For many reasons, science fiction has stood the test of time, branching across decades and even centuries for the simplest of reasons: common human themes. The commonality of purely human themes from classic to modern science fiction is evident in Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and The Maze Runner by James Dashner. These two novels are on different edges of the science fiction spectrum and so show the ease of evolution within the primary genre through subgenres. It also allows the commonalities mentioned to hold fast vastly diverse audiences. The Maze Runner, a 21st century dystopic science fiction work, presents the primary theme of society using a group’s purpose to define the relationships most prevalent. Ender’s Game, by contrast is a modern, “pure” science fiction novel that uses a single protagonist to help define the society within the story. Card uses a distinctly sparse dialogue style in his narration to help speed the reader along and emphasize a specific theme. He also has a unique dual point of view between third person limited and first person for Ender’s thoughts which helps in making his themes more organic. Dasher, on the other hand, is very specific in his narration. The reader understands only what he wants them to understand, and he designs his scenes around the themes he’s presenting. But both works have isolated societies as a main feature complete with language, culture, and customs. Each author arrives at the theme a little differently, but the theme remains the same in both works.
Society can be defined in part as an organized group of people who live within a standard set by leaders of the group. Within the International Fleet of Ender’s Game, the children in Battle School evolve their own speech patterns and slang which Card uses to help differentiate not only between the children and adults but between groups of children and how they interact with each other. From the beginning, this establishes the theme of society, without letting Ender define himself. He can’t really fall into the role of “hero” that people are so eager to see. This arc is due in large part to a sort of domino cause and affect scenario set up by Graff. Ender is isolated purposefully by the adults in his life, and what they do or say has very calculated results, and the definition of the plot points are very individualistic. The reader sees a few different levels within the social network of the IF starting with what they call “launchies” who are the youngest students in the school. Launchy society is defined primarily with innocence initially, with few attempts at friendship within the small group. Ender is instantly set apart from the other boys by Graff, forcing the boys to take their own action for peace within the group, but Ender is always above and out of reach it seems. The establishment of Ender’s isolationistic role in launchy society is his first trip to the game room. He promptly separates himself from his classmates to challenge an older boy to play him two of three on a harder game in the room. The soldiers hold launchies in such contempt, however, that it takes some manipulation on Ender’s part. By implying the other boy is scared of loosing to a launchy, he forces the boy to play him in order to save face, and masters the game by the third turn. This scene is an important set up for when he becomes a soldier in salamander army and is recognized by the encounter by the boy who would soon be training him in combat, Dink Meeker. When Ender finally manages to bridge the gaps in his group using his classmate Alai, he’s made a soldier with almost no training, isolating him further. This leads him to start a free practice with the launchies, which is unheard of in the Battle School since soldiers do not associate with launchies. It is through this isolation that the society really takes hold, with Ender at the center. As the structure within the Battle school breaks down due to administrative interference in the game, Ender begins to understand that he will never be able to form friendships with his soldiers. He will always and forever be the commander. This draws Ender out from the society of Battle School and Command School isolating him in many ways but often allowing the group to define his personality, even if it is as a reluctant leader. But because of this forced isolation whether emotional or physical, he brings a society to peace within the Battle School. He brings together his most trusted comrades. He succeeds in all he was trained to do. And then, he’s shipped out. After a particularly unrealistic game set up by the school’s administrators, he gets promoted to Command School, but during the short leave he’s allowed on earth to prep the larger vessel, he withdraws from the IF. He comes to a realization about his teachers and the adults who are supposed to protect him, the crux of which is they will do nothing save lie and cheat. The world treats Battle School and Command School like a game, as the teachers and students do. Ender knows it’s not a game, but he finds out too late to save a planet and an entire species of intelligent life. He banishes himself, colonizing a new planet with his sister. His individual decision changed not only his small world but the larger concept of humanity. The Maze Runner, on the other hand, develops a completely codependent society that the protagonist contributes to not merely taking over.
In The Maze Runner by James Dashner, the Gladers have developed their own society and culture over the course of two years before the protagonist, Thomas, comes into the story. Rather than take over, as some “heroes” tend to do in science fiction or speculative fiction, Thomas tries to assimilate. He essentially attempts to stay on the sidelines while trying to figure out the idea of the maze. He wants to help, but he has a hard time figuring out his role in Glader Society until he goes into the maze when the doors are closing, locking him and two other boys out of the safety of the glade. Like Ender, Thomas is put into a completely foreign environment and has to make something of it. Unlike Ender, Thomas is allowed to depend on others for help. He’s not forcibly isolated as Ender is. Rather than becoming the linchpin, Thomas becomes a support, essential for point of view and moral dilemmas. Arriving in the glade, Thomas knows nothing about his life before. He soon learns this is the case with all the boys occupying the glade and his brain asks questions he knows will likely not be acknowledged, secrecy being oddly important to the Keepers, who serve as a ruling body for the Gladers. In fact, Thomas is not considered important, little more than a new kid on the block so to speak until Teresa arrives. The last arrival and the only girl in the glade, Teresa makes quite the impression even though she’s in a coma for several days mostly because of her apparent connection with Thomas, which neither of them are able to explain. At this point in the story, Thomas, somewhat molded by the glade society has to find his feet, has to come to understand who he is not only in terms of the glade or the experiment that keeps it running but of his own existence. Ender longed to be part of the group, a soldier, a comrade, a friend, Thomas already was and his friends trusted him enough to follow him. They follow him into the maze, into darkness, and amazingly, back into the world they came from standing in front of those who put them in the maze in the first place. It’s an oddly empty victory to Thomas though after all those who’ve been killed in the process.
Societies develop in different ways for different reasons. Speculative and dystopic science fiction use small closed off societies to establish and develop a protagonist and theme. In Ender’s Game, Ender is isolated from his society in the Battle School which develops their group dynamic and his own personal commander persona while still solidly establishing the society and how it is different from Earth. The Maze Runner, however, has a codependent protagonist in Thomas. The Glader society is already fully established and has been for two years before he gets there, and he has not interest in standing out. Gladers work together to achieve the goals that define the themes of the story, even if the reader only sees it from Thomas’s point of view. Common themes bringing science fiction back to the forefront of literature. Ender’s Game and The Maze Runner proving that societies vastly different with protagonists vastly different can reach that audience in similar ways.