Monday, December 15, 2008

Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ender in Exile
Orson Scott Card
Tor: 2008

With the tag line "After Battle School . . . The Lost Years", Orson Scott Card returns to the Enderverse to tell a story which will bridge the gap between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. While both Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead were complete novels in their own right, and the stories they told did not require every little gap to be filled it, Ender in Exile should clear up many lingering questions for longtime fans who actually want that gap to be filled.

Ender in Exile does cover a number of years for Ender Wiggin, though it may not be exactly the novel readers expected. The book jacket states,

"Or he can join the colony ships and go out to settle one of the new worlds won in the war. The story of those years on the colony worlds has never been told . . . until now."

It's good advertising, but it isn't accurate. Ender in Exile is more the story of Ender in Stasis. The majority of the novel takes place on a colony ship two years en route to Ender's first colony, Shakespeare, to which he was appointed governor. The journey will take forty years real time, but only two years of relative time on the ship, so Ender can stay a teenager but everything he left behind on Earth after Battle School will have changed. His brother Peter can become the Hegemon, unite the world, and all the events of the Shadow novels can take place.

My biggest concern regarding Ender in Exile was that Mr. Card would be unable to return to the quality of the Ender Quartet and would instead write a stinker like the later Shadow novels, and I have serious issues with Ender's Shadow, which is still easily the best of the sub-par Shadow novels. That was my concern. Which Orson Scott Card novel would we get? An Ender quality novel or a Shadow quality novel? The answer is "something in between."

When Orson Scott Card was at the height of his powers, and don't take his recent output as evidence of what he is capable of, he wrote some of the best science fiction on the market. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead are two outstanding novels, nearly peerless. The next two Ender novels have been unfairly maligned and are still superior novels.

Ender in Exile does not live up to that pedigree. Perhaps too much time has passed for Ender in Exile to possibly come across as relevant. The expectation is too high for a "direct sequel to Ender's Game" to ever truly deliver the goods.

In English or Composition classes around the country children are told that the proper way to tell a story is to "show, not tell", which means that the author should get across whatever information he or she wants to convey as a natural feeling part of the story and not simply dump a lot of information on the reader out of a true context. Now, this is a general rule and a good writer can break the rule and pull it off, but when readers complain that a writer is "telling, not showing", it generally means that said writer did not pull off the rule breaking. Or, that said writer tried to "show, not tell", and it still felt like telling.

The problem with Ender in Exile is that more often than not it feels like Card is telling, that he is filling in the gaps of the story, touching on everything that happened in the series that fits anywhere near the chronology Ender in Exile covers, and that he is willing to force in suplots regarding Achilles, and Bean's story on Earth where they don't belong. It's frustrating.

With all that said, Ender in Exile still hits some high points. What works best are the overly obvious e-mail communication between various individuals (Ender, Valentine, Peter, Col. Graff, etc) that tells more of the story than Card is willing to do in the main text of the novel. What works is Ender with Valentine, of Ender being is nearly perfect self. Ender Wiggin remains a compelling character, though this may be due to the overall strength of Ender's Game and less to do with Ender in Exile.

Mr. Card hits the high points he needs to (gets Ender away from Earth, gets Valentine out, hints at the origin of Jane, defines Ender's morality, has Ender write both The Hive Queen and The Hegemon, has Valentine write her stuff...and wrap up nearly everything), and in the process tells a story more interesting than perhaps it has a right to. Not a whole lot actually happens in the book to Ender or Valentine, all the development is with the side characters who feel like they are there only to come into contact with Ender and not for their own reasons, but despite that, Ender in Exile is still a decent read. Nothing extraordinary and not up to the level of Ender's Game...but it is far better than most of the Shadow novels. That counts for something.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Tor Books.


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