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Card's "First Meetings" - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Card's "First Meetings"
Book review in a sec, but to address the Remus meme from yesterday, I noticed a lot of people on my f-list getting "practically perfect Remus," so I went back. Tweaking only two answers netted that for me as well. I think that shows a shockingly low level of expectation for what constitutes "perfection." I have much more demanding standards of perfect people. :p

Anyway, we got in a new Orson Scott Card book yesterday, and I took it out. I was a bit leary--the last few Alvins haven't exactly kept me glued to the page and the Shadow series... well, not thrilled with it. But three new Enderverse stories--I couldn't resist.

Now, this collection is classic Card. Yes, he focuses on scarily bright people, but that's okay. I like scarily bright people. The stories in First Meetings have the old mix of characterization and ideas that I liked so much in Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead--no talk about mutations in the human race or genetic manipulation (except on a very crude level), just people who are naturally very bright dealing with the consequences of their intelligence.

The original novella for Ender's Game is included, but I actually ignored that; I've read it before and strongly prefer the novel. The three new stories are "The Polish Boy," which tells the story of how five-year-old John Paul Wiggin came to the attention of the International Fleet, "Teacher's Pest," which tells how, as a college student, he meets his future wife, Theresa Brown, and "Investment Counsellor," in which twenty-year-old Ender meets his friend Jane. (I should note, this is the first time I liked Jane.)

"The Polish Boy" shows Card's third little prodigy (the others being Ender and Bean) and takes a different tack from either of the others, even though they are gifted in similar ways. Where Ender was introspective and morally concerned and Bean was survival oriented and tough, John Paul is excessively curious and determined to protect his huge family as well as he can. He's moral in that way, but also as manipulative as Peter or Valentine. He manipulates the IF into giving him what he wants, and won't tolerate being looked down on by an arrogant officer. The best thing about this story is that it actually gives a rationale for the aspect of Ender's Game that's always troubled people--why in the world did they use children? Graff is given a voice in this story, and refers to research that's been done in a longitudinal study about drop-offs in ability after puberty. It may not be true, but it's at least sensible.

The fault in "The Polish Boy" is the same as the fault in a lot of Card's stories--the dialogue, even for a hyperbright child, isn't entirely believable. Dialogue has never been his strong-suit, though, so this doesn't bother me much. The behavior of little John Paul is what rings true to me--the frustration with the slow pace of schooling, the reading of everything he get his hands on, and--my favorite--his puzzlement at the concept of "reading levels." After all, he says, once you know the letters, isn't reading just reading? A boy after my own heart. I'm always at a loss when someone asks me for something on "an eighth grade reading level." What the hell? Who's your eighth grader and what's she interested in? That's the right book for her.

Er, minor distraction.

"Teacher's Pest" is the best of the three new stories, a very intelligent romance (the steamiest part, I should warn smut fans, is a "childlike kiss" on the lips). Theresa, the daughter of a military strategist, and the now college-age John Paul do engage in flirtation and courting (he camps out outside her office, ordering food at intervals so that any time she chooses to come out, he'll have something warm and comforting for her), but the core of the story is their intellectual intercourse. The subject is nominally her course on "Human Community," but of course ranges the entire political set-up of the world, various conspiracy theories, ethical questions, and personal philosophy. These two characters make sense together because they are able to have an actual, full-fledged conversation. John Paul comments that they make one another more intelligent (which, he says, is terrifying, since they're both so bright individually... he is quite arrogant about his intelligence, but it's not unfounded). And while they do recognize that this meeting may be part of a plan--"someone's idea of eugenics," Theresa calls it--they also believe that they can turn it around to their own plan. It's a just a good story, with the kind of quirky, bright characters I always liked in Card.

"Investment Counsellor" is more of a standard story, but a reasonably good one, as the artificial intelligence being, Jane, introduces herself to Ender as, essentially, a spam ad for financial services, the first area of intellectual endeavor which Ender finds himself totally unable to function (a good tic for the character, who tends toward the perfect sometimes).

At any rate, for people who liked Ender's Game but have been a bit hesitant lately, First Meetings is vintage Card at the top of his game. I'm very glad I picked it up.

1 comment or Leave a comment
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: May 18th, 2004 06:28 am (UTC) (Link)

I've read the Jane story

You're right, it's a story worthy of OSC.

Thanks for the heads up, I'll reserve my copy now at the library.

1 comment or Leave a comment