Speaking To Everyone: A review of Orson Scott Card's Speaker For The Dead|
| Speaker For The Dead is the second book in science fiction writer Orson Scott Card?s "Ender-verse". The book?s predecessor, the much vaunted Ender?s Game, was hailed as a critical and popular success, winning both the Nebula and Hugo award in 1985 and 1986, respectively.
After years of reading and writing science fiction, it was only in the summer of 2007 that I found the time to read the first Ender book. I was impressed, but far from floored with my first Orson Scott Card novel.
|Selected books in the series
Ender's Game (1985)
Speaker for the Dead (1986)
Children of the Mind (1996)
A War of Gifts (2007)
Ender in Exile: Ganges (Coming soon...)
SaveCancelOnly at the behest of a Card-obsessed friend of mine, did I put down my Neal Stephenson and read Speaker for the Dead, the second of Card's Ender novels and the subject of this review. My friend, who shall remain nameless, offered the Hugo and Nebula award winning Speaker as a redemption for Card, in light of my apparently shocking lack of enthusiasm for Ender?s Game.
I imagine my friend?s words were very choicely crafted as Speaker is, at its core, a story of redemption.
The honest humanity of Speaker is why I hold it as a far superior novel to Ender's Game. Ender's Game was ostensibly, an "us versus them" story. Us being the allied, but still squabbling nations of the Earth; them being an insectoid race called the Formics, or more casually the "Buggers". Only in the last few chapters of Ender?s Game, as pre-pubescent Andrew "Ender" Wiggin begins to grasp the reality of war and rebel against the perceived determinism of the Allied Fleet?s Command School do we see the novel become something powerful and poignant.
Ultimately, it is through Ender?s rebellion, his refusal to play any more war-games, that he unknowingly destroys the Buggers home world. This final battle, in concert with all his other war games, which were actual battles Ender was conducting under the guise of training exercises, led to the xenocide of the "Bugger" species.
CloseEdit FileWhen finished, click Save or CSpeaker for the Dead begins three-thousand five-hundred years after the events of Ender?s Game. Ender is now a guilt-addled thirty-five year old that has spent his life travelling from world to world, at speeds where time dilation becomes a factor thus explaining his relative youth, seeking a new home for the last surviving "Bugger" queen.
ancel below. Change PermissionsReadWriteExecuteUserGroupEnder travels the "Hundred Worlds" of humanity as a "Speaker for the Dead". Speakers are seen within the Ender-verse as part scholar and part religious figure. Rather than offering a typical funeral oration, which is perfunctory, polite and not always honest, a Speaker for the Dead attempts to relate the details of a person?s life accurately and more importantly, in their proper context.
When a Speaker is requested on the planet Lusitania, the only other planet where humanity has found sentient life, Ender leaves behind his now married and pregnant sister, Valentine, to go to this world.
The resurrection of the Buggers, the salvation of the aliens' native to Lusitania, known as the Piggies, and Ender?s own personal redemption is achieved through Ender?s interaction with the highly dysfunctional Ribeira family. This effective modus vivendi opens the book up to a much wider audience than that of Ender?s Game. Space travel with relativistic side-effects and non-anthropomorphized aliens are generally enough to scare away all but dedicated science fiction aficionados.
But, the tragic environment of the Ribeira family empowers Ender, acting as the Speaker for the Dead, as a deus ex machina to their immediate problems. As the Lusitania colony?s Xeno-biologists and cultural anthropologists, the Ribeira's are inextricably linked to the alien Piggies; allowing readers who might otherwise avoid science fiction, easily recognizable with whom they can bond.
Where the sociological aspects of Ender?s Game ? morality of total war, religious persecution, child soldiers - were too often tertiary to the plot, such is not the case in Speaker.
Card uses the novel to address perceptions of nationalism and "the other" in a continuously meaningful way. Ender?s sister, acting as the anonymous writer and political agitator Demosthenes, has created a "Hierarchy of Alienness". This hierarchy is used as a tool to answer one of the book's central questions: Are the Piggies Ramen or Varelse? Are they Ramen; aliens who recognize humanity as alien but capable of communication, understanding and co-existence? Or are they Varelse; something truly alien to humanity where communication and thus peaceful co-existence is impossible?
As the characters in the book struggle with this question, I, as a reader, could not help but consider the hierarchy in the context of this world.
To invoke the language of the book, Canadians and Americans would consider each other Framlings ? members of the same species but of different cultures. Given the Earth's current geo-political climates, it should be clear to any credulous reader that we have come to a point where all cultures of this world do not view each other as Framlings. Thus, Ender's attempt to explain the futility of tribal warfare to the Piggies ought to send a clear message to the readers; nations are imagined as is the concept of the "other", which nations use to differentiate themselves.
Speaker's exploration of religion was another surprising about face from the Spartan focus of Ender?s Game. The Bishop of Lusitania colony, upon learning of the impending arrival of a Speaker for the Dead, warns his flock away from assisting the sinful secularist. This Catholic enmity to all things secular is again directed against Ender by zealous members of the Ribeira family. Yet, the portrayal of Catholicism as something that is at best, quaint and at worst, archaic is tempered as the narrative unfolds. Reason and faith partner for the good of the colonists, the Piggies and the sole surviving Bugger under Ender's stewardship.
But, this is not to say that Religion was an essential element to the narrative. While the Ribeira family are sine qua non from the narrative, faith and religion are not so essential. What religion represents to the story is another means to open the narrative to a broader audience. The popularization of the Star Trek franchise has carried forward a message in the popular media, that of "The future is atheistic." When religion is portrayed in Science Fiction it is often shown to be repressive and unrelenting ? see Robert A. Heinlein?s "If This Goes On" or for a more pedestrian example, Contact starring Jodie Foster.
Furthermore, the pervasive presence of Catholicism in the book serves to highlight the core purpose of Ender?s life: Redemption for killing all the Buggers. With the essential mythos of Catholicism being that of self-sacrifice and redemption, it is only fitting to tell Ender?s story in an environment that he recognizes as kindred, despite its initial hostility. Through using religion in this fashion, Card has created a world that is immediately recognizable to readers of all faiths but suitably pluralistic at the same time. Without coming anywhere near Heinlein?s unwaveringly polemic approach to addressing the grand concerns of man, Card uses Speaker for the Dead to explore what makes us both cultural and political entities.
Love, hope and forgiveness are the foundation of Speaker for the Dead. For all of Card's pensive considerations of politics and careful inclusion of religion, human emotions are what have and will continue to make this book popular. The characters are genuine in their joy and suffering. They are at all time genuine, as Card charts the dialogue and introspection on a course that is far from maudlin.
All too often, literary folk of an open mind say to me that they find science fiction to be a genre so far removed from reality as to render it, in the language of Speaker, Varelse ? an unknowable alien. Ender?s Game, was a book that lent credence to that supposition. After all, Ender, as a ten year old wunderkind, grew more and more alien to the book?s readers. Speaker for the Dead, is, in this reviewers humble opinion, an answer to the Varsele of the genre.
Card's creation of a still brilliant, but now haunted Ender, transforms the character into a universally relatable protagonist. All the actions that Ender takes, from his assimilation into the Ribeira family, and the Lusitania colony as a whole, to his Speaking the death of the late-Ribeira patriarch, allows readers to implicitly and explicitly connect themselves to the narrative.
Orson Scott Card created a 416-page masterpiece in Speaker for the Dead. Despite the book being twenty years old, its message is as relevant now as it was during the 80s.
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