I happened upon this novel at a bookstore 1 year after the movie was released. Apart from starring Harrison Ford, who is lucky enough to share his birthday with me, the movie didn't catch enough of my interest to watch it. The book, however, was mentioned to me a few times as one of the best in the category, so that in itself was enough to get me going. I warn you of a few possible spoilers as you read on.
This may sound pretentious, but I really felt the sting of obsolescence in the behavioral traits of most of the antagonistic characters. The bullying and some of the language in the beginning seemed very retro and remained so throughout the book. I really felt as though I were reading a text from the '70s and imagined a world of CRT screens and L.A.S.E.R. guns—although fortunately that did not turn out to be the case. The novel made a good comeback once some technology (quite advanced for 1985 when it was first published) found its way into the story and made it all easier to relate to—setting aside the painfully dusty term "Buggers" to describe the alien enemy force (called "Formics" in the movie).
It's no easy task to transcend the filters of time—to write a classic that shall be enjoyed for generations—but Ender's Game did it. There are references to items such as your everyday tablet (referred to only as "desk"), an intranet system with e-mail and chat, touchscreen technology, and even a highly developed video game AI that puts our generation of PS4s and X-Box Ones to shame. Since my copy is the final revision from 1991, there could have been some updates by the author since the first run.
This is all very secondary, of course. The story's protagonist is Ender Wiggin, a child prodigy in a not-too-distant future where the world finds itself in a dystopian society, suffering waves of attacks from the insect-like aliens, who function as a hive. Children are trained to be the best, the smartest, the quickest, and the bravest in this society, and Ender, an unlikely candidate, is chosen based on his behavior dealing with bullying at school.
A lot of psychology is involved in the introspection of each character, such as Ender and his two siblings who have flashes of brilliance and maturity in resolving intrapersonal issues. There is a prodigious growth and self-taught intelligence in the children, as opposed to the more strict and condescending attitude of the adults, who are mostly military in nature. This, however, is lost in the movie, where narration is gone and only the stern, determined attitude of the kids is portrayed, which can easily be interpreted as arrogant.
I have a theory that any story ever told is either a love story or a social experiment, and Ender's Game is the latter. A 12-year-old child is sent to the finest military academy to potentially become a commander to lead armies and fight the Buggers (wince). He does so, but what is interesting is the sheer openness in emotions and feelings that are contemplated. This isn't a book where it's just action and backstabbing. It's all about being human throughout the most analytical of situations.
In fact—major spoiler—the only way Ender defeats the Formics in the end is thinking that he is controlling an army in a simulation, when in truth it was the real thing all along. The instructors at the academy staged a "final test" so that Ender would not have any resentments at any point (which brings about my theory of Call of Duty and Battlefield never having been the subject of any censor or true restriction). If it's all a game, it's no harm, but in truth, it's a deadly training tool that could turn lethal when need be. This particular detail was well documented in the movie as it stayed true to the book.
The true merit of the story lies in the aftermath, which was respected in the movie as well. Ender discovers that a Formic queen has been communicating with him through his dreams, and she is the last survivor of an entire species. The whole time, the Formics simply couldn't communicate, hence the war. Ender was the first to establish proper contact, and he promises that he will take the queen to a world where they may flourish again—a debt that he must pay for destroying their world.
I have to say this is one of the more bizarre books I've read. Many things about it were oddball, but somehow, that made it really good. The story doesn't seem go anywhere for a while as it all takes place in academies and military schools, but it gets the message across. As for the movie, the loss of the narration has a heavy toll on the pace, but it's a good companion for the book. I understand perfectly if someone puts the film down if they haven't read the book; the richness of the written words is lost in adaptation, as there is nothing remarkable in the film. However, I found nothing wrong on behalf of the actors or director (aside from perhaps some haste in the pacing of the story).
Verdict? The book was better.