Speaker for the Dead

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The cover art for Speaker for the Dead
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The cover art for Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead (1986) is a science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card and a sequel to the highly-acclaimed novel Ender's Game. This book takes place 3,000 years after the events in Ender's Game, although due to relativistic space travel Ender himself (who now goes by his real name Andrew Wiggin) is only about 20 years older.

Whereas the previous novel was hard science fiction with armies and space warfare, Speaker for the Dead is more philosophical in nature, although it still advances a xenology for the planetary setting unique in SF. Its story finds Andrew in a human colony on the colony planet Lusitania, believed to be the only remaining planet in Card's universe with an intelligent alien race after the xenocide of the Formics ("buggers") in the Ender's Game. The novel deals with the difficult relationship between the humans and the "piggies" (or "pequeninos", since the action is set in a Catholic/Portuguese research installation) and with Andrew's attempts to bring peace to a brilliant but troubled family whose history intertwines with that of the pequeninos.

This novel, like Ender's Game, won the Hugo award (1987) and Nebula award (1986) for outstanding science fiction novel, making Card the first author in history to win both these awards in two consecutive years.

Speaker for the Dead was published in a slightly revised edition in 1991. It was followed by Xenocide and Children of the Mind.

The title refers to the profession Andrew assumes in the novel. Speakers for the Dead are the wandering representatives of a Humanist movement (not a religion, though they are treated with the respect due a priest or cleric); they research the dead person's life and give a speech that attempts to speak for them, describing the person's life as he or she lived it. Speakers for the Dead seem to have arisen as a movement in response to Ender's 'Speaking' the life of the Hive Queen in widely-read books that slowly subvert human hatred of the 'buggers' into sorrow over a Xenocide, the complete extinction of an alien race. Any citizen has the legal right to summon a Speaker to mark the death of a family member.

Speaker for the Dead introduces the character Jane, an AI construct who befriends Ender and speaks with him using a jewel in his ear.

It is as a Speaker that Andrew Wiggin comes to Lusitania. Once sentient life is discovered, the colony is turned into a virtual prison, with its expansion severely limited and its whole existence centering, essentially, around the work of the xenologers. The piggies, who live in the forests and worship the trees around them, are highly intelligent, and facile at linguistics, but study and cultural interchange is hampered by a strict prime directive of non-interference. One interesting cultural characteristic emerges quickly: at one point, a male piggy is found flayed and staked to the ground with a tree growing out of him. Lusitania itself is highly devoid of life, featuring thousands of unfilled ecological niches. The other outstanding feature of Lusitania is the descolada, a native virus which almost wipes out the colony, until husband-and-wife biologists Gusta and Cida succeed in developing counters. Unfortunately, they themselves do not survive, leaving orphaned daughter Novinha to strike out for herself.

At the age of thirteen, Novinha, a cold and distant girl by any measure, successfully petitions to be made the official biologist of the colony (roughly the equivalent of a master's degree; from then on, she contributes to the work of father-and-son xenologists Pipo and Libo, and for a short time there is family and camaraderie. One day, however, she makes a discovery about the descolada--that it's in every native lifeform there is--and Pipo rushes out to inform the piggies of the discovery without telling her or Libo why it's important. They can't figure it out on their own, and never learn--a few hours later, Pipo is found vivisected in the snow; his corpse does not even have the benefit of a tree. Novinha erases all the lab work, but cannot delete the information itself due to regulations; Libo demands to see it, but even their love for each other will not make her let him see it--it's a secret the piggies will kill to keep. But now they cannot marry each other, the way they always planned to: if they do, he will have access to those locked files, and he will die. In anguish, Novinha calls for a Speaker for the Dead, hoping beyond hope that perhaps the original Speaker may arrive, to make sense of Pipo's death--and maybe of her life.

Andrew Wiggin doesn't dare let himself be known as Ender anymore; the name is practically an expletive. Having left his sister Valentine behind (she is married and pregnant), he arrives on Lusitania after twenty-two years in transit to discover that Novinha has canceled her call. However, two others have called, and not canceled: by coincidence, they are Novinha's eldest son Miro, calling for someone to speak the death of Libo, who was killed the same way his father was; and Novinha's eldest daughter Ela, calling for someone to speak the death of Novinha's husband Marcos Ribeira, who keeled over not six weeks ago of a terminal disease. Besides attempting to unravel the question of why Novinha married Marco when she really loved Libo (Marco was sterile, and a quick genetic scan on Jane's part reveals that Novinha's children are all, in fact, Libo's), Ender also takes responsibility for attempting to heal the Ribeira family, and manages to adopt (or perhaps is adopted by) most of the children within their first meeting. He also takes a strong interest in the pequeninos, and eventually (in direct violation of Starways Congress law) meets with them in person. The Hive Queen has also managed to make contact with the pequeninos philotically, and has told them a number of things--including the fact that "Andrew Wiggin" is not only the original Speaker for the Dead, but the original Xenocide as well, which romantically-involved xenologists Miro and Ouanda do not believe in the slightest. The Hive Queen very emphatically wants to be revived and freed on Lusitania. Finally, in an effort to help Ender out, Jane deliberately reveals to Starways Congress that Miro and Ouanda, continuing the legacy of Ouanda's dead father Libo, have been deliberately introducing new technology into the piggy lifestyle. Both xenologers are called away to the nearest world for trial (a journey that will only take twenty-two years), the colony's charter is revoked, and all humans are ordered to evacuate posthaste and leave no sign they have ever been.

In the end, the secrets come out. Ender holds a public Speaking for Pipo, Libo and Marcos, the dead men surrounding Novinha, but really for Novinha herself as well: explaining how she blames herself for Pipo's death, and underwent a life of suffering and deception--marrying Marcos so that they could both avoid the stigma of singlehood in a Catholic colony, but secretly trysting with Libo--in order to keep her beloved from meeting the same fate. The meaning of Pipo's and Libo's murders come out as well: the piggies do not actually worship the trees, but rather the trees are formed from, of and out of dead piggies. Trees formed from piggies killed normally (in war, by mishap) become brothertrees, but the ritually dissected ones are done so in order to make them fathertrees--sentient, living trees that are, unlike animal pequeninos, capable of reproduction (the descolada is proved to be instrumental in these transformations). Finally, the Speaker for the Dead is able to work out a treaty with the piggies, so that humans and pequeninos might live in peace. Unfortunately, it is not without cost: Miro, distraught to learn that Ouanda is actually his sister, attempts to cross what is essentially an electric fence, which separates the humans from the piggies, and suffers significant neurological damage. With no other way to save him, the colony declares itself in rebellion, Jane shuts off outside ansible contact, Miro is rescued, and Ender enters the forest to negotiate aforementioned treaty. He signs it "Ender Wiggin," and for the first time in his life, someone (Novinha) is prepared to receive the Xenocide with compassion instead of revulsion.

Valentine and her family come to Lusitania to help out in the rebellion, aided by Jane; Miro, with his centegenarian's body, is sent into space to meet them; the Hive Queen is released, ready to begin the continuation of her species; and Ender marries Novinha, to spend the next thirty years in wedded bliss, until the next novel (Xenocide) begins.

See also: science fiction: authors - novels - short stories - television shows

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