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Nov 01

Shadow of the Hegemon

Orson Scott Card is responsible for ruthlessly disrupting my sleep patterns this week. Straight after polishing off Ender’s Shadow, I picked up the sequel, Shadow of the Hegemon (“SOTH”) and polished that off in a day.

SOTH takes up where ES finished. However, everything has changed. For the start of the novel, the characters are the same people we know from ES. That is probably the only commonality between the novels, for the different settings of both novels causes the focus of SOTH to peal off sharply from ES.

SOTH is no longer a science fiction novel, but a historical one. Through it we witness the tumultuous changing face of the world – world history in the making. Now that the threat of the Buggers is gone, nations are vying for world power, each falling back on its age old beliefs that ruling over a global kingdom is their birthright. SOTH is almost like a history book, albeit with a few crucial differences so that it doesn’t read like one (these thoughts being echoed and confirmed in the book’s Afterword). Non-fictional history for us has always been seen as at a distance. We know what events have occurred, and the key figures who enabled them. We may even know the personalities and life stories of these figures, but one thing the history books do not know is the true character of them. What makes them tick, their motivations, their thoughts. Of course, this is impossible to do, and both Bean, Petra and Peter all realise that they cannot truly understand the character of others, because they cannot even truly understand themselves! The thing is, this is a novel. All these characters are a fabrication, but in weaving this tale, OSC is enabled to instill them with his own character. We know their true thoughts and motivations, why they do things. As a result, why things pan out the way they did all over the globe is put into context. This allows us to gain some insights on how things interact on both a tactical and strategic scale, both close up and at a distance (Locke) and on both a military and political level.

Bean as a character changes over the course of the novel. He becomes more human. He has feelings of compassion and guilt. His “selfish” instinct to put his survival as paramount priority is overridden by a higher cause. He learns to care about people, to make real friends. Of course, back on the streets of Rotterdam he saw traits like this only as weaknesses. But, it is these very “weaknesses” that give him the conviction to do what he eventually does. And on the last page of the novel, we see yet another character development – something we’ve never yet seen in any of the battleschool children, actually…

I do think, however, that OSC has placed too much reliance on kids and their brilliance and influence. In his site, the Ornery American, he has an essay whereby he hypothesises that the only way to destroy terrorism is to destroy the very foundations of what the terrorists are trying to protect (or take back). If they have nothing to fight for, then why fight? He calls for an invasion of any Muslim countries not in the US’ support. This is an extreme point of view, and racial/religious ramifications aside, going to war with the middle-east is a battle even America and its allies will suffer greatly for. Unless, of course, you had a team of battle school kids at the helm. Kids who are so brilliant, they can negotiate a non-aggression pact to calm a centuries old dispute between two neighbouring nations (read the book, you’ll find out) — when Germany and Russia took weeks to negotiate a similar pact in WW2. Kids so influential that even though they are European, Asian powers allow them to have such high levels of command within their own country. So visionary they can forecast entire war strategies and plan entire campaigns. A country would need people like this if you wanted to do what OSC suggests in his essay. Clearly in reality, however, this is not the case for any country in the world.

Nonetheless, the world as it stands in this ficticious future is plausible, and OSC gives us an insight into how politics and the military play together. What nations want, and how they wheel and deal to try and out-manuever each other. His knowledge of historical events and people is blended into the novel quite skillfully, fleshing the details out and adding feasibility. (Then again, I am not a historian, but it all seems quite convincing.) It is interesting to note that in this world, America is no longer a superpower. It is described as being in China’s pocket. Complacent. A nation where true patriotism has died, and patriotism that exists is all for the wrong reasons. The US hardly features in this novel. OSC is clearly disillusioned with America and its current leadership. History has shown that superpowers all must fall at some time, so why not in the world of this novel?

SOTH is the second book in a series of what OSC says will be four books (working titles are “Shadow of a Giant” and “Shadow of Death”). If they are anything like the first two of the series, they will be both great reads.

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