01/01/2009. Contributed by Rod MacDonald
pub: Macmillan Audio. 12 CDs 14 hours. Price: $49.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4272-0512-4). read by David Birney, Cassandra Campbell, Emily Janice Card . Orson Scott Card, Gabrielle de Cuir, Kirby Heyborne . Don Leslie, Stefan Rudnicki, Mirron Willis.
check out website: http://us.macmillan.com/Book.aspx?isbn=9781427205124
This isn't just an audio book, it's a production of great scope more akin to audio drama. The above list of names isn't just a list of narrators, it is a cast! Yes, this is something different to listen to and it doesn't take long to realise that this is also something special. In terms of production and subject matter, 'Ender In Exile' is a winner.
Please don't think I am being a creepy crawly by praising this audio book. Believe me, it deserves the praise. I must confess that I wasn't overly impressed before listening to this audio book because I thought it was going to be like Orson Scott Card's previous offering, 'A War Of Gifts', the short book issued a year ago for Christmas 2007 which I didn't think was very good. This was my sole experience of the 'Ender' books but, having listened to this, my opinion has changed.
In order to understand 'Exile', we have to go back over 20 years to 'Ender's Game', the original novel in the series. It's not really a series but more a collection of books exploring a theme. The boy called Andrew Wiggin (Ender) grew up in a society immersed in a war of survival against an alien species of insects called Buggers or Formics. Earth society was focused in its effort to achieve victory with everything else simply superfluous. Ender was a boy soldier in this war, not fighting at the front line with a Kalashnikov but up against it in, according to perceptions, a massive computer game. Ender won... he wiped them out!
About a year later, Orson Scott Card came up with another book called 'Speaker For The Dead' by which time Ender is a wise old sage in his middle 30s. This is a totally different Ender. Many other books were written over the next 20 years but 'Ender In Exile' is the first to bridge the gap between the first two volumes. In essence, it's trying to tell us what happened to the boy after he won the war.
There's a couple of things wrong in what Ender did during the war, apart from wiping out (or so we think) an entire species. You've saved humanity, changed society and become a hero so what do you do then? That's okay if you're an old man but for a young boy with many years ahead, trying to top that would be rather difficult. Living with the knowledge that you've reached your peak at the age of 12 and everything following is going to be insignificant must be a difficult concept to absorb.
Secondly, from the point of view of society, what do they do with such a hero? Cometh the hour, cometh the man is okay but a few days later the collective conscience of society kicks in and the person who was once a hero can often be resented. It's a strange phenomenon but one which was true on many occasions in history. Ancient Greece had the answer to this problem and that was to ostracise anyone too big for their boots. Ostracism was a formal procedure voted on by the citizens and even heroes of the Persian Wars like Themistocles and Ariseides got banished. In fact, in a curious way, it became an honour to be ostracised because that meant you had achieved a very high status in society. It also meant that you were excused from all current problems allowing you to be free to pursue your own interests somewhere else other than Athens.
After the war with the Buggers, even though he is only a boy, Ender is effectively ostracised. He says goodbye to all the problems of Earth which is coming to terms with the end of the war and says goodbye to some members of his own family and his classmates from the Battle School. Ender is sent to become the governor of a new colony, a world once in the possession of the Buggers but now with the name of Shakespeare. In fact, Earth has a new and expanded Empire all at the expense of these unfortunate insects.
Thank goodness Ender doesn't travel by instant warp technology. We've got something more scientifically accurate in that in order to get anywhere out there in the galaxy you've got to travel pretty fast, approaching the speed of light, which still takes years to complete on a journey to stars many light years distant. This is Einstein's Special Relativity in action! Time dilation no less! You've got to admit that making a 40 year relativistic journey is much more interesting than jumping into a wormhole!
Ender in the spacecraft going to the planet of Shakespeare ages a couple of years during which time the planet Earth and all its people age 40 years. If this isn't an opportunity for dilemma then I don't know what is. Imagine if you had left in 1970 and were still only in 1972 when you arrived in 2009 at your destination?
It doesn't take long for Ender to realise that he won't be going back to Earth. They don't want him back! There's just too many problems in having a living legend still alive to spoil the legend. All good prophets have the decency to die off leaving the disciples and followers to write their own stories, myths and scriptures. In the same way that Paul may have found Jesus to be an inconvenience had the latter not died on the cross, Ender's continued existence on Earth would have spoiled everything for those using his status, either as a good or a bad person, to achieve their own political goals. It was much better that Ender was out of the way both in distance and in time.
A considerable section of the audio book is taken up with Ender's journey to Shakespeare. He has his sister Valentine to accompany him on the journey, a fact that is very reassuring for both of them. Meanwhile, back on Earth, his brother is stirring up political trouble and on the ship itself, the captain, Admiral Morgan, basically thinks he is a jumped up little squirt who should be put down. Essentially this is jealously on the captain's part and that makes Ender's life difficult for a while.
Among the colonists there is a pushy family on the make. The Toscano mother turns out to be a nuisance when she tries to pair off her young daughter with Ender. However, Ender establishes himself with the people of the new colony and once they are all settled, he makes a journey to find the remains of their former Formic enemy, The Buggers are ready once again to expand in population but will they be a threat to humans?
Finally, Ender travels to another planet, Ganges, where he encounters problems with a big chap by the name of Achilles who has a chip on his shoulder. Again, Ender has to struggle but maintains his composure to win through but only to this physical cost. Towards the end of the book, we can see how he grows to become the man everyone knows him to be. The boy has become a man.
This isn't an audio book full of swashbuckling action and it probably helps if you know a little about the preceding novels. However, it's a very interesting book full of thoughtful moments, moral dilemmas, painful problems and even heart-warming touches which will leave you similarly affected on completion. The way the book has been offered as an audio presentation greatly adds to its appeal and effect. This isn't just a group of narrators thrown together to read a book for people to listen to on disc. It's a carefully orchestrated event. One imagines that a lot of hard work has been invested into making it a success.
Oh, and yes, I would recommend it.
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