Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card
Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series)
One of the most well-known science fiction tales is Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels. Spanning thousands of years and encompassing eight full length books, it has spawned comics, short stories and even a movie (currently in the works). I started reading these stories when I was a teenager and have followed Ender and his friends ever since. Card is now working towards wrapping up the various plot threads, and Shadows in Flight is a stopover point on the road to the end.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“At the end of Shadow of the Giant, Bean flees to the stars with three of his children—the three who share the engineered genes that gave him both hyper-intelligence and a short, cruel physical life. The time dilation granted by the speed of their travel gives Earth’s scientists generations to seek a cure, to no avail. In time, they are forgotten—a fading ansible signal speaking of events lost to Earth’s history. But the Delphikis are about to make a discovery that will let them save themselves, and perhaps all of humanity in days to come.
For there in space before them lies a derelict Formic colony ship. Aboard it, they will find both death and wonders—the life support that is failing on their own ship, room to grow, and labs in which to explore their own genetic anomaly and the mysterious disease that killed the ship’s colony.”
It’s hard to make a judgment on this novella (and that’s all that it is, at 237 small pages) because it’s meant to be the bridge to a final novel that will be, in itself, a bridge between the Ender series and the Shadow series. It brings back Bean, the precocious child-turned-giant who was Ender’s friend in Battle School and possibly even smarter than him. It also introduces three of Bean’s children, themselves carrying the same genetic anomaly that links incredible intelligence to giantism. And for what this book is, it does a reasonable job of bringing events that will have consequences many centuries later.
However, the short page count leaves very little room for character development. Those who have read the Shadow series know a lot about Bean and have seen his character as it has grown and matured. Unfortunately, Bean has a small role in this story, with most of the narrative weight carried by his children. And those children have definite echoes of Ender and his two siblings, Peter and Valentine—their personalities and interactions are eerily familiar. One of them is even named Andrew and nicknamed Ender, just like Ender Wiggin. It almost feels like these children were not meant to be individual entities, but instead were created to deliberately evoke the Wiggin family. I can maybe see where Card would want this, given that everyone is supposed to meet up in the final novel, but I think it was a poor choice, especially given how short the book is.
The story itself is thought-provoking in terms of the original plotline: apparently there are Formic colony ships that have been roaming around the galaxy searching for new worlds, and not every Hive Queen was killed in Ender’s attack on the Formic homeworld. It makes me wonder what will happen when Ender’s ground and Bean’s group finally collide, because each will have a very different relationship with their own colony of Formics, and that might make a difference down the line.
In many ways, I found it satisfying to reconnect with Bean. I really enjoyed the Shadow series and the issues that it explored, so coming back to that unique individual wasn’t a bad thing. I just think that the execution was off. I think it might have worked better if Card had included this as an exclusive novella in a collection of short stories, much as Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs have done with their respective tales. There are some Enderverse stories out there that could be collected and reprinted, so it certainly was possible. A volume such as that could have been a great lead-in to a novel that brings everything together one last time.
This novella wasn’t disappointing, per se; it just didn’t have the depth and weight that I’ve come to expect from Card’s Enderverse novels. Shadows in Flight is a mediocre addition to a universe that has far more to offer than what readers get here.
Also by this author: Earth Unaware (with Aaron Johnston), Empire, Ender in Exile, Ender’s Game, Invasive Procedures (with Aaron Johnston), The Lost Gate, Magic Street, Shadow of the Giant, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, A War of Gifts
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on March 14, 2012.