The Speaker for the Dead – Ender’s Saga

This is the second book in the Ender’s Saga, and thankfully I think it’s just as good as the first one. It has some very different themes to the original but it’s still really interesting. In fact, this is actually set 3000 years into the future, and thanks to the wonders of near-lightspeed travel, Ender and Valentine have managed to escape death, and are still alive. But the really interesting thing is, that humanity has found another sentient lifeform, and hoping that they don’t screw up like they did with the Buggers, humans have tried to limit their contact with them. But things happen, and Ender journeys to visit this new world and see what he can learn from the third ‘ramen’ species.

The book is not entirely from Ender’s point of view, it actually starts out with the view of the xenologists on Lusitania, the world with the third species. These xenologists are responsible for studying the species which is known as the Pequeninos, or more derogatively Piggies. But the Starways Congress of humanity has placed severe restrictions on interactions between the two species to try to prevent any ‘contamination’ of the Pequeninos culture by humanity. So they don’t really know that much about them, except that the ones they talk to are the males, and that they have wives but humans aren’t allowed there. Plus the pequeninos are exceptionally good at picking up language, so they speak ‘Stark’ (English) and Portuguese very quickly, in addition to their three languages they have – the wive’s language, tree language, brother language.

Ender himself has been planet hopping, trying to search for a suitable location for The Hive Queen, and it looks like Lusitania might be the place he has been looking for. But that is not all that draws him there, he has taken on the role of a Speaker for the Dead, which over 3000 years has become a widespread profession. And on Lusitania there was a death of one of the xenologists, at the hands of the Pequeninos, which has called for a Speaker for the Dead. But Valentine has settled down with a husband, so she stays behind.

Arriving many years after the first death (and not long after a second xenologer, the son of the first, was also killed), Ender finds himself welcomed with hostility from the community, but slowly learns about the place and the truth. And it starts to raise interesting questions about the truth, and whether exposing it really is the best thing to do, or whether it just causes more pain.

The interactions with the pequeninos are very interesting, and I think Card has made a believable alien species and community. But the truth about the pequeninos is most interesting, and it takes Ender a while to figure it all out. And we see the consequences of ignorance. We did not understand what they were doing, and they did not know what it would do to us. It’s a classic example of a huge misunderstanding. And it also raises a lot of questions about intelligence, and what qualifies as an intelligent organism, is it something that is self-aware, something that can communicate with us, something that can build things? And the interactions also highlight the delicate balance between interacting with a species (or indeed a new tribe of humans) and learning more about them, and ensuring that in the process you don’t change their culture and world. But if we have technology that is advanced in comparison to them, why shouldn’t we give it to them to use, or teach them? It’s a tough question. After all, they could always use what we taught them against us…

Ultimately we find out that the xenologers haven’t quite been leaving a minimal impact on the pequeninos, so much so that the Starways Congress has noticed, and they aren’t happy. Which leads us into the next book quite nicely.

But this second book was really good, and I wasn’t disappointed with the sequel. It’s very different in what it is exploring compared to Ender’s Game, but it’s still very interesting and thought-provoking. Plus it’s really exciting and there are plenty of twists to keep you on your toes, and questions to be answered. It’s definitely more complex and serious compared to the original, but that’s not a bad thing. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Have you read the book, what did you think? What qualifies something as intelligent? And if we found aliens should we just leave them alone?


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