Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Series: Ender's Saga #2
Genre: YA, science fiction
Published on August 15, 1991
Published by Tor Books
Pages: 280
Read From: 9.15.13 - 9.18.13

Three thousand planet-bound years have fled since Ender Wiggin won humanity's war with the Buggers by totally destroying them. Ender remains young - travelling the stars at relativistic speeds, a hundred years or more might pass while he experiences a month-long voyage. In three thousand years, his books The Hive Queen and The Hegemon have become holy writ, and the name of Ender anathema; he is the Xenocide, the one who killed an entire race of thinking, felling being, the only other sapient race humankind had found in all the galaxy. The only ones, that is, until the planet called Lusitania was discovered and colonized. 
On Lusitania humans found another race of ramen. . . .a young race, beings just beginning to lift their eyes to the stars and wondering what might be out there. The discovery was seen as a gift to humanity, a chance to redeem the destruction of the Buggers. And so the Pequininos, as they were named by the Portuguese-speaking settlers, the "Piggies," were placed off-limits to the colony. The only humans allowed to meet them and speak with them are trained xenobiologists, and then only two at a time. This time, there will be no tragic misunderstanding leading to war. This time. . . . 
This time, again, men die - bizarrely killed by the Piggies. Andrew Wiggin is called to Lusitania to Speak the deaths of the two xenobiologists, and walks into a maelstrom of fear and hatred. To Speak for these dead, he must first unravel the web of secrets surrounding the lives of the Piggies and those who study them. He must Speak not only for the dead, but for a living alien race.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I'm sure science fiction nerds adore the cover art for Orson Scott Card's books, but I don't. It's boring, dated, and . . . well, boring. And quite honestly, this particular cover has nothing to do with the story; it only indicates to the Reader that it's futuristic.

Characters: Ender Wiggin is still an awesome character. No longer a kid, but a man in his thirties, he's seen a lot of the universe in his three thousand years of existence. He may not look that old, because traveling at the speed of light makes time pass faster for him than the world, but his soul is ancient. Does this change him from the Ender Wiggin we loved so much in Ender's Game? No, because Ender always was a bit of an old soul; he merely has the experience to back it up now. His blunt honesty and dislike for lies is something to be commended, and he has a great sense of humor, albeit rather dark and tinged with guilt and bitterness. But Ender is the only redeeming quality in this otherwise bizarre book. All of the other characters I either didn't care or disliked. Novinha was too flawed, all of her children had some sort of personal issue (Grego worst of all; what is it with theses psychotic children?), and everyone else was pretentious or dull. Jane was all right, but I'm simply not a big fan of intelligent computer characters. We never really got to see the piggies through their own eyes, so any opinion I had of them was through the humans', and thus I never came to think of them as anything more than strange primitive-minded aliens (it didn't help that I kept picturing them looking something like baboons, since my mind couldn't conjure up any other kind of image).

The Romance: Ender likes Novinha, for some reason, and while his affection for her feels very real indeed, I never got the sense that Novinha liked him in that manner. So their mutually shared feelings came across as rather sudden. Miro's relationship with Ouanda bothered me - [Spoiler] especially when the Reader knows that she's his sister [End spoiler] - and Novinha's relationship with Libo didn't interest me, either.

Plot: It is three thousand years after the events of Ender's Game. Humanity has colonized space, but they haven't met any other intelligent aliens since the Buggers. Until a Portuguese colony settles on Lusitania, where they meet a tribe of aliens they call "piggies." They seem primitive, but in possession of great intellect. The colony of Milagre is set up, and xenobiologists are permitted to go out and study the piggies - provided they do not interfere with the "natural evolution" of their society. But the xenobiologists studies are hindered with their inability to ask certain questions in fear of letting the piggies discover something about human culture and advancements that they shouldn't. And then one of the xenobiologists, Pipo, discovers something that causes the piggies to kill him in a gruesome manner. Pipo leaves behind his son Libo and a young girl, Novinha, who regarded him as a father. Bitter and afraid that Libo could die in the same way, Novinha destroys the research that killed Pipo and calls for a Speaker for the Dead to come Speak for Pipo's death. Ender Wiggin hears her call and answers, arriving at distant Lusitania twenty-two years later. In that time, Novinha has married, Libo has died in the same manner as his father, and Novinha has changed her mind about wanting a Speaker. But when her husband dies of a strange disease, Ender stays to investigate. For he believes that the disease, Pipo's and Libo's deaths, and the piggies may all be connected. Okay, so it sounds like a really interesting murder mystery, and I had some small hope that maybe that was the turn it would take. But unfortunately, the murder mystery part gets lots in everything else. And the everything else is tons and tons of religious discussions, moralistic debates, and bizarre evolutionary occurrences. I also cannot get over the fact that none of this would have been a problem if 1)Novinha had simply shared her research, and 2)if the xenobiologists had just asked a couple of important questions. The plot's pacing is slow, dull, and meandering. And it spends a ton of time focusing on how the heck the native species of Lusitania reproduce. Which of course then leads to the characters spending several useless pages making suggestive jokes and observations. Ender's Game was pretty slow, but this was excruciating.

Believability: Not applicable.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense, though it at times slipped into first person. This was mostly when we were privy to a character's private thoughts, but the Author doesn't ever inform us Readers when the character is going to suddenly start thinking to himself. The Author also continues his tradition of not explanation or describing anything. Aliens are always hard to describe, I realize, but he could have tried a bit harder with the piggies. And did I understand that the year is actually 1970? What happened that made humans discover space travel so bloody early? But the worst thing his writing suffers from is an extreme amount of preaching. This entire book felt like an hours-long sermon. But the most annoying thing about it was I don't rightly know what the Author was trying to say. The preaching was there, but its purpose was unclear.

Content: Lots of discussions about reproductive organs, which, yes, does go from basic scientific observations to lewd jokes.

Conclusion: This was the weirdest bit of it. And also the most annoying, because the Reader suddenly realizes, "You know, this whole thing could have been avoided. Why didn't they ask these questions in the first place? Why did Novinha have to lock up her research? Why, when Jane discovered it all, did she not tell Ender sooner?" Speaker for the Dead was bizarre, boring, and an overall pointless read. Ender is still cool, but he isn't enough of a reason to read this.

Recommended Audience: Guy-read, seventeen-and-up, great for Orson Scott Card fans, as well as those Readers who like preachy books that explores deep and complex moralistic ideals (without really ever making it clear what issues it's exploring exactly).

Others in the Ender's Saga:
1)Ender's Game
2)Speaker for the Dead
4)Children of the Mind

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