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Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Shadow
Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is a Third, which makes him very special. So special, in fact, that he is chosen to go off to military training school to learn how to fight Earth's enemies, the Buggers. Ender becomes a wunderkind, far surpassing anyone's hopes of his abilities. He is promoted quickly, years before most kids would be advanced.
But life is not happy for Ender. His only friends are his competitors, and he is losing those fast, due to the ministrations of his leaders, who want him to be under constant duress, thinking it will make him a better soldier. Whether their deceits and connivances will have the expected result is up to Ender. Or so he thinks.
Ender is someone anyone (child or adult) who has been ostracized for being too smart or too talented can identify with. Which is probably why it has caught on so well with the computer crowd. Plus, it is simply a well-told story done in a science-fiction setting. I was stunned by the quality of the writing. No wonder it won both the Hugo and Nebula awards when it was released.
My first result upon reading Ender's Game was that it was "Harry Potter in space." Continuing reading led me to realize that it is much more. Author Orson Scott Card has created entirely believable characters that you will care about. So much so that I couldn't wait to dig into the next entries in this fascinating series comprised of Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind--together known as "the Ender quartet." (Also available in a boxed set entitled Beyond Ender's Game.)
But instead, next, I picked up Ender's Shadow, which Card calls more of a "companion" novel than a sequel. Ender's Shadow is about Bean, whom we meet in Ender's Game. Bean is a street urchin in Rotterdam, small for his age but phenomenally intelligent. His trials on the streets of Rotterdam comprise most of the first of the book, with local nun Sister Carlotta's attempts to get him into Battle School.
Once in Battle School, Bean becomes seen as the next Ender, who is there at the same time. Thus, Card is able to tell basically the same story, but from the viewpoint of a very different mindset. Ender's Shadow begins an entirely new series called "the Shadow series." So far, the other books in this series are Shadow of the Hegemon and Shadow Puppets.
I actually enjoyed Ender's Shadow more than its predecessor but either of them would be fine for anyone looking for a wonderful escapist novel. Even people who don't like science-fiction (like myself) find themselves engrossed in these stories. Try them out.
(People who have already immersed themselves in these two books will likely be interested to know that the original short story "Ender's Game" is now online on Orson Scott Card's Web site--www.hatrack.com)
Orson Scott Card, Seventh Son (Tales of Alvin Maker: Book One)
Reading the books in the Ender series above got me very interested in Orson Scott Card. In between Ender books, I decided to check out his acclaimed Alvin Maker series, especially when I found Seventh Son available for a bargain price to promote the release of the sixth book in the series, The Crystal City. Make a book cheap and I'll buy it.
I was expecting it to be well-written but I wasn't prepared for the level of detail that I would find. It takes place in a frontier land that feels similar to where I was raised in the southern United States, yet Card takes pains to portray the inhabitants respectfully. But in Card's world there are many differences: the largest being the level of magic present. Oh, sure, Southerners believe in folk remedies and the like, but not to the extent that the Millers believe in them.
The idea of a seventh son of a seventh son being special is not new, but it's never been taken to the lengths that Seventh Son takes it. The Alvin Maker series is about a very special little boy indeed. His presence confounds everyone from the miracle of his birth on. When a roof board--falling straight toward little Alvin's head--splits itself in two to avoid hitting him, things really start jumping. The idea of the "villain" of this book being the local reverend--and the mentor being a folk poet named William Blake--should give you an idea of where Card is coming from, even though he makes sure to paint the preacher in a bad light that is easily understandable to those who may take umbrage to such portraiture.
I found Seventh Son to be highly entertaining, although the ending is an obvious sequel opening. Card must have meant for this to be a series from the get-go. I admire his style and his abilities of characterization and I look forward to reading my next Orson Scott Card novel. (Astute readers will notice that this series is the source of the URL for Card's website.)
Orson Scott Card, Red Prophet (Tales of Alvin Maker: Book Two)
At the end of Seventh Son, Alvin goes off to become a prentice blacksmith. Red Prophet is about what happens instead. It's very slow going at the start, as Card has to introduce us to a whole new set of characters including a couple whose names we know, but not in this form: Napoleon, Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison. The three are presented in a very negative light, as they are all anti-Red, but at the same time they are working toward opposite goals.
Nevertheless, I'm reading this series for the interest I have in the character of Alvin Miller, Junior (Alvin Maker), so this becomes a bit of a trial. It is, in fact, not until around page 90 that Alvin is even mentioned, and he doesn't become lead character again for some time later. Taleswapper, his mentor, doesn't show up again until two-thirds in -- albeit very mysteriously.
Red Prophet, however, is still a solid continuance of the story, even though it is presented as tangential. Alvin, with the help of Ta-Kumsaw, Taleswapper, and a former "likker-Red" called Lolla-Wossiky -- Ta-Kumsaw's brother -- who becomes the title character and changes his name to Tenskawa-Tawa, discovers ever more about his abilities, including that his half-Red, half-White soul allows him to do things that either side cannot. We get to see him heal a lot, and perform new feats of natural magic while confounding the Reds (who can usually sense the Whites' hexes, but not Alvin's).
All in all, Red Prophet is a good entry in the series and gives us a lot more information than we had before. However, it doesn't flow like Seventh Son did, and it was a struggle to get through; the suspense quotient just wasn't there. If the next book (Prentice Alvin) is this difficult to finish, I may not get through the series at all.
(Email me and let me know what you think.)