Speaker For The Dead is the story that Orson Scott Card wanted to write, but needed to write Ender’s Game to make that happen. He has said so himself. It’s the sort of book that makes you feel silly or unworthy to judge, at least for me personally. That’s just how much I enjoyed reading this book. I cannot praise Speaker for the Dead enough, and despite how much I loved Ender’s Game, the sequel is a completely different experience.
Nearly three thousand years after the story of Ender’s game, Speaker For the Dead begins with Ender as a thirty five year old man dude to relativistic time travel, as he jumps system to system carrying out his duties as Speaker. Due to the Ansible system, a technology adapted from the Formic species which allows instantaneous transmission of data, the hundred inhabited worlds stay in contact with each other and three thousand years of political and technological advancement occur while Ender experiences relatively few.
The story involves Ender traveling to a colony on Lusitania because he has been asked to tell the death of a deceased man, his ulterior motive being to find a suitable location for the unborn hive queen. The colony is a bit of a mystery as the Xenologers have had a hard time cracking the code of the native sentient species dubbed Pequeninos, or “little piggies.” The death of two earlier researchers at the hands of the Piggies has the current Xenologers on edge. Ender arrives at the Lusitania colony and proceeds with his duties while remaining painfully aware that the last interaction between humanity and an alien species had a disastrous ending. Ender’s guilt continues to be used to explore philosophical ideas surrounding human interaction with foreign entities and how humanity as a species conducts itself after being positioned as the superpower. The book asks at one point if death and misunderstanding is a requirement between two unknown entities.
Time travel is deployed as a plot device to explore how religion can shape society and the way in which sentient alien species will ultimately come to understand each other while elements of mystery keep you engaged and invested in the story through to the end.
A pivotal point in the story was Ender’s accomplishment in winning over the people of Lusitania, when he tells the death of Marcao. During a monologue he tells the life of a hated man, but is harsh and truthful in his delivery. This was all the reserved community needed to hear to understand that Ender was someone special and not just some diplomat coming to shake things up for the sake of being blasphemous. He spoke in a manner to make clear that Ender cares for the individual and instills trust for himself in the people of Lusitania. Ender is on a mission to re-establish the hive queen while also creating amicable relations with the Pequeninos so that Lusitania can be a peaceful world for all species, and with the people of Lusitania on his side there is hope.
Something that made the story compelling for me was the way in which Card develops Ender’s character in Speaker For the Dead. How do you make the genius archetype relatable? Likable even? In this book it is achieved with the help of supporting characters. A broken family, a scorned Artificial Intelligence, a primitive alien species eager for advancement. The supporting cast for this book is something special and serves to create depth and complexity to Ender’s character in ways that are deeper than we got to experience in Ender’s Game. Speaker For the Dead is a beautiful science fiction story of compassion and understanding in the face of adversity, and one that I encourage everyone to experience.
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