Enough About Ender

Part 2 of a two-part review of Ender’s Shadow, by Orson Scott Card (467 pages).

I’ve settled into a book review format that I like: the first review will be spoiler-free, followed by a more detailed analysis. If you missed the spoiler-free version of Ender’s Shadow, catch yourself up here. If you don’t want any spoilers, stop!

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As I stated in the first part of this review, Bean makes this story. It was a brilliant move by Mr. Card to pull a minor character from Ender’s Game and give him room to grow. It’s also ironic that he picked the smallest and youngest character, because Bean has a depth and “meat” to him that makes Ender’s Shadow both enjoyable and insightful.

Of course, the story isn’t entirely about Bean, especially not with a title like Ender’s Shadow. Fans of the Ender’s universe will recognize some of the cast, though there are some important newcomers:

Poke –> the first to heed Bean’s counsel, at personal expense to herself. She also sacrificed her life to keep Bean safe from the vendetta of a gang boss. She had no idea the impact her sacrifice would have on Bean; like a Gordian knot, he grapples with the meaning of her death throughout the narrative. She is also responsible for his name: “you aren’t worth a bean”

Achilles –> the first to reveal Bean’s weakness; though Bean foresaw Achilles’ nature, he underestimated Achilles’ abilities and ruthlessness. Despite his best efforts, Bean could not prevent Poke’s death at Achilles’ hands

Sister Carlotta –> his teacher, his benefactor, and also his advocate before the military instructors of the Battle School; she relentlessly pursued Bean, both to satisfy her own curiosity, and to give him a new identity

And of course there is Ender. Though Bean is Ender’s superior in intellect and acumen, Bean arrived at Battle School late and so he is constantly compared to, and rated beneath, Ender Wiggin (infuriating news for a boy used to being the smartest and the best).

There are three shadows that Bean lives beneath; three overarching ideas that influence him as a character, and that reveal the thematic threads of this novel.

Someday they’ll see me as I see myself.

His MO is survival. As an orphan thrown into the poverty-ridden streets of Rotterdam, Bean learned at a young age that the world is a cruel, harsh place, and only the fastest, the fittest, those most able to manipulate the world around them survive.

If you want to play a game of thematic Where’s Waldo, pay attention to the MANY references that Mr. Card has to keys and unlocking doors. Bean’s primary motivation is to turn every situation, every encounter, and every opportunity to his advantage. He does this by observing people closely, not for their benefit, but for his.

But there is one door he cannot open—love: “But Wiggin’s willingness to give up hours every day to training kids who could do nothing for him–the more Bean thought about it, the less sense it made.” Bean longs for the approval of others, especially Ender, but he does so only for his own gain.

“I want to be the kind of boy you are, but I don’t want to go through what you’ve done to get there.”

Bean is not looking for shortcuts here. He compares himself to Ender and realizes that Ender has had to make sacrifices for others in order to become the boy that everyone loves. This is something Bean cannot accept for himself.

He has spent every moment of his short life in survival mode. Every calculation, every decision, every choice is for his own advantage.

Even Bean’s friendship with Nikolai, his first friend, began when Nikolai pointed out something that Bean had never thought of (pg 160). Nikolai was, in effect, useful for the insight Bean gleaned from him.

Later, Nikolai had another kind of information that could have been used to incriminate Bean, but he held back. This give and hold of information was the door to friendship for the Spock-like Bean, and it takes Bean a long time to even consider the “faulty” foundation of love underneath.

It isn’t until pg 252 that Bean finally realizes he is Nikolai’s friend. He does so in an internal dialogue that also displays his first act of true empathy. It takes half the book for him to break off the first noticeable chunk from the icy glacier of his survival instinct. Mr. Card uses the ironic phrase, “What a sensitive friend I am,” to display the global warming in Bean’s icy logic.

Love is illogical to Bean. His perceptive mind cannot fathom why Nikolai would cede his advantage, or why Ender would help those who cannot help him back. Love is staring him in the face, everywhere he looks, but in his formula of survival, love is a mathematical formula that equates to weakness.

“Why did Poke die for me?”

Bean lives because another died.

Poke took a risk when she listened to Bean’s advice. Bean had suggested that Poke, as leader of her street gang, stop giving away food to street bullies and instead hire one to fend off the others. She did what Bean said and chose Achilles, the smallest of the street bullies, but also the smartest. When Bean realized that Achilles was a smart cripple, he told Poke to kill him instantly. Bean realized that Achilles was too small to be useful against the larger bullies, and too smart to control.

Poke refused. She picked Achilles, and her choice paid off, but Achilles never forgot what Bean had done, or that Poke had led her gang against him. Achilles betrayed Poke with a kiss, cut her throat, and left her body in the river, all while Bean watched from the shadows of a nearby rooftop. Afraid by what he had seen, Bean fled.

Poke had met with Achilles, alone and against Bean’s advice, because she was trying to get Achilles to relent from killing Bean. Poke gave up her life to save Bean from Achilles’ vendetta.

Bean never forgot this. The question, “why did Poke die for me?” haunts Mr. Card’s story. Poke’s sacrifice is the antithesis of the survivalist creed that Bean lives by.

Mr. Card makes frequent and overt biblical references in Ender’s Shadow, and I would argue that there is one that he alludes to with Poke’s death:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

Poke dared to die for a boy she thought was good. But this does not compute for Bean, just as Christ’s sacrifice should not compute for any of us.

At the heart of this novel is a question that tugs at the heart of every person who has ever seriously considered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ: Why would Christ die for me?

The spiritual orphans of our world (and I would argue that we are all like Bean here), left to themselves and their own abilities may survive, especially if they are blessed with Bean’s intellectual acumen. But for them to love, to feel true empathy for others, a Poke must die; and there must be an Ender to emulate.

Bean learned true love through the sacrifice of Poke, and watching how Ender loved others. For the Christian, our Poke and our Ender are one and the same. Just as Bean lived beneath the shadows of Poke and Ender, we live beneath the grace of Christ:

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

The hope that I see in a character like Bean, and what I think Mr. Card fundamentally believes, is that there is hope for change, though it does not come from ourselves. All of us live beneath the shadows of others’ grace.

It is enough to do so well.

Published in: on July 24, 2010 at 9:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Out from the Shadows

This is the first of a 2-part review of Orson Scott Card’s novel, Ender’s Shadow (part 1 is spoiler-free).

In 1985, four years after my birth, Orson Scott Card delivered his magnum opus, Ender’s Game, to critical and popular acclaim. Wildly popular among sci-fi fans, it also earned him a Hugo & Nebula award from the critics. All of this from the book that was only supposed to create background story for Ender’s role as the Speaker in Speaker for the Dead (a book that, arguably, a far smaller audience has ever heard of).

Until a few months ago, I was content to agree with a friend of mine that Ender’s Game was the perfect book: too perfect to spoil with a potentially inferior sequel. And so it was in ignorant bliss that I overlooked Children of the Mind, Xenocide, and Speaker for the Dead. Continuing along this vein, I would have ruefully passed over the literary genius of Mr. Card’s parallax story, Ender’s Shadow.

Ender’s Shadow is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Or even heard of for that matter. It is about as presumptuous a story as can be imagined, and in the hands of a lesser author it would have flopped miserably.

In Shadow, Mr. Card takes one of the minor characters from Game, Bean, and fixes the POV through Bean’s young, gifted eyes, whereupon Mr. Card then follows the EXACT same sequence of events from Game. He has the balls to tell his critically and popularly acclaimed story.. AGAIN! Talk about a guy who can’t get out from the shadow of his own success, right?

Wrong.

When I first read what Mr. Card was attempting to do, I was flabbergasted: how do you return to a story that fans love without ruining it? WHY would you return to a story like that with even the slightest chance of ruining it?

For a brief time I flirted seriously with the idea of opening up the Ender’s Game universe to other writers, and went so far as to invite a writer whose work I greatly admire, Neal Shusterman, to consider working with me to create novels about Ender Wiggin’s companions in Battle School. As we talked, it became clear that the most obvious character to begin with would be Bean, the child-soldier whom Ender treated as he had been treated by his adult teachers.

And then something else happened. The more we talked, the more jealous I became that Neal might be the one to write such a book, and not me. It finally dawned on me that, far from being finished with writing about “kids in space,” as I cynically described the project, I actually had more to say, having actually learned something in the intervening dozen years since Ender’s Game first appeared in 1985. And so, while still hoping that Neal and I can work together on something, I deftly swiped the project back.” – Orson Scott Card on writing Ender’s Shadow

After writing a series of books (Xenocide, Speaker for the Dead, Children of the Mind) that were still contained within Ender’s universe–though removed from the events of Game by 3,000 years–Mr. Card placed himself, like Bean under the shadow of mighty Andrew Wiggin, under the influence of the book that launched his career, to boldly see if there was anything left to be said.

In the 2nd part of this review, Enough about Ender, I shall happily report that Bean stands highly (though not very tall), and is an ace of a character up Mr. Card’s literary sleeve.

Published in: on July 15, 2010 at 3:54 am  Comments (1)  
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Iron Man, Flight, and a killer deck of Card’s

Bumbling around YouTube today I ran into this interesting video about the feasibility of Iron Man-like flight. I’m really crossing my fingers for this company..

Which would you rather have?

1) An Iron Man-like rocket pack

2) A space shuttle

Why?

……………..

And have you read any of the Orson Scott Card Ultimate Iron Man comics? They are amazing!

Just because I love you, here’s a link to an interview with Mr. Card himself. Don’t say I never did nothing for you.. 

http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6553797.html

(My favorite part of the interview is when Mr. Card admits that he did not like comics, and that he did not like Iron Man before writing it. I also was not a fan of the Iron Man universe before reading Mr. Card’s wonderful remake. The combination of Robert Downey Jr.’s acting, and Orson Scott Card’s remake, has got me very excited about the movie, so if you’ve seen it, don’t ruin it!)