Saturday, January 28, 2012

Battle of the Books, Winter 2012, Second Round :: Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card vs. Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Shadows in FlightSisterhood of Dune
The second round of the Winter 2012 Battle of the Books continues with Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card against Sisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Which book will I most want to continue reading after finishing 50 pages?

Shadows in Flight: Tor hardcover, January 2012, 237 pages, cover art by John Harris / Macmillan audio, 7 hours, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki and cast. Shadows in Flight reached the second round by defeating Gamers by Thomas K. Carpenter in the first round. Shadows in Flight is the latest installment of the Ender universe, following Bean as an adult. Bean's runaway growth continues and he has not much longer to live. He and his similarly afflicted genius children have taken a long journey through space in hopes that, with the time dilation, a cure will be found on Earth. But no luck so far.

Sisterhood of Dune: Tor hardcover, January 2012, 496 pages, cover art by Steve Stone. Sisterhood of Dune got here by its first round win over Jane Carver of Waar by Nathan Long. Sisterhood of Dune is the latest volume in the Dune universe, by Frank Herbert's son Brian and the prolific Kevin J. Anderson. This one is set after the other Dune prequels but before Dune itself, in the period when groups like the Bene Gesserit, the Mentats, and the Spacing Guild were emerging as key forces in the galaxy.

The Battle: This is a contest between the umpteenth volumes in the long-running series that began with the classic novels Dune and Ender's Game. This battle will come down to which of their sequels best gets me interested in the story of this new book.

Shadows in Flight certainly has a new and interesting storyline. Bean and his three gifted children have not received a cure to their condition from Earth as they hoped. Bean will not survive much longer, and these stressful circumstances have generated a terrible sibling rivalry among Bean's two sons, Ender and Sergeant. The book opens with Sergeant planning to kill Bean, as a raw display of power. Ender prevents this by beating Sergeant to within an inch of his life.

This is reminiscent of how the original Ender killed two of his young rivals in Ender's Game, and I find it alarming that Card has returned to this pattern, this time with Bean expressing obvious approval of the new Ender's attack. Can these amazingly brilliant people really find no better way to resolve disputes than to beat each other senseless? (Incidentally, I am old-school enough that I have no problem with standing up to a bully with a punch in the nose; it's beating him to death or nearly to death that troubles me.) Orson Scott Card is an outspoken fan of Isaac Asimov, but Asimov would not have approved -- "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," he believed.

Still, the family dynamics make for an interesting narrative, and there is an effective scene where we get some insight into the psychology behind Sergeant's aggressive behavior. Add to that a nice level of detail about how life is sustained on this spaceship for years at a time, and you have a book that seems well worth reading on its own merits, regardless of the prior volumes in the series.

The first 25 pages of Sisterhood of Dune also felt fresh to me. I particularly enjoyed the chapter from the point of view of Raquella Berto-Anirul, founder of the Bene Gesserit. Unfortunately, through the next 25 pages, she has only been onstage for one brief scene, while the other sections have bogged down a bit. There are several lengthy infodumps of Dune universe backstory, most of which reads like entries from The Dune Encyclopedia. The Dune universe is so rich and fascinating, there is nothing wrong with filling in details and gaps in the chronology, and I recommend Sisterhood of Dune to devoted Dune fans. But I find it easier to put down than Shadows in Flight.


Shadows in Flight advances to the semifinals, to face Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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