Best of Science Fiction #28: Orson Scott Card, “Ender’s Shadow”

Year of Publication: 1999
Subgenres: kid hero, special snowflake, war

The premise: Hey, you liked Ender’s Game right? So much that you want to hear the story again from a different perspective? Let’s go with, uh, I dunno, how about Bean.

My experience:  It was hard for me to get past the fact that the premise feels (A) like fanfiction, (B) awfully self-important (like, what, are you writing gospels here), and (C) a straight-up cash grab on the part of the author. The audiobook included an author’s afterword where he did a lot of talking about the movie, which only strengthened my suspicions of C.

It also included an introduction which informed us of the premise and assured us that the book stands on its own, even if you haven’t read Ender’s Game. This was good, I thought, as I’d read Ender’s Game more than 20 years ago, and my memory is not as nearly as good as Bean’s. Well–it doesn’t quite stand on its own. It assumes you remember the background with the aliens and the war and why, exactly, we are sending children to battle school. Or at least, I’m assuming it assumes that, because those pieces never made sufficient sense. There were a handful of odd, awkward scenes, which I’m guessing are scenes that took place in the original story and needed to be retconned here–but maybe they were just odd, awkward scenes.

Here’s the main thing I didn’t get. Why little kids? Why not make these characters teenagers? They sound and act like teens anyway. Cuz look, as kids these characters are not believable, no matter how smart they’re supposed to be. Is Card trying to make a Vonnegutesque point about the horrors of war? Or does he just have a creepy fascination with children?

And let’s talk about writing geniuses. I get it: it’s hard to do well, especially when you’re trying to write from their point of view. Genius kids, even harder. But these kids just don’t ring true, which makes it hard to care about them. Now I will say, the choice to make the main character neurodivergent (hyper-intelligent but lacking in empathy) is interesting and almost cool. On the plus side, yay for representation, and yay for Learning The Valuable Lesson that it’s not enough to be smart, relationships are important. On the minus side… this character is frequently talked about as not human. 

For all that, it’s an easy and engaging story, the kind of thing that reads well on a plane.

One last note: if you’re going to pick it up though, best be up on your Bible stories. You remember Absalom, right?

You might like this book if: you rate everything on a scale from “smart” to “stupid”


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