01/03/2010. Contributed by Patrick Mahon
pub: Orbit. 391 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-227-8).
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net
'Ender In Exile' is the sixth in the series that started with Orson Scott Card's first and most famous novel, 'Ender's Game'. However, it does not carry on where the fifth book in that series finished but re-visits the events that were recounted in summary in the final chapter of 'Ender's Game'. This raises an obvious question: do those events really need re-telling at novel length?
To recap, in 'Ender's Game', Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin saved Earth from a feared alien invasion through a pre-emptive strike against the 'buggers' who devastated China on their first visit some years before. His final attack killed all the buggers at one stroke. Ender, however, didn't realise what he'd done. He thought he was playing against a simulator, not fighting for real. He also did this at the age of thirteen, having been identified as a child prodigy and the potential saviour of mankind at the age of six, then trained by the military at an orbiting Battle School for the following seven years. Having fulfilled his destiny, Ender assumes he'll be allowed to go back home to his family to resume the childhood he lost to the military.
No such luck. The saviour of the Earth would be too destabilising to fragile global geopolitics if he returned. Instead, he is persuaded to become a governor and travel to one of the new colonies being set up to spread humanity beyond the Earth, now that the risk of having us all living on one single planet has finally been recognised.
The journey to the colony takes two years of ship time but, due to relativistic time dilation, forty years passes back on Earth and at the colony planet. During the voyage, Ender has to watch his every move. The ship's captain, an arrogant control freak, does not respect the youthful Ender, even though Ender out-ranks him. He makes clear that he intends to become the power behind Ender's governorship when they arrive at the colony. At the same time, Ender has to deal with the machinations of one of the other passengers, a poverty-stricken woman who is ambitious for herself and daughter's future.
When they arrive at the new colony, Ender is faced with three parallel dilemmas. First, how can he stop the ship's captain from sidelining him? Second, how can he integrate the large number of new arrivals with the original colonists, who have been taming a hostile planet for forty years? Third, how can he find peace on the planet of his former adversaries and reconcile himself to the genocide he unwittingly caused?
The storyline of this novel is very different from that of 'Ender's Game'. Where the former was an action-based coming-of-age tale in a military setting, 'Ender In Exile' is a much slower-burning story of one young man's quest for meaning in a changed universe. However, this is not to say that the book is dull. Far from it. Card keeps the pace up with a succession of interesting sub-plots and explores the character of Ender and the other main players in satisfying detail.
I enjoyed reading this book a great deal. I found the main character, Ender, to be a deeply sympathetic person to spend time with and enjoyed getting to know him. He is a flawed character, as are we all. His strength, to my mind, is that he faces up to his own weaknesses with brutal honesty and genuinely tries to overcome them. He shows empathy for everyone, which makes him very likeable. However, he also has a deep understanding of human nature and motivations which makes him a fearsome opponent.
If there was one thing that did not ring particularly true for me in the story, it was the transformation of Ender's older brother, Peter. In 'Ender's Game', Peter repeatedly showed himself to be a hugely gifted but arrogant sociopath, happy to resort to physical violence to obtain his objectives. However, as 'Ender In Exile' progresses, Peter achieves his ambition to become the man in overall charge of Earth's Government. Here, however, absolute power does not corrupt absolutely, as has happened so many times in reality. Instead, Peter becomes a wise and gentle ruler. I found it very hard to reconcile this with the clear picture of a borderline psychopath that we met in the earlier book.
If you're a fan of Orson Scott Card, you will want to know that some parts of this book have been adapted from short stories previously published by him in his 'InterGalactic Medicine Show' ezine. However, they are well integrated into the overall story and I did not notice any obvious gaps or discontinuities.
To answer the question I posed in the first paragraph, I think Card has done something worthwhile in expanding the last chapter of 'Ender's Game' to novel-length. The earlier book showed how a young boy became a great leader and won a famous victory on behalf of humanity. 'Ender In Exile' shows how that same boy learns to live with what he had to do in order to achieve that victory. It is not quite up to the very high standard of the earlier book but is not far off. This is an entertaining and thought-provoking read.
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