Orson Scott Card – Speaker for the Dead

After an amazing book like Ender’s Game, it must be hard for an author to come up with something even remotely as awesome. But Orson Scott Card has earned all my respect and admiration with this second volume in the Ender series. Because while it is very different from Ender’s Game, it is as good, if not better!

SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD
by Orson Scott Card

published: Tor, 1986
ISBN: 0812550757
pages: 382
copy: paperback
series: Ender  #2

my rating: 9,5/10

first sentence: In the year 1830, after the formation of the Starways Congress, a robot scout ship sent a report by ansible: The planet it was investigating was well within the parameters for human life.

In the aftermath of his terrible war, Ender Wiggin disappeared, and a powerful voice arose: The Speaker for the Dead, who told the true story of the Bugger War. Now, 3000 years later, a second alien race has been discovered, but again the aliens’ ways are strange and frightening. Again, humans die. And it is only the Speaker for the Dead, who is also Ender Wiggin the Xenocide, who has the courage to confront the mystery…and the truth.

From the beginning, it is obvious that this is a very different story from the one told in Ender’s Game. Three thousand years have passed, the setting is a planet called Lusitania and the protagonsits are scientists – xenologers, xenobiologists. Ender Wiggin, the original Xenocide, is only 35 years old. Constant space travel at nearly the speed of light has made it possible for him to see his own name spoken with hatred by everyone. And at the same time be praised as the Speaker for the Dead who wrote The Hive Queen and the Hegemon. Before Ender is called to Speak the death of several people on Lusitania, we get to know a whole new cast of characters.

The xenologers and xenobiologists may have been sent to discover and study the piggies’ culture but, by law, they are not allowed to intervene or, in fact, give away any information about human life, in order to preserve the natural behavior of the alien species. I found the idea intriguing to try and learn about a strange culture without being allowed to ask direct questions, lest one give too much away of one’s own culture. From a science point of view, that is absolutely devestationg. And incredibly fun to read!

I was stunned by Orson Scott Card’s story-telling. Going from a beloved book like Ender’s Game into something (almost) entirely new felt a bit like leaving an old friend behind for someone fresher – I was reluctant, to say the least. But then I fell in love with this novel immediately. There isn’t a single boring or unnecessary page in The Speaker for the Dead, the language is on point and the pacing is fantastic. In the piggies, Card created a very original and strange alien race which is used to explore themes of cultural understanding, philosophy and scientific work.

How the author managed to fit character development in this story – for every single person, I might add – is unbelievable. But it’s true. There is a range of characters, human, piggy, and even an incredibly likeable artificial mind, and each of them feels utterly real and grows throughout this story. I still can’t decide what aspect I found more interesting – learning about the piggies’ culture, watching the protagonists’ family tragidy, or seeing how Ender will act.

There is not a single bad thing to be said about this book. It feels well-rounded, has a satisfying end (that leaves room for the sequel of course) and could even be read as a stand-alone novel. There are lots of hints and mentions of the things that happened in Ender’s Game, but they’re not vital to get an amazing story out of this book. Both the Hugo and Nebula were awarded to this (and Ender’s Game) and they are as deserved as they can be. Orson Scott Card has managed the almost impossible. To write a follow-up to a pretty much universally beloved story and make it – while entirely different – just as good.

THE GOOD: Engaging characters, interesting alien race, quick pace (took me two days to read) and great themes.
THE BAD: Uhm… I don’t know, you tell me.
THE VERDICT: There is no reason why this book shouldn’t be read by everyone. Pick it up, sit down and don’t expect to get up before you’re done.

RATING: 9,5/10

The series:

  1. Ender’s Game (German review)
  2. Speaker for the Dead
  3. Xenocide
  4. Children of the Mind

2 thoughts on “Orson Scott Card – Speaker for the Dead

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