"CHILDREN OF THE FLEET," by Orson Scott Card, Tor Books, $25.99, 304 pages (f)
Dabeet Ochoa is a loner, brilliant, arrogant, self-assured and self-contained, whose sole objective is to be accepted into the International Fleet, specifically into Fleet School, partly to escape his mother’s overwhelming attentions and partly because he believes it's his due for being brilliant.
He is also only 10 years old.
Through his machinations and the influence of unseen manipulators — enter Hiram Graff, Minister of Colonization — he is accepted, but under circumstances that make him potentially as much a spy and a traitor as an Earth-born child thrown in among older children born and raised in the zero-gee of space. An outsider, almost an outcast, he must resolve problem after problem to save his mother’s life — and the lives of everyone at Fleet School.
There is much in "Children of the Fleet," the first of a new series called Fleet School, to echo Orson Scott Card's 1985 sci-fi best-seller "Ender’s Game." Card has returned to the landscape of the earlier novel, not to revisit it through new perspectives, as he did through Bean’s in "Ender’s Shadow"(1999), but to follow the fortunes, as it were, of Battle School itself, now that the Formic threat is apparently over.
Refitted to train commanders for exploration teams, Fleet School remains a repository for the brightest children of the Fleet whose parents have chosen to live off-Earth. Much is familiar, but subtly altered, particularly the Battle Room. As it did in the earlier novels, however, it serves as a testing ground and proving ground for the characters’ developing sense of leadership and unity and for Dabeet’s developing sense of what it is to be fully connected to humanity.
References to and cameos by other characters from the Enderverse consistently remind readers that they are immersed in a culture of oppositions: individual versus community, adults versus children, appearance versus reality (what might in our political climate be considered “alternative facts”). Mazar Rackham, Achilles, Bean, Ender all make appearances, in one form or another, and each plays an important part in unraveling the intertwined threats to Dabeet and to Fleet School.
Readers hoping to experience the emotional power of "Ender’s Game" again, as if for the first time, will find "Children of the Fleet" satisfying, for the simple reason that the universe Card has created through the multiple series of related novels demands certain skills from its characters, and those are illustrated best through the mindset of the brilliant child, one for whom every problem presents multiple possibilities, many unimaginable by the adult mind. For that reason, adults are to be distrusted — a lesson stated outright in the opening pages of "Ender's Game" and reiterated in "Children of the Fleet." Commanders, whether of battleships or of colonizing forces, must be capable of independent thought and independent responsibility and simultaneously draw upon the creativity and loyalty — if bought love — of subordinates.
While the fate of humanity before the military might of the Formics is not at stake, the fate of Fleet School is, as is the fate of one small boy and his mother.
And that is sufficient.
Content advisory: "Children of the Fleet" contains mild language and violence.
Michael R. Collings is a professor emeritus at Pepperdine University and active in writing and writing about science fiction, fantasy and horror. His email is [email protected].