from science fiction by
Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card

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Shadow Puppets
Shadow of the Giant


science fiction

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Shadow Puppets

Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card

The Human Race

“Here is the meaning of life: for a man to find a woman, for a woman to find a man, the creature most unlike you, and then to make babies with her, with him, or to find them some other way, but then to raise them up, and watch them do the same thing, generation after generation, so that when you die you know you are permanently a part of the great web of life. That you are not a loose thread, snipped off.”

“That’s not the only meaning of life,” said Petra [...]

“Yes it is,” said Anton. “Do you think I haven’t had time to think about this? [...] Shallow as it had to be, it is still the truest thing I ever found. Even men who do not desire women, even women who do not desire men, this does not exempt them from the deepest desire of all, the desire to be an inextricable part of the human race.”



“It’s the old joke, ‘I ask myself, What would a person smarter than me do in this circumstance, and then I do it.’ ”



China invented bureaucracy, and with a thousand-year head start on the rest of the world, they’d kept advancing the arts of obfuscation, kingdom-building, and tempests-in-teapots to a level unknown anywhere else. Byzantine bureaucracy was, by comparison, a forthright system.



He had always acted in China’s best interest, and always would.

The trouble was, he often defined “China’s best interest” in a way that might easily get him shot.

The War on the Ground

In the college she had briefly attended, [...] she had quickly realized that intellectuals seemed to think that their life—the life of the mind, the endless self-examination, the continuous autobiography afflicted upon all comers—was somehow higher than the repetitive, meaningless lives of the common people.

Virlomi knew the opposite to be true. The intellectuals in the university were all the same. They had precisely the same deep thoughts about exactly the same shallow emotions and trivial dilemmas. They knew this, unconsciously, themselves. When a real event happened, something that shook them to the heart, they withdrew from the game of university life, for reality had to be played out on a different stage.

In the villages, life was about life, not about one-upmanship and display. Smart people were valued because they could solve problems, not because they could speak pleasingly about them.




text checked (see note) Mar 2005

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Shadow of the Giant

Copyright © 2005 by Orson Scott Card

Mandate of Heaven
Han Tzu had mastered the art of using only his peripheral vision, so his eyes stared straight ahead. Without eye contact, the others on the street could not face him down, could not insist that he yield the right of way. They could only dodge him, as if he were a boulder in the stream.

“The mandate of heaven,” said Rackham.

Han Tzu knew then that the pen was a weapon. Because the mandate of heaven was always bestowed in blood and war.



The irony was that the “great men” who were now humiliated and writing reports on their own mistakes were never the source of those errors. They only believed they were. And the underlings who had really originated the problems saw themselves as merely instruments of their commanders’ will. But it was in the nature of underlings to use power recklessly, since blame could always be passed either upward or downward.

Unlike credit, which, like hot air, always rose.


“You argue like a debater,” she said. “You don’t actually have to have an idea, you just have to have a seemingly clever refutation.”

Don’t be spiteful and petty, Peter told himself. One spiteful act brings too much pleasure—it just makes you want to do another, and another. And sooner each time.

“Humanity is a breeding ground for ambition, for territorial competitors, for nations that do battle, and if the nations break down, then tribes, clans, households. We were bred for war, it’s in our genes, and the only was to stop the bloodshed is to give one man the power to subdue all the others. All we can hope for is that it be a decent enough man that the peace will be better than the wars, and last longer.”

“You’ve resigned from the human race is what you’ve done,” said Peter. “Because you invented marriage and children, suddenly you don’t have to be part of anything.”

“Opposite,” said Petra. “We’ve joined the human race. We’re like most people. Our life together is everything. Our children are everything. The rest is—we do what we have to. Anything to protect our children. And then beyond that, what we have to. But it doesn’t matter to us as much.”



“Why do humans live so long? Mathematicians and poets, they burn out in their mid-twenties anyway. We live so long because of grandchildren. In a difficult world, grandparents can help ensure the survival of their grandchildren. The societies that kept their old people around and listened to them and respected them—that fed them—always do better.”

“If you do that to me, I’ll pray that God puts you in the deepest part of hell.”

“Petra, you know I don’t believe in hell.”

“But knowing that I’m praying such a thing, that will be hell for you.”




Mine mine mine. That was the curse and power of human beings—that what they saw and loved, they had to have. They could share it with other people but only if they conceived of those people as being somehow their own. What we own is ours. What you own should also be ours. In fact, you own nothing, if we want it. Because you are nothing. We are the real people, you are only posing as people in order to try to deprive us of what God means us to have.

“Life is full of grief, to exactly the degree we allow ourselves to love other people.”

“I see,” said Petra. “You’re the Ministry of Colonization’s resident philosopher.”

Rackham grinned. “The consolations of philosophy are many, but never enough.”



Nobody ever completely means what they say. Even when they think they’re telling the truth, there’s always something hidden behind their words.



Virlomi’s Visitors
“A man who embraces the voice of evil when it whispers in his ear is no less evil than the whisperer.”



“You’ve already forgotten that you don’t believe in the gods.”

“But I do, Sayagi. How else can I explain my string of impossible victories?”

“Superb training in Battle School. Your innate brilliance. Brave and wise Indians who awaited only a decisive leader to show them how to act like people worthy of their own civilization. And very, very stupid enemies.”

“And couldn’t it be the gods who arranged for me to have these things?”

“It was an unbroken network of causality leading back to the first human who wasn’t a chimp. And farther back, to the coalescing of the planets around the sun. If you wish to call that God, go ahead.”

“The cause of everything,” said Virlomi. “The purpose of everything. And if there are no gods, then my own purposes will have to do.”

“Making you the only god that actually exists.”




“Pride, when poked, gets petty.”
“You don’t fight wars to enhance domestic unity—to do that, you pursue economic policies that make your people fat and rich. Wars are fought to create safety, to expand borders, and to eliminate future dangers.”



“My husband’s good friend Thorn is like the man in a leaky boat, surrounded by sharks. He has a rifle, and his fellow passenger says, ‘Why don’t you shoot those sharks! Once the boat sinks and we’re in the water, you won’t be able to use the rifle!’

“ ‘You fool,’ says the man. ‘Why should I provoke the sharks? None of them has bit me yet.’ ”

Thorn seemed determined to press his luck. “The way I heard the story, the boat was surrounded by dolphins, and the man shot at them until he ran out of ammunition. ’Why did you do that?’ his friend asked, and the man said, ‘because one of them was a shark in disguise.’

“ ‘Which one?’ said his companion.

“ ‘You fool,’ says the man. ‘I told you he’s in disguise.’ Then the blood in the water drew many sharks. But the man’s gun was empty.”


“You want me to win so I’ll pay for your fleet.”

“We want you to win so that the human race can stop spending its vast surpluses on ways to kill each other, and can instead send all the people that would have been killed in war out into space. And all the money that would have been spent on weapons can be spent on colony ships, and on trading ships, eventually. The human race has always produced a vast surplus of human beings and of wealth, and it has used up almost all of it either on stupid monuments like the pyramids or on brutal, bloody, pointless wars. We want you to unite the world so that this waste can finally stop.”

“So what are you doing with your diplomacy?”

“Begging the Russians to stay out of it.”

“In other words, pointing out the opportunity and telling them that you’re not going to interfere in any way.”

“Yes,” said Peter.

“Politics is so . . . indirect.”

“That’s why conquerors rarely make great rulers.”

“And great rulers are rarely conquerors.”



Rumors of War
“And I’ll raise a glass to you, among my little children, and I’ll say, Here’s to you, Mazer Rackham, you foolish old optimist. You thought humans were better than they are, which is why you went to all the trouble of saving the human race a couple of times.”




As for all that God business—I don’t think the real God has as bad a track record as you think. Sure, a lot of people have terrible lives, by some measure. [...] But if you’re going to blame him for all the crap, kid, you got to give him credit for what grows from that fertilized soil.

Speak for Me

The thing about the historians was, they could arrange the data all neatly in rows, but they kept missing what it was for. They kept inventing the strangest motives for people. [...] Biographers were always irritated when their subject turned out to be alive.



text checked (see note) Jun 2007

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Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen