A fresh new story the Ender’s Game universe—this smart military-esque sci-fi is appealing to longtime fans, without alienating new explorers.
With the Formic Wars behind them and exploration/colonization now at the forefront of humanity’s drive, Battle School has been converted into Fleet School—a softer, less competitive version of the child prodigy training environment from Ender Wiggin’s day. But there is still the looming concern that some of the Formics may have survived the extinction-aiming assault on their homeworld. And so, it’s become clear the best hope for humanity is to spread humankind out among the stars.
Children Of The Fleet is told largely from the POV of Dabeet Ochoa, a coolly rational child genius who longs to escape his mother’s overbearing love for him by making it into Fleet School. But despite his stellar test scores, his chances seem slim. Until his mother’s claims of his father being a member of the Fleet turns out to be more than wishful-thinking. But Dabeet quickly discovers that reality doesn’t quite fit his hopes, just as he finds himself caught up in the kidnapping and sabotage schemes of an unknown foe.
I spent most of this book unable to decide if I liked Dabeet or not.
He wasn’t awful… but wasn’t particularly endearing, either. He’s no Ender Wiggins, that much is plain. His disposition was a lot more cold, self-centered, and cowardly. (I’m all for characters having flaws and issues they need to grow through, but there were perhaps too few redeeming qualities here for my usual liking.) Although, I also didn’t agree with all the adults in this story who seemed to think Dabeet’s ego was unbearably obnoxious. Instead, I thought he came across as both a confident and over-cautious savant. (i.e. If he wasn’t immediately good at something, he abandoned investing his time and energy into it.)
It was almost as though he were on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. But rather than having a high Intelligence Quotient paired with low social intelligence, Dabeet had simply never put much effort into understanding the internal and emotional lives of others.
While there wasn’t too much by way of humor, I did laugh out loud over this little interaction:
“I’m not from your culture,” said Dabeet. “The flavor of kuso remains a mystery to me.”
"Kuso' means 'shit,'" said the boy.
"I knew what it meant," said Dabeet. You couldn't be in Fleet School for three days without getting a full vocabulary dump of all the offensive slang. "I just lacked your firsthand knowledge of how it tasted."
He gave the boy his best grin. The kind of grin, Dabeet realized, that several books he'd read described as "shit-eating." What a happy confluence of fecal references.
To some extent, Dabeet is a protagonist who doesn’t know how to pro-tag. Things happen to him, and then he flounders around—afraid to make any definitive move. Most of the plot involves him coming to understand this fact. Fortunately, the chemistry between him and the outreaching characters of Zhang and Monkey brought a lot more flavor to the story arch. And fortunately for everyone, facilitated some much-needed development—starting with Zhang at about 1/3rd of the way in.
It took me most of the book, but I think I figured out why I wasn’t connecting as well with this story as I did with Ender's Game. It's not because of a lack of Ender (we actually had a guest appearance of him—er…auditory attendance?—and it didn't do anything for me). It's not even that I found Dabeet difficult to empathize with. It was the overall lack of emotion, both visceral and expressed. I felt as though I was watching passively instead of being invested. Almost as though an enriching layer was missing.
I truly liked the finale, however. The character growth was long in coming but refreshing to finally see. The resolution was both intriguing and satisfying. It answered most questions, while leaving a few open for future installments.