Children of the Mind, Orson Scott Card

Tor, 1996, 349 pages, C$29.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-85395-5

The four-book cycle concluded by Children of the Mind is remarkable: The first volume, Ender’s Game, was one of the best books of the eighties. Critics will forever argue whether it was designed to be popular, or just ended up being an exceptionally-well written power fantasy, with just enough guilt at the end to make the reader realize that while destroying another species is fun, it’s not without consequences.

The second book, Speaker for the Dead, sent the series in a whole new direction. Andrew (‘Ender’) Wiggins is trying to atone for his crimes, and his new purpose in life is to Speak for the Dead. (ie: Make fancy eulogies at funerals.) While Ender’s Game was hyperkinetic, its sequel is reflective, quieter but not without interest. In addition to winning the Hugo, it was a remarkably enjoyable novel on many levels.

Xenocide wasn’t so unanimously praised. The events set up in Speaker for the Dead are further developed in this third tome, but one seemingly deus-ex-machina event left a sour impression in most reader’s minds, as did a completely new focus on Japanese culture.

Children of the Mind is a better novel, but builds heavily of the weaknesses of the third book. The threads introduced in the previous books are tried up together in a satisfactory manner and if a possibility for a sequel still exists, it is evident that this is the end of Ender’s story. [Newsflash! Card is preparing a prequel! Aaaarrgh!]

The prose is mostly readable, at the exception of a few needlessly sophisticated scenes on a beach. Card’s talent at dialogue is impressive: We’re hanging on to every reply, each more sagacious and penetrating than the one before. Children of the Mind almost approaches in this respect the incredibly sophisticated multileveled dialogues of the Dune series, with layers of hidden meanings and single phrases that send the conversation in a new direction. What Card masters and Herbert didn’t, however, is the amusing touch: Even in the most serious, dramatic exchanges, there’s always a humorous reply, a hilarious comment that puts the conversation in perspective. As the old movie slogans go: “You’ll laugh! You’ll cry!”

Children of the Mind gets high marks for character development, managing to turn a few characters inside-out, to kill a few of them and to marry the rest. (Wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that a comedy concluded by a marriage and a tragedy by a funeral? Then what is Children of the Mind?)

Speaking of conclusions, Children of the Mind kicks in overdrive somewhere past half-point. Threads are resolved in almost every chapter, relationships stabilize, galactic issues are settled. No villains remains at the end, an interesting characteristic of this series. The book could have easily been a few hundred pages longer, but sense prevailed over length, and the result is a good, medium-sized book, unlike Xenocide, which was a good 200 pages longer.

The author’s after-word is curious, talking mainly about a small aspect of the fourth volume instead of global thoughts about the entire series. Disappointing, and this from an after-word fan.

This book is highly recommended to fans of the series, but builds so heavily on the previous volumes that it’s not a good singleton choice. This might not be a problem: Given the excellence of the first two books, it’s a fair bet to say that not many readers will try to read Children of the Mind as a stand-alone.

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