When something new comes out that I’m excited about, I build up my expectations to the point the that the actual thing could never meet those expectations.
My friends still ridicule me over my hatred for the Mission: Impossible movie. I had expected so much out of this movie, that when it didn’t deliver, I was extremely disappointed. Many people have told me that the movie wasn’t great, but that it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be either.
I was excited for Orson Scott Card’s Ender in Exile. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I thoroughly enjoyed Ender’s Game and was hoping this book would be a worthy sequel.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. In any case, this book did not meet them.
The story of Ender in Exile picks up almost where Ender’s Game leaves off. In fact, it picks up the storyline a few chapters before Ender’s Game ends. Ender has defeated the Buggers (who everybody now calls Formics) and conflict has started among the nations back on Earth. This conflict keeps Ender from being able to happily return to his home planet. This “exile” allows Ender to join a colony ship header to one of the worlds previously inhabited by the Buggers, where Ender will become governor.
From Ender’s Game we know most of that synopsis of the story, so this book is concerned with the details of the trip to the colony world as well as some of the happenings on the colony itself. There is conflict with the captain of the ship, an older officer who believes that Ender is too young to hold the post of governor. We also get a glimpse into the world of the colonists as we watch them shape the world as they wait for Ender to arrive.
(Re)Writing a Story
The task of writing a sequel for a book like Ender’s Game is challenging, because the original book itself felt very complete. You have a hero who completed a task well. You had great training sequences and great conflict that was all resolved by the end of the book. The only thing really left hanging was a gap in time at the end of the book. That was where Ender in Exile wanted to fit in.
The storyline of the Ender-related world already has a couple of branches. Starting with Xenocide, we pick up Ender’s story a few hundred years into the future. He’s still alive due to traveling in ships at speeds that cause the theory of relativity to come into play. So while the trip for him is only two years, for people still living on a planet, forty years pass. Since Ender in Exile happens so fast after Ender’s Game, there’s not much worry of the time lines of Ender in Exile and Xenocide really “hitting” each other.
The other thread that was already in place started with Ender’s Shadow, a book about Bean, a fellow soldier in Ender’s army of children. This book was written as a “parallel story,” and follows the story of Ender’s Game from Bean’s perspective. The story is a part of a series that continues with Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets and Shadow of the Giant. The stories in these books do coincide with the story in Ender in Exile. They include the story of the people back on Earth while Ender is traveling to the new colony.
Orson Scott Card mentions in various places, including the teaser video I included on this site, that this book can be read standalone without having read Ender’s Game. I would disagree with this. In fact, I would say that you have to have read almost all of Orson Scott Card’s Ender-related works to really “get” the whole story. There are characters and conflicts that are briefly introduced and that culminate in the final conflict of this book that I barely had a hold on. I’ve read some of the other sequels (and parallel stories), but as the different storylines in the other books progressed, I began to lose interest and did not finish either of the “spin off” series. This left me with large gaps in conflict and character that Ender in Exile assumed I understood.
The Importance of a Good Enemy
For a large part of this book, the main conflict is between Ender and the captain of the colony ship, Admiral Morgan. Admiral Morgan doesn’t believe that Ender is really qualified to be governor of the colony and plans to take over when the ship arrives, keeping Ender around as the governor in name only. The “battle” between these two takes place without a shot fired and with almost no direct contact.
What I didn’t like about this conflict was the fact that Admiral Morgan never really came off as a worthy opponent for Ender. He is stupid enough to think that Ender, who defeated an entire alien race, doesn’t have any strategic skills.
In all great stories of one man against another, the abilities of the antagonist come very close to matching the abilities of the hero. The best “bad guys” are the ones that you end up rooting for at some point in the story, because their intelligence and plan is well made. In this book, the bad guy never had a chance and the resolution of the conflict leaves you fully understanding that fact.
Wait, Don’t We Still Need Them?
Another thing which bothered me about this book is that there were multiple characters who we came to know through the story that were essentially thrown away before the end of the book. Part of this comes from the fact that the trips that Ender makes cause people not on the ship to age must faster than him.
However, even some of the people on the ship with Ender end up being “dropped off” the story line when they become inessential. I felt kind of robbed by this. One character, Alessandra, was essentially a main character through most of the story. She doesn’t play a part at all in the last six chapters, though she is still around. The same goes for a biologist, Sel Menach, who is a very intriguing character but who gets left alone about the same time Alessandra does.
I got the feeling that this book was written essentially to tie up some loose ends in some of the other Ender-related works. The problem was, it didn’t have a good feel to it. The bulk of this book comes off as a story written to make the trip that Ender took interesting so that he could get to where he needed to be for the “real conflict” to take place. Once he was there, the other stories just got in the way, so they didn’t continue along. Not having read some of other books, I didn’t feel that I had enough invested in the final conflict.
Overall, I was disappointed with this book. There were some highlights, though. The character of Sel Manach was intriguing, as was the work he had to do in order to keep the colonists safe. Alessandra and her mother were also interesting characters to watch, and were given enough background to be three dimensional.
If you’ve read all of the Ender books and enjoyed them, then this book will probably serve as a necessary puzzle piece in the whole history, but I didn’t feel that it had enough new material to stand alone.
Of course, maybe that’s just my high expectations getting in the way again.
Who would like this book: Readers who have liked every book in the Ender world, not just Ender’s Game.
Who would not like this book: Anyone who hasn’t read all of the other Ender books, as well as anyone who doesn’t feel like there’s a hole to fill in the overall storyline.
Note: This book was sent to me as a review copy. While I try not to let this alter my review, I feel that it is only fair, in the interest of full disclosure, to let you know.