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Book Review: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

* Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
* Hardcover: 384 pages
* Publisher: Tor Books
* Publication Date: November 11, 2008
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 0765304961
* ISBN-13: 978-0765304964
* Author Website

For what amounts to a story of character development with a little philosophy thrown in, Ender in Exile is an awfully wonderful read. Of course, as the direct sequel to the award-winning Ender’s Game and the missing link from it to the also award-winning Speaker for the Dead, any reader should expect no less from it. Orson Scott Card is considered a master storyteller for good reason, and his many novels and awards, not least for those in the Ender universe, are a testament to that.

Ender in Exile picks up right where Ender’s Game left off. Ender has saved the human race from the formics, all unknowingly. Yet for that very feat he is both heralded and reviled. Through the machinations of his parents and their other genius children, Peter and Valentine, thirteen year old Andrew Wiggin (Ender) is forced to join the very first human colony as its governor. Along the way, Ender encounters various characters that make his young life even worse, in addition to his own guilt over being a xenocide (a term whose source is explained in this novel). Ender continues to use his super powerful brain and innate leadership skills to keep control of those who surround him, always to their benefit. This is in direct contrast to the people he encounters along his life’s journey, who use various ways to gain power for themselves, with a few notable exceptions.

And that is, I think, what makes the Ender story so compelling. It is a story in contrasts. A young boy shows more maturity and noble leadership than any of the adults around him. He uses power and notoriety not for his own gain, but so that he may sacrifice for others. He is the noble knight and feudal lord as the code of honor intended them to be, not as they ended up. I like him because he is smart yet conflicted. Even with all his brain power, he makes huge mistakes, and while he can contain his feelings, many times they control him. Watching Ender change from the boy who destroyed an entire space-faring race, to the noble governor, to the proto-Speaker for the Dead is a fascinating journey.

Card makes relationships exciting. He makes a simple tug of wills into as entertaining an event as a space battle. For instance, when Ender is boarding the colony ship, many people want to be photographed with him. But rather than just tell the story of how this happened, Card shows how this simple event is a power play between and admiral of the fleet, a person who has done his best to besmirch Ender and his mentors, and Ender himself. I’m sure you can guess who wins out? But the very fact that this simple scene can stick out in my mind, that it can actually be retained in memory, speaks to the way Card is able to make every event, every relationship between characters drip with tension.

Now, to prevent getting too caught up in a fervor, lets point some of the problems of the tale. For one, because this story is a new novel that is placed in between two books written many years ago, there are bound to be some factual mistakes. Anyone who knows the details of the Ender universe will probably see them jump out. However, before I make too much of this, I need to tell you to look at the first couple of pages of the Afterword. Card addresses these issues – particularly the problem of chapter 15 of Ender’s Game and the facts as presented in Ender in Exile in what I think is a satisfactory way. He states simply that Ender in Exile has many advantages of factual accuracy unavailable to him at the time he wrote the other books, and that part of writing Ender in Exile was to smooth out these inconsistencies. Therefore, Ender in Exile should not be judged factually based on the prior books, but rather vice versa. He also states that many of these issue will be fixed in subsequent editions of the other novels, and are already fixed in certain copies of his magazine Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Now because Ender in Exile opens the door wide on philosophy, we must look carefully at the assertions it makes. Although this is a work of fiction, and therefore cannot be held to same standards as a nonfiction work, it does make some assertions that perhaps need some support that Card does not give. For one, he asserts that monogamy is the best way for the colony to survive culturally as well as in a purely physical sense. While this assertion may be true (and happens to be one I agree with) this is vastly different from what most science fiction writers have done with their fiction in the past. It is not, perhaps the idea that is really the problem, actually, but how people are likely to react. Card is a known member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and his cultural values have made him the butt of many a joke. His values are apparent in the Ender series, and I am afraid people will reject the book simply because of some of Card’s well-known philosophical and cultural beliefs, without experiencing the book on its own. So the “problem” of the book I am referring too is not innate to the novel, but rather innate to the reader. I would caution readers and reviewers to not consider this book bad, simply because of a philosophical and cultural disagreement.

Some might see Ender in Exile as repetitious, with a similar story arc to previously published novels, constantly playing up the “Ender feels guilty”, only being worth reading because it fills in gaps in the Ender story. Others might see it as argumentative, with some of its philosophical assertions. And still other readers might dislike it for the fact that is all character development and little action, as the term is commonly used. Still others who have only read Ender’s Game may become confused by references to events that happen in the Ender’s Shadow companion stories. These details are important for Ender’s final confrontation of this novel. (Though I will say, as someone who has not read the companion series, and only followed Ender’s story, I didn’t find this to be much of a problem.)

But to my mind, it is these facets that make the Ender universe so unique and Ender the character so very, very much fun to read about. At the turn of every page, there is some new facet of a character to explore, whether Ender, his sister Valentine, Peter, Alessandra, or Alessandra’s mother. These characters are never static, always changing growing, being, becoming someone else. It reflects reality, while placing it into the future. And overarching all this character development is the story of Ender’s relationship to the formics, and foreshadowing what is to come in later books.

I highly recommend Ender in Exile. The Ender’s universe is still Orson Scott Card’s best work, and Ender in Exile is a fine addition. Ender’s Game is still the book I want my non sf reading wife to at least try, and I am glad now to have the excellent Ender in Exile as an immediate follow-up to that very special tale.

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