'Shadow' a thrilling tale from a new perspective
Review by Brad Morris
August 1, 1999
(CNN) -- Bean is the youngest and smallest kid in battle school, younger and smaller than the school's legend, Ender Wiggin. But Bean is the most intelligent kid in a school filled with superintelligent military geniuses. Bean must outthink his competition and his teachers in order to survive. But can he stand living in Ender's shadow? "Ender's Shadow" is a new science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, best known for his "Ender's" series and his "Alvin Maker" series. It covers the same time frame as "Ender's Game" but tells the story from an alternate viewpoint and different emotional emphasis.
"Ender's Game," the Hugo and Nebula winning book, is an amazing piece of science fiction. Earth had barely escaped being invaded by the Formics twice before. In mankind's darkest hour, Ender Wiggin, a reluctant 10-year-old hero, comes forward to lead humanity's space fleet against the Formics in a daring battle to save the Earth.
In order to find battle leaders intelligent enough but also malleable enough to be able to think like the enemy, Earth recruits and trains young children to lead its battle fleet. But Ender does not know he is leading a desperate battle. To him it is only a game. In "Ender's Shadow," Card retells the tale of training and the battle, but this time through the eyes of the youngest and smallest commander, Bean. "Ender's Shadow" is a companion novel that deeply explores the questions of "Ender's Game" and is ultimately just as powerful and inventive as the original. Bean must rise up from being a beggar on the mean streets of Rotterdam and get noticed by the international fleet as a recruit for its military training. Bean quickly sees through the facade of battle school, but can he figure out how to beat the system and Formics when even the adults can't?
"Ender's Shadow" succeeds on several levels. It spins a thrilling tale of Bean's rise from urchin to child warrior to political strategist to Ender's lieutenant commander during the war. It also tells how the armor of survival can shield a person and can be very hard to let down. "Ender's Shadow" is also more cynical than "Ender's Game." The men in charge not only don't have all the answers, but also -- through their secrets, manipulation and mistrust -- are harming their own goals. One of Card's recurring themes is the quest for family. Bean is a child with no family and has shut off his feelings in order to survive. Bean creates a dysfunctional family in Rotterdam (which ends with the father killing the mother), finds a nun and a drunk janitor who represent his next family, and his search for family continues as he searches for his own humanity. The book examines deeply the question of what makes someone human.
Although "Ender's Game" readers will know the basic outline of the plot of "Ender's Shadow," there are enough new elements and twists to keep the story fresh and exciting. "Ender's Shadow" illuminates some of the mysteries and deepens understanding of "Ender's Game." It also provides a springboard for a sequel, where Bean may become a general back on Earth, and Peter, Ender's brother, may become Hegemon.
"Ender's Game" has always appealed to young readers because they can relate to the isolation and desperation of the young commanders. In some sense, all children are being prepared for a battle to save humanity, but that battle will be on this planet. Every fossil fuel we burn, landfill we create, nuclear missile we point at each other and rain forest we destroy will have dire consequences for our children and their children. And our children must learn and master our increasingly complex technology in order to have a hope of saving the planet. "Ender's Shadow" reverberates and amplifies this theme and tone.
Reader's who have read and loved "Ender's Game" will love this book. In fact, they may find themselves picking up "Ender's Game" again after they finish "Ender's Shadow." But if you've never read "Ender's Game," you probably should get it first, since too much is taken for granted or not explained for this book to stand totally on its own.
"Ender's Shadow" does have its awkward moments. Card had to bend the plot to make events fit perfectly with "Ender's Game," and there is a clumsy subplot with a villain that seems to have been written just for a sequel. Also, some plot coincidences seem a bit too contrived, setting up for manipulated payoffs later. Card is a religious man, and his deep beliefs not only shape the plot but bleed through in some ill-integrated biblical quotes near the end of the book.
There has been some talk on the Web that releasing "Ender's Shadow" might help Card make a long-awaited movie of "Ender's Game." And it has also been rumored that Jake Lloyd has shown interest in playing the part of Ender. Whatever happens, it would be wonderful to see this science fiction classic on the big screen. The battle room sequences with 80 kids fighting in zero gravity could be breathtaking with computer graphics. The alien asteroid would also make wonderful scenery. But most importantly, the power and drama of the wonderful story would be a nice counterpoint to the effects-driven science fiction movies of late.
"Ender's Shadow" marks the return of Orson Scott Card to the claustrophobic, intense world of the battle school that first fascinated readers in "Ender's Game." It is entertaining, fast-paced science fiction. Don't be surprised if "Ender's Shadow" wins the Hugo and Nebula like its acclaimed predecessor.
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