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Speaker for the Dead

by Orson Scott Card
Series: The Ender Quintet #2
280 pages, Science Fiction
Reviewed by Ariel_of_Narnia

Good writing, fine story, but beware the philosophy that leans away from Christian values.

Plot

It's been over 3000 years since Ender the Xenocide ended the insectoid aliens known as the "buggers". Since then, mankind has populated what they call "The Hundred Worlds". On the planet named Luisitania, they encounter another alien life form they call "piggies".

Into this world come scientists and, thanks to time relativity, a thirty-something Ender Wiggin, Speaker for the Dead. Their lives are never going to be the same.

Morality

There are great themes regarding love (friendly, familial, romantic) and plenty on other cultures and influencing them, though the communication of ideas are certainly not always ideal.

Ender reaches out to everyone and at least some of what he says is decent stuff, but he's not exactly a shining model to be replicated in real life; Novinha is less so.

Good and bad can be pretty blurred and subjective.

Spiritual Content

Heavy Catholic influence across the planet but the Speaker-for-the-Dead humanism (considered by a Catholic authority as less dangerous than the Protestant Reformation) and atheism are also prevalent. There's mention of Calvinism and Lutheranism. Evolution runs all the science of this story.

The Catholics cross themselves, genuflect, pray, go to Mass, and make reference to God and Scripture. There is a monastic order called Children of the Mind of Christ. A boy prays to multiple people - with the promise that he himself would go to Hell - that his father would die. On character speaks the (unrecorded) words of extreme unction. People speculate a couple times that a boy might be possessed. The piggies apparently used the pages of John's Gospel to light fires.

Novinha reacts hotly to the petition to canonize her parents. She has a twisted view of God and is a self-proclaimed heretic. She writes mock reports about an imaginary alien she names "Reverend Mother". A joke involving the temptation of Christ is made.

The Starways Congress is said to have "worshiped many gods".

Speakers for the Dead "held as their only doctrine that good or evil exist entirely in human motive, and not at all in the act". Note that the concept of "Speakers for the Dead" is one of eulogizing those who have died, and not of resurrection or anything spiritual. Ender says that he may be thought of as an Apostle Paul not yet stopped on the road to Damascus. He is directly called or likened to the devil a few times.

The piggies worship their ancestral totem trees, which supposedly contain the spirits of their ancestors. They, by evolutionary adaptation, become trees when they pass into their "third life" (something between reincarnation and the next stage of life for the piggies).

Violence

The symptoms of a terrible disease are described in passing. Three characters discover a piggy brutally eviscerated, meticulously and apparently while he was still alive. This practice is repeated five times (four of these are just brief mentions, but one is remembered by a witness as having still been alive when initially found). Ender is shown a possible simulation of the first event. The piggies apparently tell battle stories, always ending with the death of both hero and coward.
A boy knees a woman in the mouth. Another boy and girl play a game of pain and the boy is hit where it hurts most. A boy is said to have rammed his head into a man's groin. A piggy falls from a great height, but is mostly uninjured. A young man is electrocuted twice, painfully but not seriously; the third time, he's paralyzed.

Ender threatens to take a wild boy home and eat him, but doesn't mean it, though he does mean it when he tells the boy that he'd be okay with hearing his head smack the concrete floor. Novinha's husband apparently beat her and she's guilty of some child abuse.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mention of the colonists attempting alcohol. Novinha's husband was a drunk.

Sexual Content

Libo and Novinha make (unrecorded) lewd jokes. She undresses him once to put him to bed, but has no sexual thoughts in so doing. He asks her to stay and hugs her as he sleeps, more for comfort from grief than for lust fulfillment; she strokes him as he sleeps.

One disease tends to start in the man's organ. There are cases of adultery between a pair of married people. A young couple kiss in secret, waiting for the day they can marry without consent. One of Novinha's children asks her if she'll "turn down the sheets and let [another man] take Father's place completely".

On a scientific level, xenologers have questions about the alien life's sexual lives, especially that of the piggies. One scientist sees two male piggies engaging in some sort of activity and brings up questions about it.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Bi***y once, bas**** five times (though once in the correct context), d***ed twice. A little boy purposely urinates on Ender's lap.

Conclusion

I personally found this book fascinating since it plays out like a mystery and takes an insanely deep look at human nature. It's definitely solid literary sci-fi as far as that goes and excellently written.

However, I advise wading through this book carefully as the philosophy is rather thickly laid and not from a Christian perspective. While Christianity is not necessarily bashed (some characters are decent examples, others not so much), it's not exactly endorsed in this story either. Ender's humanism seems to be the ideal view here.

Fun Score: 3.5
Values Score: 2.5
Written for Age: adult

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