Orson Scott Card

Orbit (2009)

ISBN: 978-1-84149-227-8

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack, March 2010

I’ve always found Orson Scott Card an interesting writer. At his best, his work is outstanding – original, powerful, and often moving.  He’s also responsible for work which is fairly average – entertaining enough, but not that original and not reaching any great heights. I have only read one of his novels which stands out in my memory as being a poor piece of work.  So I was curious to see how he’d manage the return to one of his most famous – and celebrated – characters.

In Ender’s Game the 12 year old child Andrew Wiggin – known as Ender – saves the world from annihilation at the hands of an alien race.  He didn’t know that’s what he was doing at the time; he thought he was playing a computer game as part of his training at Battle School.  But he did it, and now he’s both reviled and adored by the people of Earth.  He saved them, but what a dreadful thing for a child to do – commit genocide.  Card went on to write a number of novels (eight, I think) which explored Ender’s life as an adult, and the life of some of the children who fought beside him in
Battle School.

This novel, Ender in Exile, rewinds sharply.  It opens a few months after Ender’s victory.  Many of those responsible for
him recognise that he can’t live on Earth. It’s still torn by conflict between nations, and Ender would find himself caught between those who’d use him as a figurehead, those who’d use him as figure of terror, and those who’d kill him
to prevent one or the other happening. Bitter as it is, the boy who saved Earth can’t ever return to his home and family.  He’s offered the option of course, but it’s not really an option; he recognises he must take the alternate offer to join the colony ships, and go out to settle one of the new planets he has won for humanity – as Governor.

But even staying awake during the voyage rather than going into stasis, Ender will still be only fifteen when he reaches the colony he will be leading.  It’s not likely the transfer of power will go smoothly, and Ender soon realises that it won’t be the Interim Governor on planet who challenges him – it’s the Captain of the colony ship who has thoughts of taking power for himself.  Much of the novel – indeed, close to three quarters of it – covers the trip to the colony, with only a small portion of the novel allocated to the period after the ship reaches the colony.

It was interesting to read Card’s afterword; this novel isn’t entirely consistent with the other Ender novels, and I found Card’s explanation interesting and sensible.  I’m sure some people will still be outraged; but honestly, the inconsistencies are relatively small. None leapt out at me and I think a lot of readers won’t notice any.

Essentially, this is a good novel.  It’s a little bit open-ended, given that there are “later” books which follow on from it. But it’s largely self-contained. You could read it without having read any of the other books, including Ender’s Game, and I think it would still be an enjoyable and interesting read. It would lack some depth if you hadn’t read Ender’s Game; as the events in later novels haven’t happened yet, having read them is of less importance.  Of course Ender in Exile is most likely to be pounced on by fans of the other Ender books, but it hasn’t been written solely for those who are already fans.

Although I was surprised when I realised just how much of the novel had been taken up by the actual voyage, this wasn’t a problem while I was reading.  Card has a strong and sympathetic character in Ender, and one who is rather more mature than most twelve year olds.  I became quite engrossed in the ways he spent his journey and the plans he made to manage his arrival on the planet.  This was a sympathetic portrait of a troubled young man, and it made for a strong story that kept me interested.  Card also avoids the fatal trap of many writers who “fill in” earlier parts of series’ – he doesn’t go over old ground. This novel covers events not dealt with in any of the other novels, providing it with a freshness that is good to see.

The Ender series is to some extent about moral choices; many of the characters face difficult choices. More importantly, the series examines how people live with those moral and ethical choices, and how subsequent choices are colored by earlier decisions and consequences.  Despite this strong focus (and the fact that Card appears to have some strong personal views) it doesn’t feel as though you’re being hit over the head with a “message”.  The novel is too thoughtful for that.  Sure, you can probably take a pretty good guess at some of Card’s personal morals and positions by the end of the novel. But his characters consider alternatives and motives, and acknowledge that not everything is clear cut. There’s depth to this novel if you’re willing to engage with some of this discourse, but it isn’t a heavy novel and you can glide over the surface of some of these issues if you prefer.

This is an enjoyable and readable novel which should appeal to a wide audience. Although likely to be most appreciated by those who have been following the Ender series, this could be enjoyed by readers who either haven’t been following it, or have read only the original novel.