Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Shadow of the Giant

Orson Scott Card
Tor Books

Almost ten years after the child-general, Ender Wiggin, and his chosen ‘Jeesh’ annihilated the alien buggers and destroyed their home planet, Earth stands at a crossroads. Down one road lies unity and cooperation; down the other, war and self-destruction. With Ender himself exiled off-planet, his chosen – with their preternatural gifts for strategy and manipulation – have become the greatest weapons in the arsenals of their respective countries. Yet some are not content with simply being used – they want to lead. The Caliph of a united Islam, the new Emperor of China and India’s self-titled ‘Goddess’ are all graduates of the Battle School where they learned the arts of war alongside Ender, and now they seem dead-set on putting those lessons to the test against one another.

All is not in their favour, however. Julian ‘Bean’ Delphiki, Ender’s most brilliant companion, and his similarly gifted wife Petra stand alongside Ender’s brother Peter in an effort to bring lasting peace to the world. Yet the young couple have problems of their own. The genetic manipulation that gave Bean his unparalleled genius is killing him – and worse, the IV fertilised embryos of their children, stolen and scattered around the world, might bear the same condition. Soon he will have to choose how to spend his last remaining days: reuniting his family, or helping Peter create a lasting peace.

Whatever you might think about the author’s politics, there’s no denying that Orson Scott Card writes an entertaining story. Just like its predecessor in this series, ‘Shadow of the Giant’ paints a fascinating picture of just what World War Three might look like, and has the courage to admit that the major players are far more likely to spring from the rising East than the fading western superpowers. India, China and the Islamic nations, with their vast manpower, make for an interesting yet potentially authentic take on an old idea.

‘…Giant’ focuses more on the political side than the military, however. The machinations of the Hegemon, Peter Wiggin, take centre stage, as he attempts to put an end to war and bring all the nations of the world together under one banner. Similarly, the alliances and assassination attempts at the head of the other powers take precedence over any military action. When troops do begin to march, despite much emphasis on the idea of war as a political necessity battle seems almost an afterthought.

The greatest flaw of ‘Shadow of the Giant’, however, lies in its wavering focus. Despite the title of the novel, this is not Bean’s story but really Peter’s. Bean seems relegated to the background, a tool in the Hegemon’s hands. Meanwhile, his search for his children seems somewhat insignificant in comparison to the global politicking. even to the character himself. Neither the urgency or the agony of Bean’s decisions comes through, and it renders much of the subplot unfortunately irrelevant.

With the epilogue comes an unexpected pleasure – the last encounter, via faster-than-light comms, between the Wiggin brothers. Theirs is the relationship which has cast such a great shadow over both the ‘Shadows’ series and ‘Ender’s Game’, and to see them interact again grants a real sense of closure, even as it once more emphasises Bean’s background role.

Other threads are not so neatly tied off. The matter of Bean’s children remains somewhat unresolved, and a series of interludes regarding the spectre of Achilles, Bean’s old enemy, that was built up from the first few pages frustratingly leads the reader nowhere. Yet despite these flaws, ‘Shadow of the Giant’ remains an absorbing read and a satisfactory conclusion to the series. Orson Scott Card’s style and strong grasp of character allow the reader to really feel involved in the story, while the passage of time has allowed his child characters to mature to the point where such adult dialogue no longer seems an oddity in their mouths. As such, ‘Shadow of the Giant’ finds a welcome place on my ‘psychological warfare’ shelf, together with its companion novels.

This review was originally written for