Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Shadow Saga - Orson Scott Card

I don't often read SF - the technological wizardry annoys me - which is a bit ironic for someone who's been hooked on computers for more than 20 years, but there you go. I like technology well enough, but I don't want to read about it very often. One exception I've made to this "rule" (and it's not a hard-and-fast rule by any means), is Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and its "parallel sequels" 'The Shadow Saga'. I'd better explain that before I continue. In Ender's Game, humanity is at war with some aliens called the Buggers (they look like insects, or bugs, hence Buggers), who are trying to wipe out humanity. A young boy genius called Ender Wiggin is recruited to Battle School, the place where genius children are trained to become future soldiers in that war. It is the hope of the Battle School administrators that Ender will become the next great military commander. Also at the school there is a young boy called Bean, who is Ender's second-in-command. Card's 'Shadow Saga' "parallel sequels" follows Bean's story. In Ender's Shadow, Card tells the story of the events of Ender's Game but from Bean's point of view, instead of Ender's. Card then continues Bean's story from the point at which both Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow finished, after the war against the Buggers has been won. So, in Shadow of the Hegemon, Bean returns to Earth and finds himself dealing with Ender's older brother, Peter, who is also a genius, but wasn't suitable for Battle Schoool, so he remained on Earth whilst Ender was away saving humanity. Peter has been busy setting himself up to be the next Hegemon (world leader), which although it sounds very arrogant (and Peter IS very arrogant) isn't going to be a disaster. Bean and Peter are forced to deal with Achilles, a boy whom Bean knows from his days as a starveling in Rotterdam before he went to Battle School. Achilles was the villain of Ender's Shadow and he remains as villianous in this book. He's already killed several times, but he prefers to manipulate others into doing his killing - and he's not above sending countries to war on his prompting, even though he has no political role. The world's leaders, though, are in awe of the Battle School graduates, who are known military geniuses, so Achilles is able to manipulate the government of more than one country into doing as he requires, in his attempts to become Hegemon instead of Peter. With this aim in mind, he kidnaps the children who were all in Ender's "Jeesh", his group who fought the final battle against the Buggers. Bean is the only one of the group (aside from Ender himself who's no longer planet-side) to remain free, and he sets about freeing the others.

After Bean achieves this goal, he finds himself (in Shadow Puppets persuaded to marry Petra (another of Ender's Jeesh, and the only girl in it), although he is reluctant to do so (but not because he doesn't love her). Owing to the fact that he was born from a genetically engineered embryo, Bean is hyper-intelligent but also suffers from giantism - which means he will be probably be dead by the time he's 20. Since there's also a likelihood that he will pass on his genetic flaw to his children, Bean is very reluctant to marry and procreate. However, Petra is very tenacious (she wouldn't have survived as the only girl in Ender's Jeesh otherwise), and she persuades Bean to do as she wants. Their sperm and eggs are then harvested so that Petra can have IVF treatment and bear Bean's children even after he is dead. Unfortunately, Bean and Petra's embryos aren't safe - Achilles tracks down the pair and steals the embryos - Petra has had one embryo implanted, but the remaining eight are stolen, and Bean is forced to take direct action to recapture them. In the final book of this quartet (although this is not the final book in the Ender universe, I gather), Shadow of the Giant, Bean and Petra are trying to track down their missing children, which have by now been implanted into surrogate mothers. Bean is also working with Hegemon Peter Wiggin still, as the latter attempts to create world peace (a formidable task, if ever there was one !), via the creation of a combined group of nations called the Free People of Earth. As they're trying to achieve this, China, India and the Muslim League countries (each led by a Battle School alumnus) are poised to go to war with one another. Other countries across the Earth are also using the talents of Ender's Jeesh as military leaders/strategists, but because they're all so good, ex-Colonel Graff and Mazer Rackham, two of the teachers from Battle School, are trying to persuade the boys to accept the challenges inherent in going out to settle new colony worlds, because their presence on Earth means that peace can never be achieved as long as their talents are available to their home countries' military forces. Bean is also offered the chance of taking a trip into space, but in his case it is so he can survive longer in the hopes that research team on Earth can find a cure for his condition, and for those of his children who have inherited his condition.

The one thing that annoyed me about this book is that one of Bean and Petra's embryos has been implanted in a woman called Randi who believes the child is actually Achilles' child - this opens the book, and she is mentioned again near the end of the book after the baby has been born, but there's no resolution to Randi's story; the book ends with this final baby still missing - and Randi still believing that the child's father is Achilles, whom she more or less worships. Perhaps the "Shadows in Flight" book (which I gather is to be a book that ties the Ender Saga and the Shadow Saga together) will resolve this hanging thread ?

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