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Book Review: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

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A year and a bit ago I received a book from an esteemed colleague, Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card. I had, at the time, just polished off the original Ender quartet, and as I am physiologically incapable of reading a book without raving about it, this esteemed colleague was well aware of my favourable opinion of the series.

If the reader has not encountered Ender’s Game in their journeys, it comes highly recommended, even if the reader doesn’t like science fiction, heck, even if the reader doesn’t like books generally. It is highly and thoroughly entertaining, but not the subject of this article.

Suffice to say the subsequent entries in the original Ender series diverge significantly from the first book (emotionally, chronologically, spatially, thematically), to the extent that people who enjoyed Ender’s Game are unlikely to enjoy Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, or Children of the Mind for the same reasons. Ender in Exile is a supposed direct sequel to Ender’s Game, but that is only approximately correct. The story inserts itself between the penultimate and final chapters of Ender’s Game, so not an easy book to write, considering there is the potential to conflict the existing story twice a paragraph. Quite personally, being used to stories that exist in multiple sometimes conflicting renditions (see the Volsunga Saga, the Epic of Gilgamesh) this is not terribly concerning.

However, particularly in science fiction it seems you also get the type of reader who will write to you to point out all the mistakes you made while writing the book, so you can’t just attempt a project like this willy-nilly. So yes, written to be a direct sequel to Ender’s Game, implicit in that the assumption that it will be a nail-biter just like the original? The argument could be made. Do not read this book expecting it to be Ender’s Game.

Over the course of the original series a number of developing themes can be noted — for instance, an increasing volume of dialogue. Every book of course achieves its own equilibrium between dialogue and description (compare The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin. Dostoevsky will inundate you with a paragraph of dialogue that lasts 11 or 12 pages, and in this early book by LeGuin, she doesn’t feel any pressing need to have two characters together in a chapter unless necessary.)

While Ender’s Game was more balanced volumetrically in this respect, Ender in Exile follows the trend of the original ender series. This has the effect of greatly enhancing the emotional content of the story, if perhaps sacrificing some of the physical description that science fiction is (in)famous for.

One trend that is not continued in Ender in Exile from the original series is an increasing tendency towards metaphysical-physical crossover. One has the impression of Xenocide as a sort of philosophical pet-project, what with the discovery of the soul particle and the exploration of the consequences thereof. At some point during my reading (impossible to say where precisely) I stopped thinking of the story in terms of science fiction and entered the previously undiscovered country of science fantasy. The idea, I would say, is the fusion of the physical (rational, natural) with the metaphysical (romantic, super-natural) into an enlightened median. The problem being, of course, that you anger the rationalists and disappoint the romantics.

Speaking of romantics, that is a rather large component of the book as well. It’s a book about the colonization of the planets won in the war against these aliens Ender slaughtered. Nothing is sexier than some sultry space god/goddess sidling up to you and whispering in your ear, “hey there, how about we populate a planet?” So I was bamboozled into reading a rather unsavoury and disappointing love story. It was unsavoury because it over-rationalised romance. For Pete’s sake, at one point a female tells a male that she wants to bear his child because she deems him as having the best genetic material in the colony. The love story is disappointing because the fated couple does not end up together at the end. Disappointing, even though the possibility of a happy ending here is impossible due to the series chronology.

Anyways, if you’ve not liked a book in the rest of the series you may not like this one. But if you liked the all rest of the books in the series (as I did) then you’ll probably like this one. Just bear in mind that it isn’t as far deviated from Children of the Mind as the publisher would have you believe.

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