Sunday, 7 June 2009

Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card

I read, and really enjoyed despite myself, Ender's Game back in January as part of the Sci-Fi Experience and when I saw this indirect sequel in the library I could not resist borrowing it.

Speaker for the Dead is set three thousand years after the events that took place in Ender's Game however Ender remains young due to travelling in stasis. In that time he has become famous as the man who killed an entire race of thinking, feeling beings.

On the recently colonised Catholic planet of Lusitania another sentient race is discovered - offering mankind a chance to redeem themselves. The Pequeninos, known as "piggies", live in the forests and, once their presence was known about, a strict policy of non-interference is implemented to avoid contaminating them with any human technological advances or ideas. This means that only a handful of authorised scientists, operating under strict guidelines, are allowed to leave the fenced settlement to interact with the native population of the planet.

Despite these measures, there are fundamental cultural misunderstandings between the Humans and the Piggies that results in the murder of one of the human scientists. Novinha, a young biologist, blames her self for this dead and calls Ender, as Andrew Wiggin, to Lusitania in his capacity of Speaker for the Dead to uncover the truth and to present the results back to the community. His arrival twenty years later, having been in stasis, finds that Novinha recalled her request just a few days later and that she, and her family, bitterly resent his presence.

I enjoyed the plot, and characters, in this book but what I liked most was the thought provoking "shades of grey" that underpin the human view towards other sentient races. Some interesting moral questions were raised that are not easily answered, even in a fantasy setting. It was interesting to see a future take on the changing internal power structure of the Church versus State in conflict - although I do wonder if the Catholic church will be quite that influential in several thousand years if humans are living on 100 different worlds light years apart!

Like Ender's Game, this book 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. This book manages to explore complex ideological concepts and still entertain - an impressive accomplishment - and I look forward to getting my paws on the sequel!

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