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Book Review: Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card

Book + Feet
     The title of this book may sound vaguely familiar to you, even if you're pretty sure you haven't read it, and that's probably because its companion, Ender's Game, was recently turned into a mediocre movie.   Neither book is anywhere near mediocre, however.  Science fiction gets a bad rep because it is often described as cheesy and solely for geeks, but Orson Scott Card's novels are good stories by any standards.  Sure, they play into some stereotypes of the genre: both books are set in the future, at an outer space Battle School where children are trained to be soldiers in an impending war with a hostile alien race.  But all of this is merely a backdrop for Card to work out the answers to his questions about war, mercy, selflessness, community, humanity, success, and genius.
     Ender's Shadow is written from the perspective of Bean, previously an enigmatic secondary character in Ender's Game, which was centered around the flashier Ender Wiggin.  Both boys are accepted very young, at only six years old, to Battle School, and both are in the running to be Commander-in-Chief of the human fleet during the Bugger war.  But where Ender is a charismatic, empathetic leader, Bean is detached, calculating, and brilliant.  Where Ender was brought up by a wealthy military family, Bean was born under mysterious circumstances and forced to survive on the streets of Rotterdam, Holland from a very young age.  Bean has incredible memory, powers of deduction, and strategic ability, but his brilliance also cuts him off from connecting with others.  He never becomes a lauded hero.  Bean's story is the story of the people who work behind the scenes to ensure that the "real" hero saves the day.  
     No other writer that I know of can tackle so many topics and so many questions - What makes a hero?  What is victory worth?  What makes us human?  Is fame a game of chance? - and still write a story this engrossing and unpretentious.  Even 1984 by George Orwell has its dull bits, including a seemingly endless "excerpt" from a book about totalitarianism that the main character reads. Orwell uses this excerpt to clearly lay down how he thought such a nightmarish government might arise, and in the long run, this explanation is crucial to the reader's understanding.  But Card manages not to interrupt his plot and burden his readers with such drivel, and still manages to communicate his ideas.  
     That, my friends, is genius.

     - Carly 

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