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A War of Gifts
Orson Scott Card
Tor, 128 pages

A War of Gifts
Orson Scott Card
Born in Richland, Washington, Orson Scott Card grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He lived in Brazil for two years as an unpaid Mormon Church missionary, and received degrees from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine, and five children.

In an unprecedented fashion, Card won the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel two years in a row for Ender's Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, in 1986 and 1987.

Orson Scott Card Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Space Boy
SF Site Review: Shadow of the Giant
SF Site Review: The Crystal City
SF Site Review: Wyrms
SF Site Review: Songmaster
SF Site Review: Ender's Shadow
SF Site Review: Ender's Shadow
SF Site Review: Enchantment
SF Site Review: Heartfire
SF Site Review: Homebody

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

A War of Gifts is a short novella set in Orson Scott Card's Ender universe during the time that Ender was at the Battle School and before he became Ender the Xenocide. Although Ender appears and plays a pivotal role, the focus of the story is on Zeck Morgan, the Battle School's only pacifist. Zeck sees himself as a victim and a martyr, and in A War of Gifts he tries to avenge his perceived persecution on the others students.

Zeck comes from a puritanical religious sect which is not only pacifist, but also turns its back on many of the traditions that have accumulated around Christianity. At the Battle School, the administration has made it clear that no religious practices would be tolerated. Although this didn't sit well with Zeck, he was able to rebel with his own brand of passive resistance, which made him unique and an outcast among those who should have been his peers.

Although he has separated himself from them, Zeck looks upon them with a mixture of pity and loathing and the situation comes to a head when two Dutch boys, Dink Meeker and Flip Rietvald, observe their traditional Sinterklaas Day ritual. This leads to a showdown among the students, the administration, and Zeck which raises several interesting points, many of which Card fails to fully explore.

In the course of the story, claims are made that celebrations like Sinterklaas Day are completely divorced from either religious practice or national traditions, either of which would make them anathema at the Battle School. This claim, made by Colonel Graff to Zeck permits the administration to turn a blind eye to the little rebellion the students are fomenting. However, when the Muslim students take umbrage, rather than reassess the situation, the administration stands by its claim, leading to an escalation when Muslim students claim that praying towards Mecca, or the sun while in orbit, is as cultural for them as celebrating Christmas is.

Within the confines of the story, Zeck and the Muslim students are the only ones who question the administration's decision and Zeck is marginalized while the Muslims are dealt with summarily. Even after the Muslim revolt is handled, the Christian students and administration don't reconsider their point of view, weakening the story and giving it a feel more of auctorial polemic rather than a reasoned consideration of the issues raised.

Card's focus in the book also wanders a little. Although mostly looking at Zeck and his actions, there is an early chapter looking at Ender's brother, Peter, which seems out of place and mostly unrelated. This chapter doesn't add anything to the rest of the tale and in fact detracts from it as the reader keeps wondering when Card is going to refer back to it. Ender's own role in the book, while pivotal, could have been given to any of a number of other characters. By including him Card continues to build him up as an almost messianic character.

A War of Gifts raises several interesting questions about culture and the traditions and mores which are part of it. Unfortunately, Card fails to fully address the issues he raises, instead appearing to simply posit one point of view and dismiss any ideas which might be in conflict.

Copyright © 2008 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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