Friday, April 8, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Speaker for the Dead

Orson Scott Card is best known as the author of "Ender's Game," winner of the 1985 Hugo and Nebula Awards for best science fiction novel.  The following year, Card published the companion novel, "Speaker for the Dead," which went on to win the same two awards for 1986. He is the only author to win both awards in consecutive years.

Though the novel serves, chronologically, as a sequel, "Speaker for the Dead" was originally intended as a self-standing work: it was only after developing the back-story that Card realized the need for a 'prequel' novel. Honestly, I prefer the first one. While both pieces are exemplars of the science fiction genre, not to mention ample demonstration of Card's literary talent, I found "Ender's Game" more of a political narrative, treating human interaction as a puzzle where all the pieces mesh together.

After finding the bugger queen at the end of "Ender's Game," Andrew Wiggin goes on a quest to find a new home for this alien species. He is accompanied by his sister, Valetine, as well as the sentient computer program Jane. Ultimately he finds himself on the planet Lusitania , home of a lonely human colony on a world dominated by a third alien species, the pequeninos.

"Speaker of the Dead" is pretty far removed from its prequel, at least in narrative terms. There are no battle rooms and war games, only clashes of personality. Ender is no longer a military-minded wunderkind, but a thoughtful and somewhat haunted young adult who makes his living as a Speaker, a cross between a funeral orator and a psychologist. Most of his time on Lusitania is occupied in coming to terms with the tragic history of the Ribeira family.

It's interesting enough -- a gross understatement, I admit -- but my heart fairly leapt towards the end of the book when the three aliens species finally come into contact with each other and construct a treaty to ensure mutual peace. The conflicts between species, much more than the conflicts within the family, hearkened most strongly back to the political elements in "Ender's Game" that made that novel so compelling.  All in all, "Speaker for the Dead" is a compelling read and a splendid example of science fiction, even if I wouldn't rank it as highly as its companion novel.

To purchase this book, check it out at
Speaker for the Dead (Ender, Book 2)

For other reviews of the Ender's Saga and Shadow series, check out these links:

Ender's Game (13 Aug. 2010)
Ender in Exile (23 Sept. 2010)
Speaker for the Dead (8 Apr. 2011)
Xenocide (9 Apr. 2011)
Children of the Mind (11 Apr. 2011)
Ender's Shadow (15 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Hegemon (19 Apr. 2011)
Shadow Puppets (25 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Giant (29 Apr. 2011)

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