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November 18, 2010

New Column on ARWZ!

We are pleased to introduce our newest feature here on ARWZ: Unfinished Fiction.

Many of us reviewers here on ARWZ are fiction writers ourselves, and so we know that one of the necessities of good storytelling is to keep the readers' interest, to create a sense of urgency so that the reader feels driven to find out what happens next. 

Unfortunately, even this fundamental element of storytelling is difficult to achieve. Crafting a compelling story is the first challenge, of course, but the writer must also avoid pitfalls and roadblocks, ill-conceived storytelling decisions that get in the way of revealing the story to readers in a way that will inspire them to continue. Of course, some stories inspire certain people to read voraciously, while other readers just don't get the appeal. Oftentimes it is primarily a matter of taste whether we continue with a story or toss it back to the book pile unfinished.

Here at ARWZ, we pick up a lot of books in the course of our reading adventures, but not all of them make it to the website as review subjects. Some stories lose our interest or turn us off. It is, of course, not good policy for a writer to review a book that he or she hasn't finished reading, and yet, we find ourselves fascinated by the perils of fiction. What makes us stop reading a book? What confluence of circumstances results in our giving up on a book forevermore? 

Those are the questions this column seeks to answer. In this column, our regular reviewers will have license to tell you about what makes them stop reading. You will find out what books we attempted to read and why they lost our interest. We'll tell you which ones lost us right away, and which ones we put in an earnest effort to finish before finally giving up.

November 11, 2010

Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

CoverThere has always been a certain dichotomy in fans of the Ender series. There are those who favor the books that feature the characters as children, and those who prefer the books detailing the lives of the characters as adults. It seems I meet more of the former than the latter, but whatever camp you fall into, there is no denying that Ender in Exile attempts to fill in the gap between the two with a novel Card terms a "mid-quel."

In fact, this novel attempts, not only to unite the two parts of the Ender series, previously separated by the gulf of Ender's untold young adulthood, but also to draw the story of Bean, which plays out in the Shadow series, into the narrative of Ender's life. As one might expect, then, this novel is a story of loose ends, resulting in a somewhat meandering plot structure. It takes Ender from the battle school barracks after the war, to his appointment as governor of the first human colony where he finds the last hive queen, to a confrontation with Bean's misguided biological son. Of course, because of relativistic space travel, this novel takes Ender far enough forward in time to outlive his brother and parents (but not Valentine, who is along for the ride).

This novel is certainly entertaining the the fashion Card fans have learned to expect. It doesn't really form a cohesive story; it reads more like a telling of smaller episodes. The novel may have seemed more cohesive if Card had stuck to Ender's point of view. As it is, point of view characters include Ender's parents, a colony biologist, two Italian colonists, among others. These points of view are not consistently sprinkled throughout the story, and seem to pop in at Card's convenience. It's Card writing here, so these forays into new characters and story lines are well-written and interesting. As a result, though, I would say that this novel is most certainly pitched toward dedicated Card readers and wouldn't serve a new reader well, or even as a direct sequel to someone who has only read Ender. Most of the intrigue of these books relies upon a prior familiarity with Card's characters and story-lines.

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