I finished reading Ender's Game on Friday night. I've been meaning to read it for several years now, after many people had insisted that it's life-changingly good. Ultimately, I was disappointed. This book is fantastic, as far as the quality of writing goes. It's deeply engaging, believable, and vivid. I have no complaints to make about the quality of the book as a work of fiction. Everything that follows is why I was disappointed with it as a work of serious emotional significance. Review, including spoilers, below the fold.
The first thing that bothered me about Ender's Game was that it's a power fantasy. If I had read this book when I was little, I would probably have liked it a lot more, because it's all about children who are smarter than everyone else. But not just children -- There are books with some amazing children in them that make a lot more sense. The Hunger Games, for example, or Harry Potter. The difference between Ender's Game and these books is that, at his highest level of achievement, Ender is about twelve years old. He is frustratingly perfect, and reminded me frequently of the TVTropes entry, Cursed with Awesome.
The morality of the book, too, is all very cheaply convenient. Ender, of course, constantly struggles emotionally with the fact that he's super awesome and amazing at everything. I mean, the reason is that there are a bunch of adults trying to emotionally wreck him, but it's all for a good cause. Except that it's not, because (a.) the Buggers weren't coming back, and (b.) if it weren't for the intervention of Ender's sociopath older brother, the world would have descended into horrific violence as soon as the war was over. Humans in Ender's Game suck.
The whole thing reminded me very much of Ayn Rand -- the way that people get kind of fanatical about her. It's got roughly the same thesis: That super humans who are inherently better than everyone else are going to singlehandedly make the world a better place, acting entirely out of self-interest. Notably, the weakest of the three super humans, the one with the least agency, is Valentine, who is the most inherently caring towards other people.
Ender's Game takes this thesis to an absurd extreme with a handful of children who are smarter than everyone else, nearly smarter than everyone else combined -- but I think it's more problematic in the sense that it encourages the view that some people really are more valid, more special than others. It's the opening premise of fascism: some people, if given all the power, will make the world a better place.