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May, 2009:

Speaker For The Dead (Orson Scott Card) Review

Ender Box Set

Ender Box Set

Speaker For The Dead is the second book in the “Ender” series by Orson Scott Card. It follows “Ender’s Game” – but, really, it’s a very different book. Again, warning: spoilers abound!

It’s now 3,000 years since the events in the first book. Due to the intricacies of time dilation at lightspeed travel, Ender is still only a young man, and still haunted by his past misdemeanours.

On the planet Lusitania a new alien life form has been discovered. The Pequeninos, or “Piggies”, are less advanced than us, but due to mankinds xenocide of the “Buggers” in the first novel the Starways Congress have ruled that a strict policy of observation with no inteference is to be observed.

A Xenobiologist, Pipo, and his son, Libo, are mankinds sole contact with the aliens, and the two scientists constantly observe and transmit their findings to the wider universe. Pipo takes on an apprentice – the emotionally scarred Novinha – and through her research finds another aspect to the Piggies life cycle. Discovering something in her findings he sets off to speak to the Piggies, and he is massacred. Some time later his son Lobo also dies in horrifying and mysterious circumstances at the hands of this strange civilisation.

Novinha, a girl who’s parents are sainted after they managed to defeat the “Descolada Virus”, is prompted to delete all the research in order to prevent further catastrophe. She knows she cannot marry, since she fears her files would be revealed, and settles into an unhappy marriage and adultrerous relationship, giving birth to many children in the process.

Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggin (Ender) is now a “Speaker For The Dead”, a man who talks at funerals, giving the truth – good and bad – about his subject. His “speaking” is almost a religion, but few suspect that Andrew is the original Speaker, or even the Ender of legend, due to his youthful appearance. Only his sister, Valentine, who moonlights as the popular writer “Demosthenes” knows the truth. After Libo’s death Ender is summoned to Lusitania to speak on his behalf, and sets out on the thirty year journey, even though it’s only a few months in his own time.

Ender is also in contact with a being called “Jane”, with whom he communicates via a jewel in his ear. Jane is an entity born amongst the philotic connections amongst the Ansibles – mankinds method of instant communication – and is thus a “ghost in the machine”. She knows anything that is on any computer, anywhere, and helps Ender is his struggles.

When he arrives at Lusitania Ender discovers that the original speaking – called by Novinha – was recalled, but during the intervening years two more speakings were called by her children. He learns that the girl he fell in love with on the transmitter so many years ago (but only recently for him) has lived a tough life with a brutal husband – and it’s this husband he decides to speak for.

He also finds out the truth about the Piggies, as well as finds a home for the Hive Queen (the sole survivior of the “bugger” race with the capability of reintroducing the entire race) that he carried with him since his early days. The Piggies have a complex life cycle, relying – as does all life on Lusitania – on the Descolada Virus, a potent mutation that can cause death as well as enable life and evolution. Lusitania has long learned to lived with the Virus, each inhabitant is protected or embroiled in a symbiotic relationship, but the threat of genetic mutation and ultimately death remains.

Once the Starways Congress learn of the virus and the threat to humanity they send out a fleet with the “Dr. Device” capable of destroying the planet. This fleet will take many decades to arrive – so Ender is now in a race against time to prevent another xenocide.

Ender finally learns the truth. Helped by the Descolada virus the Piggies life-cycle revolves around a number of stages, ultimately ending in the “third life” as a tree. The deaths of Libo and Pipo were the Piggies attempt to honour their visitors, by eviscerating the bodies to grow this tree, but they did not realise that when Humans die – they *really* die. Ender, helped by various factions on Lusitania including the Children Of The Mind and Bishop Peregino of the Catholic Church seeks to create a treaty with the Piggies. The Piggies are a highly intelligent race who simply want to ensure they can have their own place amongst the stars, before mankind takes all. Their third-age form is also in contact with the Hive Queen – through mental or philotic communication – and they soon long for knowledge and technology.

Ender, with his knack for communication and empathy, creates peace amongst the Piggies and mankind, befriends the Piggie called “Human”, is forced to help him to the third-age by “killing” him, and makes his home on Lusitania – in part trapped by the Descolada – all in an emotional final few chapters of the book.

Speaker For The Dead is, as I said, a very different book to Ender’s Game – almost a totally different novel that just happens to include Ender and Valentine as characters. The bulk of the novel deals with the discovery of the new alien race, with it’s unique mysteries, as well as the more humanistic aspects of the colony that surrounds them. It’s interesting that although these books deal with high technology they do not have faster-than-light travel, and so the whole relatavistic nature of lightspeed travel provides an important part of the plot.

The story continues in “Xenocide” – itself eventually split to form “The Children Of The Mind” as the fourth novel. Speaker For The Dead also won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, giving Orson Scott Card the honour of winning those titles for both novels in the series so far.

If you expect a novel along the lines of Ender’s Game you will be dissapointed, but this is a fascinating read on it’s own merits. The in depth study of the alien Piggies, the mysterious nature of the Descolada Virus, and the powerful (but complex) personality of “Jane” all provide a unique story. You may not be pulled into this story immediately – but it’s worth persevering. In many ways this can be considered a family saga (of sorts).

Mostly set on the one planet (Lusitania) with it’s Catholic colony Speaker For The Dead deals with mankinds nature in many ways – their guilt, responsibilty and religion. Humans in this time are spread across a hundred worlds, and it’s only the Ansible that keeps the interplanetary relationships.

Orson Scott Card has succeeded in writing something that stands above the rest of the SciFi crowd, and is rightly seen as a classic of the genre. This is like nothing you have read before so ultimately may not appeal to the space opera and action buffs but will impress those who appreciate a original tale. The Ender series as a whole brings a fresh light to the genre, with evolution, religion, morality, and popularity causing key plot turns in the story.

Rating:9/10 – Might not be what you expect, but it is a rewarding novel.



Amazon’s USA and UK respectively:

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