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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card

A War of Gifts (an Ender Story) by Orson Scott Card. New York: Tor, 2007. ISBN: 978-0-7653-1282-2

For fans of Orson Scott Card's science fiction, especially his Enders Game (1985) and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead (1986), both of which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, making Card the only author (up to now) to win both awards in successive years, this Ender story will definitely be a "must read." This story will also be of interest to those who enjoy the literary genre of Christmas stories, as it most certainly falls into that category, as well. I have to wonder if he wrote it as a kind of extended Christmas card for someone or other, or for his fans.

Well, anyway, suffice it to say that it's a charmingly sweet story on the one hand, but not without its dark side, on the other. Zeck (short for Zechariah, one assumes), is the 5-year-old son of an ultra-fundamentalist Christian father, who frequently feels the need to purify young Zeck through the means of corporal punishment.

Zeck has a particularly brilliant mind, replete with a perfectly photographic memory, not just for what he reads, but for all words he encounters, spoken or written. He can repeat his father's sermons back, word for word, by the time he's three years old.

When his mother discovers this talent, she cautions him not to tell anyone, because some might think this gift comes from Satan. She tells him that Satan does not give good gifts, so this one comes from God, but that some people look so hard to find Satan, that they see him even where he isn't.

Later, when he's four, his father tells him that there are those who will tell him a thing is from God, when really, it's from Satan. When Zeck asks why they would do this, his father tells him that those people are deceived by their own desires. They want the world to be a better place, so they pretend that polluted things are pure, so they won't have to fear them.

Even at this young age, Zeck understands that each of his parents is warning him about the other. This is part of the terrible conflict that wars inside his young head, and leads him into conflict with his fellow young soldiers, when he is taken to the off-planet Battle School, where the Earth's most brilliant children are in training to fight the Formics, the alien race that has attacked the earth, and against which the entire human race is at war.

Zeck's religious background forces him to become a conscientious objector, and to refuse to participate in the Battle School's mock battles, making him first unpopular, and then a basic nonentity in the society of his fellows. Eventually he subtly attempts to foment a struggle between the various religious elements that still remain in the minds of the child soldiers which are humanity's best and brightest hope for survival.

How this dilemma is eventually resolved naturally involves Ender Wiggen, the most brilliant of all the children. This is a story with real heart at the heart of it. It may make you laugh; it may make you cry; it will definitely touch your heart, if you have one. This is one of the reasons I enjoy Orson Scott Card's writing so much.

Highly recommended, although it will make more sense if you've read Ender's Game. If you haven't, shame on you! Especially if you're a science fiction fan, but even if you aren't, Ender's Game is a book that everyone should read, and that pretty much everyone will probably enjoy. I doubt if you can pick it up without becoming instantly hooked. It's one of those books that if I pick it up even now, years after originally reading it, I'm instantly hooked, and want to read it again.

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