"But I'm not mocking you!" cried Anton. "I celebrate you! Because you are, in a way, a small way, my son. Or at least my nephew. And look at you! Living a life entirely for others!"
"I'm completely selfish!" cried Bean in protest.
"Then sleep with this girl, you know she'll let you! Or marry her and then sleep with anyone else, father children or not, why should you care? Nothing that happens outside your body matters. Your children don't matter to you! You're completely selfish!"
Bean was left with nothing to say.
"Self-delusion dies hard," said Petra softly, slipping her hand into his.
"I don't love anybody," said Bean.
"You keep breaking your heart with the people you love," said Petra. "You just can't ever admit it until they're dead."
Author: Orson Scott Card
Synopsis: While Peter risks bringing serial killer Achilles into the Hegemony, Petra attempts to convince Bean to marry her and let her have children with him. Both Peter's decision and Bean's wind up having global consequences, as Peter and his parents are forced to flee the Hegemon's complex just when the world erupts into war, and Achilles and the underground take an interest in Bean's progeny. Meanwhile, others from Ender's jeesh get actively involved in the war, and both Hegemon and Battle School graduates have all they can do to restore peace and liberty to Earth—especially with Achilles planning to kill Peter and work his final vengeance against Bean and Petra.
Notes: One of Card's strengths as a writer is the ability to portray people with consistent philosophies that take in both thought and emotion. I've never spotted anyone better at this; he does a spectacular job, even when the characters' philosophies don't necessarily line up with his own.
Perhaps especially then. In Speaker for the Dead, the humanist Ender and the Catholics of Lusitania come to some beautiful understandings—not understandings that contradict the LDS faith, but that support a mostly symbolic expression of it. In Shadow Puppets, the ideals of marriage and family emphatically put forward by Theresa Wiggin in Shadow of the Hegemon reappear, this time championed by the gay scientist Anton. And while Card is too deft at character thought process for me to be sure that the professor's thoughts are a direct echo of the author's, Theresa Wiggin's Mormonism suggests some parity. Either way, the end result comes off a shade more heavy-handed than I'm used to reading from Card.
If Anton's panegyric on marriage and the making of children contributes to the general conviction that Card is a homophobe, however, then the general conviction could stand to take a great big deep breath. Which needs to happen anyway. Card, by all accounts, is an honorable man, not to mention a superior artist whose work would be worth reading regardless, and he certainly does not hate or fear homosexuals. The force of Anton's argument is simply that even the homosexual person does not escape the hardwired-in longing "to be an inextricable part of the human race"—a profoundly humanizing theme.
Ideals formed the basis for some of the major internal struggles in this novel, and, obviousness aside, were responsible for some truly beautiful moments. I part company with Anton on the concept of marriage and children as the meaning of life—I see the human family as ultimately symbolic of higher unions and integrations, and therefore his ideal seems oddly earthbound to me—but his words about the aforementioned human longing, despite our differences in definition, struck me as solid truth. And Bean had moments of realized emotion toward the idea of his own children that were just lovely.
The external struggles of the novel focused on Peter Wiggin's attempt to achieve hegemony, Achilles' plotting, and the movements of future China, India, and the Muslim world in battle. Peter, described in Ender's Game as having "the soul of a jackal", is softened but still recognizable through his arrogance, genius, and depression; there's also something very moving about watching John Paul and Theresa throw themselves into the work and protection of their one remaining child. As for Achilles, the cracks in the icy-blooded villain begin to show through in this novel. And while we're talking characters, Virlomi, Alai, Suriyawong, and to some extent Hot Soup all have intriguing and fitting roles to play in the story.
With its sometimes ordinary phrasing, emphatic ideals, and what struck me as a possibly cliched image of Chinese expansionist communism—maybe just because I'm so tired of politics—Shadow Puppets lacks some of the breathtaking subtlety and strength of Card's best novels. It certainly can't match the first two Ender books or Ender's Shadow. But a second-tier Card novel is still good work. I'm glad to have the sequel, Shadow of the Giant, at hand.
Fangirl postscript: Bean and Petra forever. That is all.