Editor’s Note: This is the fifteenth (!!!) 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.
First Meetings was my first experience with Orson Scott Card’s shorter fiction. I happened upon while looking around at my local library. Having been interested in reading some of the short stories from the Ender series, I picked it up and then read through it that night.
The Polish Boy
“The Polish Boy” tells the story of John Paul Wieczorek, who grows up to be John Paul Wiggin, Ender’s dad. We read about his experience as one of nine children in his family, in a world where population control laws prohibit any more than two children. The majority of the story focuses on the evaluation of him and his siblings by International Fleet personnel to assess their potential usefulness to the military. A few other familiar faces crop up, including Hyrum Graff.
Naturally, much of the conflict centers around the Wieczorek family’s non-compliance to the population laws. I really like how Card looks at several facets of this, simultaneously pointing out how the laws negatively impact the family and how the parents’ stubborn flouting of law negatively impacts their children. Where these laws came up a bit in Ender’s Game, they come to the forefront in “The Polish Boy”, and I enjoyed the deeper examination here.
At the same time, in a series about incredibly clever and precocious children, John Paul just feels like too much. A six-year-old who reads at a college level and also comprehends complex social and emotional cues in every situation just rubs me the wrong way. After greatly enjoying the character of John Paul Wiggin in the Shadow series, this younger version of him seemed very different from the character I loved.
Still, “The Polish Boy” gives some fun insight into the earlier days of the search for a fleet commander and the past of Ender’s world, and I tend to enjoy pretty much any material featuring Graff.
Moving beyond the horrific pun embedded in the title, “Teacher’s Pest” continues to follow John Paul Wiggin, now a college student in America, as he takes a class from a similarly brilliant graduate student named Theresa Brown. As they learn more about each other’s experiences in families that ignored and spoke against the population control laws, John Paul begins to fall more and more in love with his professor.
Unfortunately, the population control laws grew a bit stale by the end of the previous story, and “Teacher’s Pest” does not do much to take the theme to new places. We mostly just see similar government recriminations against people speaking out against the law. I do enjoy a scene where students in a college class try to maintain an intellectual facade while worrying about the impact of being seen as sympathizers with non-compliants, but I’m just a sucker for media that pokes fun at academia.
“Teacher’s Pest” is, at its heart, a love story. I enjoy some of the cute moments, but it has a hard time building suspense when we know that the principal characters end up marrying and being the parents of Ender down the road. John Paul and Theresa still haven’t become the characters I like so much in the Shadow series, but it’s still a good short read.
The Investment Counselor
Taking place after Ender’s Game, “The Investment Counselor” tells about Ender’s experience attempting to pay taxes on his massive military pension that has gathered interest for hundreds of years while he stayed young traveling from planet to planet at light-speed. Valentine also makes an appearance in this story, and we are introduced to a major character and theme from Speaker for the Dead.
My favorite part of ” The Investment Counselor” is the setting, on a largely Italian planet at the edge of civilization. It reminds me of the earlier Foundation stories by Isaac Asimov, which is a very good thing. From the shady morals of government officials to the anecdotes about frontiersmen hunting enormous snakes, the planet of Sorelledolce just works rather well for me.
I also greatly enjoy reading material that leads directly to my favorite book in the series, Speaker for the Dead. In “The Investment Counselor”, we see the pseudo-religion of Speakers for the Dead firsthand, and it fits in very well with what we know and see in Speaker for the Dead. Still another good short read.
All three stories expand the Ender universe in incremental ways. “The Polish Boy” and “Teacher’s Pest”, focusing on Ender’s parents, follow very similar themes and tread similar ground. “The Investment Counselor” does something more unique, and yet all three feature somewhat lifeless characters outside of the major personalities. From the condescending bureaucrats of “The Polish Boy” to the cynical academics of “Teacher’s Pest” to the obsequious tax collector of “The Investment Counselor”, all of the minor roles feel like caricatures.
As I said in a previous review, some of the shorter fiction by Orson Scott Card feels somewhat smug and precise. Protagonists manage to always have the perfect thing to say, while everything else revolves around them in a way to provide them with the right time to say it. And yet while I know this about the short stories, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying them all greatly.
First Meetings also features the original Ender’s Game short story. I will be reviewing that at a later date.
These three stories contain much less rough language than anything else in the Ender series.
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.
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