Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins are two books that I read last. While the first was sent by a friend who wanted me to read it for reasons that have not been revealed to me yet, the second came as a complimentary copy from the parents of a student. Coincidentally both are about a world that’s quite different from the one we are used to seeing in regular literature. Both the novels have children as characters. Both are about the game of war, so to say.
Ender’s Game tells the story of a battle school where children as young as six are enlisted and trained to fight an ominous war with an ingenious and dreadful alien force. Ender (a corruption of Andrew) is one such six year-old boy who is seen by his trainers as the saviour of our planet. Ender wins games by circumventing rules. His determination to win at any cost and the brilliance of his intelligence are what will lead mankind to success in the war against the aliens.
Science fiction has never fascinated me. The plot of Ender’s Game did not fascinate me either. Nor the characters. In fact, science fiction is not meant to study characters; it is meant to give us a thriller of the star wars kind. Yet I must confess that I enjoyed the wisdom that underlies many dialogues in the novel. For example, “Human beings are free except when humanity needs them,” “... power will always end up with the sort of people who crave it...” or “... commanders have just as much authority as you let them have. The more you obey them, the more power they have over you.”
As a teacher, I particularly enjoyed the following: “There are two or three thousand people in the world as smart as us.... Most of them are making a living somewhere. Teaching, the poor bastards, or doing research. Precious few of them are actually in positions of power.”
I liked Ender’s Game for such enlightening insights into life.
The Hunger Games is nothing more than a thriller. It kept me delightfully busy during my two day-train journey from Ernakulam to Delhi. It tells the story of a future world that comes up where the present day America is. In that country, Panem, there are 12 districts. One boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 will be chosen by lots from each district to fight one another until only one winner remains alive. The fight provides live entertainment (reality show) to the country. In the capital (called the Capitol) the powerful people live in luxury while the poor people in the districts struggle for survival. The novel can be read as a parable on the globalised world in which the poor are mere fodder for the rich.
The Hunger Games remains a parable, however. There is no depth in it anywhere – neither in the plot nor in the characterisation. The story takes place in a world that’s not quite ours. We can’t identify ourselves with any of the characters. The novel has already witnessed two sequels. But I’m not going to read them unless another train journey sends me scouring for thrillers.