Saturday, April 04, 2009
Partial Book Review: Ender's Shadow



*Warning: unedited version - misspellings and grammatical roadbumps ahead.

The problem with getting bitten with the so-called "writing bug" is that it strikes at the most unexpected of times. To make matters worse, it's hard for me NOT to immediately write down these fleeting thoughts, because I might forget them if I wait too long. That's why I'm up, writing this at an ungodly hour. I would like to point out that I'm doing my best not to look at the bottom right corner of my screen where the time is displayed. It's easier for me to get up in the morning not knowing exactly how late I stayed up the night before. I guess I'm just weird like that.

Anyway, I just plowed through about sixty pages of Ender's Shadow, which takes place roughly along the same timeline of the book that started it all, Ender's Game. In Shadow, the story focuses on Bean, an expectionally brilliant (like Ender) but woefully small child who will eventually become one of Ender's most powerful allies. The basic premise of the book is to depict the same intergalactic war between humans and buggers; this time however, the story is told from Bean's perspective.

As I said, I read a good chunk of the book and of course I'm hooked. Right off the bat, Orson Scott Card has already woven in a lot of cool stuff with this parallel novel. What I dig about it is that it's excellent as a standalone book, which means that foreknowledge of the original book is just icing on the cake. But for those that have read Ender's Game (like me), man, what sweet icing it is. In my mind, I was already comparing Ender and Bean's experiences side-by-side, which is what I think Card intended.

If Ender had Peter and Valentine to grow up with before he went off to battle school, Bean has Achilles and Poke as his "siblings". Bean doesn't share any blood relations with the two, but the dynamics of his relationship with Achilles and Poke mimic that of Ender's, but on a much more brutal scale. While Peter and Achilles are both cold-blooded and capable of murder, the main difference between them was their circumstances. Peter had to deal with living in a sheltered, suburban enviroment which I believe held him back from actually killing Ender. If he were made to wander the streets as a homeless kid however, he could just as easily kill like Achilles has. The real threat of dying from starvation merely amplified the same inborn, calcualting nature that Achilles' shares with Peter.

Poke and Valentine also serve the same role, which is to protect their respective brothers (Bean/Ender) from the wrath of their elder tormentors (Achilles/Peter). Of course, Poke literally dies for her heroics (unline Valentine), but both girls have put themselves in harm's way in the same selfless manner.

Let's not forget the name of the officer who verbally praises Bean during the shuttle launch to Battle School. His name escapes me at the moment, but I'll bet you a million bucks that Card fashioned him in the same way as General Graff, Ender's father figure. Like Graff, this officer inwardly has a respect and admiration for Bean but is obviously obligated to subtly segregate him from the other students. This is to acheive the same kind of psychological training that Graff had successfully encoded into Ender's brain. The child must NEVER think for a second that anyone will come to rescue him when he's surrounded by a horde of enemies. When the time comes that Bean/Ender finally has to come face-to-face with massive fleets of alien warships, no adult will come to break up the fight.

As an aside, I liked how many of the characters' names are historically inspired: Nero, Ulysses, Achilles, etc. It adds a tad more subtext that I appreciate although I know little about the actual stories behind those namesakes. Regarding the rest of the street urchins that Bean lived with, they're easily comparable to politicians or society in general. With all the mind games and backstabbing going on among those hungry kids, I couldn't help but draw parallelisms with our current geopolitical landscape. Then again, we've been scheming and plotting as soon as we developed enough grey matter to do it (which goes back to who-knows-when).

Even for a work fiction, the thought of a one-year old like surviving three years on his own is difficult to believe. But I suppose Card wants to challenge us by making us think about the real orphans roaming the cold streets. For all we know, there could be thousands and thousands of children as smart and as strong as Bean who have to deal with the perils of homelessness. Unfortunately for them, they aren't imaginary characters whom the author has to keep alive for the purpose of plot advancement. They're made of flesh and blood and could die at any given moment.

Lastly, if my powers of social observation were as powerful as Bean's during my high school days, I would've been the most popular/powerful guy on campus. The way he uses his ability to suss out the hierarchy of power and make his move to come out on top was just awesome.

Well, that's all there is to be said for now but I'm sure there's plenty more to talk about after I've read a few more chapters.

1 comments:

Sans said...

"But for those that have read Ender's Game (like me), man, what sweet icing it is." - I definitely feel the same way too, Kuy.

It never really occurred to me that Bean and Ender have similar key people in their lives but having different situations altogether (Achilles being like Peter and Poke being like Valentine). Great insight! :-)

I was really glad that Card made a book with Bean's point of view. Personally, he is one of my favorite characters. In fact, I think that at some points, Bean was smarter than Ender but the former was never really recognized.

I'm excited for you to finish the book, hehe!! Let me know ha so we can talk about it. :-D