Sep 23, 2008

Speaker for the Dead

by Orson Scott Card

This is one of those books packed with a complex story and thought-provoking ideas. Yet at the same time it really disappointed me, and I just cannot love it the way I did Ender's Game. In Speaker for the Dead, thousands of years have passed since Ender nearly obliterated the alien Buggers, causing his name to be vilified by the universe for killing an entire race. Now mankind has discovered another form of alien life, and they don't want to repeat the same mistake. Contact is strictly guarded, so many restrictions its nearly ludicrous. Life on the new planet is complicated further by the presence of a deadly disease, the secrets of its pathology deliberately hidden by those who found its cure. Members of the scientist family involved summon a Speaker for the Dead to reveal the true desires and motivations of their dead father in a public ceremony- not knowing that the Speaker is Ender himself, who by some quirks of space travel has skipped over the centuries while only ageing minimally. Ender has his own motivations for coming to this planet- to redeem what he did to the Buggers by facilitating understanding between humans and the new aliens, and finding a place where the Bugger hive queen can come back to life.

It's a great story, fraught with moral and religious dilemmas and showing how vast misunderstandings can be, not only between the obvious alien races, but between people of the same community and family. The problem for me was that it covered so great a scope of time- and several generations- that I felt like I was just observing all the characters from a distance (rather like in Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang) and couldn't get close to any of them. Even the passages describing Ender's inner conflict and emotional moments left me unmoved. What really motivated me to get through the book was curiosity about the alien race, but there was far too little information about them. In fact, there was very little description at all, of the setting, the characters, or anything else. This is a story almost totally expressed in dialog and heated conversations, quite the opposite from the last book I read (which was a stream-of-consciousness monologue inside a teenager's head). So even though I think Speaker for the Dead is a good book for the questions it raises, and heavy moral quandaries it wrestles with, in comparison to Ender's Game it really fell flat for me. It's great for analyzing and arguing over with your spouse (we read it at about the same time), but not a book with characters who feel like friends I'd want to visit again.

Rating: 3/5                 382 pages, 1986

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9 comments:

Laura said...

I really need to read something by Card--is Ender's Game your favorite?

Nymeth said...

I'm very curious about this one. Some of the things I've heard about it make me think I might enjoy it even more than Ender's Game. Hopefully I'll get to it and find out soon!

Jeane said...

Laura- I've read a number of books by Card, and Ender's Game is by far my favorite. Nothing else even measures up to it.

Nymeth- I hope you like it. I'll be really curious to hear what you have to say. My husband liked this one a lot more than I did, and also my sisters.

Lauren said...

I have this book somewhere in my TBR. I need to re-start from the beginning though. I read Ender's Game in high school (for English class! How cool is that?) but I don't remember anything of it :(

Bookfool said...

Exactly how I felt about Speaker for the Dead. It didn't even come close to Ender's Game.

Fre said...

Another good book by Card is Pastwatch. Then again I loved Speaker.

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I've never read anything by Orson Scott Card. Is it awful of me to say? Is it even worse to say that I have zero desire? Maybe one day I will.

janet said...

What a great review. You hit the nail on the head about books with a too-broad focus.

I loved Ender's Game. But it also tired me out... I wasn't ready to read anything else by Card for awhile.

Trish said...

After reading Ender's Game to my husband a few months ago he picked this and the third book up for me to read. I think we made it about 10 pages into this one--couldn't get past the language. Very tough to read aloud!!