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Uncle Orson's Parallel Novel to "Ender's Game"
on 11 August 2004
There are very few examples of "parallel novels," and I must confess that when I think of such things it is Tom Stoppard's play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," which parallel's "Hamlet," that first comes to mind. Anne McCaffrey plays around with it to a limited extent in several of her Pern novels and there is a book out about Ahab's wife, but neither of those is trying to do what Orson Scott Card attempts in "Ender's Shadow." It is rare indeed when the original author decides to go back and cover old ground from a new perspective. But then as most of us well know by now, Uncle Orson does not disappoint his legion of readers.
The title character is Bean, who was introduced in the original novel as even younger and smaller than Ender Wiggin when he first arrived at the Battle School. The Bean of "Ender's Shadow" does not conflict with the character as originally presented in "Ender's Game," but certainly there is little to suggest in the first book of the true extent of Bean's abilities. There was the definite notion that Bean was closest to Ender in terms of being the chosen one, but it was a sketchy idea at best. The strength of this book is how Card expands Bean's character, developing the idea that Bean, the production of an illegal genetics experiment, is the main competition for Ender and perhaps the only viable alternative. It becomes clear early on that Bean is smarter than Ender, maybe smarter than anybody else in the world. However, what is in doubt is whether that awesome intelligence is enough to make him the best choice to lead the Earth's forces against the Buggers. Again, as in the entire Ender series, the question of "humanness" comes into play because of the genetic experiment that resulted in Bean's birth. As always, Card wants to explore this issue in terms of actions and behaviors rather than physical forms and structures.
In his forward Card tells us that he wanted to write "Ender's Shadow" so that it would not matter to the reader which of the two parallel works they read first. In the abstract he has certainly succeeded in this regard, but of course they should be read in the "proper" order simply because it is this newer novel that better informs us of what happened in the first rather than the other way around. When Card actually does cover a scene from "Ender's Game" one of the things I really appreciated was how he could give added significance to dialogue from the first novel (the best example of this is Bean's "The gate is down" during the battle at the Bugger's Homeworld). For those who always liked "Ender's Game" as the first and best of the Ender novels, this one is certain to be their next favorite work in the series.