Thoughts On: Speaker for the Dead

‘The Nordic language recognizes four orders of foreignness. The first is the otherlander, or utlanning, the stranger that we recognize as being a human of our world, but of another city or country. The second is the framling…this is the stranger we recognize as human but of another world. The third is the raman, the stranger that we recognize as human, but of another species. The fourth is the true alien, the varelse, which includes all the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purposes or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it.’

– Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

I just recently began reading further into the Ender saga by Orson Scott Card, and quite honestly, it has been a substantial work to think and chew on. I remember first reading Ender’s Game when I was 13ish and finding the story so compelling and haunting. Ender’s Game helped spark my interest and love for science fiction, and my love for Card’s unique style of storytelling. However, it has taken me years to actually continue reading the series. I’ve reread Ender’s Game at least 3 times now, intending to sink my teeth into the next book, Speaker for the Dead with as much intensity and vigor that the first book left me with. But things just didn’t work out that way.

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One of the issues of the recent comic adaptation.

Speaker for the Dead is very different from Ender’s Game in terms of the feel for the book. Some of the elements are the same, such as Card’s usage of external documents/conversations to open each chapter, and the protagonist is the same, but yet the book feels deeper. Ender is no longer a child thrusted into a world of games and militaristic training, but rather an adult who seeks to right the universe he wronged. His role in this sequel is not a tool for destruction and annihilation of another alien race like the Formics, who were a ramen, but to reconcile and bridge the gaps between the humans and a newly discovered raman race – the pequeninos. As Ender does this and speaks the truth, the reader also knows alongside Ender what the outcome of his speaking will be. The audience knows that there will be a positive resolution of some kind. His certainty and wisdom not only reflects thousands of years to mature between both novels but also contrasts his situation as a child in the Battle School in the previous novel. He is in control, not being controlled.

Reading this novel has challenged me and caused me to question things within myself. Am I an utlanning or framling to some? The dilemma humanity faced with the Formics, who were sentient but could not physically speak, led ultimately to xenocide of the Formic race. How quick are we humans to judge what otherness is, and who fits into which category? Lucky for us we haven’t had the problem of facing sentient alien life, but what actions have we done to dehumanize each other? Who are the ramen in our western society? Card prods us to ponder these questions. It would be interesting to examine the Ender saga through a post-colonial lens or through a critical-racial lens and see what would be gleaned.

Another interesting aspect of Card’s writing is the intentional spirituality that always present in one form or another. Unlike his Homecoming saga, Speaker for the Dead does not seem to have such an overt religious theme. There are some things to be examined however. For one, who is Ender really? Once a child weapon and strategist he’s now focuses on speaking truth and bringing restoration to wherever he goes. Ender has within two books morphed into this kind of emissary or messianic character. His role as the Speaker makes him seem almost preexistent and ancient to the other characters, and he comes to deeply know and understand every person he comes in contact with. Yet alongside this gentle and patient man we are still faced with him as the Xenocide – his ability to kill certainly has not faded away.

Ender may have become a messianic figure of sorts, but it does not fit very well. Messianic figures typically end in death after bestowing their truth, and so far (since I haven’t finished the whole series) Ender does not fit that role. Perhaps a better alternative in this specific text is to look at Human the pequenino, who was killed at the hands of Ender to establish a covenant with the humans on the planet and the remaining of the pequenino population. Human, as well as the other pequeninos, had a belief in the afterlife (“third life”) which involved their corpses transforming into great trees that would provide for the future generations. The roots and sprouts growing out of Human’s corpse and organs could be implied as resurrection and perhaps being seen as a sign of said covenant.

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The murder/rebirth of Human the pequenino by Ender’s hands.

Who is Ender, then, if he helped establish this covenant? Perhaps we can see him as sort of a god-figure, but maybe a better comparison is with another favorite character of mine, Pug of Crydee from Raymond E. Feist’s Magician series. Perhaps Ender is like Pug, who was given a task to right the world and watch over humanity for some time until his task was completed. Ender has already existed as a Speaker for thousands of years and is seeking to reestablish the Formics as a species, but the peace between the humans and the ramen must be maintained if not instructed by him. Ender’s task will be completed when humanity ceases to blindly kill other sentient beings out of fear.

Ultimately Orson Scott Card is making me chew on and think about these ideas in his series as well as absorbing the overall plot. I may be late to the game, considering Speaker for the Dead came out 26 years ago. But the idea of otherness and humanity’s struggle with the other is still so relevant today that it feels prophetic. I can only hope that Card paints a hopeful future for it.

More on Orson Scott Card: x

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts On: Speaker for the Dead

  1. my path to Speaker For the Dead was similar to yours – I’d read Ender’s Game a handful of times in my teens and 20s, and was finally ready to read further in the series. Like you, I was surprised how different of a book Speaker is from Ender’s Game. I LOVED Speaker For the Dead! It was a beautiful book. I cried so much at the end.

  2. Pingback: Author and Works: Issues with Orson Scott Card | CHOPPER IN JOHTO

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