Years ago, Earth escaped total devastation when Mazer Rackham narrowly averted the Bugger attacks.
Now, another invasion may be on its way, and the International Fleet wants the best and the brightest that earth can offer. The IF wants children it can turn into commanders and tacticians. If the children can’t measure up, the IF doesn’t care what happens to them. If they do, they get everything the IF has to give—anything so that earth will be ready in time.
Such is the premise of Ender’s Shadow, and of Orson Scott Card’s original story, Ender’s Game.
With both stories starting from the same premise, it would be easy to think of the two as the same story told by different characters. Ender’s Shadow is usually described as a parallel story, a retelling of the story in Ender’s Game. That is true in a sense, but it’s not so easy to describe what that means.
For me, having heard the book described as a parallel story, I expected to reread Ender Wiggin’s story from another character’s perspective. That’s what it sounds like—but that’s not what Ender’s Shadow is.
Ender’s Shadow is Bean’s story.
As a character in Ender’s Game, Bean plays a small role in the background of the overarching story. When Bean first appears, Ender bullies him and then realizes he’s reacting just as the others—the adults—have been acting. Something about Bean reminds Ender of himself, and he wonders what it is that makes him isolate Bean the way the adults have isolated him.
After this first notice, Bean becomes a part of Ender’s group. He moves from an outsider as a launchy, to being a team member in Ender’s final crew at Command School. As part of the group, though, Bean hardly stands apart from Petra or Alai or even Bonzo. He’s part of Ender’s training, and in some ways he seems less important than Petra or Alai, who appear to be closer to Ender as friends.
In Ender’s Shadow, however, that changes. Here, Bean—with no more hope than to survive a little longer—gets the same chance to train in Battle School that Ender has. Bean becomes a shadow rival that Ender never even guesses at.
Just like Ender, Bean has to struggle just to get by. It’s not his older brother’s bullying, or the teachers’ refusal to interfere, but the death trap of street life, or threat after threat that no child—especially no child as small as Bean—could hope to survive. And yet Bean, just like Ender, keeps going.
One of my first reactions to reading Ender’s Shadow was just amazement at what the book accomplishes. Somehow Card creates an exceedingly intelligent character in Ender’s Game. Then, in this book, he turns the story on its head and creates another character so much more smart than Ender that Bean can see through both the teachers and through Ender. Except, that is, when it comes to Ender’s core trait—that he cares about people more than just for survival.
Ender’s story is about mental manipulation, what the teachers do to Ender to make him into the leader they want. Ender’s challenge is that the adults won’t allow him to belong. They don’t want him to rely on anyone but himself, so they cut him off and make sure he knows he can’t rely on others, and particularly not on adults.
Bean’s story is about physical manipulation. It’s about children bullying each other because they can, and about adults that use children, also because they can. Bean’s challenge is his precociousness—that, as a child, he can see through everyone else’s motivation and slip around it. This ability cuts him off emotionally while it protects him physically.
Yet, no matter how smart he is, Bean still gets tripped up by the little things, the details he can’t know except by experience. It’s the reality of how stagnant bureaucracy can actually be, or how the strength of emotion and caring that trips him up. Bean can see the truth behind Battle School and the Buggers’ Invasion. Ender is the one who can get others to follow him even when they are dropping from exhaustion or depression.
Throughout the story, Bean travels a narrow emotional corridor. It is narrow, because he can’t or won’t allow himself to feel the normal human emotions of sorrow or love. But, as Bean watches Ender from a distance and begins to understand him, it is a corridor through which he travels closer to actually belonging. For me, this is the core of Bean’s story.
In contrast, Ender’s Game is so focused on training for the coming Bugger Invasion that it is a military story. It’s a wildly spectacular story, and like Ender’s Shadow, it addresses what it means to be human, what it takes to be a leader, and what it means to an individual or to humanity to destroy. At the same time, Ender is the leader, and no matter what happens, he has to live with others looking up to him and the barrier that the adults have created around him.
Ender’s Shadow, on the other hand, describes a journey home. It’s not a peaceful journey, and it’s not the end—there are still the sequels to come—but Bean is able slowly to move away from his self-imposed isolation. My favorite chapter is the last one, because it is the one where Bean finally belongs.
– review by guest writer A.E. Sauble