Note: I try my best not to give away important plot points in my book reviews. However, since Speaker for the Dead follows the plot of Ender’s Game, there will be information in the following review that “spoils” Ender’s Game. You don’t have to read Ender’s Game before reading Speaker for the Dead but they are better together. If you don’t wish to know what happens in Ender’s Game, don’t read this review.
A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Orson Scott Card’s novel, Ender’s Game (click that link to read my review). Despite not being a regular science fiction reader and generally not a huge fan of sequels and books series, I read Speaker for the Dead. In his introduction, Card explains that the two stories were not originally envisioned as one and that Speaker for the Dead came first in his mind. It’s hard to imagine one book without the other. There’s enough information offered in Speaker for the Dead that, strictly speaking, you don’t have to read Ender’s Game first…but you’ll have a better reading experience if you do.
Speaker for the Dead takes us three thousand years after the action of Ender’s Game. Ender Wiggin, though, is only about thirty-five years. This is accomplished by the strange technology of constant space travel, which seems to occur outside of time. (Somewhat conveniently, this is explained as something no one really understands.) We are now three thousand years since Ender Wiggin destroyed the Buggers, the only other known intelligent life in the universe. We’re three thousand years since Ender found the Hive Queen and first wrote the story of the Hive Queen and the Hegemon and became the first Speaker for the Dead. For the past three thousand years Ender and his sister, Valentine, have travelled through space and only a little bit of time. The name of Ender Wiggin has become a curse, vilified as the one who destroyed the Buggers, and the Speaker for the Dead has become something of a humanist religion.
The novel begins though, not with Ender, but on the planet Lusitania, where a Portuguese colony is beginning to interact with the first intelligent life discovered since the death of the Buggers. These are the “porquinhos” or piggies. Strict laws govern human interaction with them (even stricter than the Prime Directive) and the two humans who are allowed to even see or talk to the piggies are extremely limited in what they are able to learn.
I found the opening of the novel a bit confusing. Or perhaps overwhelming is a better word. With the introduction of not just multiple characters, but multiple species, and the Portuguese language and names, it took me a few pages to sort out where we were and who was who. It didn’t take long for the action to pick up though and for me to find myself deeply absorbed. Before we even met Ender again I was curled up with the novel and ignoring just about everything else. From that point I finished reading it in the same day.
In my opinion, this a better novel than Ender’s Game. There is a maturity to the book, as well as to Ender himself. After all, he’s had three thousand years to think about what he’s done. Having unwittingly started a new type of religion, Ender has evolved into someone with very different motivations and experiences than when we first met him. He definitely still has that “superman” quality where he’s a bit too good at everything he does and some things come too easily to him. But this book also isn’t as deeply involved with Ender. It’s not just his story but the story of Lusitania and its people, including the piggies.
Giving equal focus to the colony of Lusitania (and one family in particular) makes us really care about what happens on this planet. And, by extension, we care about what Ender’s doing.
As well,even more so than Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead raises a lot of really fascinating questions. Some – like how much should you interact with or influence a secondary intelligent species in the universe – are fascinating but not necessarily related to our current world. Others – like how do you deal with grief, abuse, and fractured families and what role can religion play in a community – most definitely are.
I’m glad I went on to read Speaker for the Dead. Even though there are more books after this in the Ender story, I felt happy with the conclusion offered here and I think I’m finished.