Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A War of Gifts

A War of Gifts
An Ender Story
by Orson Scott Card

The human race is at war with an insectlike race. The first battles went badly, and now Earth prepares to defend itself against the imminent threat of total destruction at the hands of an inscrutable alien enemy. All focus is on the development and training of generals who can fight such a war – and win.

The long distances of interstellar space have given hope to the defenders of Earth – they have time to train these future commanders from childhood, forging them into an irresistible force in the high-orbital facility called the Battle School.

At the Battle School, there is only one purpose, only one curriculum: the strategy and tactics of war. The children are drawn from all nations, all races, all religions. There is no room for cultural differences, no room for religious observances, and certainly no room for Santa Claus.

But the young warriors disagree. When on of them leaves a Sinterklaas Day gift in his best friend’s shoe, that quiet act of rebellion becomes the first shot in a war of wills that the staff of the Battle School never bargained for.

This isn’t so much a book as it is an individually bound short story and I think that is something the reader needs to be aware of when picking this up. It is very quick to establish a handful of main characters in the story and proceeds to the main plot without taking much time to explain what is going on and why. There is an assumption made by the author that the reader is already familiar with the story of Ender Wiggin.

I didn’t have a problem with this at all because the Ender series and the Ender’s Shadow series are some of my favourite stories and have been some of my favourites for a long time. So I knew even before opening this little book who the majority of the characters were going to be. The only character I wasn’t familiar with from the main series was Zeck Morgan, the first character to which we are introduced.

I think having one of the main boys (which also includes Dink, Flip, and Ender) in this story being a new character, or a relatively unknown character, might help a new reader get into this world. I think it also helps that the focus of this story is mostly on the relationships of a select few and doesn’t really touch upon the greater concerns seen in Ender’s Game. However, because very little of that extended world is explained, it might be a little confusing as to why they are all in this Battle School to begin with.

I do think this is interesting as a self contained short story because it makes you think about the ties between religion and secular culture and the differences in those ties in different countries, but I don’t think it establishes context very well. As an interlude during a larger story, I think it’s fantastic.

So, if you have read Ender’s Game and are interested in another Battle School story, I’d suggest picking this one up. It’s short and reads quickly and is just as thought provoking and witty as Orson Scott Card’s other work. If you haven’t read Ender’s Game, I’d suggest waiting to read this story after Ender’s Game. I think it works better with that context than without.

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