What was I waiting for?
Sci-fi recommendations rarely work out for me, mainly because my expectations are too high. I want a novel, with characters I can believe and with a story that doesn't need a deus ex machina to reach the denouement. Basically, I want a great book that happens to be sci-fi. On top of that, I want great world-building.
Ender's Game delivers, as we would expect from a book that makes most Sci-Fi Top Ten lists (1, 2, 3, 5, etc.), that won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award (sci-fi's top prizes).
Basic plot: A child genius, Ender Wiggins, is enrolled in Battle School, where other children learn military tactics to prepare for the dreaded Third Invasion, when aliens called "buggers" will attack Earth for a third time. Ender's Game touches on several themes that mean a lot to me- technological desensitization especially around violence, the social chasms separating people from connecting, the impossibility of living up to expectations.
It doesn't feel like a terrible spoiler to let you know that the humans win the war. The drama is in Ender's struggle to navigate the tension and testosterone filled halls of Battle School. One thing that makes Ender accessible is that his genius comes without ego- as a commander, above all else, he trusts his lieutenants to make the best choice each is capable of, and then he puts them in situations where their strengths compliment to mask their weaknesses. Ender's army defies conventional military tactics, goes undefeated in their battle games, and earns the enmity of every crushed ego along the way.
There's a saying along the lines of "if you only learn violence, you only know violence." When the other child generals can't defeat Ender on the battlefield, they attempt assassination. It's a chilling moment in a book filled with them.
Book 44 of my book-a-week challenge.