Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book Review: Ender in Exile

Ender in Exile
by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is probably one of the best known science fiction stories of the last few decades. It started life as a novelette, then became a novel, then spawned many sequels. Yet Ender in Exile, 23 years after the original Ender's Game novel, is the first direct sequel which follows Ender immediately after the events of Ender's Game. All of the other books in the series have either taken place much later, or followed different characters.

Ender in Exile is worth the wait. It's a feel-good book that finally allows us to see the story that we've waited for all these years, as Ender grows from a guilt-ridden and war-weary child into the adult we meet in Speaker for the Dead, tries to make sense of the past, and seeks his purpose in life.

How does a thirteen-year-old who has just saved the world, and been both deified and vilified, cope? Where does he go from here? Clearly, he can’t go back to being a child; he’s been dealing with adult level responsibility for years. And yet, to everyone who doesn’t know him, he is still a child, and their reactions to him are colored by their expectations. So Ender has to deal with the machinations and political maneuvering of the people around him, most of whom see him either as a tool or an obstacle, while simultaneously dealing with his own feelings of guilt and remorse for the xenocide of the buggers (not to mention the deaths of the two bullies).

I found this to be a very compelling book, not in an edge-of-your-seat way, but because I was so involved with the characters that I just didn't want to stop reading. Reading this book, it really struck me that Card's genius is in creating characters that you can't help but like. Some of his characters - Ender in particular, but others as well - seem just too good to be possible, and yet, reading the books, they’re utterly believable and you can’t help being drawn to them.

The only part of the book that I didn’t find quite as compelling was the last part, a trip to Ganges colony where Ender has to deal with the threat from a young man who has ties to Ender’s past. This episode doesn’t really fit with the rest of the book, and feels like it was tacked on just to resolve some hanging threads. Ironically, though, in the afterward, Card makes it clear that this is the story he really intended to tell in this book. He planned for a few chapters leading to Ganges colony, but on writing it, that part expanded and became the true story. I almost felt that he could have left the Ganges Colony episode out, and it would have been a stronger book, but having set out to tell that story, Card obviously was reluctant to drop it completely.

Ender in Exile isn’t published as a young adult book, but like the rest of the series, it has strong appeal to a young adult/teen audience. Perhaps even more so than some of the other books in the series, since this is really Ender’s coming of age story. Ender is essentially an adult mentally, because of his extreme intelligence and Battle School  experiences, yet physically and emotionally he is still a teen. Among other things, Ender has to deal for the first time with his own growing feelings towards the opposite sex, and a potential romantic entanglement which is complicated by the political machinations of those around him.

There’s one tiny little thing that may annoy some teens: Ender’s parents are shown to be a lot more intelligent than their children give them credit for, that they not only understand their children and know what Peter and Valentine are up to, but are able to manipulate them through that understanding. As a parent, I quite enjoyed this scene, but when I was a teen wouldn’t have stood for it. Back then, I knew that I was smarter than my parents. However, this minor glitch is more than made up for by the pleasure of watching a teen Ender outsmart all of the adults trying to take advantage of him.


Jen Robinson said...

I enjoyed this one, too, Sheila. Glad that you liked it. I was mixed on finding out that Ender's parents were smarter than we thought, but it was kind of fun to see them manipulate Peter.

Angiegirl said...

Ooh, thanks for the review on this one. I've been looking forward to it and holding out for some feedback before jumping in. Glad to hear you liked it so well.

Unknown said...

I agree, it was fun seeing that, Jen, and I definitely enjoyed it.

Angiegirl, I hope you enjoy it. Have you read the other Ender universe books?

Angiegirl said...

Yep. All except the last Shadow book. I've held off afraid of what will happen to Bean. *sheepish*

Unknown said...

If I remember right, I think that Ender in Exile gives away some of Bean's and Petra's story.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'll try this one--I haven't loved the other Ender sequels so far, but I'd like to see Ender as a kid again. The book looks quite long--do you think necessarily so, or could other parts have been cut in addition to the Ganges bit?

Parker P

Unknown said...

The Ganges part was really the only main part I would have cut. Maybe some of the scenes with Graff weren't strictly necessary, but it was fun to see him again. The main story really holds together very well, although it's not an action packed story. Most of the conflict revolves around the political and social. If you like that kind of thing, it's a great story.

Anonymous said...

Well I was younger I didn't quite comprehend the abilities of Orson Scott Card's mind to use real world time travel under the theory of Einstein. Now though I quite enjoy everyone I read more. Wishing I could completely understand it to its full potential. However I am yet extremely young and would need to future more of my education. Some day though I would like to meet Mr. Card.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think Mr. Card is telling one of those "home truths" that teens so often hate to acknowledge. It is only as we emerge into adulthood ourselves that we again appreciate how smart our parents WERE, even when we hated it most. This is the sort of truth Heinlein embodied in many of his works which none the less were enjoyed by teens even if he challenged them to think and act as adults, which some of us learned a few things from.