Thursday, August 6, 2015

Orson Scott Card’s Speaker for the Dead: A Book Review

Speaker for the Dead, the sequel to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, picks up some 3,000 years later. That is right, multiple millenniums have passed since the bugger “formic” war (the species will change names eventually but not in these first four books) but Ender is only around thirty as he has spent the overwhelming majority traveling at light speed and has thus traveled to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, one that has been colonized since he committed xenocide by killing the buggers. Yet he has never settled, staying on one place only for days at a time before drifting on in search of a purpose and a place. All the while, as humans have first taken over the abandoned bugger worlds and then taken over planet after planet, Ender has carried with him the last hive queen watching and waiting for the ideal time to re-launch her species and right his wrong. One plot line rests here—Ender has grown to love the larvae and communicates with her mentally on a frequent basis.

In addition, a computer anomaly created by the buggers, one that grew out of the game Ender played on his personal terminal in battle school and now occupies the combined computing power of the galaxy lives in an electronic jewel stored in his ear. Jane, as the program is known, is Ender’s closest friend, helping Andrew navigate the universe, one where his old nickname has become taboo, one where he still holds immense power. She is on the brink of discovery after 3,000 years of life, and while she offers innumerable resources, she has yet to compete for his love and attention. Things change. In this novel, one that is far more adult than its predecessor, a universe sits in constant flux.

Thus, as far as we are told, Ender has been traveling planet-to-planet Speaking for the Dead, carrying on the tradition he started when he wrote the Hive Queen and the Hegemon and revealing the true nature of an individual’s life—the good, the bad, the honest, the sad. As one would expect, this position fits the man our boy hero turned into. He cuts to chase, he finds the meat of a situation, and he goes for the jugular, whether it be war or grief, love or hate. His pattern of planet hopping and speaking, takes him to Novinha, a girl he falls for from thirty years away. Novinha  has lost her parents, her surrogate father Pipo, and due to the details of the Pipo’s death at the hands of the first sentient species discovered since the buggers, the Pequeninos, she refuses to marry her true love Libo. Yet Ender loves her at first sight. He feels the pain in her lonely teenage face, and travels to find her in her 40’s and speak to the death not of Pipo as planned but to that of her freshly dead abusive husband.

So we find a story of veiled love, of a new alien species capable of living three lives (worm, piggies, trees), of a deadly virus that is constantly mutating and threatening the survival of the human race, and of the restoration of a specious from extinction. Are these creatures worth saving? Do they deserve human respect and attention? The plots play out as Ender speaks to the death of Marcão, seeks to heal a family, and conjoin the fate of piggies with that of man. He is negotiator, he is pacifier, he is a force of balance. Humanity is questioned, it is confronted, and it is shown to be capable greatness once again. Yet, at the same time, the community of Lusitania is singled out by the Starways Congress for violating the policies of non-intervention, and thus are held at gunpoint as an MD device, the very device Ender used to eliminate the bugger home world, is sent to annihilate them first for doing more than observe the piggies and second for the health risk of the Descolada virus.

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