Review | Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card [Contributor]

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in Stephen Olson’s series of posts reviewing, contemplating, considering, and discussing Orson Scott Card’s award winning Ender’s Game novels. You can find his other posts on the Ender’s Game series here.

The nice thing about Shadows in Flight is that it came out just last year, so I remember very well my experience in reading it the first time.  I happened to see it at the library while looking for something else, and it embarrassed me greatly that I had not been aware of its release some months earlier.  So I checked it out, brought it home, and read the whole thing in one sitting.  It had been two years since I’d last read any books in this series, and Shadows in Flight inspired another rereading of the whole series.

Shadows in Flight tells the story of a man and his three children who all share a unique genetic condition and have set off on a near-lightspeed flight in the hopes that humanity will discover a cure for their condition while they travel through the stars.  This ties up one of the biggest loose ends in the Shadow series, but not one that bothered me too much; Shadow of the Giant wrapped things up rather well in my opinion.  Nonetheless, the additional story works rather well and I enjoyed it.

Unlike most of the other books in the series, Shadows in Flight has a very small cast.  For the entire narrative, the only characters are effectively our four space-travelers.  The action takes place almost entirely on their spacecraft and another ship they find.  With such a small cast and such a small setting, the book feels very claustrophobic.  However, Orson Scott Card clearly intended for the reader to feel like this as they read about these incredibly lonely characters, especially the children who have spent most of their young lives stuck on their ship.  At first, I did not like the constricted feel of the narrative and setting, but then I realized that it helps express how the characters feel and does so very effectively.

Part of their genetic issue gives the characters a vast intellect that continues to grow throughout their significantly shorter lives.  This creates one of the central conflicts as the children know they are as smart or smarter than standard human adults and yet they have very little actual life experience.  Inevitably, they clash with their father, who is the only one with standard life experiences and is trying to help them best survive when he succumbs to the illness.  Now that I think about it, children versus parents is rather cliché, but Shadows in Flight has such an odd twist on it that it feels fresh.

As usual, I found several ideas expressed that I already held.  Because I read this for the first time as an adult, I actually know that for once I’m not just borrowing ideas from Card and mislabeling them as my own.  For instance, in one section the father is accused of lying and explains how parents tell stories to frame the world for their children.  This correlates to a discussion I’d had with some student about a movie “based on a true story”.  We decided that no stories are true, because they frame things in a way that may not be factual.  And, on the converse, we decided that all stories are true if they express something true.

Another theme I really enjoyed occurs as one of the characters has some dramatic changes to their thoughts and feelings over the course of the book.  Near the end, they can’t even understand their own reasoning from just a few months earlier.  When I think about some of the silly ideas I had as a child or as a teenager (or, let’s admit it, as an adult), I often face the same struggle to figure out how I used to believe something that feels so contrary now.  I always enjoy these types of human moments in any literature, and Shadows in Flight does this very well.

I actually did not find any direct contradictions anywhere in Shadows in Flight.  A few things felt somewhat off timing-wise in relation to Shadow of the Giant, but nothing where I could write down passages and demonstrate that both cannot be true simultaneously.  While I did not find much to complain about, I also did not find as much that I particularly enjoyed.  That could just be a function of the shorter story, but I did notice that I did not enjoy the conversations as much as I did in other books.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadows in Flight again.  It’s shorter than the other novels (hence the shorter review), but I think it’s the perfect length: long enough to tell its story and short enough not to overstay its welcome.  As of this moment, I still don’t consider it an essential portion of the Ender series, but that doesn’t stop it from being a great book that tells an interesting story and shares intriguing insights.


Parent’s guide:

Some language.  Some crude humor.

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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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