's fame quickly wears off, but is replaced with the respect of the colonists traveling with him. Only years later, after the colony is built and Valentine has written a seven-book history of the Formic Wars, does Ender discover something that the buggers 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 the Command School. Using those images, the buggers built a large scene directly taken from the Fantasy Game at the Battle School. Following the steps from the Fantasy Game, Ender discovers the surprise the buggers left for him: their last surviving queen, in pupal form. The pupa is able to communicate telepathically with Ender, who learns that the Buggers' previous killings of humans had rested on the mistaken notion that humans were not sentient, and once the Buggers realized their mistake, they resolved not to attack humans again. Thus, the invasion and extermination of the Buggers was not necessary to defend Earth.
Ender writes about the buggers from their perspective. He calls the book The Hive-Queen and signs it 'Speaker for the Dead'. After the book becomes famous, Peter Wiggin realizes that Ender wrote it and asks Ender to write a similar book presenting Peter's rights and wrongs in life. The result is The Hegemon. These two books become the seeds of a new semi-religion and profession (speaking for the dead).
Eventually, Ender takes the cocoon and leaves the colony with his sister, seeking a planet suitable for the redevelopment of the Bugger race. It is 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