Grade: Δ — (Delta) A solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre series.
(Space Opera, Military Science Fiction)
Shadow of the Giant is the fourth book in Orson Scott Card‘s ‘Shadow’ series, thus part of the Ender’s Game world. Here at last we see the story line moving beyond Bean’s childhood issues to follow on with the ramifications of the end of the Bugger war (giggle) and the return to Earth of a school filled with supergenius’ trained to lead armies. Though like it’s predecessor, it is full of long drawn out political and social commentary about the present day world, storywise this book is interesting to anyone who likes Card’s Ender’verse.
Earth in the mid-to-far future (approximately 170 years) after the end of the Formic War, where interstellar colonization occurs, but at sublight speed.
It took us three books to get here, but finally, in Shadow of the Giant, we are where we should have been in book two of the Shadow series. Here, at last, we see a book about the political wrangling on Earth after the rough alliances of the Bugger war have finally collapsed and humanity begins to turn its attentions back to its own power plays. Here we finally see Bean facing up to the genetic inheritance that has made him so intelligent, so quickly. Finally, we get to see what happens when you release a horde of intelligent super-generals on the world.
I will admit that, at first, some of the book made for uncomfortable reading. It seemed to follow a pattern I had suspected in Card’s more recent writing: that of putting all the ability to influence the world into the hands of a few ‘worthy’ people. Indeed, in the first few chapters I began to wonder if Card had begun to fall into the “Ayn Randian” mode of story telling – the ‘we few giants’ concept where only the special born heroes will make a difference in the world. I am happy to say that I was wrong.
What I feared I saw was a set up, and instead much of the central plot of the story revolves around quite the opposite: what happens when you have a whole school filled with children brought up to think like Alexander the Great let loose in the world. Plotting, wars and megalomania begin making themselves felt as some (but not all) of Bean, Ender and Petra’s fellow Battleschool Graduates go toe to toe, fueled by nationalism that has laid dormant through the war with the Formics. Far from what I feared, what we are treated to in this novel is the kind of War of the Supermen.
Much of the plot, therefore, revolves on the ramifications of creating Battleschool in the first place. What becomes of a generation of children raised to be the perfect Generals? They go on to be the perfect generals. Who do they fight when the ultimate enemy is gone? Why, each other of course. This part of the tale is very well written and thought out, and while it has its faults (q.v.) it is also quite compelling.
Even so, there are some weaknesses in this tale that stretched my suspension of disbelief beyond its limits. Central to this is Card’s lack of recognizing that over generations cultural drift will occur even in the most stable of societies.
No where is this more noticeable than in his portrayal of China. In Shadow of the Giant the great Middle Kingdom is shown as remaining true to its pre-Revolutionary ideologies, despite at least a hundred and seventy years of Communist rule, not to mention over a generation of global unification against a common foe.
In the present day, China remains renowned for its centuries of traditionalism. Even so, sixty years of Communist government has had an impact, as has even the past forty years of economic reform. China remains Chinese, no doubt, but culturally it has changed under the direct prompting of the government and the use of directed educational processes. In Shadow of the Giant there has been an additional 170 years of Communist rule. To think that such directed cultural manipulation would not have had a significant impact over than amount of time is ridiculous.
One reason China remained so traditional for such a remarkable amount of time had to do with it’s geographic isolation. Such isolation does not exist today, not to mention after a generation of the much more concentrated cultural exchange that would result from a global integration of economic and military unification. Another reason for the lack of cultural drift seen in historic China was due to the adoption of the existing system of bureaucratic control despite changes in Imperial Dynasties. The over thrown of leaders kept the system of control in place. That changed a bit more drastically in the Communist Revolution, not to mention the Cultural Revolution. Since then the central government has emphasized a different set of values even in the cultures of administration it directly adopted from Imperial China. Key among those values is the importance of the group rather than a single elite and the devaluation of religion.
[MILD SPOILER ALERT- THOUGH THIS DOES HAPPEN IN THE FIRST FEW CHAPTERS – THIS IS ONE PARAGRAPH ONLY]
To that end, the idea that a single man might be made Emperor after almost 250 years of directed cultural manipulation away from an ideology based on a privileged elite and the mandate of heaven seems a bit… well… far fetched. Certainly, the sudden reappearance of Imperial China after eleven generations of Communism is pushing things too far.
As a result, I felt we had a caricature of Chinese society rather than the kind of intelligent representation that Card is capable of. Similar elements could be said of his depiction of Islam and particularly Indian society. His apparent need to tie terrorist methods to elements of Islam was also a bit… well… blunt. To be fair he does not take the oh-so-common-route of defining Islam by such things, and indeed he has a statement put forth by one Islamic character denying terrorism in all of its forms. Even so, I felt there was no need to make the connection in this book other than for Card to give a somewhat clumsy nod to modern politics.
Here, then we see another weakness in this novel – the tie to modern global and national politics. Like it’s predecessor, Shadow of the Giant feels the need to go on long conversations about political theory that seem more appropriate to the modern world than to a world a hundred and seventy years in the future. To put it in a frame of reference – it would be a bit writing a story set in 2013 in which we discuss the huge impact of the German migration from South Baden to Venezuela, and had plot points based upon the inevitable conflict between the United States and Great Britain due to their long standing animosity. Such things seemed important and/or inevitable 170 years ago, but are so linear in their thinking that it seems ridiculous now.
This is not to say that we can or should try to predict the future, but writing a novel about mid-future politics where the players are such unimaginative transplants of our own world (without even having the common decency of attempting to veil the references), well, that just stretched my suspension of disbelief too far.
To this end, some of the book is undermined by the use of such unimaginative settings and blatant modern political commentary dressed-up as story. As with the previous novel, Card has long political diatribes and uses strawman arguments throughout. All of this detracted from the central theme of over-grow egoist warfare – not to mention the central plot, which I haven’t really touched upon and is actually a good story.
For while all of this is going on in the background (well… foreground for a lot of it), the central plot is the plight of Bean and Petra. Bean has continued to grow and so faces his approaching death, while both of them desperately try to recover the frozen embryos stolen from them in the last novel. So it is that our heroes fight their own, very personal battles while the rest of the world heads towards war. This theme is addressed quite nicely in the book, and played against the theme of desire for power felt by other Battleschool Graduates. It does, however, turn Petra from a strong leader to a bit of a ‘Oh my Baaaybeees‘ character in one sense, which wins no points in my book.
Even so, with as many weaknesses as I have outlined, this is a decent novel about choices and sacrifice. Sacrifices for one’s country, sacrifices for one’s religion, sacrifices for power, sacrifices for family, and sacrifices for love. I cannot say I necessarily agree with what seems to be the conclusions reached in this novel, but I can say they are worth thinking about. To that end, I would say this book at last gets us further along in the story line, and I would no doubt have given it a better review had it been the second novel, rather than the fourth.
It is well worth the read if you’ve made it through the other books in the series, but does not stand alone.
Notes about the Audio Edition:
This is another superior audio production from MacMillian audio. As with the other books in Card’s Ender/Shadow series, this one uses multiple voice talents, each narrating those chapters associated with a particular Point of View. While this can sometimes be jarring, particularly when you here different narrators give slightly different voices to the same characters, for the most part it adds to the enjoyment of the book and in this case is very well handled.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, the actors who read the parts are not identified in the recording nor on the web pages associated with this book. As a result, I cannot really praise the individual actors who narrated this book, but they deserve praise.
 Yes, yes I know. The previous books were about that… in theory. In practice, however, they were about the impact of one boy (Achille), who hadn’t even finished battle school, not any of the other children except as his pawns.
 Indeed, it is the kind of struggle that I had always thought was eluded to in the Eugenetic Wars that formed the back story of Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek universe. You see, I had always thought that the Eugenetic Wars was a war between the genetically superior men and women – a war where they fought each other. It seems I was wrong, however, for what has emerged in subsequent Star Trek stories is a war in which the Genetically Modified Supermen of the 1990s (e.g. Khan) unified and tried to take over the lesser, normal humans.
Such was the impact of this on my young mind, that I think it is most likely the source of the War of the Made that occurred in the back story of my own novel, Strings on a Shadow Puppet.
 No, not Hindu… he keeps himself primarily focused on the nation state of India in this, while for Islam he is looking at the whole of the Islamic world.
 Mmmm… maybe I should write a steampunk novel to this effect.
- Strings on a Shadow Puppet (sophyanempire.com)
- Ender’s World: Fresh Perspectives on the SF Classic Ender’s Game (dystopiaministries.wordpress.com)
- Shadow Puppets (sophyanempire.wordpress.com)
- Orson Scott Card Admits To Profiting Off Gay Marriage Controversy (ontopmag.com)
- ‘Ender’s Game’ Movie Profits Won’t Go to Orson Scott Card (theatlanticwire.com)
- Ender’s Game, movie based on Orson Scott Card book, opens at No. 1 (bizjournals.com)