Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card

Shadows in Flight (The Shadow Series)Summary: Bean and his three gifted children are flying through space searching for a cure and a home.

I am a pretty big Orson Scott Card fan.  I have read almost everything he has written, and he has written a lot over the last 35 or so years.

Any author that has written as much as Card has, has some uneven work.

The Shadow series, which is a complete series that is ancillary to the Ender series, has been particularly uneven.  I love the characters of Bean and Petra.  But the series as a whole has been far less satisfying than I would have liked.  There have been plenty of  books but they haven’t moved as much as I would have liked them too.

Shadows in Flight feels like a re-start to the series.  Bean has left earth with his children.  The story line that Card had to interact with because it covered ground that was mentioned in the Ender series is now over.  Bean is in his early 20s, his children are 6.  And Bean is near death.  He has grown to about 25 ft tall and can only live in the cargo hold.  His body is shutting down, but living at near zero G has helped him live a couple years past his life expectancy. He has tried, to the best of his ability, to raise his children well.  Preparing them for life without them.

The children of course are as gifted as Bean is.  They are brilliant far beyond their years, but they are still innocent, still children, and they do not know what they do not know.

I will not reveal the major plot point.  But it seems appropriate and is handled well.  And at the end of the book, I can see this going several books if Card has enough ideas.  This felt more like a young adult book than any of the rest of the series, in fact more than any other book except Ender’s Game.  I am not sure if that is because the main characters were 6 (albeit incredibly intelligent and gifted 6 year olds) or because of the length of the book.

What is a bit frustrating is that Card at the end of the book (I listened to it). He has a short section about how this book is just over half of the length of what his standard books are.  I am all for authors telling a story, and expanding a book to meet a length usually kills the story.  I think that this has been the problem with the Shadow series as a whole.  Card should have edited down most of the books to about 2/3 of their published length.

But the length, according to Card, is not about better telling the story, it is about lowering the price point of the book.  If he writes a shorter book, he can charge less for it.  But the price of the Kindle book is $9.99 and $11.99 (there are two editions. One is an abridgment with 7 additional paragraphs for $11.99, and the other is the full book without the 7 additional paragraphs but it is a pre-order for Feb 2013 and is $9.99.)  The Audiobook is a bit cheaper, but it is range of the price of some of his older books.  The Hardcover is about the price of most hardcovers that have been out for about a year.  So if his point was to produce a cheaper book, that didn’t make it to the ears of the publisher.

Digital publishing should make it easier for authors and publishers to experiment.  Change the length, the style, the format, but make sure the story is worth reading or it does not really matter.

Also don’t piss off your readers.  The Kindle Edition of this book is currently only available in the abridged form. The longer version is on pre-order.  Amazon has the reviews all bundled so it is hard to tell what you are getting and more than a few people purchased the abridged book and felt cheated.  Because it was a the price of a full book, but they only got a novella (around 140 pages). The description says 240 pages, but that is the full printed version of the book.

So my advice, if you are going to get this book, get the paper or audio versions.

Purchase Links: Kindle Edition, Hardcover, Audible.com Audiobook

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