Shadows in Flight – A Book Review
Back in 1977, Orson Scott Card wrote a gem of a short story called Ender’s Game which he expanded into a full length novel in 1985. This tale captured the minds of readers around the world. Telling the story of Andrew Wiggin, Ender’s Game presents the life of the third child in a family living in an overpopulated world that is under siege by an alien race. These Buggers invaded Earth twice before and humanity barely managed to fend them off. Enlisted at an early age, Ender (Andrew’s nickname earned from his sister’s inability to pronounce Andrew properly) is to train with the best and brightest children from around the globe in the arts of war and tactics. Their sole goal: defeat the aliens, the greatest threat humanity has ever known. While Ender trains at the Battle School space station, readers are introduced to several other key characters in the Ender saga, one of whom is Bean: a brilliant but tiny child who becomes almost a confidant to Ender throughout his story.
In 1999, Card released Ender’s Shadow, a new novel centering on Bean. Overlapping the events in the original novel, readers had the opportunity to see events through Bean’s eyes; providing new depth on how and why events transpired the way they had for Ender. More importantly to this review, readers learned the history of Bean and how he was the product of illegal genetic research, and luckily escaped the lab before it was destroyed. Growing up on the streets of Rotterdam, he used his superior intelligence to stay alive before his discovery by recruiters for Battle School. So successful was the story, Bean earned an entire arc of sequels centering around his fight beside the Hegemon, all while discovering the cruel fate in store for him due to his altered genome. Anton’s Key, the genetic switch that was activated inside Bean, means he will never stop growing; eventually dying of giantism, as his heart would be unable to sustain its enormous body. Before this can happen, however, Bean and his three infant children, who are also affected, leave Earth on a ship traveling at near light speed. With time passing more slowly on this ship, the hope is that science can progress enough to cure them before they die..
In steps Shadows in Flight, the final story of Bean. We learn what has happened to that small child who survived Rotterdam, a war with an alien race, and the war to unite humanity under the Hegemon. Now a giant and two years past his expected lifespan, Bean lives what little time he has remaining trapped in the cargo bay of their ship, too large to leave. Although Bean can control the entire ship from his console, his six-year-old children Carlotta, Cincinatus, and Andrew now run most day-to-day operations on the ship. Thanks to the turning of Anton’s Key, all three of them have already exceeded the typical intelligence of an adult. However, although over 400 years have passed for humanity, no cure has yet been discovered; in fact, humanity has completely forgotten the existence of The Giant and his offspring, leaving most of the research to Andrew.
Unlike other recent books in the Enderverse, Shadows in Flight is a novella, just exceeding the 200 page mark. However, in that short amount of space, Card manages to give depth and development to his three new characters; each having chosen a specialty to help them survive on their journey: Combat, Engineering, and Science. Andrew focuses on his research, combing humanity’s knowledge of genetics in hopes of finding something that will help him cure his family. Carlotta ensures the ship’s maintenance is always handled, and balancing the environmental controls in the cargo bay to ensure the Giant is not disturbed by anything. Upon introduction, Cincinatus comes off as a sociopath who focuses on war and combat (slightly at odds given that he’s small in physical size, even for a six year-old). Although these children have above adult level intelligence, they are still in fact children; with childish whims, attention seeking, and rebelliousness. A dangerous combination, but once channeled to an outlet, can be contained until maturity has the opportunity to catch up. This provides some of the most interesting dynamics in the story.
During their travels, Carlotta makes an amazing discovery. Orbiting a habitable planet, she finds an ancient spaceship designed to seed life to the world. Changing their course and stopping to investigate, the Giant’s children make some startling discoveries that could impact the rest of humanity and shake the very foundations for which the Speakers of the Dead exist.
Despite the great storyline in Shadows in Flight, I was disappointed by how little Carlotta’s perspective was developed throughout. Her character felt like more of a tool to bridge the gap between her siblings than someone with real potential.
Card brings together a compelling tale of morality, struggle, and growth. He showcases his new characters and gives a nice lead into his novel that will tie together the stories of Bean and Ender in Shadows Alive. This will take place after the events in Children of the Mind. I look forward to reading the next thrilling installment in the saga.
Wanderson75.net gives Shadows in Flight 4.75/5.0
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