Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (Comparing Versions)

Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardSummary: A comparison of the difference in storyline between Ender’s Game and Ender’s Game Alive.

After I listened to Ender’s Game Alive last week (a radio-styled audio drama) I decided to re-read Ender’s Game in print.

Ender’s Game is a story that has had lots of versions.  It was originally a short story.  Then Card expanded it into a full length book.  Then Card revised it to the ‘Author’s Definitive Version’.  And now there is Ender’s Game Alive and the Ender’s Game movie.

In addition there have been a number of short stories that have expanded on scenes from the book or provided background.  There is a whole book that was falls between the last two chapters of Ender’s Game and a whole series that starts by telling this same story from a different character’s perspective.

So when I listened to Ender’s Game Alive and commented on my disappointment with the abridgement I got a little push back.  I was going to re-read Ender’s Game anyway.  But I read it with an eye to see the places that were handled differently.

Having read both within a couple days of each other, I agree, Ender’s Game Alive is really a different version of the story more than an abridgement.  But I stand by the fact that I think it does not give enough character development to Ender.  (Stop reading now if you don’t want any spoilers.)

My short list (not complete) of areas where Ender’s Game is different than Ender’s Game Alive is:

  • Colonel Graff (head of Battle School) has the assistance of a psychologist in Ender’s Game Alive.  This is a nice addition to the story because it allows us to see behind Graff’s understanding of Ender.
  • Throughout Ender’s Game Alive the aliens are usually referred to as Formics, the proper name.  But throughout Ender’s Game they are more often referred to as Buggers, a derogatory name.  In a similar vein Ender’s Game has several racial epithets that are not used in polite society.  In context they are either self referential or used kindly.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if they are edited out in a future version (and they are not used in Ender’s Game Alive).
  • Bean is a very different character in the initial Ender’s Game book than he has become.  Mostly because he is the subject of the Endow’s Shadow book, but also in Ender’s Game Alive.  In the original Ender’s Game he is bright, cocky and became very good because of Ender’s mentoring.  In Ender’s Game Alive and Ender’s Shadow, Bean is the one that puts together the list of Dragon Army, many of whom become the main leaders of the invasion fleet.  On this one I am torn.  I like the development of Bean in the original book.  But I also like the development of Bean, given the much longer details allowed in Ender’s Shadow.  But in Ender’s Game Alive, the shorted detail on Bean makes Bean seem to be in most ways greater than Ender.  Alive (and Shadow) says that Bean was the second option to command the invasion fleet.  But in the original Ender’s Game, Bean is only able to command a small group well.  He is brilliant, but almost autistic in his emotional intelligence.  So it is Alai that Ender suggests could be his replacement to Graff.
  • The Fantasy Game (or Giant’s Game) has also taken on a much greater role since the original Ender’s Game conception.  With Ender in Exile, several of the short stories, and the later books in the Ender Series we know that the Fantasy Game became a real sentient being (Jane), and one of Ender’s best friends. But in Ender’s Game it is used by the Formic Queens to understand Ender, a bit of espionage. It is also the occation where there are good discussions between Graff and the psychologist in Ender’s Game Alive, but there are whole sections of the game that are either compressed together or left out in Alive.
  • The final fight scene with Bonzo is very different (and I think less convincing) in Alive.  One of the complaints about Ender’s Game is that Ender is too perfect.  He knows too much, he plans too far ahead.  And the fight scene in Ender’s Game Alive feeds into that.  In Alive, Ender has drawn Bonzo to the showers.  He has intentionally soaped up and turned on the steam and knew that he would be able to get Bonzo to fight him alone.  But in the original Ender’s Game, Ender was exhausted and near breaking.  Bonzo and his friends found him alone.  Dink came in to warn him too late and one of the reasons (other than Bonzo’s honor) that the friends did not participate in attacking Ender is that they were holding back Dink and watching out for teachers.  Once Bonzo was there, then Ender had to react, he turned on more showers to create more steam and he used the only weapons he had (his invocation of Bonzo’s honor to fight him alone and the soap to make himself slippery.)
  • In Ender’s Game Alive, Ender starts watching and editing the video of the 2nd Formic war himself at Battle School.  And Mazer Rackham changes from having a small attack force to being a freighter captain that took one shot against orders.  In Ender’s Game Alive it is Graff on the trip to Eros that shows the videos and explains Mazer’s role.  Again in Alive, Ender is ever more insightful and brilliant because he has figured out that there is an invasion fleet before being told.  While in original Ender’s Game Graff tells him during their trip to Eros.
  • One of the good changes about Ender’s insight in Alive is that he spends his time in Eros exploring the Formic created tunnels and gains insight into their psychology because of it.  That is not so much Ender’s great brain, but his empathic ability to understand his enemy.  Also in Alive, Ender is self aware enough to actually tell Bean that you must love your enemy to defeat them.
  • In the original Ender’s Game, when Valentine visits Ender, he kills a wasp to protect her.  That is a sign of his preemption, that you must kill them before they kill you.  But in Ender’s Game Alive, the preemption is still there, but Ender also has the insight that wasps fly in patterns that in combination with the tunnels Ender uses to predict Formic flight paths.
  • Dr Device is used very differently between the two edition of the story.  In the original book every ship has Dr Device (an super weapon that disrupts atoms and essentially dissolves anything in its path) which forces the Formics to fight further apart from one another and makes it difficult for the Queens to control so many ships.  Dr Device is used frequently throughout the battles, but it changes the Formic strategies.  In Ender’s Game Alive he is told that it can only be used one time because Formics would then predict its use.  So the Dr Device becomes more like the nuclear bombs at the end of WWII.  The ending of Ender’s Game Alive makes more sense because the Formics didn’t know why the ships were trying to get into atmosphere.  But also Ender’s Game Alive seems like the adults have already determined the end result of the war, they just didn’t want to be responsible for its use.

As much as I love the story (and I do), what really struck me this time is the strangeness of children being used as soldiers.  It seems to me that the original story was focused more on using children because they didn’t know any better and would not be bothered by the ethical issues of destroying a species.  More recent versions have tried to emphasize that children’s reflexes and training from early childhood gave them new insights that adults did not have.  But that just doesn’t really work.  It is still about misleading children into committing genocide because they don’t know any better.  The ethical issues of war are not dealt with here nearly as well.  And while I don’t think they are better books, the ethical issues of war are better handled in both the Hunger Games series (primarily the 3rd book) and Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark series (primarily the second book).

In many ways I think John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War seems a more reasonable approach, where those that are elderly and near death are giving new bodies with the requirement that they must become soldiers to get the new bodies.  This allows people to keep their maturity while allowing them to be physically capable soldiers.  Children are resilient, but not mature, don’t have better reflexes and can be manipulated in many ways that adults cannot be.

In the end, this is not a prescription for how wars should be fought, but a story written for children about being special and being needed, a feature of many children’s books.  To make Ender’s Game primarily about war ethics is to misread the story.

Ender’s Game as a movie comes out on November 1st.  And there will be yet another version of the story to think about.

Ender’s Game Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle EditionAudible.com Audiobook


Adam, I wonder how much the making of the film affected the changes made from Ender’s Game to Ender’s Game Alive. I noticed two things for sure: the term formic is almost exclusively used in the film and the fight with Bonzo in the film also includes soaping up and the use of steam. I am sure that there are other similarities between Alive and the film that aren’t included in the original.

    Card wrote both the screen play and audio play I believe so I am sure there are overlaps. I will post your movie review update tomorrow. I would like to see it sometime in the next month or so.

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