Children of the Mind

Author: Orson Scott Card
Copyright Date: 1996

Oh boy, where do I start with this one? Children of the Mind is the fourth and last book of the original Ender series. The first two, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, both won Hugo and Nebula awards. The third, Xenocide, was nominated for both and possibly would have won if not for the fact that honoring three books all in the same series might have been excessive. I originally thought that may have been the reason that Children of the Mind received no nomination. Now I'm sure it's because that Children of the Mind simply is not of the caliber of the previous three.

Considering that Children of the Mind was intended as the second half of Xenocide and that Orson Scott Card originally intended for them to be one whole book, it's hard to imagine how in the world he got everything so wrong, especially since he thanks his numerous proofreaders both at the start and end of the book. Five years passed between the publication of the two books and I can only surmise that the idea brewing that often happens in the minds of authors distorted what he originally intended or the need to provide resolution at the end of Xenocide distorted what he wanted to do in Children of the Mind. In any case, the last book stumbles across several consistency issues with Xenocide and then goes for a supremely sappy (not to mention cheesy) ending which has no meaning to anyone unless they had read the first two books (which is very odd considering that the first three are so stand alone).

The book actually starts out well enough. Peter and Wang-mu are the highlight of the book and Peter's introspective look at how he is not himself because he is merely one of three bodies in which Ender's soul resides (with Ender being the primary entity) is one of the best metaphysical discussions I've read. When the story is focused on the both of them I find it at its most interesting. Peter does not become Hegemon as he had so proudly boasted at the end of Xenocide, which is a pity since I had looked forward to seeing that so much, but the resulting formation of who Peter really is, since he is not literally the Peter of the first book, makes up for it. Wang-mu comes off extremely well too, carrying on with her own brand of street-wise intelligence and ability to care for people even when they're at their worst.

But then when the action moves back to Lusitania the coherency with the previous books starts to fall apart. Novinha wanted Ender to join her in the monestary at the end of the last book, but he didn't want to. Now the desires have reversed and Ender wants to join her in the monestary but she doesn't want him too because he doesn't belong there since he doesn't really believe in God. Okay, maybe they changed their minds over the course of the few days not covered between books, but then other inconsistencies start to crop up.

For instance, Jane's soul is no longer in Ender's body, as was discovered in Xenocide but is now free-floating among the anisbles. Her soul being in his body was the sole reason they were able to perform faster-than-light travel in the previous book and thus starflight was limited to her being able to transport a ship with either Ender, Peter, or the young Valentine on board. Now, not only is her soul elsewhere, but apparently she doesn't need Ender, Peter, or Val on board. Thus the evacutation of Lusitania simply takes place with her chucking boxy spaceships full of human, pequinino, and hive colonists to more than twenty different planets. (Isn't that rather excessive and spreading them too thinly? It would seem that five colonies would've been more than enough.) Even though Xenocide made it clear that Jane would not die when Starways Congress turned off all the ansibles, avoiding her "death" becomes a major focus in this book, which I found to be completely irritating since it was a major focus and solved in the last book.

I also disliked how metaphysical this book got, though to be fair, Xenocide had a twinge of it near the end, but only a twinge. Getting Jane's soul into a physical body is big deal and it's decided upon that it sould be young Valentine's, though how everybody from the Hive Queen to Miro manages to settle on this without actually discussing it with each other is unknown. Everyone just seems to come to the same conclusion independantly and at one point in the story when Jane is pretty worn down from all the computers being shut down, she sees Ender's soul and makes a half-crazed jump for it. Then suddenly she's not in cyberspace anymore but racing through Ender's three bodies. Despite the fact that Ender's got bodies to spare and is actually spread too thinly among them, they have a tussle and then Jane spews out into the pequinino telepathic network shared by those in the third stage of their lives. Eventually Ender, the real one, is convinced that it's okay to die, Novinha won't miss him, and his soul leaves his original body (which crumples to dust after his departure), gives the young Valentine body to Jane, and then with Jane's help, becomes a full entity again in Peter's body. But because Jane is so big, she keeps part of herself in the pequinino tree network and starts using them like the computers she had lost in order to be able to resume spaceflight, because that Fleet that's been heading towards Lusitania for the past two books is still coming and may fire the molecular disruption device as soon as it arrives. The end result that Card makes more obvious than he really should is that Jane is now a hybrid child that is part human and part hive via the link the Hive Queen forged with Ender, and part pequinino by the tree network.

In short, she is a little bit of everybody. It's too bad that some of it's squandered on the now overdone "So this is what it's like to be human!" awe that Jane experiences and just about every anime series on the planet has done that involves first contact with humans and aliens.

I was really disappointed that Ender is hardly in this book. Other than the chapter where he convinces Novinha to let him join her again he barely does a thing except flop around and die. Ender's pain was so deep at the end of Xenocide and I wanted to see that healed. Perhaps it never could have been, as is implied by Peter not wanting to live under the shadow of Ender's guilt once he receives all of Ender's soul, but still there were no steps to remedy it. His reconciliation with Novinha really didn't do anything for the plot other than to give him the okay to let go and live a new life through Peter.

Also this book takes a rather radicial departure from its science fiction moors when Peter and Wang-mu meet Malu, a holy man on one of the planets. Though seeing a modified creation myth adapted to the modern day realities of space travel was pretty neat, I disliked how this holy man also knew about Jane without having ever been told about her. He just knew like he had a vision. Though the trees of the pequininos and the Hive Queen are telepathic in their own way, humans are not and none of the races have had the ability to see things that they otherwise had no way of knowing about. Even though the Hive Queen knew about Jane, she could not directly communicate with her (at least not until this book :P) and wasn't aware she even existed in the state that she did until she actively tried looking for her. So when this holy man suddenly knows all this stuff about her (though he uses mystical terms to refer to her) it rubbed me the wrong way. Religion up until now had behaved in the books much like it does in the real world; things happen and people make their own interpretations, answers are not handed out directly by the gods.

Card, who until now had seemed particularly adept at handling foreign cultures, also makes a horrendous gaffe with the Japanese that any first year Japanese student would catch. One of the minor characters goes to great lengths to pursue what he believes in the proper course of action and after having done so he is addressed as -san for the first time. And he gets incredibly puffed up and honored by having been addressed as that. Um... being called -san is the equivalent of addressing someone as "Mister" in the English language and if he's gone all through life without once being called "Mister Yasujiro" then that's one rude culture he's steeped in. Now if they had called him Yasujiro-sama that would mean something. But -san is nothing. That's expected. Everybody other than close friends, family, and those in obviously higher positions are -san. There also were a few behavioral aspects I'm sure my old college sensei would have nailed him on too (since one of them was a pet peeve about how Westerners often portray Japanese bowing up and down several times like ducks to show respect).

Though this point might be minor, the chapter headings were also a departure from the previous three books. In the past they were almost always nouns, and rarely more than one or two words. In Children of the Mind they are phrases, usually taken from the chapter itself. It just seems to put me in a different frame of mind from the previous books where the chapter titles were brief and two the point. In Children of the Mind they are long enough to become a distraction as I would often try to figure out who would say them and I would expend extra effort to find them while reading the chapter.

Each chapter also comes with a short quotation from the God Whispers of Han Quing-jao, which are the murmurings Qing-Jao spat out at the end of Xenocide after she had become old and grey. So in fact these quotations had not been said yet by the time the story takes place and while all the quotations are relevant to the story, it just seems like there's a disconnect because a reader might not remember Qing-jao or why she has God Whispers. Since her eventual fate some decades down the line is irrelevant to the current story, there's no explanation for where these quotes are coming from and the Han Qing-jao currently alive while the book is taking place is probably still pouting over her father's betrayal of the gods. She's mentioned briefly in the narration itself, but not enough to explain where the quotes are coming from and not everyone is going to read Xenocide and Children of the Mind back to back like I did.

Other than stopping the fleet, this book introduced a new problem, one that I didn't regard as a loose end in Xenocide, though arguably it was. The decolada had been discovered to be a virus, probably a terraforming agent, sent by an unknown alien race. So in Children of the Mind Jane takes the radical step of locating the home world of the descoladores (the creators of the descolada). We never see the alien race, they never come on screen, and there is barely anything that can be regarded as communication between them and the three known species from the previous books. We don't even known if they're hostile or just ignorant that there could be intelligent life out there. We just know that they're out there and the book yoinks us away from them before a more permenant contact can be established (and since this happens right at the end of the book it felt like Card decided he was suddenly out of space and he'd better wrap everything up). It was like... why even put them in there? They served no point other than to give some of the established characters something to do.

In the end Children of the Mind was so different from the writing style and quality of the previous books that I really felt more like I had read a fanfic continuation of the previous three than a book by the original author; a well-written fanfic, but it might as well as have been done by a different person due to all the consistency errors and the lack of the soul that permeated through the first three. Even Ender's funeral, which pulled so much together from the past to celebrate his life fell flat. The only worthwhile mention was how the road goes on without him now, and it surely will since the ending opens up the possibility of many more stories, no longer about Ender. I don't know if Card ever plans to follow those stories (since after Children of the Mind he started the Ender's Shadow series about those left behind on Earth after Ender's Game) but if he does I'm really hesitant to say I'll come along.