the Little Red Reviewer

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

Posted on: March 14, 2017

Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

published in 1986, Revised Edition published 1991

where I got it: purchased used






Hard to believe I’ve never reviewed Ender’s Game.  How many times have I read that book? Four times? Five? Maybe more??  It’s one of those novels that I’ve returned to over and over during the last 15 years, when I need to read something that I know I’ll enjoy.  If you’ve never read Ender’s Game

  1. You totally should, because it’s an awesome book
  2. Don’t waste your time on the movie that came out a few years ago, because it sucked
  3. Me talking about Speaker for the Dead will probably spoil some Ender’s Game stuff for you. #sorrynotsorry


I’m going to review this book backwards.  All the good stuff is right here at the beginning, and maybe I’ll get to the nitty gritty stuff later.


The good stuff:  I fucking loved this novel.  The last 50 pages? I cried through every single one of them. I have a thing about trees, and I suck at dealing with death. What I got out of Speaker for the Dead is that trees are way awesomer than I ever thought, and that’s ok to be shitty at mourning and to not have any idea how to process it when someone dies.


More good stuff: really cool aliens!  Really cool Artificial intelligence!


Only a few xenobiologists on the Lusitania colony are allowed to have contact with the indigenous sentient animals, who have been nicknamed “Piggies”, due to their physical resemblance to Terran pigs.  The xenobiologists are keen to understand everything they scientifically can about the Piggies (their reproductive cycle, their genetic code, you name it!), and it’s a two way street as the Piggies are pretty curious about us too. If the Piggies words and phrases don’t always make sense, maybe their actions and “gifts” will.  We view them as cute little animals, they can’t possibly be intelligent, and they certainly don’t fit our view of civilized mammals.


Ender has an assistant, of sorts, Jane.  She talks to him through a bluetooth-esque speaker in his ear, but she’s not a person.  She’s an AI born within humanity’s interstellar communications system. No one but Ender knows she exists, because she knows if humanity knew she existed, she’d be destroyed. Because of what Ender has been through, she trusts him. And she helps him, most of the time. In a way, Jane loves him.  If nothing I’ve said so far has gotten your attention, read this book just for the banter between Ender and Jane.

Bits and pieces of the book reminded me of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, and of Frank Herbert’s God Emperor of Dune, if that helps any.


This recent tweet sums up my experience with this novel nicely:

Because I have no idea what Card wanted me to get out of this book, and frankly I don’t care. All I know is that it had a profound effect on me, that it said things about death and mourning and loss and faith and family and rebellion and science in ways I needed to hear.  This book isn’t about aliens, and it isn’t about AI, and it isn’t about xenobiology. It isn’t about any of those things in the same way Ender’s Game isn’t about a little boy learning about strategic planning and being bullied by other kids.


Speaker for the Dead is about the difference between learning about something, and learning from something. You don’t need to understand something to know that it’s important and meaningful to someone else, although it’s nice if you’re willing to try to understand it.  If you can bring yourself to understand it, maybe you’ll see the importance of it too.


I feel like I’m speaking the death of the trees that died for the paper for this book. Or at least lamely attempting to.


Ender is 6 years old at the beginning of Ender’s Game. He’s about 35 in Speaker for The Dead. there’s a lot more than 30 years worth of stuff that happens in between the two books, making Speaker feel more like a 3rd (or 4th?) book in a series rather than a second. According to the Wikipedia page for the Enderverse, there are about a zillion books in the series, and the publication order and chronological order are drastically different (which is kinda cool, actually).


So, will I continue reading in this series?  I read Ender’s Game who knows how many times before I was interested in reading more in the series, and  we all know I’m a creature of habit.  So i’ll probably read Speaker another half dozen times before I read the next book in the series.  Maybe when I can get through this book without crying my eyes out, I’ll know it’s time for the next one.

Will you like Speaker for the Dead?  I dunno. Do you like trees like I do?


huh. looks like I never got to the nitty gritty stuff. oh well.

22 Responses to "Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card"

I loved this book too, although it’s been YEARS since I’ve read it. And I think I’ve read book three but not book four. Time for a binge read!


As someone who’s read books three and four (as well as the parallel novels and just about all the OSC written Ender-verse stuff) I can say that books three and four feel like one book stretched out to two. At least that’s how it felt when I read them years ago.


Ender’s Game is good. Speaker for the Dead is fantastic. I love it.

Mayhaps a re-read is in order as I’ve not read it in years.


I loved this series but couldn’t really get into the other books from Beans perspective. I always wanted another book with Ender.


Bean was a cool character, but I’m not sure I need an entire novel of just him, you know?

Liked by 1 person

Exactly, same with Petra. I want to know more about the super advanced alien planet they found.


I read this book back in highschool, and it was in an SFBC omnibus edition with Ender’s Game. I was ready for more of “Ender’s Game”, not this book. So I’ve never read any more in the Enderverse. It sounds like I should try it again now.


If I’d read this in high school, it wouldn’t have had such an impact on me. Ender’s Game is just fine for a teenager, but Speaker deals with heavier stuff that I’m not sure a younger person would be all that much interested in.

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I might have to try Speaker again in the next couple of years. It would certainly be a great test case for how I’ve changed in 20 years…


I agree, excellent series, horrible movie. One day I picked up the audio CD of the first book-Amazing! Reading the prequels of Ender’s Game- the graphic comics are good easier to understand than the novel.


My thoughts parallel those of Bookstooge, above. I wanted more Ender’s Game, not just Ender doing something else somewhere else. However I loved Card’s Songmaster and have reread it.


I think that’s why I kept just rereading Ender’s Game instead of reading something else in the series. Because yeah, Speaker for the Dead is Ender doing something very different, somewhere else. but what he does do, is totally cool. And i liked the colonists and their isolated lives.

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On your recommendation, I will try this.


Red, is this where the ‘piggies” at death become family trees and the trees are the sum of their ancestors?


Yes. the babies also come from the trees, if i remember correctly. I think i need to read this book another 5 times or so, to get everything out of it.


I have been hesitant to read this or Ender’s Game again, despite really like them back in the day. There’s that lingering fear that the Suck Fairy has visited, especially since Card as a person irritates me so much.


One of my favorite books ever! Also I’ve never read Ender’s Game – I should probably try it too 🙂


I’ve read plenty of series out of order, and it goes a whole different experience (in a good way!). I’d love to hear your thoughts are after you read Ender’s Game, as you’re going to go into that book with a very different and fascinating perspective on Ender’s situation.

Liked by 1 person

Yeah, I’m sure it will be exciting, yet different. I put it on my spring reading list and will get back to this thread when I finish.


Fun review! I think you hit the nail on the head ( I just got done the book myself and am reading Xenocide now) when you said it’s more about understanding how something can be important without understanding why. I absolutely love the Ender universe and haven’t really read the books in order either lol.

I’ve read (In this order): Ender’s Shadow, Ender’s game, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Giant, Shadows in Flight, Earth unaware, Earth Afire, Earth Awakens, Speaker for the Dead, and currently a hundred pages in Xenocide lol so I’m all over the place.

I couldn’t agree more with what you said about Ender and Jane’s banter, hysterical at times.

Liked by 1 person

Good know I can jump around a little in the series and be OK.

Liked by 1 person

Well, Ender’s Game is a lot more action-driven than Speaker is and Speaker definitely is more about philosophy and morality than Ender’s Game was, making the plot slower and a little more tedious. Then, there is the fact that Ender, the genius commander, got roped into “ordinary human messes” starting in this book was kind of disappointing for me mostly because I liked the cynicism of the first book. However, Speaker, I thought, was an amazing book too, just at a different pacing and subject matter than Ender’s Game. BTW, Children of the Mind has mountains of “ordinary human messes”. I also really wanted to know about that other maybe-intelligent lifeform they encountered in Xenoxide. Anyway, that’s too many books to jump across in one comment…


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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