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A novel by Orson Scott Card
(1999, TOR Books)

Ender's Shadow, book 1

A brilliant young boy applies his powers of observation to the harsh streets, then the reality of battle-school, where he trains with Ender Wiggin to fight an alien invasion.


-- First reading (hardcover)
July 22nd to August 2nd, 2013


While this book cannot live up to the original, it tells a very interesting, and very well-thought-out story. While Bean is the youngest child to be brought to Battle-school, he is also the brightest, and that makes him a target, just like Ender, but in a different way. I liked the way his genius is shown through his analysis, but it did become tiring for a while as the author described just how he wasn't like the other kids as he did things. The book was less intense than Ender's Game, probably in part because I knew what was going to happen, but also, I think, because Bean has less emotion than Ender, and the points of view were spread out more. But it was really good, just in a different way.

Spoiler review:

I don't remember Bean being a super-genius in Ender's Game, but I can assume he was, and this story makes him a lot more interesting. I don't think he's as interesting as Ender himself, and I think the author acknowledges this in Bean's thoughts, after he meets Ender.

Bean grew up on the streets of Rotterdam, Netherlands. At times, I had trouble believing he was only four years old, and talking and thinking like he was. But later, we find out that he was genetically engineered, so he could actually think coherently, if not in a known language, then to himself, from at least one year old. He saved himself when the criminal behind the generic experiment was arrested and the other infants killed. Unfortunately, the brilliance comes with a price -a short life. I really liked the way the author used the Bible in so many references, but especially in the choice between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden. Choose life, and be forever child-like. Choose knowledge, and die young. We are mostly a mixture of these, but it's a nice metaphor -though in general untrue.

On the streets, Bean ingratiates himself into a street gang to get food, convincing the leader that she needs to recruit a bully to help keep her gang safe. So she does, and along comes Achilles (pronounced Ah-sheel, the French way). He is also very smart, but unbalanced. He takes Poke's gang under his wing, and gets them all into the food kitchen, initiating a quiet revolution of sorts in that all the bullies are forced to take care of smaller kids. But Achilles resents Poke and Bean, who masterminded his humiliation when they recruited him, so he kills Poke, though Bean gets away.

In the meantime, Achilles sparks interest from Sister Carlotta a nun who is looking for recruits for Battle-school, genius children who can one day become commanders. She notes Bean after a while, and realizes that he must be one of them. When Bean escapes from his gang, she realizes that Achilles is actually a killer, and follows the deaths of people who humiliated the boy through the next couple of years -but there is no real trace to Achilles, so he cannot be arrested.

Bean, being the youngest and smallest person to join the Battle-school, is also bullied the most, but not always physically. As with Ender, even the teachers seem to go out of their way to point out his brilliance, and even his lack of social status. This of course brings on more resentment from the others, perhaps a strategy that the teachers think will make him stronger.

But Bean is highly critical of everything, including the teachers. He analyses everything, and calls just about everyone in charge stupid, something he did initially with Poke, too -and he was only partly right about her. Bean's brilliance and insatiable curiosity allows him to do things that none of the other children even think of doing. He steals the password of another student, Nicolai, and creates a separate, anonymous computer account. He fits himself into the ventilation shaft and walks his way around even to the teacher's quarters, where he steals the password of one of them, too. In this way, he gains access to all sorts of student information.

And the teachers allow him this access, knowing that he is brilliant, and trying to find out what makes him work. He refuses to play the computer game that everyone plays, recognizing instantly that it is analyzing his thought patterns -and he doesn't want anybody knowing what goes on inside his head.

But I didn't like the way the author tried to bring attention to everything he did by saying how other kids would do the same thing for this common reason, but Bean did it for another, smarter, reason, to know what happens or where a path goes for future use. For the most part, it only happened in Battle-School, showing how sloppy the other kids were at what they did, though they scored high in the tests. But they also had social lives, and it's hard to be perfect while having friends.

When Bean does befriend Nicolai, he, too, discovers that he has faults. Nicolai gives him points of view that he would never have thought of. It turns out, Sister Carlotta discovers, that Nicolai is actually Bean's twin brother, a clone, actually. Their parents took a fertilized egg and cloned it, implanting Nicolai several years earlier, but the eggs were stolen for the illegal genetic experiment.

Bean is allowed to choose Ender's Dragon Army, though Ender never truly recognizes Bean's genius. Still, Ender has his own way of doing things. At first, as usual, Bean thinks he is doing things poorly, incompetently, though he soon realizes that Ender is a tactical genius. And when the teachers give Ender the series of harder and harder tests, he helps out the best he can. Finally, Ender gives Bean control of his own special toon, which he uses to great effect in their last battle, in which Ender has given up, gone on strike.

This happens immediately after Ender kills Bonzo, despite Bean's attempts to keep them apart and avoiding fighting -he knows, of course, that this is a test by the teachers.

After that, of course, Ender is sent to Command School, and the Dragon Army is disbanded. Bean gets control of Rabbit Army, which he uses to test various strategies, even though it means losing five battles in a row. He, too, is sent a personality test in the form of Achilles, assigned to his very own squadron. Bean knows that Achilles will try to kill him, and he plants a trap from the start. We get a very twisted view from inside Achilles' head as Bean springs the trap, even extracting a confession from him that he killed Poke and the other people. This part of the book seemed more like an aside, setup for the future. It passes so quickly that it's almost irrelevant to the greater story, at least for now. But it did allow the author to get in some great lines of analysis: Ender, brought up in a civilized area of the world, killed his opponent when confronted, while Bean, from the dangerous streets and gangs, extracts a confession and has his opponent arrested. Great irony, here!

After that, Bean is sent to Command school, too. He figures out quite early on that the Fleet has a way to communicate over vast distances immediately, and that the tests they are about to be put through are not simulations, but the real battle, twenty light-years away. Where Battle-School wasn't nearly as intense as in Ender's Game, Command School probably was. Because we already know the secret, we see the battle through different eyes, Bean's eyes, and we know what's at stake. Bean keeps a constant eye on Ender, and saves several battles. 

While I found that Earth politics got in the way of Ender's Game, here it feels more natural. Bean has studied all sorts of tactical treatises, from early history, through Napoleon and the World Wars, to more recent ones (more recent to Bean's time), and the Formic wars against the Buggers. So even before Ender destroys the Buggers, Bean is in the right place to anonymously deliver political advice to the people who end up being Ender's brother and sister, and they act on it. Due to his ability to strategize, his perfect memory, and his desire to return to Earth and see it whole again, he is the perfect person to help the world remain stable. And in the future, I believe he will.

While Ender goes to the Buggers' planet to see what genocide he has committed, Bean is sent back to Earth, with his brother, Nicolai. And Achilles, having been committed to a mental institution, is kidnapped by one of Earth's factions. I have no doubt these two will meet again.

I look forward to seeing the movie of Ender's Game, and I wonder how much of the material from this book will be used, if any.


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