Revisiting Orson Scott Card's Children of the Mind

Orson Scott Card’s Ender Saga may be one of the most varied book series written to date. The first in the series, Ender’s Game, is a young-adult novel, while its sequel, Speaker of the Dead, explores a mixture of more adult-driven hard sci-fi and philosophical fiction. These two books are some of Card’s most praised works, a duo which made him the only author to ever win the Nebula award two years in a row—for two books in the same series, nonetheless. I found their praise well-deserved, and when I picked up the third entry in the Ender Saga, Xenocide, I couldn’t help but notice the cover celebrated that it was a nominee for the Nebula. “Why not a winner?” I wondered.
Children of the Mind, the fourth entry in the Ender Saga, almost exclusively deals with the characters introduced in the deus ex machina ending of Xenocide, and readers who found it difficult to suspend belief for Xenocide’s ending may have trouble getting through Children of the Mind’s beginning. The story mostly follows Peter and Young Valentine, childhood versions of Ender’s siblings pulled from his mind and manifested in human form. This was brought about by Jane—a supercomputer who possesses an aiúa, Card’s version of the soul—discovering that everything in the universe is connected by philotes, the most basic form of matter. Jane then discovers how to harness the energy of philotes in order to achieve faster-than-light travel, and in doing so takes Ender outside the universe, where his thoughts are accidentally turned into creations: Peter and Young Valentine.
The story of Children of the Mind revolves around the fictional planet of Lusitania, where the previous two entries of the series took place. Enraged that Lusitania has disobeyed galactic law—by refusing to turn over its citizens who are guilty of interfering with the planet’s native species—the Starways Congress then learns that anyone who leaves the planet could spread a deadly infection to the rest of the human race. In order to protect the rest of humankind from potential extinction, the congress orders the complete and total destruction of Lusitania by the Molecular Disruption Device, the same weapon Ender used to commit xenocide against his enemies in the first book of the series. This is a common theme throughout the book, the sins of Ender’s past coming back to haunt him, his friends and family facing the same total destruction he dealt the buggers as a child.
In an attempt to save Lusitania from destruction, Peter travels the galaxy—making use of Jane’s ability to instantaneously move him from planet to planet—trying to find a way to convince Starways Congress to abandon its plan. He is accompanied by Wang-Mu, a character from the previous book, and with further help from Jane, they deduce that much of the Starways Congress’s motivation to destroy Lusitania stems from a minority of its Japanese members. Their beliefs are influenced by a remote philosopher’s interpretation of human history, in which global events are depicted as the struggle between edge nations and center nations. The philosopher believes Japan is an edge nation, always fighting for its place in the world and struggling to preserve its culture, while nations like China and Egypt are center nations, whose cultures seem to swallow up even their invaders. The philosopher interprets the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as Japan’s punishment from the gods for seeking to spread an empire and trying to imitate the center nations of the world. He compares these bombings to Ender’s destruction of the buggers, and believes Lusitania is guilty of the same crimes. Therefore, because Lusitania has overstepped its bounds—like the buggers and Japan once did—it must be obliterated so that the natural hierarchy of edge and center nations can be preserved.
Another part of the book focuses on Young Valentine’s search for the civilization that may have created the pequinnos, the native species of Lusitania. One of the more interesting scenes in the book depicts Young Valentine and her companion, Miro, having an argument over their feelings for one another. Young Valentine is Ender in essence, as she is made from part of his aiúa, and therefore Miro’s love for her is really a love for Ender. Card uses this scene to raise the questions of whether or not the soul is gendered. The question provides amusing food-for-thought in itself, but it also provides additional perspective for the debate between dualism and monism. After all, if the soul is immaterial and independent of the body, then romantic love should be possible from one individual towards any other, regardless of gender. In a way, the existence of sexual orientation and preference is evidence for a set of limits to the soul, as love—a communication from soul to soul in the immaterialist view of the world—is dictated by materialist agents, such as what hormones are produced in the mind.
However, it is evident that Card doesn’t share this interpretation, as he argues against a materialist interpretation of reality throughout the book—and his solution to faster-than-light travel certainly demonstrates his belief in things outside the realm of nature. Yet, the question of what dictates a person’s choices is one his characters struggle with throughout the book. As they overcome their challenges and face more hardships than most human beings could handle, they constantly question to what end they are controlled by their nature or their nurture—and whether or not the will of their aiúa has any influence on their decisions at all.

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