Ender in Exile (Ender)
by Orson Scott Card
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765304964
Date: 11 November 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Ender's Game is one of the modern classics of science fiction having won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, as did its sequel, Speaker for the Dead. Card went on to write two more Ender novels and four novels about Bean, a spinoff of the Ender books about the smallest soldier in Ender's army. The last of the Ender books, Children of the Mind and all four of the Bean books, although very good in themselves, were not quite up to the high bar set by the first three Ender books (a level Card did reach again with the first few Alvin Maker books). Ender in Exile is the first novel in over a decade to feature Ender. Unfortunately, the quality of this book is closer to the Bean books than to the first three Ender ones. It is still an acceptable novel, just somewhat disappointing.
In Ender's Game, the brilliant Andrew Wiggin (nicknamed Ender) as a young boy is sent to the orbital Battle School to learn how to fight the enemy aliens, the Buggers, by playing a series of games. What he does not know is that the games were real and that by winning them, he has saved Earth. Meanwhile, his brother and sister have gained enormous political power by writing online columns under a pseudonym (making Card the first to come up with the blog, and to foresee its power). The sequel, Speaker for the Dead takes place thousands of years later (thanks to the way faster-than-light travel voyages take hundreds of years of real-universe time while those on the ship experience just a couple of years). Ender is now seen as the xenocide, the killer of an entire alien race, thanks to a book Ender himself wrote (at the end of Ender's Game) in his new identity as the Speaker for the Dead. Ender in Exile is a bridge novel, fitting between Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead (or more exactly, before and during the last chapter of Ender's Game that had served as a bridge before this novel was written).
The purpose of Ender in Exile was to fill in that blank. Instead, what readers got was a very long setup to Ender's first visit to a colony planet, a rehash of the final chapter of Ender's Game with little new material added, and the settling of some unfinished business from the last Bean book. Ender in Exile begins with Ender's parents manipulating his siblings Valentine and Peter to manipulate the world through their blogs to keep Ender off Earth. (A major discrepancy from Ender's Game is that Ender doesn't know about his sibling's online blogs even though Valentine had explained it to him in the original book.) Ender and his sister join a colony ship so Ender, now a hero, can govern it. But once on the ship he worries that the admiral may see himself as a better ruler than the 13-year-old Ender, so has to hide all of his thoughts and feelings while trying to turn the colonists into potential allies. Meanwhile, an overly controlling mother tries to arrange a relationship between Ender and her daughter. This scheme, and the voyage itself, occupy most of the book. Ender defeats any possible plot by the admiral partially by his own efforts but also through his connections.
He finds the cocoon with the hibernating Hive Queen and writes his first book using the Speaker for the Dead identity, but Card does not show Ender's reactions to meeting the Queen, learning how to communicate with it, or even his feelings as he wrote about the race he destroyed. Nor is there any more detail on his reconciliation with his brother, now the aging Hegemon of Earth, and the writing of the second book under the Speaker for the Dead identity, which barely gets two pages. Instead, the final chunk of the book is devoted to resolving a plot thread from Shadow of the Giant as one of the children of Bean and Petra, two members of Ender's army, has been kidnapped and brought up to think himself the son of Bean's arch-enemy. To discredit Bean and the government of Earth, he uses Ender's Hive Queen book to label Ender a mass murderer and the government of Earth the pro-xenocide party. In the end, the struggle between Ender and the son of his friends resolves some of Ender's issues about the two boys he killed in Ender's Game, partially out of self defense.
What made the first two Ender books so strong were the emotions. The characters' actions had emotional consequences. This was especially true in Speaker for the Dead where the climax was Ender's account of the meaning of another's character's life. Unfortunately, it is this emotional quality that is lacking for most of Ender in Exile. For most of the book, Ender has to keep everything hidden from the sensors controlled by the ship's captain. And even late in the book, we see little of Ender's relationship with anyone, even Valentine. This is especially needed since so many of the important things in the story were already told in the final chapter of Ender's Game. Ironically, the most interesting character is Dorabella, the scheming mother. Moreover, having the change in Ender's reputation from savior of humanity to killer of an alien race be the quick result of a single person's misguided scheme, rather than the slow influence of the Speaker for the Dead's Hive Queen book makes the change seem rather petty and unrealistic.
This is not to say that Ender in Exile is a bad book, far from it. But it does not have the strong drive or characters of the other Ender books. In Ender's Game he saves the world from the alien buggers, in Speaker for the Dead he brings about an understanding of the biology of an alien species, and in Xenocide/Children of the Mind he prevents a second xenocide. But in Ender in Exile his main accomplishment is avoiding being trapped into a marriage at age 15. So, a book that would have been good, but not great in the hands of just about any other author, or about any other character, becomes disappointing when it is Orson Scott Card writing about Ender, his most famous character. Fans of Orson Scott Card who liked the Bean books will like this one too. Readers who gave up on the Bean books but still had hopes for a "real" Ender book will find this one only a small step up. And readers who pick this up without having read the previous books will wonder what all the fuss is about. This is not a good starting point for the series. Instead, new readers should read the four original Ender books.