Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card (TOR, 1986 {Macmillan Audio, Narrators: David Birney, Stefan Rudnicki, and Cast})

(Science Fiction)

ARSpeakerForTheDead500audioGrade: Α — (Alpha) Great book, must read regardless of what Genres you enjoy.  Makes you think of things beyond the scope of the book.[1]

In brief:

Speaker for the Dead is one of Orson Scott Card’s best works, but despite the fact that it is a sequel-of-sorts to Ender’s Game, its style, themes and tone holds little in common with that book.  It is a brilliant story that focuses on concepts of the other and one’s relationship to that.

WARNING – WHILE SPOILERS FOR THIS BOOK ARE AVOIDED, THERE ARE MILD SPOILERS OF ENDER’S GAME INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW.

Note how action and conflict oriented Ender’s Game is.  This is in direct contrast to the thoughtful, philosophical nature of Speaker for the Dead

Setting:

This novel is set in the same universe (with some of the same characters) as Ender’s Game, but 3000 years after the Bugger War. This book takes place in a universe with FTL communication, but no faster than light travel.  This means relatively plays a part in the aging and non-aging of characters, but that ideas and information is instantly transported.

OSCominousIn Depth:

Speaker for the Dead is one of Orson Scott Card‘s best works, but it is often panned by readers because of their expectations.  After all, Ender’s Game is a YA Military Science Fiction novel about a kid who undergoes traumatic training at the hands of adults in order to create the perfect war leader.  It’s brilliant, it’s gripping, and it’s nothing at all like this so-called sequel.  Oh, it follows on the story of Ender and the quest he is sent on at the end of the first book and is a natural continuation of his personal story arch, but thematically, it is NOTHING like Ender’s Game.

For one thing, Ender is now a lonely thirty-something year old man who is haunted by the crimes he feels he has committed by wiping out the only other intelligent race humanity has ever encountered.  Secondly, he is also no longer a soldier, nor even a governor; he has become a humanist priest who tells the life stories of the dead.

tumblr_mb7ystUeuA1rs60e2o1_500Thirdly, and most importantly, this book is not about war, or warfare… nor is it about the mistreatment or strengths of children.  This is a book that is wholly about the exploration of the other, be it the dead men and women that Ender is brought speak about in the story, or the alien species about whom the plot of the novel focuses.

To that end, this is a philosophical, indeed almost existentialist,[2] exploration of the self, the other and one’s relationship to both.  It is a very human and touching tale about coming to understand motivations of those around us. It focuses on how one views the other, and how others view the self, both through Ender’s “speaking” for a dead man named Marcão, and in his exploration of a newly encountered intelligent race of little pig-like creatures called Pequeninos (or “piggies”).  In doing this, Ender is in part trying to redeem himself from what he and most of human society views as the horrible crime of xenocide, despite the fact that the Formics (Buggers) do not hold him to blame for that crime.

Orson_Scott_Card's_Speaker_for_the_Dead_Vol_1_3To that end, one could hardly come across novels more different in style or themes than Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.  Yet the two fit together beautifully, as long as one drops one’s expectations and reads this as a different book all together.  So, if you want a tense, gripping war novel that carries on where Ender’s Game drops off… this is not the novel for you.[3]  If instead, you want a brilliantly told, emotional tale that looks at our relationship to others, then I would highly, highly recommend this novel.[4]

Notes about the Audio Edition:

This is an excellent audio version of the book, with solid production value and brilliant reading by a cast of characters.  This is not done in an audiodrama style, but rather with different narrators reading the book based on the point-of-view that the book follows at that time.  To that end, if we are seeing the world through one character’s eyes, we hear one narrator, if we are seeing it through another character’s eyes, we hear a different one.  Each time, the gender matches the POV character.    While this can sometimes be jarring the first time you encounter this technique, for the most part it adds to the enjoyment of the book and in this case is very well handled.

Unfortunately, as is often the case, the actors who read the parts are not identified in the recording nor on the web pages associated with this book.  As a result, I cannot really praise the individual actors who narrated this book, but they deserve praise.


[1] Okay, I just can’t avoid talking about the “Skip Ender’s Game” movement, so I’m going to do it here in the footnotes where I usually get in trouble anyway. Sooo….

tumblr_mak5d2Uatl1r17ugwo1_500Let me begin by saying that I find Orson Scott Card’s views on homosexuality barbaric. I am a heterosexual man, and I believe that to deny two consenting adults the ability to publicly and legally recognize their love is a ridiculous breach of civil liberties and just plain wrong. We are not talking about pedophilia here (no matter how much OSC and homophobic intolerants like to try to merge the issues), we are talking about consenting adults. As such, to allow the government to dictate who we have romantic or personal relationships with is dangerous.  Of course, mind you, I look at homosexuality and see no evil there.  None what-so-ever.  Indeed, I find love and marriage between two people a wonderful concept, and I celebrate the love that any two people have.  If they want to publically and legally commit to one another, I am even happier for them.

Having said that, I think the boycott of Ender’s Game is a mistake.  First of all, it victimizes Orson Scott Card by giving fuel to the extremists who oppose same-sex marriage about the homosexual agenda, the gay control of the media, the blah blah homophobic blah…

Yet there is something else, something just as important here: the out-of-hand dismissal of a person and/or their philosophies based upon a single aspect of them.  Thomas Aquinas made a great contribution to philosophy and religion, but his views on the relative evil of rape versus masturbation are horrendous.

Perhaps more to the point is the case of Salman Rushdie.  His novel, The Satanic Verses is intentionally offensive to Muslims (Okay… I suppose it’s possible he didn’t really intend to be offensive to Muslims, but he clearly knew it would be) and to that end I will not buy it, but many of his other books are full and beautiful and filled with thought provoking ideas that society would be worse off without having had them raised. To that end, I have and will continue to read his works. They enrich my life and my thoughts.

In contrast, Ender’s Game is a marvelous story that examines societal preconceptions of children and the lengths one might go to in War.  It speaks to cultural acceptance and calls for an understanding of other people and cultures.  To that end, it carries messages of cultural acceptance and understanding that I believe our society needs to hear. Ender’s Game is not about homosexuality.

To boycott it is not just a Boycott of Orson Scott Card, but of the ideas presented within that book. If we were talking about Orson Scott Card’s Hamlet, I’d be on the front line picketing it, but we are not.  If he had gone out and assaulted homosexuals, or promoted attacks on homosexuals, then again I would probably join the boycott.  He has not.  Instead he has said some offensive things and has views on homosexuality that I consider abhorrent, but like any person, he is more than that, and not all of his views are so intolerant.  Let us let the wrongness of his ideas on homosexuality fall upon their own lack of merit.  Even he is distancing himself from some of his worst comments.  Society and rational thought are winning, and doing so on a global level.  Let us, who support freedom, love and the multiplicity gender choices not use the same techniques that those who suppressed homosexuals for centuries have used.

[2] Though admittedly a very optimistic for most existentialist approaches.

[3] Indeed, there may not be a novel for you. Ender’s Shadow tells the same story as Ender’s Game but from a different perspective, and tells it very, very well.  Unfortunately, that series drops in quality very quickly thereafter… but that is another review…

[4] Indeed, considering Orson Scott Card’s touching way of looking at individuals in a non-judgmental form in this book, one cannot help but raise an eyebrow at the way his public commentary on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.  There is a quote in this book that notes how marriage marks one of the key measures in human society of full membership in that culture. I could not help but wonder how he views the denial of marriage, and thus full membership in society, to a significant portion of our population based solely on an aspect of their lives that, if I understand some of his more recent comments, even he accepts are biologically inclined to a different form of gender identity.

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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4 Responses to Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card (TOR, 1986 {Macmillan Audio, Narrators: David Birney, Stefan Rudnicki, and Cast})

  1. arkainin says:

    Great review and look at Speaker for the Dead. Both are very different books, but both just as fun for different reasons.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I agree. Am presently listening to Xenocide, which as of yet, I’m not enjoying as much as either Ender’s or Speaker, but then again, it would be hard to match that level of skill.

      • arkainin says:

        I never got into the later books of the series as much as the first few. The entire general plot branches out a lot more, and I just was not as interested. Still good work, but not as much my thing.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        And that really is the problem with the book. One does sort of hope for an Ender’s Game part 2… and while I love what I got, it is certainly not that… nor everyone’s cup of tea.

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