Ender’s Game, Speaker of the Dead, Starship Troopers, and a Tipping Point: Book Review

As I have run out of socks for use in everyday life, I must spend tonight doing laundry. That means that I do not get to go outside for a walk. So I’m going to do some typing about books I’ve read (ok really I’ve listened to all these on audiobooks while walking, interesting fact I have walked at total of 80 miles in the month of November).

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (READ!)
Ender’s game is set in the future after two devastating wars with an alien species known as “The Buggers”. The main protagonist is a little boy named Ender who has been chosen for Battle School, the training ground for the International Fleet. He starts his training at the tender age of 6.

Ender’s game is easily one of the more interesting sci-fi books I’ve ever read. There are lots of imaginative concepts such as the Battle School Games. Fighting and teams mechanics in zero gravity battle. If you like the more technical parts of science fiction, then I would highly recommend the book. As a story, it still holds up as interesting and entertaining though somewhat repetitive at times.

One Point, I think Ender’s Game should be read when you are younger (not really possible now eh?). Most of the major characters in the series are children, Ender never reaches past the page of 10 or 12 in the book. So it’s really hard me to grasp the mentality of how it was like as a kid so I feel some of the book is lost to me since I can’t really associate with the protagonist. They are very mature for their age, they constantly repeat that they are “not children”, but the fact of the matter is there is a childish naivete to all the characters that exists.

One thing though that some of you might not know, and many of you probably will, is that Card wrote Ender’s Game because he wanted the back story for his 2nd book Speaker for the Dead. The entire book is just a way to write the backstory for Ender and he couldn’t fit it in 30 pages.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (READ!)
A word of warning, the book starts a bit slower than Ender’s Game. Card likes to start slow with the non-main characters. You actually don’t meet Ender until about a 1/3 way into the book and the story doesn’t really reach that mysteries start unravelling until about 1/2 way through the book. But the explanations (while sometimes predictable) are great.

I believe Speaker for the Dead has the real moral that Card was trying to get through. While Ender’s Game is interesting, there’s nothing much of substance and thought behind it. It’s a lot of technically interesting (Battle School game mechanics, IF mechanics, etc.). Speaker questions the ideas of alien species, morality, and the interaction between humans and aliens. And more importantly, it has the real point of the story. How we evaluate other people’s lives and how we treat others is not simple, not straightforward. I can’t get too much into the book without spoilers for Ender’s Game.

The one thing that always bothered me about the book though is that there isn’t anyone bad. Like no person with non-reasoned sense of selfishness or maliciousness. I mean there are people who somewhat selfish and hostile, but never malicious, never harmful, just misunderstood and lost. It’s actually really touching how people can ruin lives even though they have the best of intents.

Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein (MAYBE READ)
Starship Trooper is mostly recognized by the movie and while the movie is a straight up action movie by the same director who did Robocop, the book is more a philosophical discussion.

So the basic premise of the world is that the Federation is run by the military, you must serve a term in the military in order to vote, be a citizen, and hold office. The military is a very similar to our current one, an all volunteer force with two main sections: ground forces (the mobile infantry) and air/sea/space forces (fleet). Unlike the movie though, all the mobile infantry are equipped with crazy battle suits so by mobile infantry they mean rocket propelled giant mobile armors bouncing around firing nukes at people.

I think the book has some interesting ideas and it’s still required reading for West Point. Heinlein wrote it in 1959 so the idea of an all volunteer force with specific and tight command was predicative. Some other concepts that he mentioned are part of this world are that the Federation has capital and corporal punishment in a public setting (that means both hanging and floggings in the public square). No such thing as West Point, all officers come up through ranks with required drops.

Heinlein talks a LOT about democracy shortcomings and just in general about some aspects of our society that he deems silly, such as a juvenille detention system, a full democracy, the lack of true punishment. It seems that it’s very strict society (Signaporean?)

Before you just denounce it as a wild stupid idea, the basic premise that the military is the only ones allowed to vote is this. The people who are willing to sacrifice and put their lives on the line for the sake of the Federation AND make it through boot camp with all the mental and physical evaluations, are the people worthwhile to lead the nation in terms of citizenship. Basically, if you give everyone a vote, then they shall use it selfishly for their own desires, only when you put it in the hands of people who are willing to put their team / humanity above their own desires / lives then do you have a proper voting electorate.

Of course this doesn’t at all address the horrors of war and all the soldiers who are incredibly suicidal and suffer PTSD and god knows what else. I think the fact that Heinlein never did active warfare duty is a very much an important factor when he doesn’t consider what impact the post-military life of a soldier is.

While I think the idea of EARNING the right to vote is important by putting some kinda distinction, the  practical aspects of how that would administered and determined make it moot. Still interesting thought process.

A Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (DONT READ, except for one section*)
Pop psychology, basically a series of examples to demonstrate a very thinly constructed argument about  how basically marketing works and how stuff becomes viral. I think it’s a kinda interesting about how he characterizes 3 types of people who basically make something popular. Connectors who know lots of people, mavens who are information specialists about a thin slice, and salesmen who can sell something. But he doesn’t really tie everything together to form anything cohesive, just a few small points that seem obvious.

*I actually really enjoyed the piece about the start of Sesame Street and how children’s psychology and their own studies impacted how the show was going to be made as well as how they illustrated and did a lot of their skits in order to make them have the biggest impact on kids learning. I would read THIS section and only this section in the book. Everything else is meh.