Orson Scott Card
Every generation of science fiction reader has its own standard-bearers. The stories of Cyril Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, C.L. Moore, Arthur C. Clarke, and Issac Asimov mean something different to an older generation of reader than they do to science fiction readers reading their works today for the first time. Robert Heinlein’s more adult-oriented fiction of the 1960’s and the stories of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Frederick Pohl in the 1970’s frame that generations sense of who they were and what they were about. In the 1980’s, science fiction was defined by a new generation of writers who were not only entertaining us with new stories of wonder but were pushing the genre into new frontiers that caused the field of science fiction to change forever. William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Greg Bear and David Brin brought us tales that not only intrigued and entertained us with new ideas but they also reflected the new generation of reader. One writer who helped bring a whole new generation of readers into the SF-fold is Orson Scott Card. The novel that did it was “Ender’s Game.”
Many of us are familiar with the story of Ender Wiggin, the young military genius who saves the world from the Buggers (an alien race seemingly intent on destroying Earth). Many of us are also familiar with Ender’s continued story as an adult in “Speaker for the Dead” and “Xenocide.”, both great novels. When Card released “Children of the Mind”, the fourth novel in the Ender series, I for one thought he had gone to the well once too many times. The book lacked cohesiveness and didn’t capture the imagination the way the three prior novels had. Was this the end of the Ender saga?
It was with great reluctance that I opened my copy of Ender’s Shadow, the first novel in the continuation of the Ender saga. This however was different. Basically Card retold the story of Ender’s Game, from the viewpoint of Bean, one of the children who served with Ender during the Bugger War. Ender however was on the sidelines and it became clear by the second novel, Shadow of the Hegemon that this definitely wasn’t Ender’s story, and the thing is, I didn’t care. The story of Bean and the other Battle School children struggling to make their place in the world in the aftermath of the Formic War was interesting, intriguing, and just great reading.
In “Shadow Puppets”, the story of Bean and his chums as young adults continues. Peter Wiggin, Ender’s older brother and now the ruling Hegemon, has rescued the homicidal Achilles, from a China bent on world domination, in hopes of controlling him. The plan backfires and repercussions are felt by everyone. Bean and Petra have gone underground to avoid assassination while revolt against the Chinese rule is brewing around the world. The fate of the world is once again in the hands of the Battle School children.
Shadow Puppets comes together in a tightly written narrative that sometimes threatens to unravel but Card manages to keep it together mainly by exploring the very same issues of friendship, loyalty, and morality that made Ender’s Game so endearing to a whole generation of readers. The plot is relatively straightforward, there are all kinds of subterfuge and various machinations going on and it isn’t difficult to figure who is doing what to whom but, by focusing on great character development, Card delivers the story in way that is both fresh and engaging.
If you have read all of the novels in the Ender series thus far, you probably already have a copy of Shadow Puppets on your nightstand. If you stopped reading novels in the series after Children of the Mind, then you have a treat in store should you decide to pick up these new novels in the saga. If you haven’t yet read any of the novels in the Ender series, then pickup “Ender’s Game”, sit back, and read a great science fiction novel by a writer who is one of the standard-bearers for this generation and quite possibly the next one as well.