An Audio-Book Review: Is He Dead Yet?


Children of the Mind

By Orson Scott Card

Published by Audio Renaissance

Read/acted by Gabrielle de Cuir, John Rubenstein with David Birney, Scott Brick, Amanda Carr and Stefan Rudnicki.

 

The Book:

I have a basic rule when writing one of these reviews; Always listen to the whole audio-book. It seems to me that it is only fair to both author and reader to hear the complete thing before critiquing it. I have listened to some truly awful audiobooks, but this is the first time I ever considered breaking that one rule.

Well, I did not break that rule, but… wow… did I ever want to! In this final volume of the basic Ender series, Orson Scott Card continued his bent for long-winded, repetitious and really boring invented philosophy. He also seemed to have forgotten to keep his mind on the story while wielding his mighty sledge hammer of philosophical subtlety.

This is not to say that nothing at all happens in this book. That is a complaint one hears so frequently when an author has decided that his message is more important than actually telling a story to illustrate it. However, it is important to realize that while the first book of the series Ender’s Game stands alone very well by itself, the rest of the series, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide and Children of the Mind are actually only one story.

The three books are, indeed a beginning, a middle and an end and the first reads like the story is still just starting most of the time, the Middle feels like very little happens, because very little is resolves and in this volume, almost every chapter reads like it ought to be the last… and yet it goes on, and on, and on.

So what happens? Well, if you have either read these reviews or the actual stories you may remember Ender Wiggin is the implausibly young military genius who is tricked into killing almost all the insectile aliens called “Buggers,” (because it was written in a day when political and social correctness was never an issue. In later versions of the story the Buggers are named the Formics…) by making him think it was just a game. Of course the clues were all there, so someone with Ender’s intelligence probably should have guessed something unusual was happening, but that would have been a very different story.

The second book picks up the story some three thousand years later during which Ender and his sister have been traveling all over human-colonized space, visiting cultures that have become impossibly stagnant because they all traveled to their own worlds. So the Chinese are just like stereotypical 19th Century Chinese from a bad movie, the Scandinavians are exactly as they were erroneously portrayed at that time, the Portuguese are the same and so forth. I could not except the explanation what they all wanted to be like that, because some people actually do embrace change and even those who reject all change come to be changed in any case and the chance of such stagnant cultures lasting three thousand years in the face of ever advancing technology become impossibly small when you think about how much has changed here on Earth in the last three millennia, or the three thousand years before that or the three before that. But I guess this means the author did not have to invent cultures and left his creative talents to inventing unlikely philosophy that he then proves using an author’s power to make anything true he desires.

Anyway, Ender has done some interesting things in the last three thousand years such as writing two books under the pseudonym of “Speaker for the Dead,” about first the Hive Queen of the Buggers and then his brother who was a petty, arrogant, but apparently genius bully who decided he would be the ruler of all mankind and then wrote a series of articles that made it so. This brother, Peter, turns out to be the most unlikely and uninteresting character of the series in my opinion (so naturally he comes back in a way in the third book).

We meet back up with Ender when he learns that primitive but sentient creatures called Piggies (later changed to Pecininos, which means the same thing, I think) are on a world he wants to visit, so isn’t it convenient that a call for his services arrives soon after?

Since I covered all this before, I’ll just say that he goes there and is followed a couple decades or so later by his sister and in the meantime the situation has become complex and likely to end up in death to everyone on the world, so that, he decides, is a good place for a new home for the Buggers which is why he’s been going from world to world all this time. Naturally the powers that be who govern human space decide to send a fleet to destroy that world (because of a possibly sentient virus).

Meanwhile, Jane, a sentient virtual being (who later turns out to have been brought to life by the Buggers) has made Ender her sidekick (or vice versa) who, among other things has found a way to move ships instantaneously through space by thinking at them, but the human powers have discovered her and think she is a threatening computer virus so are attempting to kill her too, but she wants to find and stop whoever sent out that sentient virus (because such a thing could never evolve naturally???) .

On the first test of that instant travel, though Ender creates young duplicates of his brother and sister, except it turns out they are really just him through some arcane and obscure religious belief – seriously I’ll give it all away if I try to explain it) and that’s more or less where this story picks up.

The big difference this time is that Ender himself is a very minor character and he dies about halfway through while the others muddle their way from chapter to chapter. Can they save all sentient life in the universe? Maybe, but will anyone notice?

This story does manage to tie many threads together. After three books I should hope so, but Card left big openings for continuing the story and in his afterword admitted that while he thought that would be all, he planned to write at least one more eventually, after finishing up the vast amount of verbiage involved with other characters from the original Ender’s Game. I might not bother to read it if it is like the rest of this series, however.

I was annoyed by the blatant cultural stereotypes Card resorted to, especially when three millennia have passed, an amount of time that no recorded culture has manage to get through without undergoing changes so that these stereotypes feel both lazy and frequently insulting both to the people involved and to the reader who has to wade through both these classic stereotypes and huge steaming piles of philosophy that seems to have been cobbled together from the most obscure corners of human experience. In all this was neither a comfortable nor a stimulating book to read. It just was and I think I should let that particular sleepy dog where it is.

 

The Audiobook:

 

Everything I said in the reviews of the previous audiobooks in this series applies again. Sometimes audiobooks performed by multiple readers works, and sometimes not. This one definitely does not. I am certain it is not because I did not enjoy the story as I have found readers I liked of books I did not quite a few times. One thing I did not like is that this is not so much a reading as it is a performance. Each reader is reading a section that is being told from the point of view of one particular character… well, more or less, but I don’t really think this story lends itself to that sort of performance especially when such performances are so uneven. I think I was bothered most by whichever reader insisted on using the same phony Chinese accent she did in the previous book. I think that time I referenced the old “Ancient Chinese Secret” Calgon laundry soap commercial. This was not that good. The fake accent was hard to listen to and added no value to the performance, especially when no one else the Chinese character met spoke with any apparent accent. Shouldn’t the Scandinavian-derived people been sounding like Hollywood Vikings? And the Samoans, shouldn’t they have been sounding like someone’s misguided attempt to sound like they were from the South Pacific? Well, no they shouldn’t have! So what’s with the really bad Chinese accent?

Most of the readers did do adequate jobs, however. Sadly the lackluster material could not be saved even had they been the greatest collectors of voice actors ever assembled.

So, unless you liked all, and I really do mean all, the other books by Orson Scott Card, this one is a good one to avoid and as for this performance, well, most of these voice actors have read other books. Try listening to them. The ones I have experienced were all better.

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