By Orson Scott Card
Published by Macmillan Audio
Performed by Scott Brick, Gabrielle de Cuir, Amanda Karr, John Rubinstein and Stefan Rudnicki
Wow! Orson Scott Card has proven he really can write a duller story even more crammed with religious and philosophical ramblings than the previous book of the series, Speaker for the Dead. In so many ways, it is hard connect Ender’s Game to the rest of the books (at least those I have read so far) even though the main character is still Ender Wiggin and his beloved sister Valentine is still around as well.
To its credit, this book actually has more action in it than Speaker for the Dead, but to have less and still be of interest to anyone would be hard to accomplish.
The story picks up where the last leaves off, with Valentine and family still on the way to Lusitania, save that now they have met the crippled Miro and are traveling with him. Meanwhile on Lusitania, Ender is married to Novinha and acts as a parent to her children, but in Card’s universe it seems no main character can have a happily ever after and after the death of one of her children, she blames Ender (from what I can tell it’s his fault for not stopping the young man, now a missionary priest, from knowingly going off on a suicide mission to heretic Pequininos… Does this make sense? No, but then Novinha was never a fully rational character. This may be realistic, but the situation felt contrived to me and her reactions before the fact telegraphed her reactions afterward so it was not only predictable, but trite when it did happen).
Anyway, Ender, having no training whatsoever in physics, hypothesizes that there must somehow be a way to travel across the universe instantaneously, so naturally he is correct due to a whole lot of hokey-sounding philosophy, made-up “science” and wishes. Yes, you can travel across the universe by wishing apparently, so long as the right person is wishing it. In this case the right person is Jane, Ender’s friend who they think lives in the ansible network that provided instantaneous communications all over. To make it sound all the more mystical, Card adds in the concept of an aiua which is supposedly the true inner being (soul? life force?) of a person that comes from a place outside the universe. (this book has enough foreign and/or made-up words to make my spell checker useless) These aiuas apparently live inside all living things.
Meanwhile on a Chinese-colonized world, called Path, we find Han Fei-tzu, and his daughter Han Qing-Jao who are both geniuses and “God-spoken.” The god-spoken ones exhibit all the traits of someone suffering from OCD, but the usual cures of that time do not work on them so therefore it is concluded that they are the “lucky” ones to whom the gods speak. They are all very intelligent and have the highest status in their society. When it is revealed that their condition is caused by genetic manipulation that was ordered by the Council of Worlds (the ruling government of all human worlds… a government so repressive I find myself amazed it has managed to stay together so long), Fei-tzu decides he must do what he can to help free his people of this genetic bondage, while his daughter has the opposite reaction and refuses to help since the Council has the mandate of the gods and to oppose them is to rebel against the gods and all that. The true hero of the story, however, unsurprisingly, turns out to be Qing-jao’s secret maid Si Wang-mu… but enough details there. They are in contact with the people on Lusitania thanks to Jane’s intervention. And the whole thing proceeds down well-lit and predictable paths.
I know that there are many fans of Orson Scott Card who truly love his stories, but, sorry, I just do not see it. There are no real surprises in his writing. Even the sudden reappearance of a young Valentine and Peter Wiggin from out of Ender’s mind while testing his instantaneous travel method (which also magically produces a cure for the Descolada virus that infests Lusitania and grants Miro a new, perfect body) may have been sudden but not particularly surprising (I found it more annoying than anything else).
However, what bothered me the most was Card’s obvious arrogance. He does not merely make us plod through a thick, dull morass of philosophy and religion, but repeats himself endlessly. The message I got: You are very stupid. All my readers are stupid. That is why I keep saying this over and over again so maybe my message will sink in through your thick skulls, though I doubt it… let me repeat myself… I will admit, however, that on the highly unlikely chance that Mister Card should read one of my stories he would probably remark they are too shallow. As I said above, he has many fans who will happily tell you that everything he writes is wonderful, so perhaps this is a matter of personal taste. Still, it is not to my taste.
There is also the problem that the book just suddenly stops. The reason for that is that it is only half the book Mister Card plotted. He admits in his own afterword that it was running long so it was decided to make the final of the planned Ender Trilogy two books instead. That, of course accentuates the fact that it has been a long haul getting to the point where things were actually starting to happen and then the writing just sort of stops. It is not that nothing at all happens, but most of the time until the latter quarter or so of the story, we are not there when it happens. Action somewhere else is no action at all.
Will I go on to read the next book, Children of the Mind? Maybe, if only to complete the story and give Mister Card a chance to redeem himself as an author in my eyes, but not any time soon.
I will happily agree with anyone to cares to argue that way that each of the readers of this production is a highly talented professional and an excellent reader in his or her own right. Unfortunately this is a case in which too many cooks have been having a culinary melee over the broth.
One of the hardest things to do is to have more than one narrator reading an audiobook. To have two readers means they need to be able to synchronize with and complement each other’s vocal talents. If they do not, the reading is choppy and the changing back and forth between the readers is distracting to the listeners.
In this case we have five readers and that makes it nearly impossible. This production is not an audioplay and we do not have the dialogue for any given character being read by the same reader throughout. Instead they tried to indicate a change of point of view by changing readers, but not all the readers could keep characters sound similar enough to the way they did by other readers.
I have review audiobooks published by Librivox and many of them have multiple readers because they are dependent on volunteers and not all of them volunteer to read entire books. Sometimes they only read a chapter or two. It is usually a bit jarring to suddenly hear a different voice take up the narrative, but so long as a reader can do his or her job creditably, I can adapt to and even enjoy the performance. However, in this production the voice frequently jumps back and forth as if whoever was the director/producer actually wanted to keep the listener uncomfortable.
And then there were the accents. The attempts at a vaguely Hispanic – possibly Brazillian? – accent on the part of the actors when reading lines by people of Lusitania were subtle and easy to miss. In fact they were so subtle I wondered why they even tried, but the thick and cliché Chinese accent coming from the mouths of people living on Path was painful to listen to, and more than a little insulting to the intellect. Why were the Chinese people of path talking with any accent? They were most frequently speaking Chinese, not English (or rather… uh… Stark? I think that’s the English-descended language in this future history), so why have them sound like bad Hollywood imitations? The result was something that sounded like a cross between Hop Sing from Bonanza and an old Calgon commercial. Why? Ancient Chinese secret, huh? Seriously, John Wayne’s Genghis Khan was easy to take.
So, we have a fairly mediocre book full of some very dull and repetitive material and it is read by a talented team that was unable to bring it all together.