Speaker for the Dead
This science fiction book by Orson Scott Card is the second in the " Ender Quintet" series and is published by Tor Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers.
Speaker for the Dead is written for readers age 12 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
More than 3,000 Earth years have passed since young Ender Wiggin unwittingly commanded Earth's forces to exterminate the alien race known as the Buggers. Andrew Wiggin (Ender) is still alive, due to the relativistic time effects of space travel. He serves as a "Speaker for the Dead," travelling around the universe to speak on the significance of those who have recently died. This is accomplished at special services called "speakings," in which the person's life story is analyzed and researched, so that others may know the true story of that person's life as he or she tried to live it.
The universe is a very different place than in the last book. Humans have colonized a "Hundred Worlds," planets that the Buggers had once used and where remnants of their technology remain. A new interstellar government body — Starways Congress — regulates life on all the human colonies, though the vast distances between star systems limit its power. Influenced by Ender's now famous written works, the human race no longer hates the Buggers, and instead has turned their feelings on Ender. History refers to Ender as "The Xenocide," the one who destroyed an entire race of thinking, feeling beings. No one knows that Andrew Wiggin is Ender, nor do they see a connection between him and the original Speaker for the Dead.
Ender is summoned to the world of Lusitania, where he encounters a colony of Catholics of Portuguese descent. On Lusitania, colonists have discovered the first sentient alien species found since the Buggers. The creatures are odd-looking hominids that resemble pigs. Humans call the creatures "Piggies."
To avoid the violent mistakes of humanity's past encounters with an intelligent race, the colonists are mandated by the Starways Congress to pursue a very discreet relationship with the Piggies. Barriers are built around the colony, and population controls are put into place. The colonists must have minimal contact with the Piggies, except for a pair of alien anthropologists who are allowed limited contact. They do so with the understanding that they will not contaminate the aliens with information about human civilization and technology.
The Piggies seem to be peaceful, friendly beasts. Pipo and his son, Libo, are the alien anthropologists, who have become interested in the society and culture of the Piggies. But the colony is shocked when the aliens kill Pipo in a gruesome disemboweling ceremony. No one can understand why he was killed. The Lusitania colony becomes a sort-of prison, as everyone stays inside the colony out of fear. Only the other alien anthropologists dare to venture outside the colony's electric fence.
Novinha, an orphaned girl who had contributed to the work of the alien anthropologists, thinks she has an idea why Pipo was killed. Though she doesn't see the full picture, she recognizes that the death was somehow related to a fearsome disease that has limited the diversity of life on the planet. Novinha had shared with Pipo some classified information on the disease. Long ago, Novinha's parents had discovered a treatment for the disease, but it had cost them their lives. She doesn't want to share this same information with Libo, whom she is in love with, because she fears the secrets would lead to his death, as well. (But the Piggies eventually kill Libo.)
It is Novinha who summons Ender to the planet, in the hopes that the speaking will give some meaning to the death of the alien anthropologist. The journey to Lusitania takes Ender six months, though 20 years have passed on Lusitania. When he arrives on the planet, he is thrust into a web of bitterness, deception and secrets. The colony's religious leaders consider "speaking" to be a heathen practice. And Novinha is hostile and untrusting. She'd actually cancelled her request for a speaker years earlier and has grown bitter over time.
Ender is desperate to help the colony of Lusitania, and he dives into the task of "speaking" for the dead. To do so, he must first unravel the tangle of secrets surrounding the lives of the Piggies and the alien anthropologists. He knows that he must speak for the dead, but that his findings will also have consequences for an intelligent alien race.
As Ender analyzes the history and story of Lusitania, he begins to reveal secrets from the lives of Libo and Pipo, and even Novinha herself. Ender also discovers the reasons for Pipo's and Libo's murders, revealing the seemingly violent Piggies' ceremony as a “natural” stage in the life of the race, instrumental in their ability to reproduce.
Ender is able to work out a treaty with the Piggies so the two races might learn to live in peace. He signs the declaration with the name he'd long discarded: "Ender Wiggin." Novinha becomes the first human to look upon his name with love and compassion instead of hatred.
God is often described as the Creator of all races. The story is primarily set in a Catholic colony on the frontlines of an encounter with an alien race. There is extensive discussion on the Catholic Church's beliefs and role throughout history, both as a moral and a political force, and on the Church's proper role in dealing with an alien culture that might have its own beliefs. Some characters, particularly the colony's religious leaders, are portrayed as being rigid and uncompassionate, blindly following the dictates of the Church. Others have questions about that faith, and they are portrayed as reasonable, sympathetic characters.
Ender himself was once baptized Catholic, but was not raised in the faith. His desire to solve the mysteries of Lusitania, to speak truth about the lives of the alien anthropologists, has him confronting the colony's religious leaders, and we see his mixed feelings toward the Church's authority. Still, in some ways, Ender's quest for Truth often becomes a force for Christian thinking in the story, as he desires the humans to treat the Piggies as they themselves would like to be treated.
Other Belief Systems
Some characters view science as the ultimate answer for life's questions. Anthropology is an inexact science; the observer never experiences the same culture as the participant, and it is better to avoid contact with other species to avoid contaminating their civilization. People must try to believe that there are reasons for the mysterious acts of others, even if those actions seem barbaric.
Andrew believes that all people are capable of both good and terrible acts: Killing and healing reside in every heart. Andrew thinks that even the most "evil" person has some generous act in his life that redeems the evil. His job, as a Speaker, is to provide the full portrait of a person's life.
An alien race's belief systems is explored in great detail, though mostly from the human's perspective and in an inability to understand the reasons for certain behaviors. The alien culture is directly compared to certain human belief systems, even Christianity.
Profanity includes usages of b--chy, d--ned, b--tard and the British curse bloody. "Bugger" is also part of the text, though only in reference to a race of aliens known as the Buggers.
God's name seems to be used in vain a number of times, although in the context of the story, many of these usages seem more like overly casual religious references. It's used with rest his soul, forgive me and help us.
Compared to this novel's precursor (Ender's Game), there is much less overall violence. But Ender's history as a warrior who extinguished a race of sentient beings still haunts him, and he often recalls key, vivid moments from that past.
There is also frequent discussion of an alien race's ritualistic murder of two human scientists, as well as their tendency to take the lives of their own species in a similar manner. The reasons behind this murder are explored, and readers learn that the aliens consider the ceremony a natural part of their species' existence.
There is substantial discussion about human reproduction and adultery, though there are no actual sex scenes. Human characters also discuss the sexual nature of the Piggies, wondering where their genitals are and whether they reproduce in the same way as humans. Other creatures are described as not having sexual organs, and scientists wonder how they reproduce. One human is described as "sex-starved."
Two characters behave in a flirtatious manner, kissing each other and longing for a day when they can marry and consummate their love. (These two characters eventually learn that they are siblings and cannot pursue their feelings.)
In one conversation, a pair of pants is described as being too tight and "short in the crotch." Humans wonder what the Piggies think about the concept of equality between the sexes, as male Piggies apparently use a completely different language when speaking to their female counterparts.
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Readability Age Range
12 and up
Orson Scott Card
Tor Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers
Hugo Award, 1997; Nebula Award, 1986