After enjoying Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, I thought this story was overrated and didn't measure up to its predecessors.
In his afterword, Card mentions that his two concerns about the book are that it is heavily philosphical ("talky") and that it cuts out in the middle of the story arc, but neither of these were really an issue to me. I've read plenty of series that ended leaving the reader hanging and dependent on a following book, and I've read books that were very philosophically idea-heavy. The problem with Xenocide is not that it's too full of ideas that it spends a lot of time considering, it's that it's actually pretty thin on ideas, but it recycles those few in variations and belabors them to an exasperating degree. It is mostly populated by characters who are emotionally static and spend far too much time repeating themselves at each other, and it doesn't take long before that starts becoming tedious. Coming on the heels of Speaker for the Dead (a superior and deeply moving story in which nearly every character realizes significant emotional changes) as this book does, it feels dull and lifeless and long.
On top of that, I thought that one of the major plot developments toward the end of the book that leads into the next one was nothing short of silly and contrived. I don't want to spoil any secrets for people who haven't read it yet, but I think those that have read it will probably know which one I'm talking about.
I am currently torn between what is at this point an admittedly not-huge curiosity of what happens to resolve the story and a real reluctance to take the chance of having to sit through what may turn out to be a similarly tiresome exercise to get there, particularly because I know that it's going to heavily revolve around the aforementioned plot device from this book.
Most of the reviews here and most of the conversations I've had about this book revolve around the subjects presented and whether or not they are believable, correct, or interesting, but none of that (although fascinating to me) seemed to me to really be the point of the book. I think the real intent of the authors is to convey the idea that it can be possible to quantifiably answer questions that don't seem possible to do so at first glance and to show how to approach those questions in ways that can yield real results. If you read the book and take away from it the results of the investigations, then you walk away with some interesting information, but I think that if the authors' intent had been to merely convey that information, it could have been done much more concisely, leaving room for still more study results. Instead, they focus heavily on the processes of their investigations, and it is my feeling that their intent in doing so is to help enable others to be able to do the same when analyzing their own unanswerable questions.
In addition, the recurring theme of challenging "conventional wisdom" cannot be overlooked. I don't think that the authors have an expectation that their readers will be able to go out and discover all the real truths behind the many assumptions we have about how our societies operate, but I do think that they have a hope that we might begin simply by questioning the validity of the things that we hear, are taught, or take for granted.
If you review the book solely as a source of interesting, unique, and sometimes controversial social insights, it's probably kind of hit-and-miss. If, however, you review it as a guide to critical thinking and analysis, it is quite successful, and I highly recommend it as such.
I have been lukewarm at best about most of the series so far, as Jordan's penchant for exhaustive repetition is nothing short of maddening, but in this book he manages to drop it (along with the omnipresent adolescent angst that manages to overshadow every significant event by burying it under a mountain of triviality) long enough to achieve a few moments with some genuine emotional resonance. To avoid posting any spoilers, I will refrain from specifics, but the most poignant are the moments of history that Rand views, and they succeed where so many other efforts by Jordan fail because he--probably unintentionally--drops his usual writing devices and gets out of the way to simply narrate the events for us. The contrast between this part and most of the rest of the series is really amazing, and shows just how strongly we can feel the emotions of the moment without having to have it spelled out repeatedly for us both before and afterward. It's unfortunate that Jordan seems to trust the intelligence of his readers so little.
So kudos to the author for some really great moments in this book (there are one or two more, but I cannot describe them without giving things away). I wish there were more like them throughout the rest of the series.
This is one of the best series of books I have had the pleasure of reading. It is entirely riveting and engaging, masterfully plotted, and the narration is fantastic. I cannot remember the last time I was so engrossed in a book and so caught up in the lives of the characters in the story. The author's ability to tell a real story with real consequences rather than feel-good fairy tales is both refreshing and utterly astonishing.
There are not enough superlatives for these books. They are glorious.
I had a lot of fun with this book. It is, of course, somewhat dated in its style and attitudes, but these lend, in my opinion, a kind of antiquated charm to a solid story of high adventure. Patrick Tull's narration seems to me to be a perfect fit with the material, and I would enjoy hearing more of his work. I highly recommend this book.
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