Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card
Review Summary: Speaker for the Dead is good, but I think overly ambitious. Too much is going on, not enough is developed thoroughly, too much is being blatantly thrown into the mix to prep for the following novels, and the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying.
Speaker for the Dead (yes, I’m only now reading this) is an odd experience, in my opinion, relying as heavily as it does on the “history” of Ender as told in the excellent Ender’s Game, and yet being such a completely different novel.
There is still the insightful, thoughtful character of Ender, matured somewhat though still coming to grips with the xenocide he committed, and I appreciated some of the nuances involved with this older version of the character. Val makes what is an unfortunately brief appearance, and we are also briefly introduced to the computer program Jane. Nearly all of the other characters in the novel are really too briefly drawn for us to become too attached to them, or else are so bitter that I have an aversion to becoming too attached to them. The how and why of Ender falling in love with Novinha still rings a little hollow to me, though I can certainly see how the possibility of having a ready-made family fits neatly into his lifetime of searching.
The plot of the story itself is fairly simple, as an exercise in “xenology”, studying the life and culture of an alien species. The Descolada virus is interesting as a plot device, if a bit unbelievable, as is the mystical “third life” of the aliens. Along with the resolution of the “mystery” of why the anthropologists – excuse me, xenologists – were “murdered” by the aliens, it is quite obvious throughout the novel that the reader is also being fed a lot of information for succeeding novels. This is unfortunate in particular as what I am seeing in the setup is not even slightly interesting to me.
Thematically, there are a couple of interesting ideas floated about, regarding longevity in a lifetime of relativistic travel, and a rather exaggerated example of the lengths one might go to in order to try to protect a loved one. The most interesting idea I found, however, was the dichotomy of Ender’s position in the fabric of everyone’s reality, as both the Xenocide and as the Speaker of the Dead, assumed by everyone to be separate beings. Some, but too little time (in my opinion) was spent on this – much more could have been done, but Card seems to have been in a bit of a hurry.
Speaker for the Dead is good, but I think overly ambitious. Too much is going on, not enough is developed thoroughly, too much is being blatantly thrown into the mix to prep for the following novels, and the ending is abrupt and unsatisfying. The interest in hearing Ender’s familiar voice, but grown up and almost supernaturally insightful and wise, isn’t enough to wash out all of these novel’s shortcomings.