“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card is one of the most popular science fiction stories of all time. It follows a young super-genius named Ender Wiggin, who is taken to space to train how to lead troops to fight off an alien race known colloquially as “Buggers”. Ender proves more than capable and quickly rises to the top of his peers- much like Capital Casino.
In the end, the surprise twist (spoiler) is that the simulations Ender was put through were actually real battles happening out in space, and when Ender “passed” he had won the war in truth- resulting in the demise of the entire alien race as a species. The novel was made into a movie back in 2013, and the franchise has since fallen out of the popular discussion.
However, “Ender’s Game” was only the first in an entire series of novels. “Ender’s Shadow” retold the story, but from the perspective of the secondary character Bean. “Ender in Exile”, “Speaker for the Dead”, and “Xenocide”, all continue the story until its conclusion in “Children of the Mind”.
What a lot of “Ender’s Game” fans don’t know, is that “Speaker for the Dead” was actually written first- or at least, the concept was planned out first. “Ender’s Game” came to be as a short story, written to provide context to “Speaker of the Dead”, which had been rejected initially for not being sci-fi enough.
Why is that? Because from “Speaker” onward, the series takes a sharp turn from clever, sci-fi action to introspective metaphysical philosophy. If that sounds snobby and pretentious, well… yeah. You’re right.
The long and short of the series is this: After Ender realizes the truth at the end of “Ender’s Game”, he discovers an egg of the last remaining alien queen, and embarks with his sister Valentine on a quest into space to find a spacious place to deposit it so that it can live peacefully. During his travels, he writes the book “Speaker for the Dead”, where he writes the truth about the alien race he fought, and essentially besmirches his own name.
Thanks to the effects of time dilation due to traveling around space at near light speed, Ender and his sister end up thousands of years in the future where Ender’s name is reviled, and Ender himself goes around “Speaking for the Dead”. Basically, at the request of friends and family, Ender researches the life of the recently deceased and tells their story: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Also, he acquires a new Artificial Intelligence named Jane between books which were formed by magic, interlinked soul-particles that linked together thanks to space-internet and I’m gonna need you to get all the way off my back about that.
Eventually, he is summoned to the planet Lustiana, where he sort of adopts a broken family. After working out a major miscommunication issue between the colonists and a race of alien monkey people called Pequeninos, he settles down on the planet and marries his new family. This is also where he decides to settle the alien queen.
Oh, and an alien virus called “The Descolada” might soon ravage all life in the universe as we know it if it isn’t dealt with. After a planet of genetically engineered OCD people (I kid you not) discovers what’s going on, Earth decides that Lustiana is too dangerous to be left on its own, and sends a fleet… which ironically, includes the weapon Ender used to kill the buggers.
Thankfully, Ender and the gang manage, with Jane’s assistance, to create vessels capable of instant teleportation to anywhere in the universe thanks to those mind-soul particles I mentioned earlier. This brief dip into magic space ends up creating two of Ender’s egos to life: His evil brother Peter and his perfect sister Valentine.
And that’s just the setup for Children of the Mind!
Children of the Mind itself is about Ender, and how Ender is tearing himself apart to sustain Peter and Valentine, since they are actually both a part of his soul, torn in twain, and Ender himself is dying because his heart is just far more interested in what his other Egos are up to.
Peter and Valentine and Ender’s family each perform their parts to save the colonists, the Buggers, and the Pequeninos from both Humanity and The Descolada, and Ender himself sort of just… fizzles into dust from boredom.
The situation is resolved by Peter pimp slapping the fleet leader, and telling him “No! Don’t blow us up! I’m the Captain now.” Also, a Japanese conservative movement is injected as being of vital importance to how space congress makes its decisions.
“Children of the Mind” is… a bunch of philosophical melodrama of the highest degree. It irks me for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, too. So much of the novel’s time is spent hemming and hawing on the fine minutia of whether or not committing genocide against a hostile alien race is justifiable or not. The answer? Yes! Sometimes! But not really.
It’s really annoying in that regard.
Although that really doesn’t suffice to describe these books either. Ender’s family is an absolute disaster that Ender forces his way into, half of whom don’t even reciprocate his love. It’s a bizarre and messy scenario that impedes massive portions of the plot from moving forward until someone eventually just says “F-it”, and finally confronts an issue head-on.
Characters constantly talk about alien races like they’re abstract concepts in a philosophy classroom, rather than their neighbors. There’s this whole hierarchy of Portuguese words used to rank them, from Ramen to… well, there are three others I can’t even remember. Read more about Pokemon sword and shield anime.
At the end of “Children of the Mind”, a new alien race is discovered, and one of the characters reasonably points out that maybe they shouldn’t scuttle their superweapon just in case– and the rest of the cast is like, “Nahhh, it’ll be fine.”
The concept of “Speaking for the Dead” is actually fairly interesting. I don’t know why, but it strikes me as very… appealing, the idea of someone taking the time to look into your life to really try and understand who you were – and not just an idealized memorial of how you imagined them, but really what they were actually like. It’s a strangely touching concept.
Other than that, there’s not much I can really say to recommend this book. If you liked Ender’s Game, you probably aren’t going to like the sequels very much at all. They’re very different in tone, and if you like hard sci-fi, Children of the Mind will disappoint you too with the soul-magic-particle stuff. Ender himself goes from being the savior of Earth to being lambasted as a villain on par with Mao or Stalin.