Review: Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead
Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was recently inspired to re-read Ender’s Game when the new movie came out. That sparked me to try to track down the sequels to the book, which I had never read. This is one of them, Speaker for the Dead.

Orson Scott Card says in his “author’s definitive edition” of this Nebula award winning novel that this was the book he really wanted to write; Ender’s Game, first as story and then as novel, were paths to this novel. And I see why. There’s some really deep themes going on here; paradigm-changing stuff well worth the read that I won’t tell you about because that would totally spoil the book.

I found it engrossing at the beginning; difficult to read in the middle; and fascinating near the end. This was really a matter of the way in which characters were presented and the inevitable knowledge that things were going to go awry.

A lot of choices were made with plot and characters that I didn’t really understand. My poly-partner said in critique of Card’s writing that “all his characters turn into Joseph Smith,” and I really wish he hadn’t said that because now I can’t unsee it.

Ender, several thousand years (or thirty, due to near-lightspeed travel issues) after the events of Ender’s Game, is known and reviled as “The Xenocide.” Since then he has become the first “Speaker for the Dead,” a kind of secular humanist atheist priest who goes around, speaking about a person’s life at their funeral. This grew out of an idea Card had that I actually rather like; the Speaker tells your story, good and bad. He talks about who you were; to yourself, to your friends, to your acquaintances, to your parents and spouses and children, all of whom might know you as someone different. I am toying with the idea of having one at my own funeral now.

Ender’s book, “The Hive Queen and the Hegemon,” the first he wrote as “The Speaker for the Dead,” talks about the xenocide of the buggers (aliens) from Ender’s Game. At the start of this novel, he is asked to come and Speak the death of someone in a Catholic community world where the only other intelligent species the humans have seen since the buggers are located, and an experiment in alien anthropology without interference in the lives of the other species is underway.

For some reason, no one seems to equate “Andrew Wiggin” with “Ender Wiggin,” though detailed computer records and awareness of the effects of near-lightspeed travel have been known about for millenia, which bothers me. Another thing that bothers me is that a man raised as a child soldier, with no knowledge of normal social interactions and no real contact with any nurturing presence of significance has become, in the wake of the Xenocide, a man of exceptional wisdom who comprehends human nature in an almost superhuman way, and that is never explained. I can *see* how that might happen certainly; sometimes, seeing the worst in people makes us want to see the best, as Holocaust survivors have seemed historically to know. But there’s an evolutionary process to that and it wasn’t explained well by the background that Card gave to Ender in the “down” time in between. But perhaps I’m just being a counselling and psychology snob.

Other things happen between characters in events in the book that just strike me as weird. And I guess it bothers me because it’s so glaringly different from the intuitive grasp of human behaviour as individuals and groups that Card seemed to display in Ender’s Game.

Furthermore, I don’t understand what the hell the cover is supposed to represent. The Ansible, maybe?

All in all, I say read it, because it was an excellent novel and it’s a classic, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Maybe I’d just heard too much hype.

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