40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Science fiction and Christmas usually don't connect. They have different focuses, and not much in common.
But Orson Scott Card gives it a good try in the megabrief novella "A War of Gifts." Despite a rather abrupt ending, it's a pleasant little story with a dark side that one doesn't expect from a Christmas story, and a Scroogian main character who's hard to like.
That character is Zech Morgan, son of a fanatical preacher who condemns everything, and "purifies" Zech by beating him. Even when he's drafted into Battle School, which does not allow outward religious observance, he shows nothing but pious contempt for his classmates and superiors. But on Sinterklaas, one Dutch boy slips a gift into another's shoe. Zech sees and reports it, but their superior doesn't care.
Soon the other children have decided to pull a "Santa Claus" -- they'll exchange little gifts and favours over the holidays. But since Zech believes that Saint Nick is a tool of the devil, he disrupts the festive favors -- and it may take Ender Wiggin to show him what the real problem is.
Just a warning: this book is very short. Very short. As in, 130 smallish pages short -- if rendered in normal pages, it would be a fair-sized short story. But despite its brevity, it is a pleasant little story.
Half is a story about kids celebrating the spirit of Christmas (or Hanukkah, or Ramadan) despite their sterile, grim surroundings. Lots of fun, goodwill, and general holiday spirit. But about halfway through, it suddenly becomes darkly unfestive, as Ender tries to force Zech to confront -- without any "my father says" or Bible quotes -- the painful truth of his own feelings, and his father's cruelty.
Okay, readers will have picked that up long before. But Card imbues plenty of feeling into the story, including one bittersweet chapter about the Wiggin family Christmas without Ender. The main problem is that the ending is very abrupt -- it feels like Card lost interest after Zech and Ender's conversation, and wrapped it up as quickly as he could.
Zech is one of the most unpleasant lead characters in a Christmas story since Ebenezer Scrooge -- snotty, fanatical, hypocritical, and deliberately irritating. But Card inspires some pity for his miserable life, although thankfully Zech doesn't magically become lovably outgoing by the end. Ender's brief appearance is solid, but Peter's contemplation of his family situation is even better.
"A War of Gifts" is a bit darker and less festive than most Christmas stories, but still a nice little read for the holidays. Just don't expect more than a short story.
186 of 235 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2007
Unfortunately, folks who write reviews for the sake of writing reviews got here first. I preordered this book and waited anxiously for its arrival. When I opened the box my question was "Where's my book?". All I found was a poorly bound hardcover pamphlet.128 sparse pages in a book that looks like it was designed, printed and bound at my local Kinko's. I love OSC, but this overpriced short story is a disservice to his loyal fans. The brief content is of a quality that OSC fans have come to expect. Unfortunately these "reviewers" whose only interest seems to be getting their inane pseudo culture in print first are not serving to inform potential buyers. My advice is to wait until this is available used, preferably in paperback.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Orson Scott Card has long since earned his place among the true masters of science fiction with novels like Ender's Game, Pastwatch, the Homecoming series, and his alternate history/fantasy Tales of Alvin Maker. His Ender universe has been expanding for some time now, and this year he dives back into the time period of the first novel for a short Christmas tale, A War of Gifts.
In the original Ender's Game, Ender Wiggin was recruited, along with hundreds of the most brilliant children on Earth, to train in an orbital battle school for the day when the human race would have to repel an invasion from an alien race they only barely defeated once before. In A War of Gifts, the camera moves from Ender to another student at the school, Zeck Morgan. A fundamentalist Christian, Zeck refuses to participate in the wargames at the school, and when a pair of Dutch students participate in a Sinterklaas Day celebration (St. Nicholas' Day, on Dec. 6), he issues a complaint about their being able to express their religion while others are supressed.
The other kids don't take kindly to Zeck's reaction, however, and the children of Battle School begin a mini-mutiny, trying to find small ways to celebrate Christmas despite the protestations of the adults running the show. In the end, Zeck has to face Ender to discover a truth hidden from everyone, even himself.
This story fits neatly between the pages of Ender's Game and makes for a highly unique Christmas tale. Most Christmas stores these days are more secular in nature -- about Santa and Frosty and the like -- and I really have no problem with that. those Christmas stories that do incorporate the spiritual aspects of the holiday deal with Jesus's birth (lest we forget that's the whole point) or about angels coming to Earth to work some Christmas miracle for a stingy curmudgeon or some lonely woman who just wants a boyfriend for Christmas. (I'm pretty sure the latter is a Lifetime movie.) A War of Gifts is different in that it's neither about the secular aspects or the faith-based aspects, but instead is more about religion itself -- the conflict between different faiths and different denominations is the crux of the story, as an outward projection of Zeck's internal struggles. For such a slim volume, it's a great character study, and yet another example of how Card can write children remarkably well, even when the children are super-geniuses.
I wouldn't recommend the book if you haven't read Ender's Game, as many of the subtleties will be lost. (There's an early chapter, for example, featuring Ender's older brother that really has nothing to do with the plot of A War of Gifts, but is highly telling if you've read the other books in the series.) If you are a fan of Card, though, this is a very strong Christmas tale definitely belongs on your bookshelf. Don't worry. At 128 pages, it won't take up much room.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2007
The physical dimensions of Orson Scott Card's diminutive new seasonal story, A WAR OF GIFTS, brought out the Christmas stocking-stuffer in me right away. What a "cute" little book, I thought.
A cozy evening of reading later, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of wisdom I encountered within a mere 126-postcard-sized pages. The journey to Card's futuristic world of the popular Ender series --- specifically to an elite Battle School for preteen children housed in an orbiting space station above Earth --- offers a concentrated experience of artificially constructed peer-group societies in which any deviation from prescribed behavioral norms carries enormous risk.
Created to indoctrinate the younger generation by weaning students away from any "distracting" attachments to family, culture, religion, ethnicity, passion, altruism and the like, Battle School's mandate is to select the best, brightest and potentially most dangerously independent children and reform them into wholly focused galactic warriors. In essence, however, Battle School is really an ultra-sophisticated and high-tech version of old-style American boot-camp training --- or, perhaps more potently for Canadians, the infamous "residential" schools of the 19th and early 20th centuries, where aboriginal children were forced to learn in an environment stripped of their native traditions and languages.
But Card (despite having abundant theological qualifications to do so) doesn't spend time abstractly moralizing or preaching from some distant pulpit about various forms of child abuse, war-footing mentality or social conditioning. He mainly leaves it to a group of precocious and inventive young boys who discover (or re-discover) the joys and challenges of daring to celebrate anything not on Battle School's strictly secular and utilitarian curriculum.
It all starts with two feisty Dutch lads, whose staunch pride in a small nation that built itself from the sea comes out in a lighthearted but surreptitious observance of Sinterklaas Day. In Dutch tradition, children put their shoes outside the door, hoping that the legendary saint of random generosity will fill them with treats. North Americans know him of course as Santa Claus.
When the hopeful shoe ritual is reciprocated, the effect spreads throughout the orbiting academy, first as a ripple, then as a tidal wave of long-suppressed national and religious traditions that come bubbling to the surface, regardless of rules and regulations. Muslim students renew their five daily prayers, Jewish students remember the High Holidays and Hanukkah, Christian students dare to talk about Christmas and how their families down on earth will celebrate it without them.
But the key to Card's deft insight into human behavior under discouraging conditions is the presence of one little boy whose extreme fundamentalist upbringing makes him the kind of fanatical kid who is usually disliked and avoided by everyone. Convinced that all traditions but his own are inherently evil, he sets about trying to sabotage his colleagues' morale-building fun by reporting them so often that even the Battle School authorities wish he would simply get lost.
The real story behind A WAR OF GIFTS --- the story that reads much better than I would presume to describe it --- is how a group of boys, isolated on the threshold of personal and collective maturity, discover, almost accidentally, the indispensable grace of roots and redemption. No one tells these perennial truths with more delightful élan and subtlety than Orson Scott Card.
This little book with its big and generous ideas belongs on your holiday reading and gift list and is suitable for any age.
--- Reviewed by Pauline Finch (email@example.com)
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Zeck Morgan's dad is the minister of a church. However, just because the father is a minister, it does not mean he is nice. Truth is, the father is physically abusive to Zeck. Zeck does not understand this. Zeck believes his father is "purifying" him. Representatives of Battle School test Zeck, find he has photographic memory, and whisks him off to Battle School. Zeck learns what they want him to, but refuses to participate in "killing" targets in the war games.
Even though one member of the Rat Army refuses to kill targets in the games, they are still in second place. At first everyone was upset that Zeck would not even try to help the team. Even so, they soon began to ignore Zeke. They did not really hate Zeke, they simply learned never to rely on him for anything.
In Battle School, there is only one curriculum: the strategy and tactics of war. Since the children are gathered from all nations, all races, and all religions, it makes perfect sense that there is no open observance of any religion. In Battle School there is no room for cultural differences.
When Zeke sees a member of the Rat Army quietly leave a Sinterklaas Day gift in another team member's shoe, he decides to take it up with Colonel Graff. Thus, a war of wills (and gifts) ensues, and it is a war that the staff of Battle School never prepared for.
***** If you look at this hardback book from the front cover, it is about 3/4 the size of a normal hardback book. There are approximately one hundred and twenty-five pages in it. That is why this book costs only about half the price of normal hardbacks. In this case, Orson Scott Card proves that size does not matter. If a reader sat down and read from cover-to-cover, as I did, it will take you around two hours, if that. However, I cannot begin to describe how awesome this story left me feeling. Once again, little Ender Wiggins shows his advanced maturity. The moral behind the tale is serious, very straight forward, and Card managed to tell it in a way that only he can. MAGNIFICENT! *****
Reviewed by Detra Fitch of Huntress Reviews.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2007
I like the Ender series a lot, so when this came out I read it almost the same week. Many people may be dissapointed by the 128 page book, (much shorter than other books by the author), but he never promised a new novel, just a gift for his readers during the holiday season. And the books not that bad, in fact, I'd recommend it. Of course, if you don't like any of the Ender series, this is probably not for you, but for a relative who loves the series, this is a great stocking stuffer.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This standalone novella by Card, set in his Ender universe, is surprisingly deep. It's nominally a Christmas story, but without the "Jingle Jingle!" you expect from such stories. It's also somewhat dark, in that the lead character is a troubled boy (who doesn't believe he's troubled) sent to the Battle School, where he interacts with Ender (who's in the Rat Army -- that should help Ender's Game fans identify the timeline). But it's also light, in a way; the story emphasizes good values, such as friendship, the consequences of our actions, and the sometimes-difficult task of helping someone else.
If you haven't read Ender's Game (and please do; it's a superb novel), you _could_ read this as a standalone. The basic facts about the Battle School and why it's composed of children are dumped in the reader's lap. But I think you'd feel you were missing something.
It's not quite a kid's book. If you're familiar with Ender's Game (and an adult who is contemplating choosing this for a child probably would be), you already know that the universe isn't written for children -- even if the protagonists are age 6 when they start. You might still want to get it for a kid, but I recommend that a grownup read it through before making such a decision.
I liked the story. It revisited Ender at a time when he was most interesting -- without the complexities of later books.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2008
Yes, I saw there was a new Ender book out, and seeing as I've read all the ender, shadow and speaker books, I wanted it. I got it for christmas, and after some waiting, it finally arrived. I was very dissapointed. It was a thin little pocket book with pages that seemed to have been ripped off, rather than cut off (nothing bad about OSC there, only the publishers). So I started reading, and as usual I got interested in the story and the characters. After reading for twenty minutes two nights in a row I had read more than half. The book centers around the isolation and home-sickness of the kids in the orbiting Battle School. At the school, any religious activities are absolutely prohibited. In military training, there's no place for religion. One day, a kid gives another kid a christmas gift, and the conflict is a fact. It also centers around the genious of Ender Wiggin. This half-novel quickly gets started, has a less brief middle part, and ends abruptly. As if mr Scott Card realised he would miss the bus if he didn't finish it up quickly. Sure, it's written in the usual great story-telling way of OSC, but it really doesn't do anything for me. It's just a little short which I skimmed through in three days. I suggest you wait until a full-length novel shows up, this isn't worth your money, I'm afraid.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2007
I don't know if I've ever been more ambivalent about a book. I liked Chapter 1 a lot. The book begins with Reverend Habit Morgan in the middle of a sermon asking God for guidance on what to make of Santa Claus. When he's met with silence he waits for a cough or other distraction from a member of the congregation and then chastises the offender: "How can I hear the voice of the Holy Spirit when I am surrounded by impurity." Perfect. The Reverend then goes on to declare Santa Satan and I actually found myself laughing out loud, though I suppose given the state of religion in this country these days, I probably shouldn't have. Card is a terrific storyteller when he sticks to telling a story. Unfortunately as the story continues, instead of the preaching of Reverend Habit Morgan you get the preaching of Orson Scott Card. It is a more reasonable, kind, intelligent, subtle, between the lines form of preaching, but it's still preaching.
The story has all of these little Einsteins running around, the smartest people on the planet, who have been yanked from their homes to save the world. Unfortunately these Einsteins don't seem to think like Einstein when it comes to religion. Like virtually all living Nobel Laureates, Einstein did not believe in a personal God and found most of the stories in the bible patently unbelievable. But the central character, Zeck, has no problem explaining that the bible is not inconsistent with evolution because God had to explain things to people of an earlier time and could only explain as much as they were capable of understanding. Haven't we moved beyond this? Why does this need to be in a book for kids? The argument is coming from the son of a religious fanatic, so as an adult you accept it as part of the story. Or is it? I found myself wondering: is this Zeck talking or Orson Scott Card?
The kids are quoting scripture left and right as though this is a perfectly believable thing for young geniuses to do. Ender, the hero of the series and possibly the smartest person on the planet, has a personal dilemma that his father believes in infant baptism and his mother doesn't. In the end, Ender becomes Jesus and saves the troubled boy. Sigh.
In summary, the story is engaging and well-written. The dialogue is fun and funny in places. The subtext is irritating and manipulative.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2008
I bought this for my grown son who has read everything OSC has written. I had a chance to read it - one sitting. Card's writing is smooth and his stories - while having complexities and very much things one should/needs/wants to think about - does it without a lengthy approach.
While the Ender stories sit in some hypothetical setting in our near(?) future, there are always applicable lessons to be taken away for our world and lives.