Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Speaker for the Dead Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Orson Scott Card
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Military Science Fiction
Series: Ender's Quintet Book One
Pages: 382

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(Spoilers for Ender’s Game are below).

With Ender’s Game Orson Scott Card crafted a science fiction classic by discussing relevant issues about violence, and having one of the most shocking and infamous endings to a story ever. Card set the bar high for himself and any other books that he decided to publish on the Ender timeline. The first book to be released after Ender’s Game was Speaker for the Dead and not only does it live up to some lofty expectations it matches its predecessor in terms of quality.

This is a sequel that focuses more on the consequences of the conclusion rather than what happened directly after the events of Ender’s Game. Valentine and Ender are the only two returning characters, the rest of Ender’s crew – Bean specifically – get their story told through the Ender’s Shadow spinoffs. I happened to be a lot more interested in the consequences of Ender’s actions and the way Card decided to focus on that really paid off.

After Ender wiped out the Buggers he was last seen shuttling away the only surviving Hive Queen, alongside his sister Valentine.  Speaker for the Dead begins while Ender and Valentine are now in their mid-thirties, however due to constantly traveling at fast speeds from planet to planet over 3,000 years have passed since the xenocide. A lot has changed since then, humans have colonized many different planets, the coalition which is now dubbed The Hundred Worlds and are ruled by the Starways Congress.

During this time Valentine has continued to publish and under her pseudonym Desmothenes, while Ender has created a pseudonym for himself: The Speaker for the Dead. As Speaker for the Dead, Ender published The Hive and the Hegemon, a book that condemns his actions and the destruction of the Buggers.  The book has a such a tremendous impact that Ender is now the most despised name in the Hundred Worlds. However, Speaker for the Dead has also become a position of power, the Speaker’s responsibility is to speak at the deaths for people who request them and they are granted access to all information necessary to speak the truth about the person who has passed.

On the planet of Lusitania the only completely alien species to have been discovered since the eradication of the Buggers is having trouble with the human scientists that are there studying them.  These aliens are called Pequeninos (Piggies for short) and they have just horrifically killed one of the human’s studying them.  After receiving a call to speak the fallen human’s death, and at the urging of the Hive Queen who believes Lusitania would be a perfect place to begin anew with the Formics, Ender now finds himself caught in the turmoil that may result in the destruction of yet another alien species.

Ender’s Game was all about building towards a powerful, emotional and shocking conclusion.  There was a lot of action and a coming of age story to tie it all together.  Speaker for the Dead  is nothing like that. A coming of age story mixed with action is replaced with a more thoughtful and philosophical story, one that focuses on anthropology, cultural values, the scientific process, and the effects of xenocide.

The Piggies are a great culture.  Originally discovered by Portuguese explorers, the Piggies have incorporated that language along with their own traditional speaking.  So yes get ready to read some more Portuguese than expected. How the piggies mate, the significance of piggy rituals, and how the piggies view the customs of humans is turned into a fascinating ordeal. Just as interesting are the humans that are studying the piggies whom are called xenologers.  Due to the strict rules put in place by the Starways Congress, which are rules that are designed to preserve Piggy culture in its truest state, the xenologers can’t learn too much without violating some sort of rule.  After years of studying the Piggies they don’t even know how they mate.

The dysfunctional family that Ender comes to speak for – Novinha’s family – introduces a diverse new set of personalities and they provide a new set of challenges for Ender … challenges that don’t necessarily involve him killing things.  Although to be fair, there are few questionably violent tactics that Ender does use against the family and the people of Lusitania.  Speaker for the Dead also introduces Jane, an artificial sentience that exists in the ansible computer network.  She is very powerful and is able to give Ender access to information he normally wouldn’t be able to have.  There is strong potential for her to become a deus ex machina, but for the most part Card is able to pull it off without the reader feeling like Ender couldn’t solve all of his own problems.

The emotional tone of Speaker for the Dead is powerful, and it’s powerful consistently from beginning to end, which is something Ender’s Game was not.  It’s a lot more philosophical and psychological and explores concepts from both those broad fields with greater depth. The conclusion is not as shocking as it’s predecessor, but it certainly leaves you on a cliffhanger and eagerly wanting to read the next book in the series.

Score: 9.6

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