So if you’ve read my last book review of the book Ender’s Game, you know that I’ve recently taken on this classic science fiction series by Orson Scott Card. If you haven’t, you might want to read that one first, since Speaker of the Dead is the sequel to Ender’s Game.
I’ll say up front, I was very close to giving Speaker for the Dead five stars as well. It was a very good book. It just didn’t quite have the jarring impact on me that Ender’s Game did.
In Speaker for the Dead, three thousand years have passed since the Bugger wars, and humanity has spread from the Earth to colonizing one hundred planets throughout the Universe. Travel between worlds takes place very near the speed of light, and as any Trekkie or sci-fi junkie knows, travelling near the speed of light dramatically slows down time. To understand this book, it’s very important that you understand this principle; if a person travels from one world to another, they arrive only having experienced a couple weeks. The planet they left and the planet they are arriving at, however, may have experienced thirty years. I give Card credit, though he gives no equation to determine exactly what this ratio is (and who would want one other than a physics nerd like me?), he remains consistent, and the book comes across as very believable.
This is why, even though three thousand years have passed on Earth, Ender is still alive and remembers the Bugger wars happening only thirty years earlier. He and his sister, Valentine, have spent those thirty years travelling from planet to planet, spending so much time in speed of light travel that they have outlived generations of humanity. In this one he goes by his real name of Andrew, and so far no one has associated him with the hero turned villain of the Bugger wars, except his sister, a very bright student, and his closest friend, an intelligent program become sentient called Jane, who exists out in the vast web of information that connects all computers and communications of the worlds.
At the beginning of this book, Ender and Valentine have just finally settled down on an icy planet called Trondheim. Well, Valentine has settled down at least. Married and with a child on the way, Ender has stayed with her out of respect for her desire to put down some roots. Soon that changes when he receives a request from a distant colony called Lusitania to come speak the death of a man named Pipo.
Intrigued by the complexity and pain that he sees in the death of Pipo and the people around him, Ender goes to Lusitania, home to a small colony of catholic humans and another race, the Piggies; the first intelligent alien race discovered since the Buggers.
Again tensions between the races arise and deaths occur, but this time it is up to Ender to prevent the very misunderstanding that led to tragedy during the Bugger Wars. His job is made difficult by Novinha, the girl who called him, grown into an embittered and secretive woman by the time he arrives, and her children, hardened by abuse and neglect. Not to mention the fact that Speakers of the Dead are unwelcome at best in Catholic regions.
This was a really great book. I thought it was even more well-written than Ender’s Game. While it does have enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested throughout, it didn’t have quite the jarring twist that Ender’s Game did. The surprises were a little easier to predict and the moral conflicts were not quite as difficult, though frustratingly realistic. It still has that strange ability to keep me reading when there is no action. The action is personal. It’s in the moral decisions of each person, the relationships that are built and broken, and the fascinating psychology of Card’s characters.
Almost five stars. Really. If I hadn’t read Ender’s Game first, this might have gotten five stars. All in all, it is definitely a worthy sequel to a book I consider a classic of science fiction.