Shadow of the Hegemon
Orson Scott Card
Tor , 2001. Hardcover:
Suggested retail price: $25.95 (US)
By way of full disclosure, I've read eleven of Orson Scott Card'snovels, including all books in the "Ender" series. Eleven booksaccounts for about one-third of the novels he has written, which Isuppose marks me as a definite fan, but not one fanatical enough tohave read everything yet.
Not only have I enjoyed the other books in the "Ender" seriesimmensely, these books have truly changed me in identifiable,positive ways. My first reading of Ender's Game as a youngperson had an indelible effect on me, and a recent re-reading of itmoved me in different, but equally powerful ways. Speaker for theDead; Xenocide and Children of the Mind are verydifferent from Ender's Game, but also very wonderful. I lovedEnder's Shadow and felt emotionally caught up in Bean's story.
So, when I say that I liked Shadow of the Hegemon the least ofthe six (so far) books in this series, I'm not saying it's a badbook. It's an excellent novel, and I think nothing less of Card forhaving written it. I enjoyed reading it, could hardly put it downexcept for the demands of work, family, etc. But it just didn't havethat much impact on me.
Most people reading this already know what happened inEnder's Game and Ender's Shadow. If you don't, Istrongly suggest you read those two books before reading Shadow ofthe Hegemon. You can enjoy this novel on it's own, but yourexperience will be greatly enhanced having read the background eventsin those books. Actually, just reading Ender's Shadow isprobably enough, because it tells the story of Bean, who is the maincharacter in Hegemon, but I don't think anyone shouldmiss out on reading Ender's Game. (Speaker for the Dead;Xenocide and Children of the Mind are completelyunrelated to the events in Shadow of the Hegemon.)
Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, the two parallel booksthat take place immediately before Shadow of the Hegemon, tellof a not-so-distant future in which insect-like aliens have alreadyattacked Earth twice. Each time they were narrowly deflected by Earthdefenses. Seventy years after the first attack, Earth has acquiredstarship technology from the defeated alien ships which it hopes willallow them to survive an expected third attack by the alien race. Tofly Earth's fighters and lead battles, the International Fleet (I.F.)recruits and trains children from around the world who exhibit thebrightest intellects and greatest potential for military leadership.Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow detail the childhood andBattle School training of Ender and Bean (Ender's right-hand man) andend at the end of the war with the aliens.
With the end of the alien threat, the nations of the Earth returnimmediately to the conflicts they had been engaged in before beingunited by a common enemy. Ender has left Earth permanently, becoming acolonist on a planet previously inhabited by the aliens. The otherBattle School graduates who led Earth's forces to victory return toEarth immensely popular because of their role in saving humanity. Theyare still only young teenagers, yet they are the greatest,best-trained military minds on the planet. And in the opening chaptersof Shadow of the Hegemon, they find themselves kidnapped to beused as pawns by nations in an sophisticated campaign of internationalconquest.
Among the kidnapped Battle Schoolers is Petra Arkanian, an Armeniantomboy who was the first older student that befriended Ender andrecognized his innate skill for military tactics. Petra is one of themain characters in the novel, second in importance only to Bean, herformer classmate. Bean was the only student from Ender's final commandstaff who was not kidnapped. This is because the oneresponsible for the kidnappings is Achilles, Bean's nemesis frombefore he went to Battle School. Achilles' hatred for Bean promptedhim to bomb the home where Bean and his family were staying ratherthan trying to kidnap him, and Bean narrowly escaped theseassassination attempts.
The novel follows Bean as he attempts to stay alive despite Achilles'attempts to kill him, while at the same time trying to rescue hisfriends from being held captive and forced to develop battlestrategies for Achilles. Bean enlists the help of Peter Wiggin, who isEnder's older brother and, unknown to all but Bean and a few highlyplaced I.F. leaders, Locke, the highly-respected political commentatorwhose columns are widely read on the worldwide Net. Peter, as Locke,has carved out enormous influence on the world scene, and now desiresto become the Hegemon, an office roughly analogous to head of theUnited Nations. But Peter wants to imbue the office with real powerand use it to unite the world permanently and reshape it as hedesires. With Peter's assistance, Bean is granted a highly placedposition in the Thai military, and from there he attempts to preventAchilles from taking over the world by manipulating various countries(including India, Pakistan, and China) into waging war against eachother.
Shadow of the Hegemon is a masterpiece of military andpolitical strategy. The strategic, political and psychologicalmaneuvering displayed by the book's main characters Bean, Peter,Achilles and Petra are breathtakingly ingenious. But the characters,ideas and other emotionally potent content that made the other booksso unforgettable get short shrift here. I found myself impressed bythe intellect of the author and his characters, but I didn't reallyconnect with them.
After all the strategy, what time was left over for the characters wassplit between fairly evenly between three different characters (Bean,Achilles, and Petra), with considerable attention given to Peter,Sister Carlotta and Suriyawong as well. So, while main characters suchas Ender and Bean (or Wang Mu) were no less brilliant in the othernovels, it was easier to care about them and relate to them becausethe novels stayed closer to their stories and revealed more of whatmade them tick.
I believe there will be many people for whom Shadow of theHegemon is a favorite in the series. These are people who areenthusiastic fans of military/political fiction. There are probablymany people who will like this volume better than the heavilyphilosophical Xenocide and Children of the Mind. So Imay not be the "perfect reader" for Hegemon: I have nothingagainst military and political strategy as literary subjects, but nordo I have a particular interest in these topics.
Although I found it less compelling than its predecessors, Shadowof the Hegemon was nevertheless full of highlights for me. Bean'scharacter experienced relatively little development, but Petra reallycame alive. Hers was the best-written character in the novel, full ofbelievable complexity as she faced the novel's most mentally andpsychologically demanding situations. Petra's scene with an ill-fatedRussian psychologist, in which she gains the upper hand by dismantlinghis profession is particularly enjoyable. This is a worthy addition toscience fiction's long tradition of dismissing Freudianism and relatedpseudo-sciences. (Calling him a witch doctor is one of Petra's manydelightful observations.) The scene in which Achilles and Petra faceoff against each other in a depressurized airplane was thrilling andcinematic, and was one of the most memorable individual scenes I'veread in a Card novel.
Hegemon is also notable for its extended use of Thai charactersand Thailand as a setting. Having lived in Thailand, I thought Card'sportrayal of this land and its people was very accurate and alwaysinteresting. I would love to see Card return to this distinctiveculture, perhaps in a historical novel or alternative history.
Finally, one of my favorite aspects of this novel was the brief butilluminating scenes with Ender's parents, particularly his mother. Theethnic/religious background of this character is only mentioned inpassing in other books in the series. But this woman's strength andbeliefs are very apparent here during her conversation withBean. Shadow of the Hegemon clears up many questions lingeringfrom previous books, such as the nature of the repression experiencedby Ender's family, and how two apparently witless parents could havebeen the parents of three genius children. (Hint: The parents ofEnder, Peter, and Valentine aren't as witless as their children mayhave thought.)
One thing you can definitely say about Shadow of the Hegemon,it's very different from the other books in the series, and verydifferent from anything Card has written before. This book is anall-out, Earth-bound military-and-political strategy novel. The novelseems like something Card has wanted to write for a long time: a novelabout how to take over the world. In the book's afterword Carddescribes how as a child he would spend long hours with a globecontemplating just this topic. (Well, who doesn't?) Shadow of theHegemon is Card's wish-fulfillment.
I found the process by which Achilles gained power and re-drew theworld map absolutely fascinating. Also, the novel relieved me, atleast temporarily, of an inexplicably disappointing notion I'd hadthat the era of conquest was over and done with in the modernworld. Card's novel made me believe that a bold campaign of conquest,reminiscent of Alexander or Napoleon, could happen even in moderntimes. Yet, the whole exercise left me, as a reader, feelingemotionally empty. Maybe that just means taking over the worldwouldn't really make me happy.
© 2002 Preston Hunter