28 November 2009

Review: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

It's been quite a long while now since I read Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, but since I've still got a couple books left in this universe to read: here's a quick blurb.

Opening paragraph:
Speaker for the Dead travels far into the future of Ender Wiggin's life. No longer the boy found in Ender's Game, Ender is a man who travels from one colony to another speaking on behalf of the dead. Ender's book "The Hive Queen and the Hegemon", which told the story of the buggers and their destruction, eventually became the basis of his profession: telling the story, both good and bad, of a life. Ender is called to a planet with a known intelligent alien life, piggies, to speak the death of Pipo, a xenologer who studies the piggies and has been brutally killed by them. En route to the planet, he is called again to speak the death of yet another murdered xenologer, Pipo's son Libo, and that of the husband, Marcos, of the planet's only xenobiologist, Novinha, who had worked closely with both Pipo and Libo. Ender arrives to find Novinha an embittered and detached adult who is terrified of the secrets Ender might reveal in speaking the deaths of the three men. Naturally, Ender shakes things up for the entire community, first by showing up at all and then by revealing so much that has been kept secret.

Long intro. I couldn't figure out how to cut it down to something more manageable, but it's been actually months since I read this book and my thoughts about it are a bit blurred. In any case, it was another enjoyable book in the Ender universe.

I did roll my eyes a lot at some parts of the book, particularly the whole spiritual aspect of speaking for the dead, and the pseudo-psychology of it. Meh. I'm quite cynical in general so I find the idea of speaking the good and bad of a life as a way to heal life's wounds fairly unlikely and a bit ridiculous. It also felt a bit unlikely to me that Ender could so easily show up and just repair a family so broken as Novinha's.

It isn't right to let the silly bits make the book sound appalling without providing some examples of the good as well, but has really been a long, long time since I read this.

I suppose what I liked best were the xenological aspects. Card's conception of the way the planet works, the symbiosis between the piggies and the trees for example, was fascinating. It's the anthropology of an imagined universe, described in more (or maybe just a different kind of) detail than most books with new worlds.

I think, to generalize, I found this book more problematic (in a different way) than Ender's Game and so I liked it less, but I wasn't disappointed to have spent time reading it. I was interested enough to read it, and to read it quickly. So philosophy and likelihood of magical familial healing aside, it was a worthwhile way to spend some time and I do look forward to the next in the series.

Orson Scott Card has written dozens of novels and short stories, including at least eight about Ender Wiggin. Card has won numerous awards, including multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. Orson Scott Card's official website can be found at Hatrack River.

Card, Orson Scott. Speaker for the Dead. New York: Tor, 1994.
Finished: 14 August 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 speaking trees
This was my 4th book in August and my 33rd in 2009.

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