I was probably eleven years old when my Aunt handed me a worn copy of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I took her book recommendations seriously. She was the cool relation. She cursed and watched movies late at night and put blonde streaks in my hair. She also loved science fiction and fantasy. She loved escaping to worlds and she was willing to go anywhere if there was a good story. So when she gave me Ender's Game I opened the pages and found myself sucked into Ender Wiggin's world.
Today that book would be classified as a dystopian novel. With a young protagonist it might have been cleaned up for the young adult market, which is why I'm so relieved it's not a contemporary novel. Ender's world is one of control and violence where children are made into soldiers against the terrible Buggers ravaging the Earth. In many ways it's a novel of action and war, but at its heart it's a coming of age story set in a strongly imagined future.
This is a novel about bullying, about the terrible ways political power can be used, about bigotry and paranoia. I read it when I was eleven, and it changed my life. I read it many more times over the years.
I tried unsuccessfully to read the rest of the series. I'm sure they're well-written novels, but for me Ender's Game was complete in and of itself. It resonated with me not because of the plot but because of its ideas.
I like ideas. I like ideas that allow a reader to explore, that evolve with the reader's life experience. Ideas are the essence of science fiction for me. And at heart, all of the science fiction that's truly influenced and inspired me did so through sparks and innuendos. I'm equally moved by ideas that hold humanity's flaws up for inspection and those that consider the immense possibility of our species.
As a reader, Ender's Game changed me. As an adult, I learned things that made it difficult to champion the novelist and his work. And still when I had the opportunity to tell Card in person how he influenced my career, I did so. Because although I grew to understand not everyone we look up to deserves it, Ender's Game taught me the power of free thinking. I shook Card's hand because ultimately he taught me idea trumps intention and the power of a story resides in the mind of the reader.