Friday, 26 January 2001

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Shadow (1999)

Edition: Orbit, 1999
Review number: 730

Ender's Game is one of the most popular and successful science fiction novels of all time. The sequels Card produced were less popular, though (or perhaps because) more adult and thought provoking. Now, Card has returned to the events of the first novel, and has written a companion to it rather than another sequel, retelling the same events from the perspective of another character, Ender's chief lieutenant Bean. The project was originally intended to let other writers set stories in the universe invented by Card, but he wrote the novel himself after becoming enthusiastic about the idea.

Basically, the two novels have the same plot - children trained in strategy to run an attack on the aliens known as the Buggers - with Bean's childhood taking the place of Ender's here. Bean is a nameless foundling, intelligent way beyond his years, who grows up in the street gangs infesting Rotterdam, which has a vast population of starving poor after being turned into somewhere for the world to dump refugees. Then he is noticed by a nun who is looking for the one who will be the saviour of the human race by leading the campaign against the Buggers, and is sent to the orbiting school which trains the children in strategy, principally through a team game which simulates tactical situations.

The best parts of Ender's Shadow are those which overlap with Ender's Game. That is partly because of the problems which Ender's Shadow has as a novel considered on its own. (That is, of course, difficult to do; it will always be compared to the better Ender's Game.) It lacks a certain freshness, sometimes just seeming to go through the motions. It is quite sentimental. Even in the Rotterdam gamgs, the children lack the believable nastiness present in, say, The Lord of the Flies. Card can write nasty children; in Ender's Game, the sibling rivalry between Peter and Ender Wiggin is an example, as is that between Calvin and Alvin in the Alvin Maker series. Here, however, even the serial killer Achilles does not provoke the uncomfortable reaction in the reader that he ought to. In addition, Ender's Shadow has a tacked on, sentimental ending, far less powerful than the remorse Ender grows into which fuels Speaker for the Dead.

If Ender's Game did not exist, this novel would be a reasonably competent piece of science fiction; but as it is, it will always be the poor relation of one of the classics of the genre.

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