Day 14 is upon us, and we are now halfway through the week. Yesterday’s post was much longer than I expected for one of these weekday posts, but now I want to shift back to a shorter post and a change in plans from what I originally planned to post for today. There has been an onslaught of analysis from me, and I want to change that to a pseudo-review of sorts to answer one question.
Of course, you probably know what it is judging by the title.
If you are familiar with the first novel in the Ender series, (or at least its movie adaptation) I would assume that you would have liked it as a fun novel that is both timeless, mature, and tragic in its decent throughout its story. Ender is a sort of outcast in society, but he is extremely exceptional at strategy and is forced to adapt and overcome his peers and teachers as they provide unexpected challenges that nearly push Ender over the edge. The film shies away from the amount of violence in the novel, but Ender is forced to murder others in order to survive as a child. It ends with Ender realizing that these simulations were not a game and that he had just wiped out an alien race that seemed hellbent on humanities eradication.
Later, he learns they were only trying to understand mankind. He finds the last of their kind and vows to go on a journey across space to reclaim their race.
Ender’s Game stands as an excellent (albeit casual) read for those wanting something more than merely entertaining. Orson Scott Card balances a psychological drama with a militaristic overtone. The theme of friendship also hangs over the novel, and Ender’s struggles are gripping in an unwelcoming world. Although the majority of characters are children (with Ender being six in the beginning of the novel) their vast intelligence does not come across as left-field, but it makes these characters far more relatable in a situation that they should not be in. The human-versus-alien element is also a plot point that very subtly drives the plot, but it is not the emotional core of it. Were it not for the cliffhanger ending, this novel could have been its own self-contained masterpiece on the same level as the original Star Wars.
I have talked about how the ‘Piggies’ are an amazing alien race in Speaker for the Dead, but how does it follow up to Ender’s Game?
For starters, this seems like a very unlikely sequel to the original novel on paper. Instead of some story about a conflict erupting in humanity’s early colonies and Ender coming back to save the day, this novel sets itself thousands of years into the future. Ender has remained alive due to relativity and serves as the Speaker for the Dead in order to… speak on behalf of the dead and showcase their accomplishments. It follows a broken family of a single mother and her six children on the edge of the galaxy, as their world is plagued by a strange virus and an alien race that seems uncertain in intent. The novel is also very much hardcore science-fiction and delves deep into biology. Many of the main characters are xenobiologists, and they carry a large portion of the novel with or without Ender.
Despite the drastic changes, Speaker for the Dead is an excellent sequel to Ender’s Game. This is due to Ender’s role in the story, which serves as a reflection for the previous novel and develops him in this unfamiliar world where he does not have a place in. The aspects of military and strategy from the first novel may be absent, but the novel goes into far more interesting places in regards to its themes of family, xenophobia, and even love in some regards. It is far more heavy-handed than Ender’s Game, but not to the extent that its themes reek of trite.
There is a cliffhanger ending again, where a fleet of ships is coming to their world to destroy it due to the virus and the threat that looms over all of humanity.
Next, comes a behemoth of a novel, and one that is far more unappealing to the casual reader than Speaker for the Dead.
Xenocide is a direct sequel to the previous book (unlike Ender’s Game) and deals with the same characters, themes, and plot points from the last novel. Philosophy is also a giant aspect of this novel’s plot, and there can be massive sections where characters sit down and talk about the universe. Its pace is much slower, and Ender has been sidelined in favour of his family and new characters on an Asian colony (in a sort of B-plot). They are super-intelligent human beings, but unable to unshackle themselves from their love of their gods (actually the government) as a result of extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder. The B-plot features a very human drama between Han Fei-tzu, his tragic daughter Han Qing-jao, and their exceptionally bright commoner Si Wang-mu. Their contrast and discovery of their genetic modifications is what sticks out in Xenocide, and is one of the novel’s saving graces.
While I certainly do not think Xenocide is a bad novel, it has intelligent thoughts riddled in a mediocre plot. A heavy Catholic overtone may be jarring when compared to Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, as well as its ideas of the ‘outside’ of the universe. Both of these are without a doubt essential for the plot to function, they are explored in so much detail that Xenocide feels more like 600 pages of ideas rather than plot.
Unlike the other two novels, the upcoming one was supposed to be the ending for Xenocide but was cut and stretched out for a fourth and final novel dealing with Ender’s journey.
Children of the Mind is my least favourite of the Ender novels, but it is still an intelligent novel just like its predecessors. It may not be as philosophical as Xenocide, as psychological as Ender’s Game, or as emotional as Speaker for the Dead, but there is enough of a driving force to justify a fourth novel.
As I mentioned before, there is a virus that threatens humanity (and is also much further analysed and elaborated on in Xenocide) and in this novel, they are taken even further with a certain element of intrigue. They are revealed to be an intelligent lifeform and created by a mysterious race that we only get a glimpse of in the midst of this novel. The dramatic element comes from Ender’s ‘AI’ named Jane, who relies on computers to store her mind. As each is shut down to stop her and Ender’s crew, she is dying and it is portrayed beautifully in this novel. Imagery is clear and powerful, and her relationship transcends from Ender to all of humanity. While the outcome of the impending threat to their world is in order, her story arc is what drives the novel and keeps it from the dust.
One issue I have is the treatment of Ender, who dies merely halfway into the novel. The character is sidelined and his role is diminished (as Xenocide did to a lesser extent) leaving his death unceremonious until the end. The other characters are just as strong as they were in the previous novel, and the B-story is also shut down in favour of world-building that feels rather clunky. Each world feels like a nation of our world, each having its own ethnicity, culture, and traditions that have stark comparisons from one another. The way that the novel deals with the threat of destruction for the main characters also feels anti-climactic and ‘too easy,’ which ultimately detracts from everything from Speaker for the Dead to this point ever so slightly.
While there are much more novels in the Ender universe, I have only read Ender’s Shadow, which is parallel to the original story from Bean’s point-of-view. It keeps the values of Ender’s Game intact, and may even be just as good as. While I have not read any of its sequels and prequels (as well) to Ender’s Game, I can say that the quartet of novels above are a great attempt squandered by its ending. It had the potential to be the Star Wars of books, but drastic changes and alienation are what keep it from reaching it.
And with that, we come to a close for today. I know I said today would be shorter, but I can see I was wrong about that. Tomorrow will move back towards analysis, and the weekend will kick off in that fashion as well. I apologize for some errors that may be in this post, but I was tired when writing it. Eleven more days remain until these posts or done, and until a very special time of the year.
I will see you then. 🙂