Ender’s Mindfuck

On Sunday night (actually, very early Monday morning), I watched two films: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Ender’s Game.

I have never read either novel, so this was something of an interesting experiment for me. For your potential entertainment, I reproduce below my comments as I watched Ender’s Game. (City of Bones is here.)

First conclusion of this film: British voices saying ridiculous things are much easier to listen to than American ones. Except for Harrison Ford.

Vicious bullying as a testing tool. And then big brother’s a sociopath.

What a cold-blooded set of monsters these are, although Harrison Ford has aged very well.

Simulated zero-G! Possibly worth ignoring the cold-blooded monsters to watch zero-G.

Those look like exceedingly uncomfortable beds. And exceedingly terrible food. And very few female people who aren’t authority figures. That’s not disturbing at all.

HI LET’S SUBJECT OUR SO-CALLED HERO TO YET ANOTHER VICIOUS BULLY. Because this is how you make good tactical geniuses, right? Or any kind of useful military officer? Teach them they can rely on other people only as a source of pain, suffering, and impossible demands.

Film, you are not training officers. Or geniuses. Because if this is officer training, you have the world’s most fucking dysfunctional military. Officially. You’re making sociopaths. Sociopaths do not make good fighting leaders. Nor do they follow orders well. And all your failed sociopaths are going to have to go somewhere afterwards: you’re going to break them, teach them these habits, and send them back to civvy-street?

Oh, hello. There’s an Only Girl. And she has long hair. If this is even fake military training (especially with zero-G), why doesn’t everyone have buzzcuts?

Oh, look. People are fucking with our so-called hero’s head.

And now he’s been put in charge of people. Hi, twelve-year-old! Film, can’t you fake pretending to be a military training school better than this? I don’t care how much of a genius the twelve-year-old is, there’s a reason twelve-year-old monarchs tended to have regents. People do not take twelve-year-olds seriously.

Hi, shower fight scene. And dead boy. Or very badly damaged boy.

All right, film. You realise this does not make sense? If Earth can maintain a forward command post close to the alien home world for twenty-seven years, Earth is not losing any war. So Earth is not actually looking for a magic bullet to save the human race. So why is Ender SO important? BECAUSE REASONS.

No logic here.

No, really. Why do you need Ender and hundreds of trained-from-childhood sociopaths if you’re not losing? It seems as though traditional ways of making officers and soldiers should work just as well. Wouldn’t you want your “geniuses” directed into xenopsychology and xenobiology so you had a better chance of doing intelligence analysis and threat assessment on your alien enemy? Empathy, rather than sociopathy?

If you can maintain a forward operating base for twenty-seven years without it being attacked and retaken, you’re winning. You might not be winning fast enough that your economy back home hasn’t buckled under the strain, but with an impossible-to-understand enemy who killed millions, you could probably manage a centrally controlled economy with strong rationing with few of the usual political costs. And you wouldn’t need a single military genius. You’d need lots and lots of just good enough junior officers gaining the right kind of experience in the right places. And you’d put your geniuses into xenobiology and xenopsychology, and try to understand the aliens from their behaviour.


You’d assign the geniuses alongside the military officers, but you wouldn’t risk losing them to training accidents. Victory in war doesn’t necessarily require genius, after all. Just material superiority and the intelligence sufficient to use it to advantage.

Maybe it’s more obviously illogical in the film because in a film you’re not in anyone’s head. But fucking hell, if this parallels the book, Orson Scott Card really rigged ALL the cards to get the game he wanted – and it’s not even a subtle rigging.

Oh, for crying out loud, people. It’s space. You can stand off from a planet and bombard it from space at leisure. With Big Fucking Rocks. Asteroid impacts lead to extinction-level events.

So why are Earth’s leaders worried if they’re close enough to the alien planet to a) be able to attack it and b) be able to monitor it? And why haven’t they been bombarding it with Big Fucking Rocks for the last twenty years?

No. Instead they have a DEATH STAR.



Right, so, this training, simulations alleged, is actually for real. STUPID. Command decisions put in the hands of children who think it’s all a sim. Good lord, Earth really must have overwhelming material superiority. If the kids don’t know it’s for real, they’re not going to be as careful about their resources as they otherwise might. I don’t care how much of a tactical genius anyone is, logistics and supply are equally vital. Tactics is the smallest part of war.

And the adult command team is there to watch. Not to command, oh, a SECOND FLEET? Stupid.

And no one’s bothering to break it to the kid gently that it’s all been real. HAVE PSYCHOLOGISTS ON HAND PEOPLE. At best you could have a bad case of shock. I mean, however these kinds feel about the genocide of inexplicable aliens, they still ought to be seriously bothered by the fact their commanders lied to and manipulated them.

Ah, now they come WITH SEDATIVES. Seriously, genius kid is the only one who needs them?

Oh, someone is communicating telepathically with special genius. I MUST GO. And the other kid runs after him without putting her oxygen on first. What do they teach these people in military training this future? Stupid future is clearly full of intellectual degenerates. Brainless sociopaths.

So, why is Ender the special telepath as well as being special sociopath genius? He’s just all around special. BECAUSE REASONS.

Tactically skilled but fundamentally stupid.

And why did his commanders let him go, in the end? Would you let a genius who you’ve broken loose on an unsuspecting universe? Someone could turn him against you, like you turned him against your enemy. It wouldn’t even be hard. He doesn’t seem to like you very much.

The people who made this film appear to have run out of give-a-shit for any sort of logic in this denouement.


*everybody involved with the film gives up*

*Harrison Ford gives up*

*Ender steals a shuttle and heads off into the big empty with no one asking him how come he’s carrying an alien egg in his duffel*

*roll credits*

Verdict: Pretty, but remarkably full of stupid, illogical, ethical bankruptcy, and unsubtle narrative rigging.

9 thoughts on “Ender’s Mindfuck

  1. It’s probably best that you go ahead and not read the book then. While, I’ve not seen the movie, I think that the book is likely only a larger version of all the problems you’ve noted.

    You can also read up on the comparisons between Ender’s Game and Hitler. Fascinating (in a terrifying sort of way).

  2. I agree with neth — you’re being a bit unfair to the film, since all your objections sound like they apply to the original story. Not that there’s any reason they couldn’t have improved on the book…

  3. note: I don’t think you’re being unfair to the movie (which I have not seen and have no intention of ever seeing)

  4. It’s worth it if you don’t have to pay money for it. (I.e., someone else rented the DVD and you borrowed it.) The zero-G is fun.

  5. You’ve got it down to the last troubling centimeter. I read the book once, shuddered, and never read any more of OSC.

  6. Hmm. Everything you’ve pointed out is valid for the film – but when the film came out, I was frustrated because that the book addressed a significant number of them (or didn’t have them happen, like the running-out-into-no-air-without-mask scene). Admittedly, I come to the film as a very long-time fan of the book, but the it does address the large majority of these problems. Except for the child geniuses leading adults thing. But that worked better from the perspective of the child, and the way the book is structured to be more convincingly about a genius child, as opposed to just a precocious one. When it came to the end of the film and they promised to make Ender Admiral of the fleet, I was somewhat angrily amused, because I saw no reason for the fleet to obey this guy who basically coasted through school. In the book, it’s a six-year training process, with a lot more grueling mind and body work, so that when the same moment comes, it feels earned (at least within the story).

    The parts about Earth basically bottling the Formics into their home system? Not in the book at all. The fleet has been in relativistic travel (a la The Forever War) since the second invasion (which is another major flaw in the film – by having the aliens invade only once, the threat is really trivialized). The book presents humanity with genuine uncertainty about its survival against the other race – but still portrays the choice to wipe the aliens out as the wrong one.

  7. Ginger –

    It really is very “make your own child sociopath,” really.

    Ian Miller –

    I’m pretty sure the book could manage to be more convincing than the film on a number of points: it’s a lot easier to manage suspension of disbelief within a tight POV. A film’s perspective makes it easier to see where the joins don’t fit.

    (Also, Hollywood: not great at logic.)

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