Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book Review: Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
1987 Hugo Award Winner for Best Novel and 1986 Nebula Award Winner for Best Novel

More than a year after finishing Orson Scott Card’s famous Ender’s Game, I finally got around to reading (well listening to) its award-winning sequel Speaker for the Dead. The later novel concerns the discovery by humans of a second intelligent alien race, called the Pequeninos on the recently settled planet Lusitania. The Brazilian Portuguese settlers of the planet are thereafter confined to a single city and their growth permanently limited by congressional order. The Pequeninos are a small, technologically primitive species with pig like features (earning them their other nickname, Piggies). Congress decides that the best thing for the Pequeninos is that they get as little contamination from humans as possible, and the only people allowed contact with them are specially trained xenologers (anthropologists for aliens) who have to work their hardest to learn about the Pequeninos while not letting the Pequeninos learn anything about them. I can’t really say much more about the plot without spoiling some very important parts of the story.

Speaker for the Dead is a fascinating book that explores important questions of personhood, religion and psychology. General consensus says that Ender’s Game is a far superior book to Speaker for the Dead, but I’ve heard at least two people disagree with this assessment. The first is my friend John Schiefer, and the second is Card himself, who thinks Speaker is the far more important book. In general, the former group are considered rather heretical by the science fiction community at large, but I’m afraid that I have to throw in with them. Not at all to diminish the quality of Ender’s Game, but I simply felt more invested in the world and characters of Speaker. Ultimately, the world felt more creative and the themes addressed are ones that seem more important to me.

The book is not entirely without its flaws, however. I really only have one minor complaint. This is that Speaker is very clearly written to have sequels, which means that while it addresses the major question of the book, it also leaves some things open so you’ll read the sequel. While I know that this is one way to do things, I’ve never been a particular fan of it.

Anyway, Speaker for the Dead is a great book and I highly recommend it. Of course, to read Speaker for the Dead, you first have to read Ender’s Game, so go pick up a copy and read it, and then treat yourself to Speaker