Warning, potential spoilers from Ender’s Game if you haven’t read it yet.
Ender Wiggin blew up an entire planet and with it, a whole sentient, space faring species. That’s a pretty big deal if you think about it. You have basically committed genocide against an entire race who ultimately got their arses handed to them due to a misunderstanding. This is the sort of bleak reality that Ender deals with every day. Thank the laws of physics of relativitic travel!
We pick up Ender’s tale in Speaker for the Dead set up at the end of Ender’s Game as he begins a semi-nomadic life amongst the stars as humanity expands its influence and reach. Three thousand years have passed for the normal folk, Ender’s parents and brother are long dead, but his sister, Valentine, journeys with him, learning, watching and writing about their experiences. To them, it has only been a little over twenty years, thanks to the time dilation effect of travelling at close to the speed of light. The advantage is of course, everyone has forgotten them, their past lives and the true history of the Wiggins and allows them to have anonymity where they go.
Ender, for his part has grown into a peaceful, humanitarian and extremely insightful man, fulfilling his role as Speaker for the Dead – someone who only seeks and tells the truth of a person’s life – for many people around the human colonies. In this part of his life, he seeks to help people understand the truth about themselves and those they care about. It’s not an easy job, especially when you live twenty years and centuries pass for everyone else.
The focus of the story is the tip-toey diplomatic relationship between the human colonists of the planet Lusitania and the natives, called the pequeninos (or piggies as they’re colloquially called). While the humans are trying to learn about the natives and vice versa, not much actually happens, because both sides are too careful to tell each other anything of worth. The biggest drama lies in the fact that the entire planet’s ecosystem is strange due to the lack of biodiversity. Theories are thrown around, but that is one of the mysteries of the Descolada, a symbiotic virus that inhabits all the lifeforms of Lusitania, but ends up being completely fatal if it gets into humans.
Speaker for the Dead is a completely different book in style and theme to Ender’s Game. Yes, it’s still science fiction, yes it has the same main character in Andrew Wiggin, but this about the life and struggles of a colony of humanity, far away from home in an era of relative peace. The main struggles of survival and ensuring they don’t violate the laws of the government, the complex relationships of a small colony and how to deal with secrets. The sentient aboriginals native to Lusitania are presented beautifully, realistically and are completely alien to us in both custom and life cycle. If anything, this book has even more good science fiction behind the more philosophical and intellectual story.
While there are no warships, explosions or war games, Speaker for the Dead still revolves around survival, understanding and the bonds of love between family and friends as you go through life. It also explores the choices you make as a person, for good or ill and redemption for those who hide terrible secrets. Speaker is far more personal and in some parts, very very heartbreaking, especially the tale of Novinha’s difficult life. It’s a good read, but don’t expect any space opera.