Originally a novella, then a novel, EndersGame by OrsonScottCard is the story of a young genius named Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed Ender by his sister when she was too young to pronounce his name properly. Ender is a third, a third child by special permit of the International Fleet. He was born to be a soldier, to fight the Buggers before they come back to earth again.
An ant-like alien species, the threat of the Buggers' return has bound earth into an uneasy alliance. All nations have agreed to scour their populaces young children for candidate soldiers.
Quite a tall order for a young child, but away he and others are wisked to Battle School, an orbital space station built entirely to train these tiny children in the arts of strategy and tactics. Except they train as if it's all a game.
EndersGame is written plainly. There aren't many metaphors, and those are explained over time (including the rest of the series). But it's a fast and compelling read. I poured the entire book into my head late one night. When I staggered in the next day, sleepless, I was stunned. The strategies alone are worth it, but it has more kick. A lot more kick.
It's a favourite amongst ScienceFiction fans for good reason. But it's not the best in the series! That award has to go to SpeakerForTheDead. No surprise, though. Card wanted to write SpeakerForTheDead first but couldn't because the context of EndersGame was necessary.
Who cares, though. EndersGame stands apart in many ways. It should be read by itself and first. If you don't get further in the series, at least read this book. I read it every year for five years. -- SunirShah
Explores the morality of psychological pressure on children, and their reaction to it.
Source of the mildly popular quote, "The enemy's gate is down." This advice from Ender refers to a freeze tag game played in a room with no gravity (and thus no real "up" or "down"). Ender's revelation enables the other children on his team to re-visualize the battle, giving them an advantage over the enemy team.
Yes, I've been fantasizing about Bookshelved becoming a sister site. Then of course we get to deal with all of the hard problems, inter-Wiki politics, etc. -- lb