The war is over.
Shall we play at war, or peace?
Children shall choose which.
Dabeet Ochoa is born too late to get invited to fleet battle school and train to become a commander, and too soon to join a fleet colonization program. He is coming of age at a time when kids who have command potential are being killed or taken hostage by countries that have all too quickly forgotten the lessons that having a unifying enemy taught humanity. He could have fallen through the cracks entirely, growing up as just one more kid with good genes attending the gifted program at a public school, but Dabeet wants Fleet School, even if it is no longer producing commanders for the Formic wars. To get there he first has to apply, which he does by forging his mother’s name on the application forms he fills out himself; then he has to pass the hidden tests in an interview with Commander Hyrum Graff; and those are just the easy first steps. Surviving a politically motivated kidnapping comes next. By the time Dabeet reaches Fleet School, formerly the Battle School where Ender Wiggins and Bean rose to ascendancy, he is already trying to think like a leader, assessing his own weaknesses as well as the weaknesses of every adult he meets, and every classmate as well. He knows he is being scrutinized and he’s scrutinizing right back.
There is the significant mystery of Dabeet’s parentage, and the question of who knows the truth of it and why they aren’t telling him. Dabeet keeps his own counsel on that question, knowing that any show of weakness will only be a string that others will use to manipulate him, and if there is one thing Dabeet wants more than anything else, it is to be the puppet master, not the puppet. Fairly quickly, however, Dabeet realizes that being a puppet master cannot be his goal, because the Fleet doesn’t need masters, it needs leaders who can cooperate and inspire and build, through friendships, the social orders that accomplish more than dictatorships contrive. And so he adapts. Chapter 7 is the wonderful, pivotal chapter in Dabeet’s evolution.
I get the sense that Orson Scott Card put a lot of himself in the character of Dabeet, who feels somehow more personal than Ender. At the same time, as a protagonist, Dabeet is a radical departure for Card. Instead of being a fair haired boy like Ender or The Songbird, Dabeet is part Amerind, and the ambiguities of that heritage are front and center for a good part of the story.
This is quite possibly the best work Card has ever done, certainly the best sequel to Ender’s Game, if that is hands-down your favorite Card novel. Children of the Fleet follows a similar trajectory of accomplishments, but without the shard-edge of tragedy that qualified Ender’s Game. Card has traded in the bathos for clear-minded courage. Card’s distinctive themes find their way into this novel also: religious parable, music, problem solving, veiled destiny, and service to higher powers, both temporal and spiritual. An intellectually and emotionally stimulating novel, with a taut plot and well-spaced reveals, Children of the Fleet is well worth reading. ~~ Chris Wozney
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