I think I spoke about Kindle Unlimited in a previous post so I won’t go into all of my negatives on it here as you can read about them in that post.  One good thing I will state about it though is that it does help to introduce you to new authors that you might not have read previously and one of these for me is Tim C. Taylor.  Tim has a bunch of books accessible on Kindle Unlimited and the first that I read was Marine Cadet.

In the not too distant future Earth was approached by an Alien Superpower.  In exchange for Earth’s survival, millions of children were sold into slavery to found the Marine Corps.  These “children” without any knowledge of Earth would change/grow and develop over the centuries to come into an enhanced race of warriors – and while most of their enemies see them as nothing more than cannon fodder with third rate weaponry and training, over time that changes.

Marine Cadet tells the story of a young 17 year old boy – Arun McEwan still in the early stages of his Marine training in strange and hostile universe.  We get introduced to several other aliens in this novel and also get a glimpse of Arun’s possible future as the leader of a human rebellion.  However the pace is somewhat slow – especially in comparison to books 2 & 3 – and it seems to take forever for anything of significance to happen.

While part of that is because we’re being introduced to the characters and the whole underlying story its been done better – Old Man’s War by John Scalzi for example has a similar theme.  However that’s probably my biggest gripe with the book to be honest.  The characters are interesting and you definitely want to see what happens to them in the future. You have your usual mix of characters – bellowing Marine Sergeants, bullying peers etc… – but the aliens are a good addition and Pedro especially is quite likeable.

Arun is different to the other marines and while his hormonal impulses do get annoying for an outsider to read, realizing that he is only 17 years old in the story helps to put them into perspective!  While some of the scenes with him are cringe inducing they somehow do make sense.  The idea of “Culling” while also cringe inducing (but for perhaps different reasons) makes sense in the context of this world and for that matter the way that human castoffs are treated by their overseers tends to reinforce this idea even more.

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"
Cover of Ender’s Game (Ender Quartet)

Weaponry and the suits that the Marine’s use, along with their inbuilt AI is not too far off by any means and don’t seem in any way to be magical.  Even the space drives while they don’t get into the specifics are not warp capable as travel between different stars requires the marines to go into a form of hypersleep for the duration of the journey.

There isn’t anything “new” introduced in this book, however Tim does make it work and while at times the pace can be a bit plodding (as mentioned above), the underlying development of Arun and the rest of his comrades does keep you coming back for more.  I think I’ve already alluded to the fact that this book is different to #2 and #3 – the primary difference being the pace so I’m very glad to see that Tim obviously took into account feedback from his readers.

The battles when they do finally arrive are written well and are extremely believable.  While there is some allusion to a game – similar to Ender’s Game and the mock battles played by the boys perhaps? – this is explored only peripherally and could have probably been expanded upon.  We get some insight into why Arun is so important but this book very much serves as a jumping off point for the volumes that follow as the conspiracy is only lightly touched upon here.

 

Overall recommendation –

By itself I probably wouldn’t recommend this book.  There are others that have the same or similar themes that are written better and have more interesting characters and content.  However taken as a whole – as part of a larger series which this is, yes I’d probably get it.  Especially if you can grab it for free as I did on Kindle Unlimited (well not really free, but you know what I mean).  It’s good enough to get you through to the end and books 2 and 3 are definitely more action packed.

In the not too distant future, mankind has barely survived two wars with an alien race – the Formics (also known as Buggers) – and the IF (International Fleet) has determined that it is time to take the battle to bugs!

Ender and the other genius children of Earth are taken into a training center known as Battle School.  Here they are put through rigorous physical and mental training in the form of games to prepare them for Command School and the eventual leadership of the fleet.  Ender’s Game – written by Orson Scott Card – is the story of Ender Wiggin (a third child in a world facing harsh population pressures) – the eventual leader and humanity’s greatest hope in their war with the Formics.  Its sequels, Ender in Exile, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind, follow Ender to different worlds as he travels far into the future.

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"
Cover of Ender’s Game (Ender Quartet)

Synopsis

In Ender’s Game, the Alien Formics (“Buggers”) have attacked humanity in two different campaigns and they were only beaten through the skills and abilities of one man.  Now he has grown old, very old and if Earth is to survive the expected follow up attack from the Buggers someone else is going to have to take the leadership of Earth’s forces and take the battle to the Buggers.

With the incipient threat of another battle looming over mankind, a tentative truce between  Earth’s nations has been declared.  Scientific progress in weapons and propulsion has been pursued with a single minded dedication and man now has the ability to travel at faster than light speeds and communicate with the fleets that it has dispatched.  Along with this ability, they have also developed some fairly astonishing weaponry  – all of it dedicated to the decimation of the Bugger race.  What they are lacking is the soldiers and commanders to make these weapons work and their solution is the formation of the Battle School and the International Fleet (IF) and a leader to command all of their fleets.

Beholden to no one nation, the IF is meant to be the arbiters of all nations equally and it is their responsibility to find Earth’s next champion.

This school in near Earth orbit functions as a training facility for the best and brightest of Earth’s children.  Students at Battle School are trained through a variety of different methods and games – the most important being the wars held between different armies for the control of the “stars”.

Ender Wiggin is approved for training at Battle School and upon departure to the facility he is immediately singled out by Commander Graff as being the smartest and most intelligent student – this causes the other students to dislike him which was Graff’s intent as he want Ender to survive by himself without depending upon anyone else.

Ender quickly gains the reputation of an elite soldier and becomes ranked top of all the soldiers in battle school. He seeks refuge from his isolation and frustration in various ways, though is unable to be comforted until his older sister Valentine writes a letter to him, reminding him of the reason he went to battle school in the first place.

Ender is quickly promoted to commander of a brand new Army in the school’s zero-gravity wargame league. He quickly molds his young soldiers into an unbeatable team despite being given what appears to be a completely inexperienced army. Ender implements never before heard of strategies and abolishes old methods including the use of formations in the battle room.

Ender is then promoted to Command School ahead of schedule. In command school, Ender is instructed in a game very similar to the Battle Room, only this time instead of commanding soldiers, he commands ships in a 3-D space battle. Each day the games become more and more grueling, and Ender is slowly worn down to exhaustion. Waking and sleeping blend together as Ender nearly loses his sanity, but he maintains his military brilliance.

Ender’s “final exam” consists of Ender’s forces outnumbered 1,000 to 1 near a planetary mass. When the planet is finally in range, Ender orders the use of a special weapon, Dr. Device, against the planet itself, destroying the simulated planet and all ships in orbit.

Ender makes this decision knowing that it is expressly against the respectable rules of the game, hoping that his teachers will find his ruthlessness unacceptable and remove him from command, and allow him to return home.

After he destroys the planet it is revealed to Ender that all the simulations were real battles taking place in Bugger space as the human ships sent long ago reached their destinations.

Ender realizes that he had just ordered the actual destruction of an entire race, and the guilt of the massacre forces him into a coma.

Ender is convinced, after his recovery, to leave on the first colony ship to another world. On his colony, Ender discovers an unborn Formic queen who can communicate with him through a psychic link. She tells him that her race was not aware that humans were sentient creatures. It was through their defeat in the Second Invasion that forced them to realize humanity’s true nature; and had resolved to never attack the Earth again. He decides to atone for his destruction of the Bugger race by finding a place to resurrect the queen, bringing the alien race back into existence. Ender writes a book under the pseudonym “Speaker for the Dead” entitled The Hive Queen, wherein he tells of the compassion and pain of the Bugger race. At Peter’s request he also writes The Hegemon to tell the truth of his brother’s troubled life.

Personal Thoughts

Ender’s Game is one of those books that you come back to over and over again – I know I’ve personally read it over a dozen times – each time finding something new in the character or the story or even just the whole way it all flows together.  Downtrodden boy genius that eventually saves everyone?  Yeah its been elsewhere … but no where as convincingly or as well as this book.  I’ve loved Ender’s Game each time I’ve read it and I know that I will come back to it again and again over the years ahead.

Character Growth & Development – 5/5

Ender is a great character but he’s not the only one in this book. Graff, Bean, Petra and even Peter and Valentine are all masterfully portrayed and described.  Each of the characters in Ender’s Game is well portrayed and even more importantly … believable.

Story Growth & Development – 5/5

One would hope that our first encounter with an alien race goes somewhat more smoothly than it has been portrayed in this universe, however the Buggers (Formics) are believable aliens and perhaps most importantly they truly deserve the word “alien” as they don’t even realize we are sentient!

Overall Rating – 10/10

One of the few books that I’ve ever rated this highly Ender’s Game in my eyes really does deserve this.  Its a book that I can never recommend enough and one that every SciFi buff should definitely own.

I’ve already written a review of the book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and to be honest it is one of my most favorite books … EVER.  I think that has to some extent colored my review of the movie which is perhaps unfortunate for those that haven’t read the book.  For those of you that have read the book and watched the movie – I’d be very curious to hear whether your thoughts on the film mirrored my own.

The “Buggers” win!

Cover of "Ender's Game (Ender Quartet)"
Cover of Ender’s Game (Ender Quartet)

I’ll start of by saying that for me, this movie is one that I have been waiting years for and perhaps because of this fact my expectations might have been a bit higher than the “average” movie goer. However with that being said, the overall consensus from others that I overheard at the end of Enders Game seems to match mine – and that consensus seems to be that they are disappointed.

I guess you could say that anyone who watches the movie the day before it officially premiers is by default a die-hard fan, and to some extent I do agree as based on some of the individuals that I saw at the theater … well lets just be kind and say that they fit the stereotype of a quintessential geek and nerd (not that there is anything wrong with that)!! While Ender’s Game tries to hit all of the high points of the book – the mind game, the MD Device etc… – it ignores completely or glosses over others in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience.

The biggest problem with Ender’s Game is not that its a bad movie … the issue is more along the lines that it is trying to appeal to everyone and by doing that its not really appealing to anyone! Fans will be disappointed, and to be honest non-fans and those new to the Enderverse will be confused as you need to read the book to really understand it.

The cast & story

In the not too distant future, Earth has been ravaged by an alien attack. The “buggers” or “Formics” are an insect like race that were only defeated by the actions of one individual – Mazer Rackham (played by Ben Kingsley). Mazer was able to detect a pattern in the attack of the Formic fleet and based on that pattern attack the one key ship directing the invasion. While Mazer saw this pattern, many other admirals and generals were unable to see the same thing and humanity came to quickly realize that the only way to survive a future invasion was by taking humanities best and brightest and educating them in war. The IF (International Fleet) was born.

Setting aside the internal strife and politics that had previously plagued humanity, the IF was formed to combat the Formic threat and to better protect humanity. Realizing quite quickly that the best generals and admirals for their needs were children – due to their ability to learn and assimilate information quickly – they set about creating an organization and structure that forced Earth’s best and brightest to provide them with their offspring for training.

Ender’s Game stars Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin. Ender is the third child in a world that frowns upon the over-consumption of resources (not really covered or discussed in the movie).

Ender was specifically requested by the IF (International Fleet) as his sister (Valentine Wiggin played by Abigail Breslin) was too empathetic and soft and his older brother (Peter Wiggin played by Jimmy ‘Jax’ Pinchak) was too violent. IF felt that while both Valentine and Peter were brilliant, they just weren’t a right fit for what they were trying to and they wouldn’t make suitable commanders … a “third” Wiggin child however might combine the traits of the other siblings and be exactly what humanity needs.

Blast Off!!

Its at this stage that the movie actually starts – Ender as a young child in school plays and defeats another child in a simulation. Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Gwen Anderson (Viola Davis) are monitoring Ender to see if he fits the model that they are attempting to achieve. Graff as the leader of Battle Shool determines that Ender is the “promised child” that he has been looking for and determines that they will accept him into the school.

I’ll skip over the whole buggers vs. astronauts game that Peter plays with Ender as while that’s in the book and serves to show Peter as a bully its not really relevant and is probably one of the parts that I would have cut! In addition, the scene where Ender fights and defeats his tormentor is something from the book, again this might be something that could have been addressed in the lead up vs. spending too much time onscreen on it.

Once Ender agrees to join Graff at Battle School he along with a group of “launchies” are blasted into space on their way to Battle School. One jarring note for me here is the introduction of Bean. For those that don’t know, Bean is a key character – and in fact in the Enderverse has several books of his own – however he doesn’t meet Ender in the shuttle, but rather later on as the story progresses. Unfortunately the whole interaction of Bean and Ender just doesn’t play right – for one thing the actor portraying him is too tall … while he’s shorter than the others, its not enough considering how he was portrayed in the book … and another, he’s simply not smart enough. We quickly learn that Ender is one of the smartest people on Earth – well for those of us in the know … Bean is smarter he just hides it!

Fight, Fight, Fight

Once on the shuttle, Graff quickly makes a point of demonstrating to the other launchies that Ender is the smartest one there, thereby serving to isolate him from the rest of his squad (again from the book & while I know Harrison Ford is not the best actor in the world, even he could have made it more believable!). Graff reiterates this point to Anderson once the shuttle docks at Battle School just to make sure that we all have received the message.

At Battle School Ender and the other launchies are quickly shown the game – this I have to admit was well done. Its not exactly how I envisioned it in my head, but they have transformed/created a very good looking piece that helped to train the young soldiers. Again however showing them this so soon after landing really felt like they’d missed out on so much more development – including Ender defeating some of the older boys at other simulations. The introduction of the Mind Game was also rushed as Ender does not attack the Giant after two failures, but rather after multiple, sustained failures and other stresses cause him to lash out. Here he is projected as a sadist which is not at all what his character is!

Ender moves on to Salamander army and is appropriately tormented for being the smallest there (except in the movie he’s not … Bonzo the commander of the army is smaller than Ender). Ender is given command of his own army (approx. 30min after joining Salamander again much too quickly) and his own soldiers to train. Ender’s training of his soldiers from the book and even the training Ender provided to the soldiers in other armies before he was given his own army is completely bypassed and skipped as is the respect that Ender earns from the other children (older and younger) aside from a salute from Sgt. Dap.

With regards to Ender and his army – it seems that they only fight one battle (when in reality Dragon army fights many to eventually dominate at Battle School) before Ender again confronts Bonzo and is shipped out to Command School.

I’ll stop here as while you might be interested in the battles at Command School and what happens to Ender, I’ll either let you read the book (or my review of the book) or watch the movie (would not recommend) to find that answer out. I would like to say that the only reason I was disappointed is that so much of what I was expecting and eagerly anticipating wasn’t there, but it really felt more like a hodge podge and a mess. I think that if they had perhaps cut and edited it better it might have been a better movie and one that I personally would have enjoyed significantly more. The only thing I can say is that if the Hobbit (one book) can be made into 3 separate movies, each 3+ hours long – they should have at least given this one movie 3 hours of screen time so that they could have given this amazing story the time it deserved.