Book Review: Treason by Orson Scott Card

Suhail Rafidi's review of Orson Scott CardMy latest read came to me highly recommended by a friend who is such an avid fan of science fiction, her dog is named Ender. The book is Orson Scott Card’s, Treason. It was Mr. Card’s second novel, originally published in 1979. Re-published in 1988 after arguably insufficient revision, Treason is the story of a prison planet populated by the descendants of exiled elites who long ago attempted to overthrow Earth’s republic.

They were defeated and shipped far away, to a planet called Treason, where they’ve spent the last few millennia coalescing into warring kingdoms based on the professions and family names of those long dead exiled ancestors.

The reason the Treasonites are so backwards as to still be laboring under splintered monarchies after over three thousand years on Treason is because Treason has no iron, and scant traces of other heavy metals. Swords are made of wood, knives of glass. They can’t make cars, they can’t make skyscrapers, and they especially can’t make spacecraft to ever return to Earth. And that’s nothing. Just the setup! Kudos, Mr. Card.

The actual tale revolves around Lanik Mueller, a prince with a loving father and a scheming step-mother, who is himself exiled from his homeland of Mueller. His exile begins a journey that takes him into the history of Treason, of the elites exiled for conspiring against the Republic. Most of them were highly positioned politicians, bankers, geneticists, investors, physicists, doctors, psychologists, theologians, socialites, engineers, philosophers, and professors – a relatively narrow strata of the population. As the global Republic was forming, they were disconcerted. Thinking themselves sophisticated stewards of human knowledge and resources, they grew to fear what they considered the blunt popular rule of ignorant masses. However seemingly well-intentioned, their revolt failed, and Treason was the usurpers’ punishment.

After the original exiles settled Treason, they continued to pursue, as much as the anemic planet would allow, their passions, their fields of expertise. After a hundred generations or so, many clans had advanced their respective fields far beyond what their ancestors may have thought possible. To illustrate, the geneticists can now regenerate, and consequently excel at war despite the lack of iron for weapons. The geologists can perceive, communicate with, and control the consciousness latent in living stone, unquarried from the crust of the earth, and all of its component minerals. The psychologists are so adept at controlling their own perspective that they can slow down or speed up their pace through time (but never reverse it), experiencing a minute as though it lasts for hours, or sailing through days in the blink of an eye. You get the picture. Trust me, you’ll want to read it just to find out what the politicians evolved into.

And, of course, there is a way to get iron, but it’s not easy. Competition is grim.

Treason imaginatively expounds a theme true to the ethos of classic science fiction. Namely, the relationship of the characters with their technological environment. The setting of Treason – the planet without iron and the mystical quality of the family powers – draws up a world that is a fantastic stage for the journey and transformation of the protagonist, Lanik Meuller, heir to the throne of Meuller, the radically regenerating descendants of the geneticists.

I said was published after “arguably insufficient revision” because the book has some dangling plot threads that a couple more revisions would have caught, like an unconvincing love interest, a lack of developed female characters in general, and plot-driven character treatment that leads to occasional, but nagging, character contradictions. Narrating in the first person, Mr. Card fluctuates the personality of the protagonist, making him suit the tale, rather than drive it. Lanik Mueller is alternately, and disproportionally, brutal or sentimental, hot headed or even tempered, vulgar or chivalrous, acting impulsively or contemplatively, depending on what the plot is asking of him.

Despite the endearing flaws of a then-young author’s second novel, Treason is a grand and satisfying piece of imagination. It inspires questions and thoughts about our place here in our own technological present. The book asks the reader to critically examine the animal urge toward chauvinism, the lengths that people go to for a sense of belonging, and the value of human life when embedded in a mechanical, hierarchical power culture.

Check out Treason, by Orson Scott Card.

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About Suhail Rafidi

Suhail Rafidi is a novelist and educator whose works explore the destiny of human values in a technological landscape. You can find him on Twitter, too, @shelldive.
This entry was posted in Art and Artists, Book Reviews, Books, Science Fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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