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Monday, December 21, 2009

A War of Gifts, by Orson Scott Card

I  have previously posted about Orson Scott Card, an important author of fantastic literature, and, in particular, about his Ender books. Since that time, I have read another book set in that sub-creation, which is A War of Gifts.

I'll say little about the plot, which is well summarized in the immediately previous link.

I will say that Card has dealt with religion quite directly in this book. The main character is not Ender, but Zeck Morgan, a boy whose father is the preacher of Zeck's own church, which seems to be so fundamentalist as to be a cult. Card has created a fanatic religion, and also has created Zeck in such a way that we do not doubt that he believes in the religion that his father preaches, however strange it is.

Card has also considered the influence of religion in the Battle School, the off-world location where Ender, Zeck, and others are being trained to lead in the fight against the alien Buggers. Since children from all over the world have been recruited for Battle School, no religious practice is allowed, lest it be disruptive. However, some Dutch boys start going through the rituals that they would go through at home, related to Sinterklaas. Other boys start giving simple gifts to each other (hence the book's name). The book makes clear that such rituals are not really Christian. But Zeck persuades the Muslim children that Christians are practicing their religion, and to try to practice theirs. The Muslims do their best to engage in daily prayers toward Mecca. The authorities put a stop to this, and the non-Muslim children then stop any gift exchanges.

The book is about another matter, the integration of Zeck Morgan into the society of Battle School, and his concurrent realization that his father was needlessly cruel to him. Ender, himself a pre-teen, accomplishes this by talking to Zeck. (Card's characters do a lot of talking about motivation and feelings.) Although religion cannot be practiced, Zeck is made into a boy closer to a whole person.

Card, as always, is a good writer, concerned more about the character of his characters than about the mechanics of their surroundings.

It's a solid book, but sort of an appendage on the main Ender works, which are Ender's GameSpeaker for the Dead, and Xenocide.

Thanks for reading.

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