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.
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