I am rereading all of the Ender books and reading a handful for the first time. I am not really interesting in investigating Card as a person because he’s not a very good person, but in the novels themselves. Sometimes there’s carry over between the things that makes Card undesirable, but much of the time, the novels are wholly separate.
Ender’s Game – 5/5 Stars
I first read this book in high school, and I had no clue what it was all about going in, and that’s the best way to hit at it. In this reread, I think this is now my fourth or fifth time, there’s a lot more telegraphing than I realized in previous reads.
If you don’t know the story: it’s about 150 years into the future and humanity has world power split in several international agreements with the combined agreement to fund a space fleet to defend Earth from a third attempt at destruction. Decades earlier, the Formics (Buggers) a hive-mind species from a faraway intergalactic empire attacked Earth twice. In the second attack, Earth fought back and destroyed their colonization fleet. Now, Earth is preparing for a third attack (or setting up its own pre-emptory attack) by training future military commanders in an orbiting space academy. They recruit children in order to prevent the kinds of hangups adults have in regards to command and the smartest and most capable children are conscripted (more or less) into service. We meet Ender Wiggin, a young genius, being monitored by scouts from the school as he’s harassed by bullies. He fights back and savagely attacks his bully. This ends his period of observation and he’s sent to battle school. We also meet his older sister Valentine and his older brother Peter, both equally as brilliant, neither quite suited to battle school. In battle school, it’s clear to Ender that he’s being rushed through lessons and milestones in an accelerated path. He’s completely up to the task. At battle school, students are pitted against each other in a series of battle games, and Ender proves to be the best ever. And it goes from there.
It feels weird to protect from spoilers in one of the most well known sci fi novels of my lifetime, but here we are. I still find this book to be pretty amazing, and much more complex than my memories of my first reading. It’s also much shorter than I recall, in an almost streamlined way.
Ender’s Shadow – 5/5 Stars
This is a kind of concurrent sequel to Ender’s Game. I haven’t read the more direct sequels that follow Ender into colonization but I will get to them eventually. This book begins the second set of sequels that follow the immediate events on Earth after Ender’s war finishes. Here, we follow Bean, the clearly second-to-none lieutenant in Ender’s army from book one. There’s plenty of hints that Bean is beyond special in that book and miles ahead of all other battle schoolers. But this book expands on that and shifts the perspective from Ender to Bean (we’re still in third person, but the consciousness moved toward Bean). We find out that Bean grew up in the streets of Rotterdam (Earth is overcrowded and there’s population controls) as a street urchin fighting for survival. He joins a child gang and helps to orchestrate a regime change. This draws the attention of a International Fleet scout, a Catholic nun named Sister Carlotta. It also draws the attention of Achilles, another capable child who happens to be a serial killer who can’t stand for others to see him vulnerable. As Bean makes it to battle school, it’s clear throughout that he’s being primed as a secondary option to Ender in the formic war. In the meantime, Achille shows up at battle school an dhe has to ddeal with that.
There’s a little bit of forced retconning in this book, and Achille is a little silly as a character, but this is a truly solid book through and through. This series gets worse and worse as it goes one unfortunately.
Shadow of the Hegemon – 3/5 Stars
In this first Earthside novel from the Ender’s Shadow novel, we find that someone (a world power) is capturing the battle school graduates who were in Ender’s army, all except Bean, now living with his birth family in Greece, who narrowly survives an assassination attempt. We get an expansion of narrative perspective in this novel, following Petra (from Ender’s army) as she’s captured by Russians and put to work creating battle plans for a coming world war.
As Petra and Bean work to figure out what’s going on here, they rope in Peter Wiggin, Ender’s brother, who’s fighting to create his public profile as a benevolent influence, which he cultivated in his net forum persona Locke. With eyes on becoming the Hegemon (imagine if the UN had a Caesar-like dictator), he must first overcome his fear and his being a teenage boy. There’s a whole war going on too.
This is where things start to fall apart a little. For one, while the writing is still ok, and the Earthside war stuff is interesting, what works in battle school feels a little too loose on Earth. The constant reminder that we’re dealing with kids throughout becomes more glaring and there’s a little more insistence that has to happen.
First Meetings – 2/5 Stars
Four short stories that take place relative to Ender’s Game.
In the first story, we meet Ender’s father, a young Polish boy from a Catholic family that ignored and flouted the population control. He’s tested for battle school and scores off the charts, but he refuses to leave his family. He meets with Graff and negotiates a move to the US where he’ll consider battle school. This sets up how we end up with Ender in the right place at the right time.
In the second story, Ender’s dad and Ender’s mom meet at college. Both are brilliant and both have stupid crazy views on child-rearing. It’s good we get their kids, but this is Orson Scott Card at his most evangelical (at least as I’ve seen in this series).
In the third story, we are with Ender as he approaches a colony modeled off a corrupt Italian bureaucracy. He’s about to reach adulthood and will need to pay his taxes. It’s been several hundred years and his invested fleet salary is considerable now. He’s approached by an AI program designed to help him process his wealth and manage his finances. It sounds boring, but I liked this one the most. It has some definitive Lois McMaster Bujold qualities to it. If this means Ender will become a kind of self-serious Miles Vorkosigan, we could do worse.
The final story is the original novelette version of Ender’s Game published in the 1970s. It’s mostly an academic curiosity to see what changed over the different versions. For one, the “enemy” is not the formics, and there’s no psychological stuff. The battle tactics are still fun, but the story is much more conceit heavy.
A War of Gifts – 1/5 Stars
A Christmas story! Card is weirdly obsessed with European holiday celebrations and here’s a bunch of stuff happening around holidays at battle school. It’s interesting because so little things happen in either Ender’s Shadow or Ender’s Game other than what happens directly to the main characters. But instead of being insightful, it’s a little story allowing Orson Scott Card to scold us about secularism and humanity. That lesson is a real dud. I know there are so more battle school books, and I wish that’s what this had been. I know also that a lot of sci fi writers, plugged into the publishing world do little holiday stories like this one, but I couldn’t get through this one fast enough.
Ender in Exile – 2/5 Stars
This novel takes place as Ender is leaving for the colony he will be heading up. It mostly takes place on the ship en route, and involves a push-and-pull with the ship’s captain over who will lead the new colony. Ender outside of battle school/battle tactics is interesting, as he tries to figure out how his life will be, and he’s also dealing with the trauma he feels at the end of Ender’s Game for killing off the formics. In addition, this novel works through the early shifts in Ender’s historical legacy from hero of the world to Ender the Xenocide that we find in the immediate sequels.
But this novel is a mixed bag that involves an Italian mother and daughter on the ship that I couldn’t care less about. It’s weird story that mostly ends up being more scolding Card about being a good abstinent teenager. The political stuff, and the finality that takes him to further colonies and sets him off on his lifelong adult pursuits are the more interesting parts.
I won’t say much, but if you read this right after Ender’s Game, it confusingly spoils Ender’s Shadow and those sequels, but the allusions to those books might not make any sense here. It’s positioned weirdly in the timeline.