Monday, November 2, 2009

And I'm Proud to be an American...

and so begins the great quest to prove literary endurance and prowess...

Book 01: "Shadow of the Hegemon" by Orson Scott Card

Hegemon continues the "Ender's Shadow" series, following Ender's right hand man, Bean, and the rest of Ender's jeesh as they return to Earth and must now deal with their new status as historical/military celebrities, as well as potential weapons.

If you didn't understand more than 1/3 of what I just wrote, I suggest you read "Ender's Game" first (also by Orson Scott Card). Trust me. You will NOT be disappointed.

In Hegemon, Card continues to do what he did so well in his first two Ender novels, which are creating and narrating deep, vivid characters with rich back stories, and keeping the anticipation and tension high throughout the entire story. However, that's not what I enjoyed most about Hegemon. The thing that interested me most was the heavy use of national identity throughout the book. The Battle School children came from around various countries around the world, training and uniting to defeat a common, non-human enemy that threatened Earth. However, upon returning back to Earth and to their respective homes, they are no longer just heroes of Earth. They're Thai or Indian or Belgian or Russian or Greek. They are national heroes and representatives of their home country, and most of them accept and believe in that identity.

Card amplifies these identities through a war between nations, with the children becoming military leaders, and so their national pride becomes a very important factor. It's that national pride that really struck home with me. Being a military service member currently serving overseas, of course there is some semblance of national pride within in me, and I'm even more conscious of it by being in a foreign country and surrounded by military men and women from a variety of other countries. We each wear our country's uniform and its colors, and that's great over here, but I know for certain that pride is not as easily seen back home (at least, I dont see it), and I think that's a little bit sad.

Card uses countries like India and Thailand and Pakistan and Russia and China, and all the characters from those countries are so proud of who they are and where they came from, which I admired, but I didn't get the same feeling when Card wrote about the United States. Basically, the United States was described as a country with no strong national identity, who's leaders were more concerned with economic ties and keeping the gravy train flowing than being a world presence. It felt like America was written off as being full of people who were more interested in their personal gain/wealth than what could be accomplished as a whole nation. Now, I don't think Card was on a soap box or anything like that (I usually steer clear of works like that; yes, Green Day, I'm talking about your last 2 albums), but I couldn't help but feel some truth in his fictional account of the United States. Gone are the days of apple pie and baseball and pride in the American flag and pride in each other (yes, all these things are here today, but only as themselves; not symbols of national unity); now it seems as if we're all just in it for ourselves. I mean, that IS the American way; personal freedom so that you can be who you want to be and voice whatever opinion you want to voice. I just wish the stereotype of our national identity today was more than just being ignorant, boastful consumers.

Overall, Hegemon plays with the ideas of nationalism and military history and military strategy very well, which has always been a strong point in Card's stories. Anyone with an ounce of interest in those subjects will obviously enjoy Hegemon. It's a well-written fictional story, and while I don't think Card necessarily meant to say anything specific with his allusions to the real world, I'm glad that the story did make me consider my own patriotism.

Next up: "Shadow Puppets" by Orson Scott Card

(YES, there are currently 2 more books in the series, and YES, I intend to finish this story)

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