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The Elements of James Gunns Definition of Science Fiction Mirrored in Enders Game, a Novel by Orson Scott Card

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    “Would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?” -Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Sometimes, defining science fiction can be maddening, much as Quentin Cooper states in his BBC article. According to James Gunn, however, science fiction can be defined as “the branch of literature that deals with the effects of change on people in the real world as it can be projected into the past, the future, or to distant places. It often concerns itself with scientific or technological change, and it usually involves matters whose importance is greater than the individual or the community; often civilization or the race itself is in danger.” There is one particular novel that mirrors this definition perfectly: Ender’s Game. In this novel by Orson Scott Card, the breeding of children for battle, the Buggers that endanger humanity, the change from child to murderer, and the needs of humanity over one person’s individual needs and well-being, are just a few examples of just how perfectly this definition fits the genre of science fiction. Speaking of perfection, Gunn’s definition relates the genre of science fiction to scientific and technological advances, much like how children are bred to be perfect soldiers and sent to a battle school in space to prepare them for war in Card’s novel.

    Children in this novel are given small implants on the backs of their necks, called Monitors, that keep track of emotional and physical status until the age of 5 for most children. This type of technological advance is only one example of how Gunn’s definition speaks to the genre of science fiction. However, according to Simon Evnine in his article “But is it Science Fiction?’: Science Fiction and a Theory of Genre”, science fiction is a genre made of a conglomeration of theories. He mentions that genres are more tradition than anything else, and science fiction is no exception(Evnine). In Card’s novel, the traditional stance on family size is two children per family, but as the Wiggins family has produced two genius children with personalities that do not quite match with the needs or desires set forth by the military. They are given another chance however, in the form of Ender Wiggins, a third child in a world where the familial limit is two children. He is intelligent and strategic, with a personality that takes on the best of both of his older siblings. His family has been chosen to try one more time to create the perfect soldier, and this time they succeed. This is an example of how scientific advances have allowed the prediction of which genes would be suitable for military purposes, and while we have scientific technology to pick and choose which genes get manifested in children, for example: test tube babies, we do not quite understand genetics and DNA enough to be able to predict exactly how a gene will cause a person to react in certain situations. As T. N. Palmer summarizes in his article “Is Science Fiction a Genre For Communicating Scientific Research: A Case on Climate Change”, the course of action something takes can be modelled or measured many times over, but the predictions can still turn out completely wrong(Palmer). As far as the military knew, Ender might have turned out exactly like his brother, the psychopath, or his sister, the empath. It was, however, a time where they had to take a chance and perhaps gain the one person or thing that they needed most for humanity as a whole.

    In Card’s novel, the entirety of the human race is in danger and the one chosen to save them is a boy by the name of Ender Wiggins. Humanity is put above this six-year-old boy’s well-being, just as Gunn’s definition claims should happen in this broad genre. Gunn specifically says, “It usually involves matters whose importance is greater than the individual or the community; often civilization or the race itself is in danger.” One can see this happening consistently throughout the novel. It begins when Wiggin is born, from the moment he is conceived his purpose is to save the world. As most children are born, they are free to play and live a careless life, but not Ender. No one takes into account how he will feel about becoming a soldier at six years old, but it does not matter what he thinks when the world needs a savior. Ender’s well-being and personal needs are seen as minuscule compared to the fate of the world. For example, Colonel Graff, tells the Wiggins family, “Your son has been cleared by the I.F. Selective Service. Of course we already have your consent, granted in writing at the time conception was confirmed, or he could not have been born, He has been ours from then…” From this moment forward Ender is told he will not see his family for another six years but they can write each other. Further into the book, one will see all the correspondence his family tries to send that he never receives. He goes from being able to see his family every day to never seeing or speaking to them again. This speaks directly to Gunn’s definition because Ender needs to be conditioned for war, even if it will cost him his sanity and innocence.

    We watch as a bullied, innocent six-year-old in the novel goes from victim to aggressor throughout the novel by Card, which yet again conforms to the idea that science fiction relates to the changes that affect people in the real world. The entirety of this book explores change from an Earthly perspective and also from outer space. The most obvious change is Ender moving from North Carolina with his family to a battle school placed in the stars and removed from the general populace. Another extreme change he goes through is strengthening his mind. He starts off being bullied constantly by his older brother Peter, but, when he is thrust into Battle School, he can no longer be that weak little boy. During his first ride to Battle School, a boy starts smacking him in the back of the head and he does not just sit there and take it. He grabs the boy’s arm, flips him over, and the boy goes flying across the ship. This results in the boy’s arm being broken and causes Ender to be very upset with himself because he does not wish to hurt people, though he wishes people would not pick on him. He battles with this internally very often. He has the vigor inside of him to fight if he needs to but he prefers not to. This change is very critical because Ender essentially needs to change from a boy to a man that can lead an army within a few years.

    All of these stressors can weigh on a person, particularly so on a young boy such as Ender, and it leads him into to more and more fights. He doesn’t fight because he wants to, but because he must, in order to survive. Very often, other kids despised him because of his success, and would wish death upon him. The mental fortitude he has is not by choice but out of necessity. Another theme that Gunn’s definition touches on is the human race as a whole being in a perilous and potentially fatal situation, as is demonstrated by the impending third wave of the Bugger Wars in Card’s novel, causing the necessity to quickly train Ender for war. Not every child is chosen for battle school, but Ender, as was mentioned earlier, was signed into the selective service from birth. He not only practically belongs to the government as a third child that should not have been born, but has also been bred specifically for the purpose of the Bugger Wars that endanger humanity. These wars have all but halted, though there is an incoming third wave that the general populace is unaware of. This wave exemplifies this particular part of Gunn’s definition in a perfect way. While not everyone knows of the impending danger, Ender included, the higher-ups of the IF do and they want to make sure Ender is as ready as possible to deal with it, even if that means pushing him through the ranks far more quickly than protocol suggests.

    All of these examples from Card’s novel in particular suggest that Gunn’s definition of science fiction is a perfect fit, from the fate of humanity outweighing the needs of one, the change from innocent child to well-trained soldier, the breeding of children for the sole purpose of battle and war, all the way to the Buggers that endanger humanity. Each and every definition provided for this broad genre only contributes to the ambiguity of it. Though every now and then someone comes along who can hit the nail on the head and provide an otherworldly experience that makes the reader pause and reflect on daily life. As Tansy Rayner Roberts said, “One of the most interesting things about science fiction and fantasy is the way that the genres can offer different perspectives on matters to do with the body, the mind, medical technology, and the way we live our lives.”

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    The Elements of James Gunns Definition of Science Fiction Mirrored in Enders Game, a Novel by Orson Scott Card. (2022, May 07). Retrieved from

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