Tor hardcover – copyright 2005
Cover art by Bob Warner
Book reviewed April 2005
Rating: 8/10 (Highly Recommended)
Review by Aaron Hughes
Shadow of the Giant is not intended to stand alone. At a minimum, you should read either Ender's Game or Ender's Shadow, if not all three prior Bean books - Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, and Shadow Puppets - before attempting it.
The Ender books all follow a group of very gifted children who were sent at an extremely young age to an orbiting Battle School and trained for military command, in hopes they would find a way to defeat mankind's powerful alien enemies the Buggers. Ender Wiggin, Battle School's top student, was the star of the first four novels in the series (Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind) as well as First Meetings, a collection of related short stories. The four subsequent novels (in terms of when they were published, not internal chronology – see my review of Shadow Puppets for a complete explanation of how the books fit together chronologically) have focused on Bean, a.k.a Julian Delphiki, Ender's friend and lieutenant at Battle School. The books starring Ender began very powerfully with Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, which both won the Hugo and Nebula Awards, then lost some of their narrative drive. The Bean sequence is following the opposite pattern, starting a bit slowly but gathering momentum.
Shadow of the Giant takes place in the aftermath of the Bugger Wars on a mostly recognizable, near-future Earth. (Card intentionally glosses over the fact that the Bugger Wars and other prior events he has described actually would have needed centuries to play out.) Still only some 16 years old, Bean has grown to enormous size – picture a very articulate version of pro wrestler Andre the Giant – due to the same genetic alteration that made him so brilliant. His body cannot sustain the continuing growth, and Bean knows he does not have long to live.
Bean is striving to help Ender's brother Peter Wiggin forge a peaceful and effective world government under Peter's leadership as Hegemon. Their efforts are hindered, however, by various expansionist nations, including China, India, Russia, and a newly united Muslim conglomerate, all with their own ideas of who should run the world. Let us hope that Card is being cynical in his expectation that every powerful nation in the future - excepting the U.S. and Western Europe, which have become withdrawn and isolationist - will seek to dominate the others. His portrayal of the Muslim world is particularly unflattering and some readers may find it offensive, but in my view Islam has an awful lot of house cleaning to do before it can legitimately complain about being portrayed as a bloodthirsty religion. (Card is very opinionated in general about politics, as you will see if you visit his "Ornery" political web site, but his apparent sympathy for a world government with real authority belies the label of ultraconservative some have pinned on him.)
Several of the nations competing for power are emboldened by the fact that they have their own former Battle Schoolers, in particular Han Tzu (known to Battle Schoolers as Hot Soup) in China, Virlomi in India, and Alai among the Muslims. These Battle Schoolers are very useful to their home nations both for the ingenious battle plans they can devise and for the devotion they inspire among hero-worshipping citizens and soldiers. (In Virlomi's case, the people have come to worship her in a literal sense.) As Shadow of the Giant begins, they are being used as pawns by their governments' leaders. But the leaders forget that if you don't keep an eye on pawns, they may reach the end of the board and become queens, and several of the Battle Schoolers soon attempt to turn the tables on their controllers.
One of the strengths of Shadow of the Giant is that it takes us inside the minds of these other Battle Schoolers, who were interesting but minor characters in the earlier books. Card spends the time to show us events from their different viewpoints, and manages to do it without disrupting the story's brisk pace. These Battle Schoolers are all well intentioned yet also very ambitious. This creates fascinating internal struggles for each of them, driving one of them nearly to insanity, and is an interesting commentary on the correlation between ability and ambition.
In the midst of these geopolitical struggles, a more personal drama confronts Bean and his wife Petra, also a former Battle Schooler. They are obsessed with finding the embryos they created in Shadow Puppets, knowing Bean would not survive long, which Bean's old nemesis Achilles stole and implanted in various women hidden around the world. If they can find these newborn children, Bean and Petra have a desperate plan to get on a lightspeed spaceship so that relativity will carry them to a future when a cure for Bean's condition has been found. Bean isn't telling Petra that his intention is to take the trip without her, along with whichever of their children share his condition, so that Petra and the unaffected children can remain and lead a normal life. While this makes little sense logically (if either of them believes that a cure will ever be found, then they can make the jump into the future together, and all settle down to a normal life after they get there - this is the kind of internal inconsistency that Card was more careful to avoid earlier in his career), Card skillfully portrays the emotional impact on Bean and Petra of the difficult choices they face.Card also gives us new insight into the once vicious but gradually softening character of Peter Wiggin. For example, it comes out that part of the reason Peter was such a lousy big brother to Ender was that he was hurt and enraged as a child that Ender loved their sister Valentine more than Peter. Without intending it, he atones for this by finally marrying a woman he knows loves another more than she will ever love him. This may seem quite a sacrifice, but Peter probably does not think it a sacrifice to share his life with the woman he loves. These are the kind of accommodations and compromises that life imposes upon us all. We human beings are flawed, yet also noble all in our own ways. Orson Scott Card understands this, and that is what makes him a great writer.
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|Copyright © 2005 Aaron Hughes|