Reviewed by Ron Huber & Paul Cole.
There are some novels so good, so well written, by such universal acclaim, that the authors should be barred from publishing sequels. Just as with great lithographic etchings, the stone is broken after but a few uses, lest increasingly blurred and imperfect additional versions arise, so it should be with great works of literature.
Such a murky scan is A War of Gifts. This brief tale by Orson Scott Card is set somewhat precariously in the early stages of his magnificent novel Ender's Game, and deals with the warping, then rewarping of protagonist child soldier/refusnik Zeck Morgan's mind, which, having first been twisted into alienated pacifism by the sermonizing and physical abuse (called 'purifying') wrought by his father, a self-ordained fundamentalist preacher, is then reshaped by Ender-to-be Andrew Wiggin who, in several several cameo appearances, overpowers Zeck with superior logic and Christ-like verve, lancing his boil of pacifist righteousness and bringing Zeck into the killing fold.
There are internal perturbations within this short (126 half-sized pages) text, that will disturb Card-ophiles, that suggest A War of Gifts may have started life as a stillborn sequence of Ender's Game, one that, for any of a number of reasons, has resurrected from the cutting room floor 22 years later.
There are anachronisms. Andrew Wiggin didn't receive his nom de guerre Ender until rather later in Ender's Game than the time period described in AWOG. Would his mum really have called him Ender and not Andrew or, dare we say, Andy, during the rather testy exchange between she and her co-wiz kid son Peter that takes place once Andrew is aboard the Battle School? What prescience! She wouldn't hear from him for years; how'd she get his jeesh tag? The otherwise unmemorable sequence does its duty, however, as a let's-fill-in-the-blanks vehicle for AWOG readers unfamilar with Ender's Game.
Certainly by the Battle School standards of Ender's Game, Zeck's utter refusal to cooperate with his military trainers, coupled with his willingness to 'rat out' his fellow students, should have speedily had him washed out and planetside a third of the way through AWOG.
Despite these whoopsies, and the brevity of the book, and the annoying one dimensionality of most of A War of Gifts' characters, and the feel of it being a thrown-together-for-Christmas product, that combined make AWOG a sort of throw-away book, it is nevertheless charming to revisit Ender, Peter, Valentine, Ma and Pa Wiggin, the imperturbable Colonel Graff and the gang aboard the good ship Battle School, to get an exposition on the Dutch origins of Santa Claus, and to read Card's depiction of the repressed rage and sexuality of neo-primitivist Christianity, of a form found in the Carolina mountains.
Spiced with a dash of militarism-uber-alles preachery to make the book attractive to that vast readership of American enlisted men and women who voraciously consume sci-fi during the interminable waits in the hurry-up-and-wait life of active duty personnell, or while recuperating in veterans' hospitals,
It is interesting that for all the warring and wargamery of their books, Orson Scott Card, like Robert A. Heinlein, never served upon a battlefield. Card sensibly refrains from detailed war scenes; he is less cautious, though, with penning pro-miltarist rhetoric. Perhaps he should heed trench poet Wilfred Owen's warning to non-combatant warfare-fiction writers, that if they had actually taken part in combat:
"..... you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori."
Overall A War of Gifts is a charming but forgettable story that will add little to the Ender Series Canon, nor, likely, to its author's bank account.