After my very enjoyable read of Ender’s Game, I have now read the sequel, Speaker For The Dead. You may recall that after I finished Ender’s Game, I struggled to see where the story could go from there. It ended with a short synopsis of Ender’s life after the war, finding a final representative of the race he destroyed and hoping to give her somewhere to grow and reproduce. It wasn’t like the end of The Hunger Games, for example, where a sequel is inevitable and, indeed, necessary. All loose ends were tied up and the story seemed concluded.
At the end of Ender’s Game, when Ender finds the final bugger, a psychic connection is formed. He subsequently writes a book to explain the buggers to the world, which he signs as Speaker For The Dead. Fast forward three thousand years, and this is now almost an alternative religion. There are a number of speakers, and their role in society is to revisit someone’s life after their death – always by request – and find out the truth about them. They then Speak the truth. Post bugger, humanity has spread across the universe and thanks to a quirk of space travel, time passes slower as you travel. As such, due to a peripatetic lifestyle, Ender is still in his early thirties. He is now reviled as a genocidal killer, thanks in a great part to his efforts to help humans understand the buggers, and the word Ender is an insult. No one is aware that he is still alive apart from his sister, who he still travels with.
The story is set on a planet called Lusitania, where another alien species has been discovered. They are known as the piggies. Humanity is wary of their own response after the buggers, and as such there are very strict guidelines on how to behave with the piggies. Unfortunately, the piggies then start killing people, specifically the people studying them, and Ender is called to be a Speaker For The Dead.
There are two main themes to this book. The first is about understanding, and the human tendency to assume that we understand when we really don’t. With the piggies, humanity is concerned not to accelerate their development excessively, in fact, not to interfere with their lives full stop. This sounds like an altruistic thing, but actually, as Ender points out, it assumes that the piggies will learn from humanity and doesn’t stop to consider that the piggies might actually have something to teach as well. There is a similar situation in the personal lives of the people who live on Lusitania. Novinha, who works with the people who study the piggies, becomes convinced that she knows why they are killing and does what she thinks is the best thing to stop them. Unfortunately this has a terrible impact of her life and the lives of her children. Regardless of this, she is so arrogant that she never stops to think about whether her course of action is correct or to discuss it with anyone else. She just carries on.
The other theme, I think, is one of reconciliation. Part of the Speaker’s role is reconciliation, and we learn throughout the book how simply learning the truth can close a door and improve relations. He is, in the end, a healer, helping people to understand that facing a truth is the only thing that will make it go away. At the same time, Ender is constantly trying to come to terms with his own past and behaviour, and make amends for that by re-establishing the bugger species.
It was a very interesting book, and very different to Ender’s Game. In fact, it felt older for some reason. It was very interesting though, and I am looking forward to starting the next one, Xenocide.