2.22.2012

Currently Reading: Children of the Mind

Children of the Mind (Ender's Saga, #4)Only Wang-mu remained standing, thinking, Why am I here, since I’m no part of any of these events, there is nothing of any god in me, and nothing of Andrew Wiggin; and also thinking, How can I be worried about my own selfish loneliness at a time like this, when I have heard the voice of a man who sees into heaven?

In a deeper place, though, she also knew something else: I am here because I am the one that must love Peter so much that he can feel worthy, worthy enough to bear to let the goodness of Young Valentine flow into him, making him whole, making him Ender. Not Ender the Xenocide and Andrew the Speaker for the Dead, guilt and compassion mingled in one shattered, broken, unmendable heart, but Ender Wiggin the four-year-old boy whose life was twisted and broken when he was too young to defend himself. Wang-mu was the one who could give Peter permission to become the man that child should have grown up to be, if the world had been good.

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: As a starfleet carrying the all-destroying M.D. Device makes its final approach to Lusitania, Starways Congress shuts down the ansibles to kill Jane. Ender, exhausted and having divided his spirit into three bodies during experimental philotic-bond transportation with Jane, lies ill in the monastery of the Children of the Mind of Christ. His alter egos, young copies of Peter and Valentine as he remembered them, still work to prevent xenocide: Peter attempting with Wang-mu to save Jane and the planet, Val working with Miro to help buggers and pequeninos escape Lusitania. But the only hope for Lusitania is Jane, and the only hope for Jane is the one thing Ender has left to give.

Notes: I am not necessarily a good reviewer for an Orson Scott Card novel. The man is too much my literary hero; if I grow up to be half the author he is, I'll have attained some serious dreams. But I will try to speak fairly, and if all I prove capable of is adoring like a pre-teen fangirl, forgive me.

This novel finishes what Xenocide began; the two books were originally meant to be one. On account of which, this review contains spoilers for Xenocide. If you don’t want to know, please beware.

Said spoilers begin with Han Qing-jao.

Her troubling story, told to the bitter end in Xenocide, takes only a subtle place in this book: the brief prefaces to every chapter, all quoting from The God Whispers of Han Qing-jao. It would take another read or two through this book—reads I fully expect to make eventually—to comprehend the meaning of all of them, both as a whole and as individual chapter prefaces. It appears, though, that despite Qing-jao’s terrible surrender to pride, she did some thinking while brutally disciplining herself to do what her healed genetic code no longer required of her. The quotes include stories and poems, cries of self-loathing and of longing for affirmation, and proverbs, all bringing some relevance to bear on the chapter they precede. At times, they reaffirm the reader’s sympathy for Qing-jao herself. At least twice, they brought tears to my eyes.

The God Whispers come from the future, however, and in the weeks during which the story happens, Qing-jao is just beginning her silent life of self-imposed penance on Path. Her former secret maid, Wang-mu, however, is out with Peter trying to save Lusitania and Jane.

The premise of this book depends on another Xenocide spoiler, an explanation of Ender’s division of himself into three bodies. In that book, Card introduced the concept of the aiúa, which probably equates to the soul, at least in Platonic metaphysics. After discovering how the Hive Queen called Jane into being, Jane successfully manages instantaneous transport by taking a stripped-down starship and a few people “Outside” (where non-embodied aiúas dwell) and from thence to a different location in the physical realm. During her test trip, Miro—by envisioning himself whole and undamaged—recreates himself in a healthy body, while Ender unconsciously sees himself as partly his brother Peter and partly his sister Valentine, accidentally granting both aspects of himself their own young, idealized adult physical bodies.

Peter, the incarnation of everything Ender fears in himself, wrestles with his own coldbloodness as he travels with Wang-mu, who doesn’t hesitate to challenge his less-than-noble words and actions. Young Val, despite her altruism, just wants to live. The rest of Ender joins Novinha in the monastery, giving up his connection to Jane for the sake of convincing his wife to welcome him. With that interesting state of affairs, Children of the Mind puts the reader into the last half of the story from page one: suspense, passion, life-or-death moments that stretch for chapters.

The aiúa concept pushes the story near the borderline where science fiction and fantasy meet, and a couple of the scenes have a very magical feel to them. Overall, though, the story sticks to the intellectual sci-fi tradition handed down by the previous Ender books. As with Speaker for the Dead after Ender’s Game, Children of the Mind follows the bittersweet poignancy of its predecessor with an intense, emotive redemption, including two beautiful little romances and a startlingly moving resolve to Ender’s own arc.

Card’s Ender is arguably one of the most wholly and intrinsically lovable characters in fiction. From the first pages of Ender’s Game—where we meet him as an unusually intelligent and aware child, a bullied Third, subjected to the lies of adults and terrorizing from his peers—Andrew Wiggin is heartbreakingly sympathetic. (Personal aside: Speaker is one of my favorite books, but it took me years to read Xenocide for the sole reason that I couldn’t bear the thought of watching Ender suffer any further.) Larger than life in his wrongs and compassion as well as his intelligence, Ender turns his own unbearable guilt into humility, wisdom and understanding—a broken hero, but then, that’s the only kind humanity ever has.

His command over reader loyalty never lessens over four books, yet Card’s great empathy comes forward and lets us also love and sympathize with Novinha and Miro, even as they say the words—lies, really—that let Ender do what he must to save Jane and, ultimately, himself.

It is difficult to talk about the great events of the story without giving spoilers. Card pulls on his development of the nature of philotes and, of course, on the idea of the aiúa, to work toward the salvation of Lusitania and all its living creatures. The ideas of interconnectedness are not perhaps new, but they are beautifully drawn out and intriguing. After all, whether or not something like philotes exist, it is hard to deny the subconscious power of bonding.

The book winds down with Valentine’s perspective, a wise authorial choice that allows us to see the fullness of resolution in ways no other character’s eyes could provide. The last few lines echo those of Speaker for the Dead in several ways, and as with a few other scenes in this book, I have not yet managed to read them—or, apparently, write about them—without tears.

A handful of loose plot threads remain, waiting, no doubt, for a planned future novel conjoining Ender’s quartet to that of the Shadows.

My (mass market paperback) copy of the book closes with an afterword. Card’s essays are sometimes nearly as exquisite and powerful as his novels, and his thoughts on literature are well worth the read. I will gladly consider myself part of the audience he describes in his final paragraph, for I consider his junbungaku a beautiful work indeed.

Recommendation: Read it for “sweetness and light, beauty and truth.” It seems unlikely to disappoint.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you are so moved by Ender and his story. These books really are a work of art. I've read all the books available--though I am very excited to someday read the novel that ties the threads of Ender's and Bean's stories (yet to be written as far as I'm aware). Looking forward to your (eventual) reading of the Bean books (aka the Ender's Shadow books).

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