A War of Gifts
Orson Scott Card
Tor, Nov 2007, $12.95, 128 pp.
Zack Morgan is in his dad’s church listening to his father preach when a man enters and forces him to go with him to his house where he will be tested to see if he is qualified to attend Battle School. Zack is a pacifist, indoctrinated in his father’s religion by the whip marks on his back. Tests show he has the brilliance needed and wanted to attend the school. He promises the testers he will go but he won’t fight.
He keeps that promise and preaches at the slightest opportunity although most of the students passively ignore him. When a Dutch student gives a gift to another Dutch boy in the name of Sinterklaas, Zack reports it because he knows that it is forbidden to practice religion in Battle School due to the belief that is to divisive. Christians start exchanging gifts in the name of Santa Claus but when the Muslims begin praying in public they are arrested. The Christians stop exchanging gifts and life goes back to normal except that Zack is treated as a Judas pariah. Ender Wiggin takes matters into his own hands.
For such a small novella, the story line is loaded with social themes including religion and how it is practiced, parental abuse, eliminating things like religious practices so that the students learn to fight as a group with no divisiveness to split them apart and weaken morale. Zack is a master manipulator who goaded the Muslims into praying in public because he had a desperate need to get home. Orson Scott Card has written a powerful tale that transcends age and makes a perfect holiday gift.