Seeds of Ambition

I recently finished the epic task of reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender series and the parallel Shadow series, which in total comprise eight books. Well, not exactly. Although there are two more in the latter series, Shadow of the Giant brings closure rather nicely, so I thought I would post my thoughts on my experience so far.

Reading the books was satisfying in a number of ways:

  • There are so many main characters that it was refreshing every time the focus shifted to another scenario. Instead of the plot being long and drawn out, it progresses rapidly, only there’s so much plot that it takes eight books to cover.
  • Card weaves humor into the story in a skillful way and in moderation, throwing the characters into greater relief.
  • I also enjoyed the foray into philosophy, both by the voice of the narrator as well as the bantering among the characters. Though I disagree with the characters’ premises, I do enjoy following the logic.
  • I enjoyed the tie-in of future world affairs with history. In fact, Card made history so interesting that I purchased multiple books on Alexander the Great. Card seemed to grasp the soul of different nations as he projected their policies and frame of mind centuries into the future. In short, the setting of the story was intellectually stimulating.
  • As new plot lines open, others are tied up, so that there’s not too much going on at once. The continual development of different plot lines prevent the story from stagnating. In fact, it’s why I often enjoy the first movie in a series the most (Bourne, X-men, and The Matrix): story development introduces new characters and concepts and builds up anticipation, which is sometimes more satisfying than the actual climax.

While many found the first book Ender’s Game to be a classic sci-fi adventure, his other books did not seem to garner as much attention. The later books in the Ender series were definitely more philosophical, and the target audience was an older crowd, and so perhaps they commanded less readership, though I found them to be just as interesting. As for the Shadow series, I’m not sure how popular they are, but they continue the adventure aspect of Ender’s Game. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the adventure that attracted me, but rather, the development of the Ender Wiggin universe and the larger-than-life characters that populated it.

What I found to be particularly stimulating about the Shadow series was that Card leads the readers through the thought processes of these Battle School geniuses and made them believable even in the context of legendary wars and figures. I really appreciated gaining many valuable insights from just the way they thought.

I admire their intelligence—no, brilliance—and have little hope of being like them anytime in my life. But Card also presents the human side of them, and he makes it seem possible. The characters make me want to push harder, but in a way that is tempered by compassion and love, and goodness.

But ambition is also driven by selfishness, and that’s what makes it really difficult being ambitious and Christian. I’ve been thinking about and wrestling with it a lot lately. To get a better perspective, I am currently reading Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey, who starts off the book by reiterating the applicability of the gospel of Christ, which I really appreciate. But I also find it difficult to apply the concept of doing things for God’s glory. In what circumstances and with what attitudes would building and ruling an empire glorify God? Ultimately, He, His word, and His Kingdom are the only things that stand forever. How does ambition fit in? Perhaps I just have to finish reading the book.

But Card presents a solution that I had not considered: to build the empire, but then to relinquish it. It satisfies the inborn desire to create, but also ensures that a Christian does not lose sight of his eternal dwelling. Perhaps that is achievable by a mere mortal. By God’s grace, of course.