Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
Posted March 14, 2017on:
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
- You totally should, because it’s an awesome book
- Don’t waste your time on the movie that came out a few years ago, because it sucked
- 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.