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Nov 01

Ender’s Shadow

On 18/10, Fuzzy raised objections regarding the sequel to Ender’s Game. Although I haven’t read the other books in that series, I have heard similar viewpoints from other people that the vast tract of time between the first and subsequent books means that the character of Ender we have grown to know has changed. I gather the impression that the other books are much more introspective, measured and passive. This did not go unnoticed by Orson Scott Card (OSC), either:

I have never found it surprising that the existing sequels – Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind – never appealed as strongly to those younger readers. The obvious reason is that Ender’s Game is centered around a child, while the sequels are about adults; perhaps more important, Ender’s Game is, at least on the surface, a heroic, adventurous novel, while the sequels are a completely different kind of fiction, slower paced, more contemplative and idea-centered, and dealing with themes of less immediate import to younger readers.

Recently, however, I have come to realize that the 3,000-year gap between Ender’s Game and its sequels leaves plenty of room for other sequels that are more closely tied to the original. In fact, in one sense Ender’s Game has no sequels, for the other three books make one continuous story in themselves, while Ender’s Game stands along.

That’s from the foreword of Ender’s Shadow (“ES”), which is a parallel story to Ender’s Game (“EG”). It’s not a sequel. It’s a parallel story. We are retold the events of EG from the view point of Bean, which gives us a new perspective on everything. The story is wonderfully told in the manner made familiar to us by EG. This novel may be science fiction by genre, but it delves into sociology and psychology as much as science and the future. The psychoanalysis is readable and doesn’t get clogged by intricate language, or overly complex reasoning. Yet, it is highly insightful and thought provoking.

One aspect of EG that I could never get used to was the fact that a child of Ender’s age could be so brilliant. In the end, I just learnt to accept it. Ender was obviously special, and one of a kind. For that, I was willing to suspend disbelief. However, along comes ES where we soon discover that Bean may be just as brilliant as Ender, only younger. His ability to so precisely judge personality is unnerving, as well as his Holmesian capability for deduction. The fact that he is genetically engineered does little to assuage the freakiness of it all, because despite the engineering, he is still human. It is interesting to note that Bean is rarely portrayed to be in error, or in any situation of real weakness in this novel. While Ender was a genius, he had his physical limits, his flaws. Bean, on the other hand, even through the final Bugger battles, remains physically alert – and for someone so diminuitive! As the novel progressed, I was, as a reader, culturing a growing resentment against Bean. How can he have made insights that Ender never saw? How could he appear to be more astute than the great Ender? Moreover, how could he dare criticise Ender’s tried and tested (from EG) teaching methods? Surely Bean must have a weakness of sorts. But the more breakthroughs he made that Ender never did, the more I felt frustrated. I only realised all this when I finished the book. I had experienced the same resentment of Bean and respect of Ender that the battleschool kids felt. The same frustration and disbelief of the adults when Bean found out what no one else could, from so little information. I guess I got pretty involved in the story, but that’s what a good novel does. When you’re among an elite group of people – no matter what the field, sporting or academic or musical – when someone stands out from that group as being more elite, it does cause resentment. And you don’t have to be arrogant about it. Excellence alone is enough to create ill-feelings. The resentment can eventually turn into respect, given time. However, when you throw a second person just as good into the mix, allegiances and the respect formed are most likely to remain with the “original” person. This is one of the few interesting observations OSC makes about group dynamics. There are a lot more subtle ones in there.

Of course, in the end, Bean does have his weaknesses. As in the launch shuttle in the early part of the book where Dimak points out that there is no real “best” person when you combine all factors, Bean excels in areas where Ender does not (as much), and vice versa. In the final battle, Bean for once does not have an answer. He merely speaks a sentence which appears to give Ender the inspiration needed to implement a plan. Ender is both a strategist and tactician, as is Bean to a lesser extent, but Bean seems to be the strategist’s strategist. In the end, Bean gains our acceptance. He makes “friends”, he cries, and he no longer appears cold and calculating. He is “stung” by comments aimed at him where on the street he merely ignores them. In other words, he appears more human. That puts us at ease.

A lot of small nuances are covered in this novel. The witty, sharp, banter between the adults running battleschool displays this at the start of each chapter. OSC’s Mormon upbringing no doubt influenced the character of Sister Carlotta and the numerous references to religion. Then we have an interesting scenario of politics in the world – the idea of humanity degrading back into bickering when the unifying force of an interspecies war is no longer present. The breakup of powers into the lapsed-into-complacency US, a superpower China, a unified Europe and a scheming New Warsaw Pact (Soviet bloc, basically). This was all covered in EG as well, too of course. I’m not going to write about any of the other major themes or issues (there are more than a few salient ones) as I read the book within the last day and haven’t really had time to ruminate on it.

ES, at 550+ pages, is thicker than EG and thus delves into things with more detail. It’s written in the same style as EG which makes reading easy, but a lot more of it is narrative on the characters’ thoughts and less on describing the environment and surroundings. It’s not necessary, as people who have read EG already know how everything fits together, but for those who haven’t read EG, EG will flesh things out a lot more in terms of getting a better picture of the world. OSC has produced a first rate novel in ES which uniquely complements EG.

  10:18pm (GMT +11.00)  •  Books  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment