Review | Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card

Editor’s Note: This is the thirteenth in Stephen Olson’s series of posts on Orson Scott Card’s award winning Ender’s Game novels. You can find his other posts on the Ender’s Game series here.

After a long journey, the patient reader eventually gets to Children of the Mind, currently the last book chronologically in the Ender series.  I first read it after my first time reading Xenocide as an adult.  Every time I read Children of the Mind, I enjoy it greatly.  However, the more I think about the book since, the less I like it.  Here’s why:

Unlike Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide, Children of the Mind starts immediately after the events of the previous novel.  This creates far stronger continuity.  All of the same key characters continue the same important struggles.  After two sequels in a row with large gaps in the interim, I really enjoy starting a sequel without wondering what happened in between.

However, this very continuity is a double-edged sword.  Like many other considerate authors, Orson Scott Card usually includes background information in his sequels, to make sure readers are up to speed on previous events.  Often this technique feels awkward if you read the books immediately in sequence, but in Children of the Mind, the awkwardness goes to some rather unfortunate extremes.  Our plot recap takes the form of a character explaining events that just happened to another character who was actually very aware of the key events now being explained to them.  I completely sympathize with the desire to make sure readers know about past events, but way it happens in this book makes an important character seem very ignorant despite their reputation for learning quickly and observing carefully.

Fortunately, once the plot recap finishes up, things move rather quickly and in a very satisfying way.  Of all of the books in the series, Children of the Mind tends to drag me forward with the most strength.  All of the books make me want to keep reading, but this one just pulls so much more relentlessly.  For instance, I’ve twice put down Speaker for the Dead at bedtime while in the middle of the climax.  On the other hand, once I start a certain portion of Children of the Mind, I simply cannot put it down until I get to the end of that part.

As always, Orson Scott Card writes clever dialogue.  Children of the Mind features some of my favorite exchanges and clever comebacks.  In a few instances, I almost feel like some of these characters  were specifically designed for the purpose of having these wonderful conversations.  While reading this book during silent reading time at school, several times students looked up at me as I started laughing out loud.

And then there are the ideas.  Children of the Mind features two key themes that have become very core to how I understand myself and how I understand  the world.  First, in several instances characters refer to the idea that while people may state their intentions, the real test of what they want is in what they do.  This further articulates some thoughts from Xenocide very well, and for me it has become a key to understanding the difference between the stated beliefs and actual behaviors in the people I interact with, myself included.  Second, the theme from Xenocide of different types of stories that people tell themselves and others continues in a powerful way.  Brought to its conclusion, we see expressed directly in words and later in experiences examples where characters live such different stories as to live in different realities.

After writing about just two examples that have greatly affected my self-perception and helped to shape how I see reality, it feels rather petty to criticize, and yet I still must address two more somewhat issues that affect my appreciation of the novel.

First, unlike every other novel in the series, Children of the Mind uses quotes from each chapter as chapter titles.  Some of these quotes feel rather cheesy, and I much preferred the more non-descript chapter titles that used a few words to describe some aspect of the chapter.  Second, the pre-chapter excerpts here come from a book consisting of the dying words of a holy woman.  However, many of these writings feel somewhat out of place for the person who said them.  In most of the other books, I greatly enjoy the pre-chapter content for adding some extra flavor to everything else.  Once or twice, I’ve even pulled out a book and read just the pre-chapter excerpts.  On the other hand, the combination of cheesy chapter titles and weird pseudo-philosophical ranting make me dread the start of each chapter in Children of the Mind.

Perhaps, though, the short-comings of Children of the Mind and Xenocide help to create a sense of balance in the world.  Both books express complex and beautiful ideas in a way that has impacted me greatly.  And yet both feature structural problems that make it difficult for me to completely lose myself in the novels.  Given my track record with staying up incredibly late reading, that’s probably a good thing.

Parent’s guide:  Orson Scott Card returns to his Ender’s Game roots in the most important way: with more foul language than Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide combined.

Stephen Olson teaches math at North Layton Junior High.  When not teaching math, he polices the halls and library of his school, ensuring that students partake of only the best reading material.  On the rare occasions he finds himself away from school, Stephen reads, writes, and writes about reading. You can follow him on Twitter @MathTeacherGuy or email him at mathteacherguyATgmailDOTcom.

Does Children of the Mind, or another book we’ve mentioned on Attack of the Books! sound interesting? Do the authors a favor and pick up a copy of one of their books from Amazon. It puts bread on their table and helps them keep writing good fiction.

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About Stephen

Stephen Olson teaches math at North Layton Junior High. When not teaching math, he polices the halls and library of his school, ensuring that students partake of only the best reading material. On the rare occasions he finds himself away from school, Stephen reads, writes, and writes about reading. You can follow him on Twitter