Ender's Game began as a short story that Orson Scott Card wrote because his repertory theater company was collecting debts and had to be shut down. "Ender's Game" first appeared in Analog, a leading science fiction magazine, in August 1977. Card was given the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer for this short story. In 1985, Card turned his original short story into a novel, which quickly became wildly popular and won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1985 and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1986. Ender's Game also won many other, smaller awards, such as the Hamilton-Brackett Award in 1986, the 1986 Science Fiction Chronicle Readers Poll Award, second place in the 1986 Locus Poll for Best Novel, and 9th place in the 1998 Locus Poll for All Time Best Science Fiction Novel before 1990.
Ender's Game takes place in Earth's future after two invasions by insectoid aliens called Formics or buggers. Following the world's successful defense against the aliens, the world has been united under a triumvirate of the Hegemon, the political ruler of world; the Strategos, holding the overall command of the solar system's defense, and the Polemarch, commanding the International Fleet's warships. The world united against the buggers, but the alliance starts decomposing while the final Formic War is going on, and it falls apart after the war ends, leaving a short, bloody League War.
The world powers and alliances that become significant toward the end of Ender's Game come from the historical context of the Cold War. When the short story was turned into a novel in 1985, the "Second" Cold War was taking place (after the "thaw" of the 1970s). Tensions were high between the United States and the Soviet Union. Thus, Card made the major instigator of the League War the "Second Warsaw Pact," which was essentially Russia and surrounding states.
In Ender's Game, the International Fleet has sent a large force against the buggers in their own territory, and the force needs a brilliant military commander to fight the buggers. Thus the novel follows the military training of young Andrew Wiggin, known as Ender, who is the most likely candidate. We watch his development, carefully controlled by his handlers, from the age of six until he defeats the alien race at age eleven. His training begins at Battle School, where he learns how to unite an army and lead them into battles, and it ends at Command School, where he and his squadron leaders command the fleets that destroy the buggers and their home world. His character and intelligence serve him and his fellows extremely well.
Following this victory, the novel follows Ender's life outside of the military in a final chapter. He joins the colonist movement and governs his colony. During the period of peace and colonization, he finds a bugger queen cocoon that the buggers left for him before their destruction--they apparently perceived Ender's soft side and provided him with a way to restore the bugger race. Ender eventually leaves his colony in order to find an acceptable place for her to live.
While Ender is developing his skills, the novel also follows the lives of Ender's brilliant siblings, his brother Peter and his sister Valentine. Peter has been a sadistic, violent enemy to Ender, and he aspires to take over the world. Valentine has been something of a protector for Ender. While Ender is at school, the two begin to influence world politics through what amounts to Internet personas, "Locke" and "Demosthenes." The three siblings share the qualities of peacemaker and warmonger, and Ender's identity crisis revolves around his fear that he is actually more of a warmonger like Peter than a peacemaker like Valentine.
Ender's Game shows Card's deep reading and understanding of the Great Books. More than most science fiction, Card invokes a high degree of morality, empathy, and compassion grounded in philosophy and political theory going back to the ancients. Ender's ability to understand the buggers gives him the edge he needs to defeat them, but Ender's broad compassion for everyone including his enemies permits him to love them. He despairs after he destroys his enemies out of necessity. Readers share his feeling of uneasiness after he kills Stilson, Bonzo, and the buggers, being encouraged to feel great sympathy for Ender in his sad need to destroy his enemies out of self defense.
The fate of the world is in Ender's hands at age eleven. The adults are involved only to make sure that he is the perfect commander when the time comes. Ender is no typical boy, however, having more than the usual maturity of an adult. Occasionally he shows the child in him, but for the most part, Ender is uniquely able and mature. Although Ender is unusally able, his fellow young commanders also show exceptional ability to learn and develop. Their Spartan training notwithstanding, they are examples of what a more dedicated educational system might be able to achieve today.