Among my many projects over the past year has been reading through a few book series. Last semester—yes, semester, I am still a graduate student so I think in semesters—it was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, all seven books. This semester is reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game novels. First, if you don’t know the books, there around, as of right now, nine books and a short novella plus assorted short stories (some of which have been worked into the latest novel and novella). The original four books (Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind) make up so-called ‘Ender Quartet’ because they focus on the main character of Ender Wiggin. In the late 1990s Card wrote Ender’s Shadow as a parallel novel to Ender’s Game, and basically tells the story of the original book from the perspective of the character of Bean. From there he wrote Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and Shadow of the Giant. These four books are called the ‘Bean/Shadow Quartet’ and actually take place in between the first two books of the Ender Quartet. Card’s latest novel of the series, Ender in Exile, takes place during the last three books of the Shadow Quartet, and even largely between the last two chapters of Ender’s Game, and the novella, A War of Gifts, also takes place during Game.
Yes, it’s all very confusing if you don’t know the books and how relativistic space travel accounts for so much of the lost time. I won’t go into too much of the details because you can read all about them on Wikipedia and what not. There is even a handy flow chart of how all the books and stories relate.
For my reading, I decided to ready the books in the chronological order of events as best I can. So that order was:
A War of Gifts
Shadow of the Hegemon
Shadow of the Giant
Ender in Exile
Speaker for the Dead
Children of the Mind
Part of the reason I did that is that I have, in large part, already read the Ender Quartet, though it was long ago and I never finished Children of the Mind. As of right now, I have finished Ender in Exile. What I want to talk about now, though, it how I almost stopped reading the books about half-way through Shadow Puppets and how it relates to some modern fiction.
In Shadow Puppets two of our main characters are Julian ‘Bean’ Delphiki and Petra Arkanian, both friends of Ender’s from his days in Battle School. Bean suffers from a condition that allows his brain to continue growing, hence his amazing intellect, but has the side effect of his continuing growth past puberty and his early death due to his body not being able to sustain his increasing growth. Petra was always a possible love interest for many characters, being one of the few female characters, but her tough, no-nonsense, acerbic wit and attitude always made her somewhat of a tough nut to crack emotionally. She obviously had feelings for Ender, but most of it was more paternal and looking after the youngest kid there.
What almost stopped my reading dead in its tracks, though, was a drastic shift in Petra’s character. She went from the tough girl who takes shit from no one to a whiny teenager who wants nothing more than to marry Bean and have his babies. For the first half of the book, any scene between the two of them were either long internal narratives of how she wanted to have his babies (and yes, Card almost always used the word ‘babies’) despite the risk that they would inherit Bean’s condition, or dialogue of her pestering him to marry her so that his legacy can live on. It got to be maddening, but I suffered through it and luckily the book got back on track to the larger geo-political story that had made the pervious book so compelling. There were also long dialogues between Petra/Bean and other characters on how a life is not fulfilled until one is married and has children, how it gives one life meaning. Those obvious moments where an author’s personal views are very thinly veiled.
When I was reading this, though, I was struck by how this reminded me of what a friend had described to me about the first Twilight novel (she stopped after the first one because of how annoying she found the characters in the first). She described how Bella had also essentially badgered the male lead (whose name escapes me) in his relationship with her, how he didn’t want to pursue one due to the complications that may arise. But both female leads wanted their relationships with their respective male counterpoints (reluctant due to their respective conditions) and hounded them until they gave in.
In the back of my mind, the thought arose of the authors religious affiliations and how they have seemingly impacted their writing. Both Card and Stephanie Meyer are members of the Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons), and while I have no problems with religion or Mormons in the particular, I wonder if the views of the church has influenced their view. A hallmark of the Mormon family is it to be large (much like the Catholics), and that meaning can be found in future generations. Not to mention the fact that Meyer cites Card as a writer who has influenced her.
But despite what I realized was Card’s own religion seeping into his writing, I wouldn’t not have been so clearly annoyed, I think , if it hadn’t been for the complete reversal in what I had found to be the very compelling character of Petra. Apologists could say that she was being just as head strong as she previously had been, that her pursuit of Bean was driven by the same impulses that had led her to be so determined and her wit so biting previously. But I text, as I read it, does not bear this apology out.
Petra became whiney, her constant pleading with Bean to marry her, not to mention her constant doubting about how she had been the first of Ender’s commanders to break under stress during the final battle with the Formics (the alien enemy that they had been fighting). She had gone from a strong female lead to one that seemed to depend on Bean’s approval and acceptance of her as his wife. Not to mention the other characters whose views pushed Bean into the marriage and subsequent children.
I’m not sure if this same theme will be present in the rest of the Ender Quartet (I don’t seem to remember it being), but its presence in the Shadow Quartet does echo what I’ve read about his writing having taken a turn that is more in line with his religious views in the latter part of the 90s. Like I’ve said, I’m not trying to say anything about his religion per se, just how his views came to dominant so completely the first half Shadow Puppets. I did finish the book, and have continued reading the series and enjoyed them immensely, and I’m looking forward to finishing the series. Not to mention looking forward to his final novel of the entire Ender series that is supposedly in the planning stages. I’m just reporting my reactions to this and how they seem to line up with similar criticism reported to me by others.