The third book I've read for my shelf-sitter challenge is Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card. I've been thinking about a recent post by Library Hungry that mentions the problematic intersection between an author's work and their personality/personal beliefs. This seems particularly apropos to any discussion of Card, whom many readers seem to personally loathe while grudgingly admiring his work. I've deliberately avoided learning too much about the man (I won't even read the forewords he's written for the later editions of the Ender books), so that I can enjoy his novels in peaceful ignorance. Because I do enjoy his novels. A lot.
Ender's Shadow is a sequel to Ender's Game (deservedly considered a modern Science Fiction classic), a tale about genius children spirited off to an elite Battle School in space to be trained to repel an alien invasion. Note that I said "a sequel" and not "the sequel"; from the root of Ender's Game, Card has split the story into two branches of sequels. One branch (which I've already read) follows Ender into adulthood and across the Universe in his quest to find peace and redemption. The other branch follows Bean, another student at Battle School and a minor character in Ender's Game.
In a way, Ender's Shadow isn't really a sequel at all, since the events of the book are concurrent with the events in Game. It's almost like reading Game again, but from a different character's point of view. However, very few of the scenes actually overlap; it's more like a director's cut, or deleted scenes on DVD extras. And Bean-- although another small-for-his-age super-mega-genius-- is a very different character, who begins and ends the story in very different places from Ender.
I am not the target audience for military Science Fiction; I have no inherent interest in war, battles, weapons, strategy, or stories about hostile aliens coming to Destroy Us All. Despite that, the Ender books are among my favorite Science Fiction novels. They are so well-crafted they make me care about what happens at Battle School... and then the ending gives you a huge payoff for having cared.
I do have two quibbles with the Ender's Shadow. The first is the same as my major quibble with Game: the kids just act too old to be as young as Card wants them to be. I don't care how genius-y they are; six-year-olds are not like twelve-year-olds. Basically, Card seems to be arguing that emotional development and intellectual development are inextricably linked, and I emphatically disagree with that idea.
My other complaint is that I found the villain really boring and annoying. He's only a big factor in the first few chapters, and then makes a brief appearance later on, and to me he feels sort of stuck into the story in an artificial way, like "Remember this guy! He's not important now, but he'll be important in the next book!" Also, I didn't buy what Card is selling about him. With Peter Wiggin in Game, you see for yourself how brilliant he is, and how dangerous. Whereas in Shadow, we're told that the villain is brilliant and dangerous, but it's all telling; we're not really given a chance to draw our own conclusions about him. Frankly, I wasn't convinced he was even smart enough to earn a place at Battle School, never mind that he was any sort of threat to or match for Bean.
That aside, I recommend this book for anyone who enjoyed Ender's Game.