The Last Shadow – Orson Scott Card

The Last Shadow

Summary

Bean's grandchildren are super-intelligent, but their flawed parents have twisted their development. When they're brought to Lusitania to meet Jane the ex-AI and a reconstructed Peter Wiggin, they quickly dive into research to determine the source of the deadly descolada virus, and find more than they expected.

Review

I grew up with Andrew Wiggin. Allowing for time dilation, he and I are about the same age. Of course, he’s fictional, dead, and only semi-resurrected, but I have my bad days too. “Ender’s Game” was one of the stories to draw me into SFF when I read it in Analog in the late 70s. It was a story that really brought home to me the possibilities of SFF and the power of a talented writer.

Some years later, I started to discover Card’s other work, and was equally enthralled with Songmaster, A Planet Called Treason, Hot Sleep, and other books. I think Card is (or can be) a phenomenal writer, matched only by George R.R. Martin in short stories (but better at novels). Still, I was dubious when he turned Ender into a novel. I bought it anyway, and it was fine – a very good story written by an expert, but, for all its length, not better than the short story. I was brought around, though, by the sequels, Speaker for the Dead and (somewhat less so) Xenocide. Here, Card was doing something genuinely new with the story.

I like Card’s writing so much that I bought into the whole Shadow series, which says something – a writer so good I was willing to read the same story again from a different perspective. I was less interested by the Shadow sequels, to the extent that I missed one, Shadows in Flight (the prequel to Last Shadow) entirely. I was confused, in part, by the proliferation of spinoffs, only part written by Card, that I didn’t bother with at all.

Still, it’s fair to say that I’ve delved moderately far into the Enderverse (as Card calls it), and that the first story was very important to me. So I was interested, if no longer really keen, to read this final chapter. And it was … fine.

I think I could boil this book – and some of its predecessors; maybe the entire series – down to: super-intelligent people experiencing regular emotions. Just because you’re a genius doesn’t mean you can’t be nervous, shy, jealous, angry, etc. Only Ender and his brother Peter (the original, not the copy this book is about) really come across as unknowable geniuses, beyond mortal comprehension.

Is that a failure? I suspect Card might say so – much of the series has been about getting to know Ender, after all – but I don’t think so. I feel we got to know Ender’s shell and his intent pretty well, but his powers just leave him beyond true comprehension. Peter never really got much of a look in – more plot mechanism than true character, and the same, to a lesser extent, with sister Valentine.

In any case, this book continues an exploration of the emotional lives of hyper-intelligent people. It’s readable and relatable, and mildly interesting. It wraps up – loosely – the lives of the principal characters of the whole series: Ender, Jane, Valentine, Bean’s children, the Hive Queen, the pequeninos, the descolada virus, etc. It just doesn’t do it in a very interesting way. This is an endpoint, not a culmination. It’s, frankly, an overextended series petering out. It’s not terrible, but a story that started so strong and had such memorable characters deserved better.

There’s a lot of the Enderverse that I haven’t read and don’t expect to. Maybe those books wrap things up even more. Maybe not. I’m satisfied to let it end this way. Not what I hoped for, but acceptable. In part that’s because of length and time – somewhat akin to my feeling about The Song of Ice and Fire, should it ever end, but with better characters. In part, it’s because Card seems to have lost quite a bit of the flame that burned so bright in the early days. He’s had a lot more misses these days, and a lot more [shrug]. It’s all still written well, but it lacks magic. If you’re a devoted Enderite, read this; tie things off. If you’re new to the whole series, I think you’ll get a lot more mileage for your time from just reading the 1977 short story.

<span style=”color: #cc0000;”><strong>I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.</strong></span>

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