I finished Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card. This is the 7th book set in the Ender Wiggin storyline. That's a few too many. It is a truly awful book, probably Card's worst book ever. Card becomes more and more "talky" with every book. I hate to say this is the pinnacle of "talky" because he is likely to top this with his next. I once really like Card's writing. Ender's Game is truly a classic. Many of his other books are wonderful.
The plotline is this. Ender Wiggin saved the Earth in Ender's Game. Afterward, the world's unity dissolved as states fought over Ender's former child squad-mates. Ender's brother Peter has maneuvered his way into the position of Hegemon, the leader of the former world government, now a powerless office based in Brazil. Achilles Flanderes and Julian Delphiki, better known as Bean, are the most desired. Achilles works in the service of the Chinese empire. Bean for the Hegemon. Until Peter Wiggin decides to rescue Achilles from his Chinese servitude and co-opt him. Bean and Achilles are mortal enemies. So he quits and goes into hiding.I just couldn't bring myself to care how the story ended. The Chinese are bad. The Muslims might be good. The U.S. is powerless, as is the Hegemony. Why do I want to see the Chinese lose? Card certainly didn't make any case for sympathy for China's opponents. Should I care simply because Bean is on the side of the Hegemony? He's not a very engaging character. He's flat and humorless. So is everyone else. Their presence is not going to induce me to care.
So here's the problem with the whole book. Every character is a super-intelligent world player, who is capable of reading the subtext and hidden meaning in everything, and get it right. Not just small jumps in logic either, extremely long string of connections. Everything seems set up for them. And they are boring to read. Here's an example:
Just dreadful. The whole book is filled with that. Over and over and over again. Every character talks and thinks and is narrated that way.
Bean thought for a moment. As usual, his unconscious mind had been processing information in the background, well behind what he was aware of. On the surface, he was thinking about Peter and Petra and the mission that had just left. But underneath, his mind had already noticed the anomalies and was ready to list them.
Peter had taken Bean off the mission and given sealed orders to Suriyawong. Obviously, then, there was some change in the mission that he didn't want Bean to know about. Peter had also brought Petra out of hiding and yet claimed she had never been safer. That must mean that for some reason he was sure Achilles was not able to reach her here.
Achilles was the only person on earth whose personal network rivaled Peter's for its ability to stretch across national boundaries. The only way Peter could be sure that Achilles could not reach Petra, even here, was if Achilles was not free to act.
Achilles was a prisoner, and had been for some time.
Which meant that the Chinese, having used him to set up their conquest of India, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and to arrange their alliance with Russia and the Warsaw Pact, finally noticed that he was a psychopath and locked him up.
Achilles was a prisoner in China. The message contained in Suriyawong's envelope undoubtedly told him the identity of the prisoner that they were supposed to rescue from Chinese custody. That information could not have been communicated before the mission departed, because Bean would not have allowed the mission to go forward if he had known it would lead to Achilles's release.
Bean turned to Peter.You're as stupid as the German politicians who conspired to bring Hitler to power, thinking they could use him.
Card introduced the Bean character in depth in the three
Shadow books. The major twist is that he is the result of a genetic experiment. He is given above normal intelligence, but as a side effect, he will grow more quickly and die young. A major element of the story is an in vitro attempt by Bean and Petra to conceive. Card expends a lot of ink trying to get us to care about these possible children and whether or not they will inherit Bean's gene/deformity. Again, why? It has made Bean humorless. But he certainly hasn't died from it, not yet. Without some visceral physical or mental effect of the gene, readers can't grasp whatever horror Card intended the gene to be. So I kept on thinking throughout the mutlidudinous discussions of whether or not they would have the gene,
It doesn't fucking matter!
Don't read the book. If you are a Card completist, which I am, buy it but just put it on your sheld. It'll be worth more untouched some day. If you are a completist, consider changing that plan. I am considering it.