A WAR OF GIFTS

by Orson Scott Card

Tor 

978-0-765-31282-2

128pp/$12.95/October 2007

A War if Gifts
Cover by John Harris

  Reviewed by Steven H Silver


In 1977, "Ender's Game" became Orson Scott Card's first published science fiction story. Card expanded it and published it as a novel in 1985. The book's popularity and acclaim, it won both the Hugo and the Nebula, led to several other novels being set in the same universe, either dealing directly with the main character of Ender Wiggin, or with support characters, such as the series dealing with Bean. At various times, Card has also released shorter works set in the universe, of which A War of Gifts is the most recently published in hardcover.

While the majority of the novella focuses on Zeck Morgan and his poor relations with the other characters at the Battle School, the second chapter looks at Peter Wiggin and his mother as the characters focus on Christmas without Ender at home. Eventually, Peterís actions do mirror what happens at the Battle School, but Card never directly ties Peterís activities in to the incident Zeck sets off at the  Battle School.

Coming from a puritanical background, Zeck bring a strong sense of pacifism to the Battle School. Even after a year at the school, he has refused to give in to threats, cajoling, or peer pressure and still honors the teachings of his father regarding Christianity and peace, although Battle School rules preclude him, or anyone else, openly practicing his religion.

With this, Card begins an all-too-brief examination of the crossing of religion and society.  When two of the Dutch students, Dink and Flip, celebrate Sinterklaas Day, Zeck complains that they are allowed to practice their religion while he is not.  This leads to a decision that there is a distinction between national cultures that espouse religious iconography and actual religion.  Unfortunately, Card doesnít fully pursue this question and when the Muslim students claim that since Islam is an integral part of their national culture, the argument is dismissed out of hand. Had Card allowed the Battle School administration to consider the argument, or not simply decide that aspects of Christmas worship are not religious, A War of Gifts could have been a much more interesting book.

Zeckís role in the situation, of course, cannot remain secret, and he finds himself shunned by his fellow students, a situation which causes him both misery and, apparently, gratification, as it helps fulfill a sense of martyrdom within him.  However, Card shows his young children to have not only understanding, but also empathy towards Zeck despite all his efforts to keep his comrades at armís length.

The ending, in which Ender the Messiah breaks the walls down and helps Zeck see what his life has been is a little too pat and easy.  One of the problems with the Ender novels (and the Bean novels) is that Card has created a world in which all of the characters are, to some extent, super-human, as evidenced by Zeckís eidetic memory.  Although Card has created a convincing rationale for having all these super-humans together, it still is jarring when a new child is introduced into the mix.

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