When I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card years ago, I loved it, but I had no particular desire to continue the series. The story felt complete, and some friends told me the rest of the books weren’t that good anyway. However, when I checked the audiobook for Ender’s Game out of the library, I saw the sequel, Speaker for the Dead on the shelf next to it. There weren’t any other audiobooks of interest available at the time, so I decided I might as well give it a try.
Be warned! This review contains some Ender’s Game spoilers.
Speaker for the Dead takes place 3,000 years after the events of Ender’s Game. Ender Wiggin has continued his work as a speaker for the dead. Because this work requires large amounts of interstellar travel, Ender is still alive; however, no one knows that he is the beloved anonymous author of The Hive Queen and The Hegemon, nor does anyone know that he is Ender Wiggin, the despised xenocide, the man who destroyed an entire sentient race.
The bulk of the book takes place on a planet called Lusitania, home to a Portugese Catholic colony of humans and the only other known sentient life form in the universe, the peconinos, or piggies. A father/son team of xenologers named Pipo and Libo are studying the peconinos, as the colony’s xenobiologist, Novinha, is studying the plant life. When Pipo is flayed alive by the piggies, Novinha calls for a speaker to explain his death. And more than 20 years later, Ender arrives.
The apparent murder of Pipo is an outrage, but the colonists cannot treat it as such because the Starways Congress, which oversees the colony, has strict rules about how the colonists may interact with the piggies. Ender takes it upon himself to learn the real story. This process of discovery what makes the book, in some ways, much more interesting than Ender’s Game, even if it is less entertaining. With the piggies, Card has created a race of beings whose ways simply cannot make sense unless you understand the evolutionary process on Lusitania and are willing to reconsider assumptions about what it means to be sentient and what really constitutes life—and death.
Even though I loved hearing about the piggies and seeing the Lusitanians learn more about them, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did Ender’s Game. It takes it a very long time to get started. There are so many characters that I simply could not keep them straight. And most of them aren’t even that important to the story. After a while, the book does settle down to focus on a few key people, and it becomes easier. I can only assume that the minor characters take on more importance in later books and that Card had to introduce them here to lay the groundwork for what is to come.
Another problem is that Card tends to go on and on when he explains his characters’ thoughts and feelings. And most of the time, these characters are not so inscrutable that detailed, repeated explanation was needed. However, I will admit that on audio, this kind of overexplaining can be helpful because I so easily lose the thread of the story, and the repeated explanations make it easier for me to keep up. I have a feeling I would have done a fair bit of skimming if I were reading this book in print.
The book does tell a fairly complete story, but as it ends, it’s clear that a crisis is looming for Lusitania. I’m interested enough in the outcome that I’ll probably read the next book, Xenocide, but I’m not feeling a burning need to do so right away, as I usually do with series fiction. If you’ve read Xenocide or Children of the Mind, I’d be curious as to whether you found them worthwhile.