Wow, thats great. Thanks for the concise reply. I think I'll go with Ender's Shadow next.
I think Card's biggest mistake was Children of the Mind. I found most of it to be unnecessary, and, despite his claims, I think he could have cut down about half of it and squeezed it into Xenocide to make that book equal in quality to the first two books. But that isn't to say that Xenocide isn't a good book. I think it's a great book, actually -- it's only lessened by the standards set by its elder brethren. A lot of people find it boring and philosophically heavy, or don't like the questionably scientific portions, but those are the aspects of SFF I enjoy most: the speculation, the ideas, the thematic considerations.
I greatly respect Card for not writing a series of Ender's Games. After writing what now remains one of SF's most widely read book, he realized he had to remake himself or just doom himself to quit. Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and Xenocide are all completely different books, and in being so, make the series that much better.
As for the Shadow series, I don't intend to get into it. I read the first book, and, while it is interesting to any fan of Ender's Game, it is ultimately unnecessary. I realize the following books go in totally different directions, but, judging from many reviews and my own bad experiences with some of Card's other series, there are other authors out there worth reading.
I'd recommend the Speaker for the Dead trilogy higher than the Shadow series. Here's why:
I'm a traditionalist. It's a personal preference thing, but I'm much more interested in the social intricacies of post-war fiction - fiction that was born in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that talk about the characteristics of being human and interacting personally with other humans, rather than the complicated plottings of global politics. I enjoy stories that take place in the future, but are set in the 1950's - mid 1980's; stories about the lunar landing, and the United Soviet States of Russia, and the Vietnam War, and the Holocaust. These are stories about the achievements of humans and civilization, driving along the road of industry. Ultimately, these stories are meant to shake the ideas of technology and its power to change humanity.
That is why I liked the Speaker for the Dead. I loved the characters, and cared more about the relationships between them I did about the "wow cool a new planet and extra-terrestrial colonies three thousand years in the future omg I love it so much because there's a new planet and extra-terrestrial colonies three thousand years in the future".
**stories that focus too much on technology and the feats of human kind include anything by Asimov and Starship Troopers, in case anyone is really interested**
Orson Scott Card is my very favourite writer because he does character so well. I'm a big person for character. A book isn't good if I can't understand the characters, or can't imagine them in front of me. Ender gets under your skin, and so does Bean. Ender's Shadow is a good read, but further than that, it becomes too much about global politics.
Personally, I think those books were based on evil dream Card had one night of taking over the world, and when he woke up he jotted it down on the closest piece of paper he could find with his wife's lipstick and eyeliner pencils.
Speaker For The Dead and Xenocide really capture Ender clearly, and you see him grow up. I never cared much for Bean - he was too hollow. I felt more sympathy and empathy than affection for him.
However, I wouldn't recommend Speaker For The Dead if you read on your breaks. It's not one of those books that easy to put down and remember the subplots four hours later.