Speaker for the Dead: Even better than Ender’s Game

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA science fiction book reviews Orson Scott Card Ender's GameSpeaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

It’s been 3000 years since Ender Wiggin, as a child, was tricked into committing xenocide. While he and his sister Valentine traveled the universe and benefited from the effects of space-time relativity, Ender’s name has been reviled on Earth and all the inhabited planets. He is infamous for his childhood deeds, but almost everyone thinks he’s been dead for centuries. They don’t realize that the man who holds the respected position of Speaker for the Dead is actually Ender Wiggin. And they don’t know that the Hive Queen of the Buggers still lives and that Ender has vowed to find her a new home. When Ender is called to the planet Lusitania to speak the death of a beloved xenologer, he thinks he may have finally found a suitable place for the Hive Queen to resurrect her race.

In the author’s afterward to Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card explains that this was the novel he had always intended to write and that Ender’s Game, its more famous and popular prequel, was just an introduction. I’m sure that’s why, as much as I loved Ender’s Game as a thrilling action-packed YA adventure, I liked Speaker for the Dead even more. This is a more mature, thoughtful, and far-reaching story.

Card explains that he wanted to explore this question: “What do we do about dead people whose lives were really crummy? What do we do about people who were vicious… What do you say at the funeral?” He suggests that we deal with this by lying, or by erasing the person they really were, re-making them, after their death, into the person we wish they had been. To address this human tendency, Card created the function of Speaker for the Dead — an objective outsider who would learn about the person who had died and would then speak the truth about him. This would involve uncovering not only the person’s good and bad deeds, but also the background that would let his acquaintances understand why he became the person he was. Card effectively uses the role of Speaker for the Dead to show us that there may be a very good reason why a “bad” person turns out that way. Not that this excuses his behavior, but it at least makes it understandable and may help us see how our own behaviors could have contributed to it. Perhaps then we can be more forgiving.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThere is way more going on in Speaker for the Dead than this, though. Card explores the sciences of cultural anthropology and genetics as researchers on Lusitania are learning about the native alien species that live there. In so doing, he manages to touch on ecology, biodiversity, virology, xenophobia, cultural elitism, our motivations for scientific study of other species, and how advancing technologies drastically change a culture. He asks us to consider when we should disobey our government and when we should abandon the ethical principles we’ve sworn to uphold. He asks us to constantly question all of our previous knowledge.

Though this is a meaty and thought-provoking work, Speaker for the Dead is populated with characters you can love, hate, or otherwise relate to, and Card holds it all together with a heart-wrenching story about loneliness, bullying, abuse, hate, jealousy, adultery, incest, companionship, guilt, forgiveness, redemption, love, and death. There’s a lot going on here.

At the conclusion of Speaker for the Dead Ender finds that, once again, he has both destroyed and saved lives, and he is severely misunderstood by most of his fellow humans. He has accomplished much in Speaker for the Dead, but there is more trouble literally on the horizon. I can’t wait to see how he deals with it in the third ENDER WIGGIN novel, Xenocide.

Speaker for the Dead was published in 1986 and, like its prequel Ender’s Game, it won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, making Orson Scott Card the first author to win both awards two years in a row. It also won the Locus Award. I listened to Audio Renaissance’s full-cast audio production of Speaker for the Dead. It’s excellent and highly recommended.

Ender Wiggin — (1985-2012) Publisher: In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut — young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers, Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister. Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If the world survives, that is. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

Orson Scott Card 1. Ender's Game 2. Speaker for the Dead 3. Xenocide 4. Children of the Mind 5. A War of Gifts 6. Ender in ExileOrson Scott Card 1. Ender's Game 2. Speaker for the Dead 3. Xenocide 4. Children of the Mind 5. A War of Gifts 6. Ender in ExileOrson Scott Card 1. Ender's Game 2. Speaker for the Dead 3. Xenocide 4. Children of the Mind 5. A War of Gifts 6. Ender in ExileOrson Scott Card 1. Ender's Game 2. Speaker for the Dead 3. Xenocide 4. Children of the Mind 5. A War of Gifts 6. Ender in ExileOrson Scott Card 1. Ender's Game 2. Speaker for the Dead 3. Xenocide 4. Children of the Mind 5. A War of Gifts 6. Ender in ExileOrson Scott Card 1. Ender's Game 2. Speaker for the Dead 3. Xenocide 4. Children of the Mind 5. A War of Gifts 6. Ender in Exile1. Ender's Shadow 2. Shadow of the Hegemon 3. Shadow Puppets 4. Shadow of the Giant 5. Shadows in Flight 1. Ender's Shadow 2. Shadow of the Hegemon 3. Shadow Puppets 4. Shadow of the Giant 5. Shadows in Flight 1. Ender's Shadow 2. Shadow of the Hegemon 3. Shadow Puppets 4. Shadow of the Giant 5. Shadows in Flight 1. Ender's Shadow 2. Shadow of the Hegemon 3. Shadow Puppets 4. Shadow of the Giant 5. Shadows in Flight 1. Ender's Shadow 2. Shadow of the Hegemon 3. Shadow Puppets 4. Shadow of the Giant 5. Shadows in Flight


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this one myself, but I found it rather sad in the end that the author writes so eloquently about issues or equality and understanding and cultural relativism that he himself does not practice. It soured the book a bit for me, I must admit.

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