Review | Short Stories in the Enderverse from the Intergalactic Medicine Show

Intergalactic Medicine ShowEditor’s Note: This is the sixteenth in Stephen Olson’s series of posts on Orson Scott Card’s award winning Ender’s Game novels and the last before Ender’s Game hit theaters this weekend . You can find his other posts on the Ender’s Game series here. Be sure to tune in next week to get his review of the movie.


Several other short stories from the Ender universe can be found in the online magazine that Orson Scott Card publishes, called Intergalactic Medicine Show.  I picked up a subscription a few years back just to read these short stories, and have really enjoyed them.

Mazer In Prison (from issue #1)

The first Ender story tells about Mazer Rackham, the war hero who saved humanity long before Ender was born.  Because travelling near the speed of light allows people to not age at the same rate as the rest of the universe, the military puts Mazer on a shuttle so that his military brilliance will still be around for the next war.  However, Mazer becomes convinced that the military bureaucracy will unintentionally undermine the war effort, and carefully works on a scheme involving a young Hyrum Graff to make sure that commanders for the next war are chosen and trained properly.

More than any other story in the Ender universe, “Mazer In Prison” takes place in the head, with everything happening as Mazer receives, thinks about, and sends messages in his tiny space shuttle.   And yet despite the narrative constraints that this places on the story, it is still full of the complex emotions I expect from Orson Scott Card.  We see a full gamut of negative emotions from Mazer as he deals with his relentless isolation,  and yet when Graff tries to break that isolation with sincere questions on how to proceed, Mazer resents the intrusion.  I love seeing how this important relationship develops.

Probably my favorite part of “Mazer In Prison” is a discussion on how to find great leaders.  As a teacher, I’m in a profession where the public cares more than almost any other that people do a good job.  And yet even within my profession, there is great difficulty identifying the existing great teachers, much less the greatness of future teachers.  This leadership problem has bothered me for years, and I love seeing Mazer’s thoughts on the process, such as his suggestion that a great commander must have “tolerance for the orders of fools”.  Orson Scott Card addresses ideas of leadership at many points in his stories, but I think “Mazer In Prison” features the best theories on the subject.

Despite this being the story where the very least action happens, it manages to be a story where so many important ideas in the series start.  Of all of the short stories, “Mazer In Prison” is one of my favorites.

Pretty Boy (from issue #2)

“Pretty Boy” tells us the story of Bonito de Madrid, who we meet later in Ender’s Game, going by the nickname Bonzo.  Bonito grows up as the spoiled son of a proud Spanish lawyer and his wife, and he learns as a child that everything that his parents do revolves around him.  As Bonito learns more about his parents, he tries to understand them and figure out how best to make them happy.

When I referred to some of the short stories as being “fluff”, this is what I had in mind.  It is a somewhat sweet look at the past of a key character, with a few thoughts on gender roles.  While I enjoy reading it, I don’t feel like I gained any particular insight into Bonzo’s character or into the larger setting.  Still, it’s not a long read at all, and I do like that it humanizes the subject.

Cheater (from issue #3)

“Cheater” is another origin story, this time about Han Tzu, nicknamed Hot Soup in Ender’s Game.  Similar to “Pretty Boy”, it follows a child being spoiled by his father.  Tzu constantly meets with tutors, but really wants to see the world outside of the walls of his father’s house and garden.

I feel about the same about this as I do about “Pretty Boy”.  Cute little story, but no great insights into who Han Tzu is.  We do get to see a bit more of how the International Fleet tests and monitors its children, and I enjoyed seeing how Tzu and his father were not given the same information about monitoring procedures as Bonito or Ender’s families clearly were.  Sadly, the story really didn’t follow-up on this difference in procedure.

So another quick read, with a few small bits of interesting new information.

Ender’s Stocking (from issue #6)

I repeatedly passed over the “Ender’s Stocking” story in Intergalactic Medicine Show, because I thought  A War of Gifts contains the entire story.  Luckily, a helpful fan of these reviews pointed out to me that what I’d read is much abridged.

“Ender’s Stocking” tells about Peter Wiggin in high school, around Christmas time.  Several years younger than his peers at a gifted school and somewhat abusive to his family, Peter has found himself a pariah to everyone he knows.  Over the course of the story, he tries to figure out why no one loves him and how he can make himself loved.

Despite what seems like a fairly cheesy, navel-gazing plot, “Ender’s Stocking” provides a great example of self-examination for Peter.  It raises interesting questions such as the difference between trying to be good and actually being good or whether an evil result overrules non-evil intent.  As a person who enjoys self-reflection as a road to self-improvement, I really enjoyed getting inside of Peter’s thoughts.

However, what I most enjoy about “Ender’s Stocking” is what I felt was missing from some of the other short stories: new insights into familiar characters.  We get to see a key incident in Peter’s life that helps to explain the gap between the needlessly cruel boy in Ender’s Game and the cold and calculating, but ultimately benevolent, man in Shadow of the Hegemon.  While I used to say for sure that “Mazer in Prison” is my favorite short story, “Ender’s Stocking” certainly gives it some competition.

Note

Intergalactic Medicine Show also features the Ender stories “A Young Man With Prospects“, “The Gold Bug”, “Ender’s Homecoming”, and “Ender in Flight”.  However, these stories in almost their entirety are in Ender in Exile.  While I haven’t had time to read each in its entirety, it looks like “The Gold Bug” is the only one with significant material cut from it.  In a perfect world, I’d have time to read every story in parallel with Ender in Exile and compile all of the differences.


Parental Advisory

Some foul language.  That’s about it.


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.

Comments

  1. I didn’t know that he wrote short stories in the Ender universe. I think the Mazer story sounds really interesting. I just finished re-reading Ender’s Game and I can’t wait for the movie. I really liked the psychology he explored about leadership and how to train leaders as well. Cool review.

  2. Yes, the Mazer story was the main reason I subscribed to the magazine. Great stuff. I love the short stories for a way to get a quick fix of the Enderverse.

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