Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shadows in Flight delivers a unique family struggle

Shadows in Flight
Orson Scott Card
2012 Macmillan Audio

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

I still remember the original trilogy in Orson Scott Card’s Ender Wiggin series (Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide) fondly, decades later. I haven’t read any of the others in that universe, which includes the Shadow series of which Shadows in Flight is book five.

This fifth book follows Shadow of the Giant. The Giant is Bean, who, as a boy, fought in the wars of Earth and was friends with Ender Wiggin. Bean and three of his children are both blessed and cursed. They are the result of an experiment which gave them super intelligence, but also gave them giantism (a real human disease in which the body never stops growing until the heart gives out in very early adulthood). Bean separated from his wife and other children to take their affected children to safety. He and the children are antonines (the genetic mutation is called Anton’s Key) and are feared by humans both because of their intelligence and the possibility of the spread of the mutation. They are aboard a starship heading away from the human worlds, but still linked to them through the ansible (although they never use their real identities when communicating over it).

Bean has grown so large (four and half meters tall) that he only fits in the cargo hold, and only on his back. The children each have special areas of talent. Ender continually searches for a cure for the giantism that will spare their hyper-intelligence. He has a temperament very similar to his namesake. Carlotta makes it her business to know everything there is to know about the operation of the ship and its maintenance. She also keeps the gravity low in the cargo bay to make it easier on the Giant's heart. Their brother, "Sergeant", concerns himself with weapons and war. Sergeant often gets Carlotta to side with him against Ender. Faced with this new possible threat, they must put aside their differences. These six-year-old children are smarter than any adult, but still, at times, have impulses and reactions, which makes for a very interesting dynamic.

Just when their life support is dwindling along with their father's life, they come across another ship near a habitable world. The ship seems empty, yet is piloted. Ender suspects it is a Formic ship. But how can any of the Formic have survived the “xenocide”? The answer to that question and much more awaits the children aboard that ship. They have no choice but to risk taking a closer look - and boarding it.

The thing I liked most about this story was the interplay within this unique family. They are more than just a family. They are the only surviving antonines – or leguminotes, as they prefer to call themselves in honor of their father – and the only living beings they may ever know; the only community they will ever be physically a part of. Even when Ender discusses genetics with scientists back home over the ansible, he cannot form friendships because he can’t even let on who or what he is.

The action in this audio book is fast-paced and the emotions palpable. I never found my mind wandering while I listened. The narrators did an excellent job holding my attention with this riveting yarn. With a novella length, it was a quick “listen”. At the end of the book, Orson Scott Card talks about how he came up with the idea for the book and what it means to him. That’s worth a listen as well.

No comments: