Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow: A Book Review

While it starts unexpectedly crawling the streets of Rotterdam with orphaned children, Ender’s Shadow picks up steam quite quickly. Returning to the format that made Ender’s Game so great, Orson Scott Card decides that we are going to train a child to save humanity, only this time we witness the story through Bean, a member of Ender’s jeesh, and a backup to Ender’s role as commander. If Ender fails, if he falters (and he does), someone else has to push the buttons.

Graff occupies the very same role he did with Ender, but this time Bean’s minute stature and inquisitive nature allows the reader to snoop on Graff, to seem more of the behind the scenes, and to do so through the eyes of one of his boys. While in Ender’s Game and Ender we saw the blend of resentment and determination, the will to both win and decimate, in Bean we see the cold, calm calculation of a boy who learns that he is not quite human, that through genetic manipulation he will never live to see his twenties but will possess superior intellect. Thus he is plucked off the streets by a high ranking Catholic Nun and placed in battle school where he forever exists in Ender’s shadow.

Yet is Ender his enemy or is he one that Bean should emulate and protect? Written as a companion text, most who open this novel know the ultimate outcome, but Ender has support, Ender vegged out after killing Bonzo and was absent from command school, other people killed the buggers … err formics, and they too reacted. How did Petra live with her errors? How did the other children survive the onslaught of battles? Thus we learn more about the world, more about Ender, and tons about Bean. Card uses this text to launch another line of sequels and explore the social and political vacuum created by the absence of the great enemy. As one who thoroughly enjoyed Ender’s Game, I find equal but different joy in this text as well.

Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile: A Book Review

Ender in Exile is billed as the immediate follow up to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (a fantastic novel on its own) even though the text was not written for many years after. That said, the novel falls far short of its predecessor and is almost out of place in the quartet that forms the foundation of the Enderverse. In essence, this text is billed as a rewrite of the final chapter of Ender’s Game, we return to Eros and witness the plodding along of the children as war hits Earth and the once united front splinters into regional segments. Quickly, all of Ender’s jeesh returns to earth and Ender, who is the savior of humanity begins his journey of self-flagellation and redemption. Along the way he is to shape the universe, to establish the right of colonies to self-rule, and to find himself. Orson Scott Card uses the space to fill in gaps, to link items up, and to force his universe to converge. Unfortunately, force is an accurate description of the endeavor.

Yes, it is interesting to see how Ender’s family reacts to his victory, to watch Valentine struggle with the decision to either stay on Earth or follow her brother to his exile in the stars, but at the same time, the novel often feels like it is just filling space. The space is interesting, but it is just space. Ender is interesting, endearing, but, does anyone doubt that he will be the governor of the first colony when he lands even though the ship’s admiral is arranging a coup? Of course the skillful way in which Ender goes about this transition is fun to read, but do we need to read it, do we need to see an alternate, more detailed discovery of the formic Hive Queen? Does anyone question his reluctance to marry and even engage in teenage hormonal shenanigans when he is still coming to grips with the annihilation of a species?

At the same time, Card is attempting to fill in too many gaps. Whereas before this text Jane found Ender, now Graff knows of Jane, even if not in full, and links them up in terms of money management. This fact, like many of the overlaps between texts in the multiple series of this universe, seems too convenient, too contrived, especially when the battles of Achilles vs. Bean plays out on a distant colony dominated by Indians. These moments take away from golden opportunities and standout as revisionist history, thus diluting an otherwise rich universe.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Orson Scott Card's Xenocide and Children of the Mind: A Joint Book Review

The third and fourth books of the Enderverse come in Xenocide/Children of the Mind. In actuality, these texts should be one, and Orson Scott Card admits to splitting them up, perhaps out of time, perhaps to make more money. Either way, they grapple with large issues, as his works often seem to do. Here we explore the savage nature of man, here we contemplate the worth of ancient culture, even when these cultures are transported to new planets, and here we work to combat governmental indiscretion and the industrial military power complex. Each issue, whether it is Japanese pride, Samoan hunger, or Chinese power structures, allows Card to dig into how people tick, something he does remarkably well, while exploring the redemption of one Ender Wiggin.  

 Outside of these thematic ideals, everything picks up a couple decades after Speaker for Dead and continues the exact same central plot line: Lusitania is in peril, three species face annihilation (the third being the descolada virus) and Ender seeks to solve the universe’s problems as he always does.  The piggies are now living in harmony with the colonists, unbeknownst to most men but not to the piggies and Ender’s clan, the buggers are thriving on the other side of the planet, and Miro is set to return from his trip to space with Ender’s sister Valentine having only aged a few weeks during his decades long journey. The two alien, sentient species seek to avoid their extinction by exploring colonization, and the church has made inroads to the piggies. Yet tipping points will have to be reached, violence will have to occur between the species, the buggers will have to come out to humanity, and descolada will have to be beaten. Each possible plot line, from the death of, the symbolic resurrection of Miro, and Ender's personal biological failure, is explored.

On the World of Path, a planet of Japanese descent and culture, the Godspoken, a race of super geniuses with OCD like symptoms, work to solve multiple issues. First they obey the Starways Congress and thus the will of the Gods as the attempt to find the missing fleet headed to destroy Lusitania. Despite the passage of decades since the rebellion of Lusitania, planetary destruction seems more than likely as a fleet equipped with the MD device nears. Such actions will inevitably lead to the discovery and possible destruction of Jane. Yet Jane, by linking this planet and many others, works to reveal the insidious actions of the congress, the manipulation of a race of people not just on this planet but on others as well. Jane, as she works to save herself, also creates a vast web of supporters, those who save her memories and help her to solve the most complex mysteries of the universe.

Can one travel faster than light? Can people be created out of thin air, can multiple species, like multiple races, exist in harmony? Then of course there is Ender, the savior that inadvertently splits his personality and works to right the wrongs of his past in doing so. What is his fate, that of his adopted family, that of his sister, and by proxy that of his best friend Jane? As a joint volume, the texts work fantastically, yet Children of the Mind works far better. Whereas Xenocide drags on an on, asking questions on top of questions, the second half provides the answers. The series ends in style and complexity, in a way that Graff would surely appreciate but perhaps hate.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead: A Book Review

Speaker for the Dead, the sequel to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, picks up some 3,000 years later. That is right, multiple millenniums have passed since the bugger “formic” war (the species will change names eventually but not in these first four books) but Ender is only around thirty as he has spent the overwhelming majority traveling at light speed and has thus traveled to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, one that has been colonized since he committed xenocide by killing the buggers. Yet he has never settled, staying on one place only for days at a time before drifting on in search of a purpose and a place. All the while, as humans have first taken over the abandoned bugger worlds and then taken over planet after planet, Ender has carried with him the last hive queen watching and waiting for the ideal time to re-launch her species and right his wrong. One plot line rests here—Ender has grown to love the larvae and communicates with her mentally on a frequent basis.

In addition, a computer anomaly created by the buggers, one that grew out of the game Ender played on his personal terminal in battle school and now occupies the combined computing power of the galaxy lives in an electronic jewel stored in his ear. Jane, as the program is known, is Ender’s closest friend, helping Andrew navigate the universe, one where his old nickname has become taboo, one where he still holds immense power. She is on the brink of discovery after 3,000 years of life, and while she offers innumerable resources, she has yet to compete for his love and attention. Things change. In this novel, one that is far more adult than its predecessor, a universe sits in constant flux.

Thus, as far as we are told, Ender has been traveling planet-to-planet Speaking for the Dead, carrying on the tradition he started when he wrote the Hive Queen and the Hegemon and revealing the true nature of an individual’s life—the good, the bad, the honest, the sad. As one would expect, this position fits the man our boy hero turned into. He cuts to chase, he finds the meat of a situation, and he goes for the jugular, whether it be war or grief, love or hate. His pattern of planet hopping and speaking, takes him to Novinha, a girl he falls for from thirty years away. Novinha  has lost her parents, her surrogate father Pipo, and due to the details of the Pipo’s death at the hands of the first sentient species discovered since the buggers, the Pequeninos, she refuses to marry her true love Libo. Yet Ender loves her at first sight. He feels the pain in her lonely teenage face, and travels to find her in her 40’s and speak to the death not of Pipo as planned but to that of her freshly dead abusive husband.

So we find a story of veiled love, of a new alien species capable of living three lives (worm, piggies, trees), of a deadly virus that is constantly mutating and threatening the survival of the human race, and of the restoration of a specious from extinction. Are these creatures worth saving? Do they deserve human respect and attention? The plots play out as Ender speaks to the death of Marc√£o, seeks to heal a family, and conjoin the fate of piggies with that of man. He is negotiator, he is pacifier, he is a force of balance. Humanity is questioned, it is confronted, and it is shown to be capable greatness once again. Yet, at the same time, the community of Lusitania is singled out by the Starways Congress for violating the policies of non-intervention, and thus are held at gunpoint as an MD device, the very device Ender used to eliminate the bugger home world, is sent to annihilate them first for doing more than observe the piggies and second for the health risk of the Descolada virus.