On Thursday, February 19th, the Classics of Science Fiction Book Club met and discussed Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Shadow. For its breadth of character and expansion of the Ender universe, I think I may like it better than Ender’s Game. Both novels are subject to the bias of Card and all the characteristics of a novel written by him, for better and for worse. Watching Bean grow (rapidly) in the short time-span was exhilarating, though at times Card’s own opinions clearly showed through the cracks. With that sentiment underlining our entire conversation, our group started by considering a few questions. We talked briefly about the humanity of Bean, then considered the different types of intelligence that are explored in the novel, and spent a good amount of time talking about the novel’s looming villain, the dreaded Achilles (A-sheel).
More than once, Colonel Graff calls Bean an alien, citing Bean’s genetic “switch” that has been flipped, causing his rapid mental and physical development, and the resulting super power of analysis. For some in the group, the literary device of a genetic switch flip felt a bit like a cheap way for Card to flex his knowledge and put his own “adult” voice directly into the novel. Still, Bean’s compulsion for hyper-analysis makes the world we see in Ender’s Game, one that is focused on an individual and his narrow, intentionally guided trajectory, multidimensional. Bean’s crawling through the ventilation systems of the Battle School, physically and digitally (if you’ll permit the metaphor), gives the reader an opportunity to reevaluate their conclusions made about Ender, Graff, Dimak, Dap, and the world of Ender at-large. Those conclusions may ultimately be the same (“this place is a nightmare!”) but they may also become more firmly grounded in textual evidence.
Concerning intelligence, I was particularly intrigued by the distinction between human intelligence and mere “complex systems.” When Graff et. al. are discussing Bean’s first (and only) treading into the fantasy game, and the appearance of Achilles face, they refer to the game’s decision not as intelligent, but insist it is a conclusion arrived at by a complex system. The Formics are cast in a similar light. I feel as though Card’s evaluation of the Formics as a system rather than as intelligent beings serves as a justification for their outright elimination. While I’m not ready to say that a counter-attack wasn’t justified–the Formics invaded Earth and attempted to wipe out humanity with zero hesitation–I can’t help but be troubled by any notion of justified genocide. Yet, as I write this, I’m thinking of Ender’s and Bean’s struggles with the reality of their situation and the consequences of the actions, including Ender’s departure into exile, and in that, I feel as though I’m at least getting a glimpse at the important difference between intelligence and a complex system that the text is perhaps trying to identify.
Our conversation about Achilles, a bully with one short leg, a penchant for calculated deception, and a murderer, was thorough and interesting. On one hand, Achilles is a clear-cut villain. He admits to killing seven people, several of whom were directly responsible for his survival (including the doctor who conducted his leg correcting surgery). His homicidal compulsion notwithstanding, Achilles is born onto the streets in a post-invasion world, with little hope of survival and an external, physical disability. He’s having a rough go. While this clearly doesn’t excuse his murders, it does present an opportunity to better understand his motives and the social conditions that helped shape him. Like other aspects of Card’s novels, the particular articulation of Achilles character within the text may be a bit flat and predictable, but the resource it provides for imagining the greater story that is Achilles’ life-experience can prove quite extensive.
The general consensus was that Ender’s Shadow, not unlike Ender’s Game, is an enjoyable read. The two books together give depth to a story that, regardless of the author’s intentions or particular biases, explores quintessentially human questions of morality, humanity, and survival.