Shadow Puppets by Orson Scott Card
Published August 19, 2002

The story so far....

After a twelve-year-old Ender Wiggin and his fellow Battle School students destroyed the homeworld of the Buggers, he left the solar system and the rest of the students returned to their families on Earth. Two of those students, Bean and Petra Arkanian, have earned the special attention of a Battle School washout named Achilles. After selling his intellectual services to conquest-hungry Russia, Achilles kidnapped Petra and tried to assassinate Bean. Once Russia found out Achilles was a serial murderer, he left for India to offer his services there. What India didn't know was that he was double-crossing them to win the favor and employment of China. Bean--with the help of a fellow Battle School alumnus in Thailand--pursued Achilles into India and forced him to surrender Petra in exchange for his life in the service of China.

While all this was going on, Peter Wiggin, Ender's older brother, revealed himself as the teenage face of the virtual political commentators Locke and Demosthenes. The global crisis going on in Asia had upset the balance of power in the world government so badly that the position of the Hegemon was considered a joke. Thus there was little opposition when Peter's name was seriously nominated for the title. At the start of the novel the young Hegemon is the world leader of a government with almost no members, based within the borders of Brazil. Bean, Petra and a small but effective military force borrowed from Thailand live there with him to assist his campaign to create a new world government.

After pursuing several small-scale political and military objectives related to his office, Peter has the dubious idea of abducting Achilles from a military transport inside China. His logic follows the adage "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer," but the action drives Bean and Petra from his side.

They travel together, remaining in hiding rather than risking discovery by Achilles. Love blossoms, marriage is suggested, but Bean is reluctant to do any such thing so long as his genetic alterations--superhuman intelligence coupled with a shortened lifespan--might be inherited. So they seek out the geneticist who created Bean in the first place and ask him to create embryos in vitro who won't have Bean's genetic quirks. All well and good, except that Achilles found the geneticist first....

As if this wasn't all bad enough, Achilles co-opts the office of the Hegemon right out from under Peter, the Muslim nations of Asia have united, India is fighting back against their Chinese occupiers, and Russia's getting ideas all over again. If Peter and Bean both expect to be able to live out the rest of their lives, let alone their ambitions, Achilles will have to be dealt with once and for all.

Like Shadow of the Hegemon before it, this book is more about political and military actions in the near future than the science fiction premise that initiated it. In Card's post-Bugger world, the United States is sitting on its easy chair while its economic partner, China, carries out its long-surpressed ambitions of conquest. The newly united "nation of Islam" comprises a third major power in Asia, along with China and Russia, and whichever one of them dominates India commands more than half the world's population.

It's interesting to observe that in addition to Orson Scott Card's predilection for using intelligent teenagers as protagonists, he also likes to have them remain virgins up until they marry, which is always as teenagers or very young adults, and subsequently have about five children. Doubtless it emerges from the fact that Card is an actively religious member of the Mormon church. That being the case, I'm doubly pleased that he's not heavy-handed about any of it--in fact, the only Mormon in the "Ender" or "Shadow" books is Peter Wiggin's mother, and it's only mentioned a few times in passing. Ender's an agnostic, as is Bean, while the other characters are generally members of whatever religion exists where they live.

Far more important to Card than an individual's religion or morals, it seems, is their nationality. Almost every character is a solid product of where he or she grew up. In Bean's case, that happens to be in a child gang on the streets of Rotterdam, but most other characters are typical--some might say stereotypical--citizens of the the countries and regions where they live. In the "Shadow" quartet, Card explains this by having Bean speculate that the Battle School children never had much of a childhood at home, and now that they're back on Earth they're making up for lost time through radical nationalism. Still, it seems that in a nature vs. nurture debate, Card would fall solidly on the side of nurture.

This book is preceded by Ender's Shadow and Shadow of the Hegemon and followed by Shadow of the Giant.

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