Customer Reviews: Speaker for the Dead (The Ender Quintet)
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on April 25, 2000
I went through various stages of opinion while reading this book... First was, "Hey- why is this nothing like Ender's Game? Drats!" Then, "What is with all this Portuguese stuff, and religious garbage?" and "Why is Ender some kind of space-detective?" And so I began trudging through this book with a lack of enthusiasm. Then slowly but steadily, this story pulls you in. You don't mind the lack of Game's glorious action. This is a very mature piece.
I doubt that anyone will be able to read Ender's Game and stop there. You want more. Speaker for the Dead is where you have to go. I find it extremely hard to consider this a sequel, because never have I seen an author switch his style this drastically within one series. Card forces you to accept all of his changes, but those who adapt to this book are highly rewarded! I found myself involved with Card's characters quite alarmingly, and touched by his themes on so many levels.
One thing that really impressed me- Card takes our first intelligent contact with aliens and compares it with 16th century European explorers encountering the natives of South America. It shows the barriers of language, technology, religion, and misunderstandings -as well as mankind's need to control or dominate any new race it meets. This book is like a history lesson that teaches us not to make the same mistakes when we reach this point of our future. Very interesting.
There is no doubt I will be continuing this series.
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on August 6, 1999
As a habit, I avoid best sellers. When I heard there was a sequel to Ender's Game, I shuddered. That book had affected me so deeply, I could not imagine a sequel to it.
This book is in all ways, barring one, superior.
This book reminds me of Ursula LeGuin at her best, and I do not invoke her name lightly. She is one of the few sci-fi authors who understands something of anthropology and, more importantly, the human condition. Card in this one books has levelled with her.
Ender is a far richer and deeper character in this book than he was in Ender's Game. Here he is having to live with his own guilt and the positive and negative aspects of his own legend. He has inspired a cult of sorts, the Speakers of the Dead, people who speak not well of the dead, but realistically. How does one live with such a legacy?
The Piggies are intrinsicly fascinating. They are not small humans. They are not just randomly acting individuals. They act in a consistent, rational manner -- once you know all the peices of the puzzle. Most of these peices are not revealed except with time. Jane is also fascinating. "She" acts in a logical manner as well, but again it is not a HUMAN manner. The Hive Queen is very real and, again, not human. There is a delicate balance inherent in this book.
This book is far superior to Ender's Game, a book which is one of those rare sci-fi novels that I have read twice. It speaks to the core of humanity within us all, it speaks to our fears, our dreams, our hatreds, our prejudices, our nobility, our failings, and our longings. It is not a shoot-em-up. This book is literature, not science fiction. It may be read again with profit. It is not a book about plot and action (thank all the powers!). It is a book about being humnan.
I put a reservation in here, one way in which the book does NOT match Ender's Game. The ending of this book is abrupt and calls out for a sequel. This is quite sad. Ender's Game stands on its own; Speaker for the Dead calls out for a conclusion. Aside from that, this is a superlative book. No, not for everyone; name me a book that is for everyone. But in the end, an intelligent reader will gain much from reading Speaker for the Dead.
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As he tells us in the introduction (which is, by the way, the best introduction I've ever read), this is the book Card intended to write when he began the ever-popular Ender series. Ender's Game was simply a prologue -- originally a short story.
There are so many good things about this book. Card has a talent for writing deep, real characters that I've never seen in sci-fi and seldom in any modern literature. He is a master storyteller, and this book is wonderfully paced -- you will continually be twisting your brain trying to uncover what is up with the pequeninos before the scientists do.
But most of all, this book is a eloquent manifesto of humanism. As Speaker for the Dead, it is our hero Ender's lifelong task to understand people and tell the truth about them -- a truth that will reveal their good, bad, and ugly, but most importantly, their inherent worth and um, goodness. This truth-seeking carries from the individual to the entire races, as Card (and Ender) examine how we relate to those we don't understand, even those we can't understand.
So what is it? It's a page-turner, crazy idea-filled(as all sci-fi should be) thrilling, thoughtful, powerful, funny, poignant novel. It is an excellent piece of writing that I would love to see taught in high school classrooms.
My only problems with it are that terrible cover(who designed these covers? They have nothing to do with the story -- not even the tone of the story) and the sometimes indecipherable use of portuguese. But those are both minor.
An excerpt:
"We know you now. That makes all the difference, doesn't it? Even Quim doesn't hate you now. When you really know somebody, you can't hate them." "Or maybe it's just that you can't really know them until you stop hating them." "Is that a circular paradox? Dom Cristao says that most truth can be only expressed in circular paradoxes." "I don't think it has anything to do with truth, Olhado. It's just cause and effect. We can never sort them out. Science refuses to admit any cause except first cause-- knock down one domino, the one next to it also falls. But when it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart."
If you'd like to discuss this novel, e-mail me at
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on June 5, 1997
As a teacher, I have insisted that my high school freshmen all read Ender's Game. The fast pace and excellent character development engage the students and lead them toward discussion of serious issues, like how we treat those who are "different" and the ultimate goals and purposes of education. Speaker for the Dead has a different focus, and perhaps a different audience. Although many of my students have read it because they so loved Ender's Game, not many were ready for its sophistication.
Speaker for the Dead works for me in its treatment of two major issues. The first of these, expressed through the interaction (and its disastrous results) between the piggies and the humans, has to do with cultural relationships and the arrogant assumptions often made by the dominant culture. The humans function at a level of cultural blindness hard to understand through most of the novel, and that blindness has tragic consequences.
The second issue I love in this book is the concept of the Speaker for the Dead, the role that Ender Wiggin has taken on in his adulthood. A Speaker's job consists of traveling to places he is called to "speak" the life of someone who has died. These itinerant Speakers come to the person's life completely objectively, and thus they are able to speak the truth about that person--good and bad. The speaker helps the community deal with the person's death by allowing them to see that person completely; all the person's facets, foibles, and fortes are displayed. I found myself thinking that if mopre people read this book, we might have a whole new funereal ritual to deal with.
In short, while of a completely different tone than Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead brings up some important issues, and it is well worth the time spent in reading it. Invest several days in this book; it deserves them.
--Prudence Plunkett (
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on January 25, 1999
Speaker for the Dead is not meant for hard core sci-fi readers. They might find it boring, as I did when I first tried reading it as a 12 year old who only wanted to read something like Star Wars.
As I got older, though and I began understanding exactly what Speaker for the Dead was about, it quickly became one of my favorite novels, and now I have to say only Les Miserables beats it on my all-time great novels list.
The novel deals with complex issues such as racism, discrimination, guilt, redemption, compassion, understanding, and the power of truth. Thankfully the book doesn't preach, but it simply show what happens in a clear and straight foreward way, and then it allows the reader to make his or her own conclusions.
Card allows us to understand the conflicting emotions and desires of the characters extremely well, which helps the reader gain interest in the plot and the lives of the characters. I was impressed with how Card was able to develop so many characters so well and deeply, that they felt more like people than characters in a novel. I felt like I understood Ender, Valentine, Ela, Miro, and Novinha. I was also impressed with how much I felt I understood Pipo, Libo, and Marcao, who appear in the book either very shortly or not at all.
The novel forced me to deeply think about my own attitudes about the various themes in the story very closely, and it even inspired me to change the way I thought about many issues the book presents. The alien pequeninos were masterfully devleloped as both an alien race, but also a race that is remarkably human.
The symbolism was obvious, which is how I feel symbolism should be. I don't like playing the deep overdisection of a novel game so many of my former English teachers felt were necessary. Speaker doesn't demand nor inspire that. It simply tells the story in a clear manner, and lets the reader understand what is going on beneath the black and white.
If you like fast paced shoot em up sci-fi space operas, I would not recommend Speaker to you. But if you like a well thought out, well developed novel with rich characterization and a thought provoking story, Speaker for the Dead is a great novel to read. If you don't like sci-fi because the characters are often too flat, and the plot line excessively fast paced, without inspiring any thought on the reader's part, Speaker for the Dead is also highly recommended to you. I have always felt it had much more in common with Les Miz, Great Expectations, Scarlet Letter, and Shakespeare, than traditional science fiction.
But make sure you read Ender's Game first (also a fantastic novel that is more traditional sci-fi, but still very enjoyable to those who don't).
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED--but only if thinking too much doesn't give you a headache.
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VINE VOICEon April 30, 2003
In the aftermath of the Bugger War, humanity's hero, Ender Wiggin, bore the burden of Earth's shame at committing the xenocide of an alien race. Unable to return to Earth, Ender left with beloved sister, Valentine, for one of the new colony worlds (made available by the extinction of the Buggers). It was there that he realized that he had an almost supernatural connection and understanding of the Buggers. Despite his role in the destruction of their species, they entrusted him with the sole remaining larval queen of the species and gave him the responsibility of restarting the race when the time was right. Ender's new enlightenment led him to write a famous treatise on this species called "Speaker of the Dead for the Hive Queen". In it, he told the true story about the Buggers in such a frank and honest manner that it created a sensation on Earth. Suddenly, humans could empathize with their former enemies and understand the fallacy of having destroyed them. Ender's work created a demand for him to be a 'speaker for the dead' of many more people. The sensation caused by Ender's writings created an entire movement of literary thought and a near army of 'Speakers for the Dead'. As Ender was too restless to stay in one place very long, he traveled to many different worlds and, as a result of time distortions due to space travel, actually was still relatively young some 3000 years after his 'Speaker' movement began. It was now an accepted part of human culture and frequently called upon when people died. It helped all gain and understanding and, perhaps (but not necessarily), give closure. Ender and Valentine finally found a world to settle on for the rest of their lives and seemed content, until one day, a desperate call for a 'speaker' came from a distraught child on the nearby colony world of Lusitania. So begins the amazing story that powers "Speaker for the Dead"

Ender travels to Lusitania first to respond to the pleas of a young girl whose life was torn asunder by the heroic deaths of her parents. Her parents were able to find a treatment for a vicious contagion that threatened to kill all human life on Lusitania, but were unfortunately unable to save themselves. In the 30-year window of Ender's space travel (which was merely a few weeks to him), this little girl has grown up and started a family, but it's a family that is mired in tremendous strife as the burdens of the past still weigh upon the children of the present. All this happens among the ongoing interaction with a semi-intelligent species of indigenous life called 'piggies'. Understanding them, while still being restrained by archaic colonial policy, leads to much discord among the colony members.

"Speaker for the Dead" is Orson Scott Card's sequel the famous and award-winning "Ender's Game". Those who are expecting the just a rehash of some science-fiction scenarios first played out in "Ender's Game" will be sorely disappointed. However, for those who loved "Ender's Game" and were able to see deep enough into the story to understand the truly important elements, "Speaker for the Dead" will be an amazing read. One must understand that the science-fiction elements to Card's books are just the skin to the entire body of his stories. Card's literary power comes from his understanding of human relationships and dynamics and writing in such a way that the reader empathizes (and even sympathizes) with the characters in the books. One cannot help by to feel a powerful emotional investment into the lives and struggles of these people. Whereas "Ender's Game" intertwined the human relationships amid the backdrop of Battle School and the Bugger War, "Speaker for the Dead" is almost completely and totally about the human element. Such a dramatic change in focus is no less compelling. Clearly, critics felt this way about the sequel, because "Speaker for the Dead" garnered the same Hugo and Nebula Awards that "Ender's Game" did.

It would be unfortunate if fans of "Ender's Game" (and they are legion) were to overlook "Speaker for the Dead" and its sequels simply because of the change in focus. Lovers of "Ender's Game" will find that "Speaker..." is equally impossible to put down. The human drama is so real that the reader feels like they are a part of the story. No greater compliment can be granted to such a novel.
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on November 26, 2000
After reading "Ender's Game" in one afternoon, I fell in love with OSC, and quickly began reading "Speaker for the Dead." I admit the first few chapters let me down a bit. I had lived as Ender and Valentine and I expected them to quickly appear; this was a sequel, wasn't it? Unfamiliar characters such as Pipo, Libo, and Novinha bored and confused me. I skimmed until I found Ender on Trondheim, still haunted by his childhood. From then on, I was hooked, and when Ender reached Lusitania, I discovered the people weren't boring at all; they became real.
The plot of "Speaker" is fairly simple. The native pequininos on Lusitania are the only sentient species found in the thousands of years since "Ender's Game." For no apparent reason, they kill two human scientists, eerily echoing humanity's violent first contact with the Buggers. Ender arrives on Lusitania, where, with the help of Jane (a sentient computer program) he tries to understand the pequininos, Novinha's family, and the community of Milagre.
"Ender's Game" was an adventure story about a brilliant child, made sympathetic by his isolation and empathy. "Speaker" is a much more complex novel, which deals with family, community, religion, truth, and the nature of humanity; its characters and ideas are as important as the plot, if not more so. Those who loved "Ender's Game" for its action and boy-against-the-world theme may not like "Speaker." However, those who loved "Ender's Game" as much for its characters and ideas as its plot will find "Speaker" incredibly rewarding.
The first time I read "Speaker," I was thirteen. While I liked the book, I missed the faster pace of "Ender's Game." However, over the years, I have come to love "Speaker," opening chapters and all, more than the other books in this series. My one quibble is the conclusion; though tonally perfect, it leaves enough loose ends to fill....two more books!
"Speaker" belongs to the special group of books, science fiction and otherwise, that treat religious and ethical issues seriously. Whether or not you agree with OSC's conclusions (or completely believe Ender's Speaking for Marcos could occur in our universe) the book raises important questions within a moving story about characters with real problems. It also recognizes that people have families, cultures, and other community ties.
To summarize, "Speaker for the Dead" is a wonderful novel that uses believable characters to raise questions about human existence. Like "Ender's Game," it explores alienation and misunderstanding, but it is a richer and slower book, and in my opinion, better.
(If you like "Speaker," I highly recommend OSC's "Hart's Hope," a fantasy with similar themes. I also recommend anything by Ursula K. Le Guin.)
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on March 16, 2000
After reading Ender's Game, and loving it more than I thoughtpossible, I read "Speaker for the Dead". In theintroduction, (if you ever bother to read those things), the authorpoints out that Speaker was his original idea. He wrote "Ender's Game" as BACKGROUND! "Game" won the Hugo and Nebula awards as a background novel. In this story we "meet" Ender again, this time as a rather jaded thirty-something man who has to keep his identity a secret. History has unfairly branded him a mass murderer rather than the hero as he was first regarded, or the abused child he was in reality. He is the original "Speaker for the Dead", a humanistic ideology/psuedo-religeon that teaches the virtues of the truth. Don't let this mumbo jumbo throw you, its a great read that doesn't get too mystical. The book would be great on its own, but it's all the greater because anyone who's read "Ender's game" already knows the protagonist in more depth than any character in recent memory from any book. Ender is our childhood friend, who we have the priviledge of meeting again in adulthood. The reader will root for the boy to become greater than the myth and end his life of lonliness. He is summoned to a colony world that has discovered another form of sentient life. Ender is there to speak a death, (give an honest to the point of being harsh eulogy), but finds himself once again wrapped up in the politics of humanity. Basically he has to save the Portuguese Catholic world of Lusitania from a variety of things that would destroy it. What turns out to be his hardest task though is helping a family in emotional distress.
If it sounds complicated, it isn't. Card has given us another moral human tale, told in great detail and depth, yet never boring. Although the events in this book are far less catostrophic than the events our "hero" went through in Ender's game, the emotional impact is still there. We see what became of the lonly mistreated little genius, and how his life turned out. In "Game" Ender was battling for his own personal sanity and survival, playing by the rules of his controllers. In "Speaker", Ender fights for others. He has more control over the circumstances and chooses to help people he barely knows, and the last survivor of the race he was accused of wiping out.
We get a philosophically different book than "Ender's game", but it still has the power to break your heart and lift your spirits. We get a whole new set of personal moral dillemas, and see the dark and light sides of relationships. This book may be different in tone and philosophy than the prequel, but the main player is still intact. If you've read "Ender's Game", this is a must read. If you haven't, don't read this book yet. You'll like it, but that prize winning background novel is still worth the effort before going on to "Speaker". These two are the best books I've read in years.
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on February 16, 2000
Perhaps right now you are tempted to press that "not helpful" button at the bottom of my review. Perhaps you are tempted to press it twice. Perhaps you will also be tempted to read what I have to say. Speaker is a good book, but it fails in many areas. First of all, if you hoped for this book to pick up where the Game left off, or at least feature comparable characters, you wil be bitterly disappointed. The original Ender, the boy genius, one who single-handedly destroyed an entire race, is gone. He is replied with a Speaker for the Dead, one who tells the truth about the lives of the deceased, hopping from world to world at relativistic speeds, whittling away at millennia without aging. Although now he doesn't use the name Ender as the entier universe hates the one who destroyed the only other race ever known to man. A new world is discovered, and with it - the piggies, a mysterious primitive race. A settlement is set up, and a non-interference policy is passed, but lives once again are lost, and the world is too mysterious to comprehend - or so it seems. Only eight species in the entier world, and a devious plague virus. Sounds deep? It is. But Card fails to center on what he does best - characterization. Characters are limited to a few heart-tugging scenes of broken hearts and shattered dreams. Sure, the mystery of the aliens is great, but I guessed the answer midway through the book, and soon realized that the mystery was the only thing powering the story - once that was gone the book lost all value. Likewise, there aren't enough relationships with the first book besides a few reminescences into the past, so you could at least relate to the characters as they were in the original, but that isn't there either.
This book is good but does not live up to the expectations, and neither is this Card at its best. Read this book once - there is no prize for re-reading it like there was in the Ender's Game or Ender's Shadow.
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on February 1, 2001
Think about your life. What do you see when you close your eyes? Your childhood? Your first kiss? Your high school graduation? The first time you ever won a prize? But at closer inspection, you would see secrets kept, disappointments, pain, and sadness, too. How have all of those things affected you? A lot more than you would be willing to believe, I'll bet. Orson Scott Card's amazingly philosophical tale of REAL life, "Speaker for the Dead" probes into your mind and pulls these feelings out of you, whether you want it to or not... but only if you're a truly serious reader. A reader who not only visualizes the world that he/she reads, but becomes a part of it, feelings the characters' feelings, and being there when the bad news is broken. I was there, I felt it all, and at many points, I wanted to cry, but I didn't want to inflict water damage to this truly magnificent piece of literature I held in my hands. "Speaker" picks up over 3000 years after "Ender's Game," but Ender is only in his thirties, and so is his sister Valentine. His brother, Hegemon Peter Wiggin, has long since past into the sweet hereafter, and we are left with a completely new plot and a completely new way of looking at Ender's life. Since his discovery of the Hive Queen back on the first planet he helped colonize, Ender has been on a seemingly eternal mission to find a resting place for the cocoon he carries around in his knapsack, so the Formic race can thrive again. But it looks as if his 3000 year quest may be coming to an end when a story of two murders reaches his newest temporary home, Trondheim. The Pequeninos on the colony of Lusitania have killed a human scientist, and a Speaker for the Dead (a sort of spiritual following of people who have read Ender's books, "The Hive Queen" and "The Hegemon") has been requested by a young girl named Novinha. Ender answers the call, and ends up tangled in a web of deceit and secrets that he has to unravel, no matter what the consequences. It is the ultimate test of that age-old theory, "Will the truth set you free?" It set me free as I read this book, page after page filling me with emotions that had never been triggered by a book before. "Speaker for the Dead" is no doubt, an equal to if not a better novel than "Ender's Game." It's impossible to not be taken in by this amazing story. Please read it. And if you already have, read it again. It's even better the second time.
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