After Cheri’s wonderful review, I’m going to lower the expectations for myself right from the start. Rather than a thoughtful and well-formed synopsis with insight and careful commentary, I am going to gush about one of my favorite books: Ender’s Shadow.
No, I did not misstype Ender’s Game, which is Orson Scott Card’s Nebula and Hugo award-winning military sci-fi novel, I am referring to the lesser-known parallel story to that famous book of gifted children.
Ender’s Shadow is sold as a companion to Ender’s Game — emphasizing the fact that the golden boy from Game was not alone in his trials and tribulations. Shadow follows the story of Bean, one of the child generals who “became Ender’s right hand, his strategist, and his friend.”
Now comes my oft-contested claim: Ender’s Game is a dim candle to Ender’s Shadow’s brilliance.
I cannot fathom why anyone would choose Game over Shadow (feel free to relieve me of my ignorance in the comments). I feel like I could sing odes to this thought-provoking, multi-socio-dimensional, cross-cultural, cross-philosophical, cross-religious, cross-scientific book. So I will:
Here told is the story of a young boy,
From the very first he has struggled to survive,
Trials and tribulations eventually ending in the sky,
Intelligence to him was a toy,
Viewed by all as barely human was he,
As he protected and fought for humanity…
Well, I never said I was a poet (in fact, dear readers, let me tell you outright that I am the furthest thing you could ever fathom from it).
I don’t want to ruin anything of the story if I can, but I will say what I loved about this book when I first picked it up sometime in late middle-school.
It starts in the streets among unwanted children. Starvation runs rampant and there is nothing pretty about the situation. It is real and very, very human. There is a boy named Bean. He is very intelligent. (I am an absolute sucker for intelligence.) He makes some decisions that are very reasonable and very human.
There is a nun. She taught me things about the Bible that I had only learned previously from The Prince of Egypt and various cartoons.
Then there is space: I learned about different principles of physics that weren’t covered in school, but should’ve been. I learned about philosophers from Machiavelli to Socrates to Aquinas to Muhammad to Han Tzu.
I learned about tactics and aliens and about achievements made despite age. I learned that your intelligence should be heeded in the right situations. I learned that views of yourself are not always correct, that one can be easily influenced by those around you. I learned that your culture strongly influences who you are. I learned about doubt, and evil, and logic, and that some things are beyond logic. I learned that you should always keep learning, no matter how smart you are or how smart others think you are. I learned that there is always someone better. I learned not to always trust authority and that sometimes, those who are protected, are not protected for the right reasons. I learned that family ties are important. I learned that even those who are strong are human.
I learned a lot.
For those of you familiar with Ender’s Game, the timeline is very similar. We follow a group of young children, who, because of their brilliance, are brought to a tactical school in space where they are trained to be leaders in the Formic War (a battle humanity has been waging against alien beings somewhat resembling ants that attacked Earth).
Bean’s story was written over a decade and a half after Ender’s and the maturity shows in the writing, in the plot, in the complexity of thought. It was all given to me in a way that was accessible and exciting; I could understand every word, every concept, every idea. And everything just thrust open the doors for me to learn more.
A lot of the feels I have for this book are nostalgic. Reading this book motivated me to find the wider world that existed beyond me and to think about how all things were connected on an international scale. Oh yeah, most of the characters are people of color (POC) which is a thing that I only consciously noticed while thinking about this post.
If you think about it, Card could’ve easily written this book from a strictly Western-centric point-of-view (something he did with Ender’s story). The story was enhanced and elevated through the eyes and experiences of these different cultures. Bean is Greek and Igbo and his complexion, curly hair, and mixed ethnicities are part of who he is (and who he becomes. BUT NO SPOILERS). In Shadow, the reader is carefully shown where each child came from and, in the following books in the quartet, it is clearly shown how it impacts them and their decisions. Each child’s mentality was refreshingly based on their culture.
I give this book a million potatoes and want the world to read it. And if you feel like a good argument sometime, drop by for a chat if you think Ender is better than Bean. Be prepared to lose.
Be on the look out for Cheri’s next post, coming this Wednesday!