With the last installment of the Ender Quartet, Orson Scott Card set out to create a non-linear, philosophical novel that would transcend the others before it. What resulted was an uncoordinated mess that has only the faintest traces of appeal hidden within long, pretentious pages of preachy ‘moral' debating. After Xenocide, I was hoping that Card would tighten the noose and write something more compact, more solid. Alas, Children of the Mind is Xenocide multiplied tenfold. It has only the barebones of a plot (a woefully implausible one, at that) and is so consumed by its ethical ambiguity that it neglects everything else a good novel should have—good characters and an impulse to keep reading.
The story centers around Jane, a super-computer threatened by extinction by the Starways Congress. (Jane was a character I neglected to mention in the previous two books. She ‘lives' among the vast network of communication lines that stretch across the galaxy, and she was responsible for the Fantasy Game in the original Ender's Game.) Really, all the novel is about is trying to find away to prevent her death, since she is the key to the survival of many races.
But Card disregards plot to concentrate on the ever-more baffling palette of ethical complexities between the characters. The difference between the problems here and the problems in, say, Speaker for the Dead, is that everything in this novel is incredulous. Nothing makes logical sense. The questions Card tackles are beyond unthinkable. Some of them are quite ingenious if you try to enjoy them out of context—for instance, there is a remarkable scene where a girl (Young Valentine - don't ask) realizes she must die in order for the mission to succeed. However, the only way for her to die is to make her feel utterly useless. As a form of self-sacrifice, she purposely tries to persuade herself—and others—that no one loves her, and that the only value in her life is leaving it. Miro (an important character in the past two books) understands this, that she is asking for him to help her hate her life. He insults her with vehemence. Young Val is devastated by what he says—she didn't expect him to be so cruel. Miro is racked by compassion, but he knows that in order for everyone to survive he must continue, so he breaks her down till she dies and her body is replaced with Jane's.
This is the kind of stuff to expect from this book. While there's certainly emotional content in here, Card asks us too much—how can one suspend disbelief as to allow the notion of souls moving in and out of each others' bodies? How can we believe that Jane, in order to survive, must somehow inhabit the body of Young Val, whose soul can only leave with the knowledge that it is not wanted?
By creating questions that he can't answer without stretching the limits of belief, Card falls into the same trap as he did in Xenocide By the end of Children, people are teleporting back and forth because Jane has ‘discovered' how to move their souls from one place to another. The intrusion of such psychotic ideas introduced at the last minute (as a cheap plot device, just when everything seems hopeless), ruins the simplicity of the first two novels that was already deteriorating by the third.
All of this might be acceptable had Card the literary agility to carry everything through naturally. Unfortunately, his writing seems to have gotten clumsier over the course of these four books. The conversations, which were once sharp and to the point, have become artificial and heavy-handed. To sum it up, Children of the Mind is a novel that collapses under the weight of its own self-importance. I hope that Ender's Shadow won't be as disappointing.
Review author unknown