Saturday, April 30, 2011

Orson Scott Card Month

Worthy of Note is celebrating April 2011 as Orson Scott Card month. There's no particular rhyme or reason to it: I just found that I had read a number of his works recently, so there were quite a few of those reviews still in the pipeline.  At the end of the month, I will populate this list with links to their respective reviews, and continue updating this page after other reviews that might follow. Enjoy the series!

The Ender Saga
Ender's Game (13 Aug. 2010)
Ender in Exile (23 Sept. 2010)
Speaker for the Dead (8 Apr. 2011)
Xenocide (9 Apr. 2011)
Children of the Mind (11 Apr. 2011)
Ender's Shadow (15 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Hegemon (19 Apr. 2011)
Shadow Puppets (25 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Giant (29 Apr. 2011)
The Tales of Alvin Maker:
Seventh Son (14 Apr. 2011)
Red Prophet (16 Apr. 2011)
Prentice Alvin (20 Apr. 2011)
Alvin Journeyman (21 Apr. 2011)
Heartfire (26 Apr. 2011)
The Crystal City (27 Apr. 2011)
Other Works
Enchantment (17 Jan. 2011)
(12 Apr. 2011)
The Lost Gate (30 Apr. 2011)
[Originally published 8 Apr. 2011]
[Updated and reposted 30 Apr. 2011]

Orson Scott Card: The Lost Gate

I'm not sure there's a more fitting conclusion to this blog's month-long celebration of Orson Scott Card than a review of his latest work, "The Lost Gate." It is more than a spectacular stand-alone story in his already impressive bibliography. It introduces the new world of Westil and Mittlegard, and launches the new "Mithermages" series. It is a story that has languished in Card's private thoughts (what Hollywood execs might call 'development hell') since 1977, the year that Card's short story "Ender's Game" was first published in the Analog Science Fact and Fiction magazine. The world of Mithermages may be the most fully realized world Card has yet crafted, and for that reason I highly recommend "The Lost Gate."

The novel begins in a small compound in Virginia, where the young god Danny has begun to wonder if he's really a god at all.  Danny is a North, one of the many families that came to Earth long ago from the land of Westil and became the basis for all the legends and myths of ancient gods. But the 'Great Gate' that connected them to Westil was severed, and the blood of the families has diminished in power. Danny has no skill with animals or elements. He doesn't even have a 'clant' or 'outself' that is the basis for other Westilians' power. Danny begins to fear he may be a drekka, a magic-less child, as worthless as the human drowthers who lack any awareness of magic at all.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Shadow of the Giant

In this conclusion of the Shadow series, Card continues with the ongoing wars between the major powers of China, the Muslim League, and India, while focusing Peter’s attempt to unify the world.

It becomes clear that while the Battle School graduates remain on Earth, there will always be powers that will want them to start wars and conquer. Because of this, Graff and Rackham find these graduates and proposes a way out: ship out on your own colony and rule your own world. While this is intriguing to some, others love being in control of their home country.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Orson Scott Card: The Crystal City

Most historical fantasies are grounded in a mythic view of medieval Europe, involving sweeping romances with princesses and castles. In his later novel Enchantment, Orson Scott Card deliberately stepped outside this fairy-tale tradition to craft a fantasy-romance grounded in Eastern European history and culture. But this was not his first attempt. His early series, "The Tales of Alvin Maker," also sought to create a unique historical fantasy, rooted not in Europe but in America. In these novels Orson Scott Card has hybridized the fairy tale and the tall tale, and made a legitimately and uniquely American fantasy universe.

The first novel, Seventh Son, depicts the setting (an alternate-universe American frontier) and introduces the main character, Alvin Smith, who discovers in his childhood that he possesses a startling powerful 'knack' (magical ability) for Making. Its sequel, Red Prophet, constructed a broader setting and the meta-narrative for the whole series, particularly emphasizing the ongoing conflict between the white settlers and the native population and Alvin's future role in resolving it. The third novel, Prentice Alvin, depicts the 'training' phase in our hero's journey, as he learns to use his knack and starts gathering allies to help in his task. The fourth novel, Alvin Journeyman, resolves some of the residual conflicts and villains from past novels and introduces the main nemesis: Alvin's own brother, who is himself a Maker. The fifth novel, Heartfire, shows how Alvin and his wife Peggy use their knacks to effect social change in New England and the Crown Colonies, and how Alvin's brother is reintroduced into their lives.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Heartfire

"Heartfire" is the fifth novel in the "Tales of Alvin Maker." As I mentioned previously, I hold the fourth entry, "Alvin Journeyman," to be the highlight of Orson Scott Card's historical fantasy series. I also mentioned that I consider it superior because the story features Verily Cooper, an English barrister with the best 'knack' in the series. If this is true, then "Heartfire" is proof positive that you really can't have too much of a good thing.

"Heartfire" is my second favorite work in the "Alvin Maker" set, for the same reasons as my favorite. The primary plot features Alvin and Verily Cooper recruiting new members to their jolly band of misfits from the unlikeliest of places: New England, one of the last holdovers of the Puritan anti-witch laws that had practically outlawed the use of knacks. Along the way, they encounter the young orphan Purity, who grew up with a powerful knack for sensing others' feelings, but with an intense fear that she will suffer the same fate as her parents and condemned as a witch.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Shadow Puppets

Shadow Puppets begin with the rescue of Achilles, done by the Hegemon army (Bean’s army from Thailand), without the consent of Bean. Peter believes that he can use Achilles to his advantage. Others, such as Bean and Petra, flee the Hegemon compound as soon as possible, in order to escape the immediate grasp of Achilles.

Bean and Petra travel in hiding together, and she finds out his deadly genetic alteration. This inspires her even more to want to marry Bean, and carry on his species of human. With hints from the last book, we find Bean and Petra in love with each other, despite Bean’s misgivings. It terrifies Bean to love someone so deeply, especially since the two women he loved and cared for before (Poke and Sister Carlotta), were murdered by Achilles. However, this fear does not stop Bean from marrying Petra, after meeting with Anton, and realizing his innate human desire to continue on his genes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rob Bell: "Love Wins"

**One of my friends, Josh Chambers, posted a brief Facebook status on "Love Wins," a book he had recently finished reading. I asked about his opinion of the book, and he responded with a number of comments that looked for all the world like a standard-length book review. I asked and received permission to post here.  Enjoy!**

I just finished reading "Love Wins" by Rob Bell. I see why it caused a controversy, but I thoroughly enjoyed the perspective Bell brought to the whole 'heaven and hell' scene.

When the book was first publicized, "Love Wins" was portrayed by many evangelicals as a universalist tract. Indeed, Rob Bell makes some claims that are universalist-esque, mainly that all punishment is for the purpose of redemption and thus hell cannot be forever. His reasoning is chiefly based on attempting to ascertain the nature of God as loving and using that to argue that such a god would not change his nature toward an individual after death in exacting justice upon them when He has given him/her nothing but mercy and grace for the duration of his/her life. Bell argues that this trend would invariably continue, and that hell would only last as long as the individual therein continued to reject the grace God was continually offering him/her even at that point.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Alvin Journeyman

At last.  With this fourth entry in the "Tales of Alvin Maker," Orson Scott Card's historical fantasy series really enters the Promised Land. "Alvin Journeyman" is, in my opinion, the best novel in the series, and is certainly one of his finest works to date.

"Alvin Journeyman" begins and ends with Calvin Smith, Alvin's younger brother. Because the eldest son had died shortly after Alvin's birth, Calvin is also born with the knack of Making, for he too is the seventh son of a seventh son. Unfortunately, he grows up resentful, angry at being overshadowed by his elder brother, and ultimately runs away from his home in Vigor Church. He makes his way to New Amsterdam (in this universe, "New York" remained in the possession of its original Dutch settlers), then to England, and then to France, working his way into the good graces of Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Prentice Alvin

"Prentice Alvin" is the third novel in Orson Scott Card's historical fantasy series "The Tales of Alvin Maker." Having established the alternate-history universe of Alvin's America, and expanded the universe to include the voices of both white settlers and "Red" natives, Card now moves to bring Alvin into maturity within the world he has created. The first novel was about Alvin's realization that he possessed a knack for Making; the second novel gave him a purpose and context in which to use that knack. Here, in the third novel, Alvin finally digs deeper into his knack -- what it is and how to use it.

The novel begins with a vignette of sorts, about a slave plantation in Apalachee. The owner, Cavil Planter, is introduced as "a godly man, a church-going man, a tithepayer." But his wife is sickly and infertile, and Cavil is tormented by the thought that God was punishing him, by denying him a wife and an heir. He goes to the Bible and reads the account of Abraham, who slept with the servant-girl Hagar to produce an heir. It takes a while, but Cavil at length succumbs to the temptation, and (encouraged by the "Unmaker" appearing as an angel of light) ultimately becomes one of those beastly owners who sleeps with every slave-girl on his plantation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Shadow of the Hegemon

"Shadow of the Hegemon" is the direct sequel to "Ender’s Shadow." Instead of taking place in space, Shadow of the Hegemon focuses on the lives of the Battle School students as they return to Earth. However, as soon as they reach Earth, their lives are in danger, as the insane Achilles is on the loose.

Ender’s jeesh (or army), is captured by Achilles, all except one: Bean. Achilles has not forgotten the humiliation that Bean put him through at Battle School and attempts to murder him and his family. Eventually, Achilles also murders Sister Carlotta, and with it, Bean finds out the truth about his genetics. While his brain will keep growing, his body will as well, and likely, won’t live past the age of 20.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Red Prophet

"Red Prophet" is the second installment of Orson Scott Card's historical fiction fantasy series, "The Tales of Alvin Maker." Its immediate predecessor, "Seventh Son," established the story's setting in an alternate-reality early America in which folk magic is real. "Seventh Son" mostly focused on the frontier territories of Hio and Wobbish, as the white settlers begin to scratch out a life and a living in the new country. "Red Prophet" expands on this universe, with special emphasis on the native "Red" population.

The story begins with a sort of vignette set in Carthage City, the capital of Wobbish Territory. The river trader Hooch has returned to town with another shipment of whiskey, when he is caught in a contest of wills between the self-appointed "Governor" Bill Harrison and the self-aggrandizing Apalachee lawyer Andrew Jackson. The story also introduces us, parenthetically, to the two major Indian characters of the novel, the noble Ta-Kumsaw and his sadly drunken brother Lolla-Wossiky.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Shadow

**This post was contributed by Tessa, a new contributor to the Worthy of Note blog. In this post, she'll be reviewing Orson Scott Card's novel, "Ender's Shadow." She will also be reviewing the three other books in that series.**

Ender’s Shadow is the companion book to Ender’s Game. It follows the story of a minor character in Ender’s Game, named Bean. Instead of starting straight at Battle School, we are introduced to Bean as a four year old street kid in Rotterdam. He’s starving to death, and using a final plan to get into a “crew”- a group of street kids who stay together and help each other find food and protection. His plan works, choosing the crew lead by a girl named Poke, but not without consequences. A bully named Achilles, who joined the crew from Bean’s plan, would not forget Bean’s open desire to kill him, when he realized that Achilles was not the right bully for the plan.

Eventually, the street culture changed and Bean’s brilliance was noticed by a woman named Sister Carlotta who attempts to recruit street kids for Battle School. Sister Carlotta becomes a prominent figure in the Shadow series, first by protecting Bean when Poke was killed by Achilles and then wanted to kill him, and second, by trying to discover Bean’s heritage. A couple of years later, Bean was old enough to attend Battle School, up in space. This is where he would learn of Ender Wiggin, the main character of "Ender’s Game."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Seventh Son

Besides the science-fiction saga of the "Ender's Game" universe, Orson Scott Card is probably best known as the creator of the historical fiction fantasy, "The Tales of Alvin Maker." The series presents an alternate history of colonial and post-Revolutionary America, in the style of a vintage American "tall tale." This America is far removed from the America we know, however, though all the differences can be reduced to a single cause. In this America, folk magic is real.

In the world of Alvin Maker, each person has a unique gift, a "knack," that endows them with preternatural abilities. Sometimes these specialized talents are mundane, such as a knack for fog or a knack for beetles. Others, though, can be more useful: a dowser has a knack for finding water, while a spark can cause fire from afar. The rarest and most powerful of gifts, however, is the knack of Making: an all-encompassing gift that enables a person to 'bend' nature to their will.

"Seventh Son" begins with a young girl, Peggy, who is a torch: a rare specialization that enables her to see others' "heartfires" -- who they are, where they are, and who they will become. When a pioneer family arrives in town with a woman in labor, she is called to help the village midwife. She soon realizes this birth is different than most: for this will be the seventh son of a seventh son, an extraordinarily powerful combination often associated with extraordinarily powerful knacks. She sees that her own future is closely tied to this boy. She also sees that this boy already won himself a fearsome enemy: the Unmaker, a semi-mystical Satanic figure who is the incarnation of destruction.

The rest of the novel treats Alvin's youth, his life until he turns eleven. Peggy had saved a piece of Alvin's birth-caul, which she uses ritually to protect Alvin from the Unmaker's schemes. However, she cannot protect him from the Reverend Thrower, a fanatical minister who believes knacks are evil and sees Satan around every corner (except for when Satan actually appears as an angel of light). Thrower is seduced into a conspiracy against Alvin Jr., who is still too young to guard himself against attack.

The brief narrative of "Seventh Son" draws from a far richer back-story, of meta-politics only hinted at through this narrative. In this America, there are four semi-independent states. The "Crown Colonies" (of the original Southern colonies) is governed by a monarch, King Arthur Stuart; the "United States" (extending from Maryland to New York to the southern side of the St. Lawrence River) is a democratic republic founded by Ben Franklin, himself rumored to be a Maker; "Apalachee" is a frontier state running from eastern Tennessee to West Virginia, governed by Tom Jefferson; and "New England" is a theocracy, comprised of Puritans under governor John Adams.

At times, the novel does succumb to the laziest of historical fiction tropes, in its insistence of mentioning every remotely memorable figure from real American history. However, as an re-creation of an alternate colonial America, I still found it to be thoroughly impressive. On the whole, "Seventh Son" is a short read with a decidedly parochial focus, which points to the far greater saga that lies ahead.

To purchase this book, check out
Seventh Son (Tales of Alvin Maker, Book 1)

To read other reviews from "The Tales of Alvin Maker," check out:
Seventh Son
Red Prophet
Prentice Alvin
Alvin Journeyman
The Crystal City

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Pathfinder

Orson Scott Card is one of the best-known names in modern science fiction literature. This is in no small part due to the award-winning "Ender's Game" and its many sequels, though credit also belongs to his lesser-known series and sagas, such as "The Tales of Alvin Maker." Within the last year Card has created two new series, indeed two entirely new universes. The first world, "Mithermages," was launched with the publication of "The Lost Gate." The second, "Serpent World," is introduced in the novel "Pathfinder."

The boy Rigg is the titular "Pathfinder" of the novel, for he is able to see the paths of humans and animals, not by markings in the ground but by trails left by the soul suspended, as it were, in air.  The only person whose path is invisible to him is the man he calls "Father," who raised him in the wilderness around the village of Fall Ford. Father taught him not only the skills of tracking and hunting, but also skills more suited for the city, such as the art of rhetoric. When Father is struck down by a tree during a hunt, Rigg is forced to return to the village, and ultimately make his way to his real family in Aressa Sessamo, the capital city of the wallfold.

As an author, Card's craft might be better classified as technical rather than artistic. This novel is like a machine, not as though it merely grinds away, nor as though it conveys a sense of inevitability. Rather, as the broader pattern gradually comes into focus, we realize that every detail is like a cog perfectly fitted to each other and to its place in the narrative.

This is particularly evident in three instances.  First, each of the main characters is revealed to have particular gifts, which complement Rigg's path-finding skill and enable them to cooperate in the grand venture, especially near the end of the novel. Second, two of these gifts working in concert actually enable time travel, and while Card is unafraid to leap headlong into paradox, he is judicious with his use of this ability and always ensures there is an underlying unity throughout the novel. Third, some of the interactions between Rigg and city-dwellers (especially the banker of O, and to a lesser extent the royal family of Aressa Sessamo) are brilliant examples of Card's native talent for depicting political strategy in conversation.

The atmosphere of the story is largely one of fantasy. However, to the beginning of each chapter is conjoined brief passages that bear little resemblance to the main narrative, and much more closely resemble classic science fiction. The human race came close to extinction when the moon was struck by a comet. The surviving remnant built two space ships to a nearby habitable planet: the one attempting a jump through hyperspace, the other cruising at a more reasonable ten-percent of light speed.

Card utilizes his standard rotating wheel of perspectives, though in this case he mainly limits himself to two: the pathfinder Rigg, surrounded by allies on his odyssey to Aressa Sessamo, and the pilot Ram, surrounded by robotic "expendables" on the voyage to a planet called Garden. It is initially unclear how the two narratives intersect, until the novel nears its end. The final resolution, however, is both complicated and compelling, and promises to make for an exceptional series. I never cease to be impressed with Card's literary craft, and "Pathfinder" is no exception.

To purchase this book, check out

Monday, April 11, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Children of the Mind

"Children of the Mind" is the latest and last entry in the original Ender Saga, begun in 1985 with the publication of Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game." I have heard reports that Orson Scott Card is writing another sequel set in the same universe, "Shadows in Flight," but from what I hear it would be grounded in the Ender's Shadow series, following the life of Bean and other secondary characters from the original novel. As it stands, "Children of the Mind" is the conclusion of the original saga, and what a ending it is!

Following the events of "Xenocide," the colonists of Lusitania have successfully neutralized the descolada virus, while their resident deus ex machina Jane has mastered the art of instantaneous locomotion, which is handy in many situations, not least when you're trying to avoid a xenocide. The formic and pequinino populations (i.e.,"buggers" and "piggies") are no longer in danger of total extermination. However, these small steps forward come with several terrible steps back. The Starways fleet continues its course towards planet, now with the crucial commission to kill.  Ender has lost his son to inter-species rioting, and lost his wife to fatalistic despair. Lastly, the citizens of Path have identified Jane, and found a way to squeeze the life out of her sentient circuitry -- eliminating in a stroke an entire species (Jane being one of a kind) and the future of space travel.

Moreover, Ender now has to deal with the presence of two newcomers to the community. Young Valentine and Young Peter were two empty bodies accidentally generated by on the first instantaneous flight: created ex nihilo out of Ender's childhood memories, filled with Ender's own aiua. Ender empties himself into the two creatures -- his dreams and altruistic nobility into the image of his sister, his desires and ambitious efficiency into that of his brother -- but at the cost of his own health and potentially his life.

With this many moving parts, it's only natural that the characters would all put their heads together and figure out the solution piecemeal, as each issue confronts them. Oh, wait, it's a Orson Scott Card novel. So, they all split up and frenetically multitask. Ender's friend Miro works with pseudo-Valentine to scout new worlds as destinations for Lusitanian colony ships, carrying humans and formics and pequininos. However, the pair soon notice that Jane is conducting her own line of research on the side, into the origins of the descolada virus itself. Meanwhile, psuedo-Peter flies off with Wang-mu (the servant girl introduced in "Xenocide") to persuade Congress to stop the fleet. Their first stop is the Japanese culture of Divine Wind, where they meet the philosopher Aimaina Hikari. Their conversation -- and the elaborate battle of wits that inform every word and action -- is one of the highlights of the book and the saga as a whole. From there, Peter and Wang-mu continue to Pacifica, a world of Samoan culture where they meet the prophet Malu. Finally, Ender himself remains on Lusitania, spending his final few days reforging his relationship with Novinha.

There are a few defining moments in the book -- the conversation between Wang-mu and Hikari being the first and perhaps the most notable. "Children of the Mind" contains the breadth of scope necessary for Card to fully develop his craft, not just in the three inter-weaving narratives, but also in the occasional glimpses into the thoughts of the Hive Queen, Rooter the father-tree, and especially Jane herself, on top of the brief passages and epigrams from Han Quin-jao (a character from "Xenocide") that open each chapter.

Moreover, this may be the first book in which the dichotomy between politics and psychology is no longer insurmountable for Card. They're still present, those near-diametric passages of emotional angst and political strategy, but the contrast is no longer so sharp, perhaps because Card is able to successfully recast both types of passages in terms of the other. Thus, that early conversation reveals high-level strategy and tactics, but is framed in the context of competing egos, while the passages that deal with Ender's three-part soul-split and Jane's final free moments on the ansible networks are reframed as puzzle pieces that must be sorted through to find a resolution.

This is a compelling book in itself, and a satisfying conclusion to the Ender Saga. I don't imagine Card is entirely done with the universe he's created, but if or when he returns I know I can look forward to even greater displays of method and ingenuity

If you're interested in purchasing this book, check out
Children of the Mind (Ender, Book 4)

For other reviews of the Ender's Saga and Shadow series, check out these links:

Ender's Game (13 Aug. 2010)
Ender in Exile (23 Sept. 2010)
Speaker for the Dead (8 Apr. 2011)
Xenocide (9 Apr. 2011)
Children of the Mind (11 Apr. 2011)
Ender's Shadow (15 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Hegemon (19 Apr. 2011)
Shadow Puppets (25 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Giant (29 Apr. 2011)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Xenocide

Five years after "Speaker of the Dead," Orson Scott Card continued his career-making Ender Saga with the publication of "Xenocide." As far removed as "Speaker" was from the original "Ender's Game," so too is removed "Xenocide" from either of them. The same characteristics of Card's literary knack are still present (to shamelessly mix a metaphor from his other early series, Tales of Alvin Maker), but they are directed towards very different ends.

"Xenocide" might best be described as a psychological drama, for almost the whole of the action is borne on the back of certain ethical dilemmas faced by various groups of characters. On the other hand, the narrative atmosphere itself feels like nothing so much as the atmosphere of a road movie: forced away from home by inexorable pursuers, casting hurried glances behind, sustained solely by the drive to press on. It's an almost oppressive sense of fatalism: even from the beginning of the book, you feel the pressures and the trap ahead, but find yourself draw there as though inexorably.

On the one hand, we remain with the original cast on Lusitania, a world in rebellion against the alliance of the Hundred Worlds. These characters must constantly fight against the descolada vrius, that is the center of the conflict between humans and the alien pequininos. The "piggies" rely on the virus to metabolize and survive, but the same virus is capable of annihilating any human and human biosphere it comes in contact with. Thus, the characters who live on Lusitania must find a way to remove the destructive tendencies of the virus, while simultaneously finding a way to prevent the impending xenocide at the hands of a military fleet sent by the Starways Congress.

The primary difference between "Xenocide" and the previous books in the Ender Saga lies in the other half of the narrative, in the sharply Oriental setting in which this portion of the story occurs. The earlier works were largely Euro-centric, for even the planet Lusitania was populated by Portuguese settlers and Portuguese culture. Here, however, we find ourselves in rather more rarefied air, among those who inhabit the Chinese world of Path. These super-intelligent "godspoken" function as the brain-trust of the Starways Congress, who govern the Hundred Worlds. Our attention is drawn to a small familly -- widower, daughter, and servant girl -- who are tasked with finding the right ideas to fight against the Lusitania rebels.

I am a great admirer of Orson Scott Card, and I have difficulty conceiving that he could write a story I would not like to read. Card's trick of shifting perspectives between major characters has slowly made its way to the fore of his writing. True to form, his depiction of Path does not resort to lazy Orientalism, but seems to convey a genuine love of the culture.

However, even with the manifold virtues of the novel taken individually, it cannot help but suffer in contrast to what comes before and after. "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead" are both enduring classics, and "Children of the Mind" gives Card a much broader canvas (along with several new colors) for his portrait of human society. "Xenocide" appears almost as a holdover, a necessary entry in the Saga but primarily there to pave the way to its final installment. It's still a great novel and an enjoyable read, but less astonishingly good than the rest in the series.

To purchase this book, check out
Xenocide (Ender, Book 3)

For other reviews of the Ender's Saga and Shadow series, check out these links:

Ender's Game (13 Aug. 2010)
Ender in Exile (23 Sept. 2010)
Speaker for the Dead (8 Apr. 2011)
Xenocide (9 Apr. 2011)
Children of the Mind (11 Apr. 2011)
Ender's Shadow (15 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Hegemon (19 Apr. 2011)
Shadow Puppets (25 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Giant (29 Apr. 2011)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Speaker for the Dead

Orson Scott Card is best known as the author of "Ender's Game," winner of the 1985 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best science fiction novel.  The following year, Card published the companion novel, "Speaker for the Dead," which went on to win the same two awards for 1986. He is the only author to win both awards in consecutive years.

Though the novel serves, chronologically, as a sequel, "Speaker for the Dead" was originally intended as a self-standing work: it was only after developing the back-story that Card realized the need for a 'prequel' novel. Honestly, I prefer the first one. While both pieces are exemplars of the science fiction genre, not to mention ample demonstration of Card's literary talent, I found "Ender's Game" more of a political narrative, treating human interaction as a puzzle where all the pieces mesh together.

After finding the bugger queen at the end of "Ender's Game," Andrew Wiggin goes on a quest to find a new home for this alien species. He is accompanied by his sister, Valetine, as well as the sentient computer program Jane. Ultimately he finds himself on the planet Lusitania , home of a lonely human colony on a world dominated by a third alien species, the pequeninos.

"Speaker of the Dead" is pretty far removed from its prequel, at least in narrative terms. There are no battle rooms and war games, only clashes of personality. Ender is no longer a military-minded wunderkind, but a thoughtful and somewhat haunted young adult who makes his living as a Speaker, a cross between a funeral orator and a psychologist. Most of his time on Lusitania is occupied in coming to terms with the tragic history of the Ribeira family.

It's interesting enough -- a gross understatement, I admit -- but my heart fairly leapt towards the end of the book when the three aliens species finally come into contact with each other and construct a treaty to ensure mutual peace. The conflicts between species, much more than the conflicts within the family, hearkened most strongly back to the political elements in "Ender's Game" that made that novel so compelling.  All in all, "Speaker for the Dead" is a compelling read and a splendid example of science fiction, even if I wouldn't rank it as highly as its companion novel.

To purchase this book, check it out at
Speaker for the Dead (Ender, Book 2)

For other reviews of the Ender's Saga and Shadow series, check out these links:

Ender's Game (13 Aug. 2010)
Ender in Exile (23 Sept. 2010)
Speaker for the Dead (8 Apr. 2011)
Xenocide (9 Apr. 2011)
Children of the Mind (11 Apr. 2011)
Ender's Shadow (15 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Hegemon (19 Apr. 2011)
Shadow Puppets (25 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Giant (29 Apr. 2011)

Sunday, April 3, 2011


This blog has two primary issues, in my opinion. The first is that I'm not very concise. The second is that I'm not very consistent. Hopefully I can address both of these, by keeping myself to shorter reviews. This should also help encourage me to write the reviews soon after I read the book, and post more often.

Knowing myself, I won't always be able to resist the urge to drone on and on. So you can always look forward to at least a few unendurably long reviews. But there should be more variety in the future.

I also anticipate posting more series, in addition to the self-standing reviews.

For instance, this month (April) will be focusing on the novels of Orson Scott Card.  The first half of July will focus on reviews of the Harry Potter novels and books (honoring the July 15th release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"). And I anticipate turning the month of August into a 31-day multi-blog celebration of film adaptations of Shakespeare.

You know, maybe it's just because I'm a nerd, but that sounds like an awful lot of fun.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Scott Hahn: Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace

Scott Hahn is best known a former Presbyterian minister who converted to the Catholic Church. One of the major influences in his transition-conversion was the Catholic organization Opus Dei.  Founded in 1928 by St. Josemaria Escrivá and approved in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, the organization was made a personal prelature of Pope John Paul II in 1982 -- a meteoric rise that fueled speculation that Opus Dei had masterfully manipulated papal court politics. This notoriety was reinforced and publicized by the grotesque caricature of Opus Dei that appeared in the 2005 bestseller, "The Da Vinci Code."

For those seeking sensationalist details about the private lives of albino monks, this book is not the place to find them. On the other hand, for those seeking factual sensationalist details, I doubt you'll find them anywhere. Scott Hahn begins by depicting his initial encounter with members of the organization , but swiftly moves to present the doctrinal underpinnings of Opus Dei (a Latin phrase, meaning "The Work of God").

Opus Dei is a global organization (the term "personal prelature" simply means that Opus Dei isn't bound to a single geographic region) with a rather simple mission: to sanctify ordinary life. While there are numeraries who live in special centers, assisted by secular priests and non-clerical assistants, the vast majority of Opus Dei members are supernumeraries, Catholic laity with families and careers outside the organization.

The theology of Opus Dei is the theology of the Catholic Church, rooted in the foundational doctrine of divine filiation: that by the grace of God, we can take part in the life of Christ and can call ourselves truly sons and daughters of God. Hahn spends some chapters discussing this very idea, and tracing its implications throughout the ordinary life of Opus Dei members.

While this brief book isn't neither as explicitly theological nor as explicitly biographical as some of Hahn's other writings, I found some of the insights to be particularly valuable. I was inspired by reading how Opus Dei sought to apply the Christian call to sanctity to their ordinary lives and careers, and found myself remarking at the parallels with Protestant organizations seeking the same active walk of faith.

If you'd like to purchase this book, check it out at
Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Grace: My Spiritual Journey in Opus Dei

This was cross-posted at my theology blog, A Sacramental World.