Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ender's Teen Years: Ender in Exile

Our book club recently read Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card. Card is a famous SF writer who also likes to write about writing; he's talked about where he gets his ideas. His first idea for Ender actually became Speaker for the Dead, the sequel, but in order to understand his main character he started wondering about where he came from, and that wondering became the Hugo and Nebula winning Ender's Game. (The Hugo and Nebula are SF's big prizes, awarded by fans and writers respectively.) Then he went on to write Speaker for the Dead, which also won both prizes. But there is a long gap between the two stories. I highly recommend both books, and so does my son (well, he mostly liked the first one, the second one has more mature themes about life and death and stuff).

Card eventually went back to Ender, writing later books and going back to the beginning with a parallel story about other characters in the story. None of these books were as good as the first, and I eventually dropped out. But my son is a completist, so he read his way through all of them, and when I saw Ender in Exile, the book that bridges the main events between the first two, I decided to pick it up.

The story of Ender's life between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead fills in some of changes between the boy and the man, and the beginning of human expansion into space. Card's writing has settled down into a fairly talky rhythm, with a deep understanding of the emotional twists of his characters but a tell-not-show habit of explicitly detailing them for the reader. His dialogue sounds hilarious to me, to the point where I'd love to listen to him talk with people to see if he or anyone else really talks like that. But only when people are serious. Maybe I just have no idea how to have a serious conversation.

But the most fun for me was Card's wild family-building schemes, which reminded me of Heinlein. The problem of a skewed sex ratio was fixed by a lottery because everyone knows (at least everyone in these books -- several characters mention this as a fact) that only permanent monogamous families preserve a decent society. No one questions this, or wonders if that lottery thing will make for solid families. The scene where a woman makes a pass at a man because she doesn't like her husband, and the man refuses her because their society needs healthy marriages just seemed to miss so many assumptions that my head was spinning. It's just an aside in the novel, but has me still gobsmacked a week later.

The story itself was fun -- not as powerful as the first two Ender books, but it didn't leave me wishing it hadn't been written (like the 3rd and 4rth). It did a better job of changing things than the other series in Ender's world (the Bean stuff) because it doesn't try to undo important things. Well, it explains why Ender's parents were so dumb; it's because their kids never understood them. I like that explanation. B

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