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Title: Speaker for the Dead
Series: Enderverse #2
Authors: Orson Card
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Eight years after the Descolada virus is cured, Xenologer Pipo and his thirteen-year-old son and apprentice Libo have developed a friendship with the Pequeninos. They allow Novinha to join their science team as the colony’s only xenobiologist after she passes the test at age thirteen. After accidentally sharing information about human genders with a male Pequenino named Rooter, the scientists find Rooter’s body eviscerated, a sapling planted within it. Guessing this may be a torturous sacrificial ritual, restrictions on studying the Pequeninos are enforced, barring the humans from asking questions directly at Pequininos.
A few years later, Novinha discovers that every lifeform on Lusitania carries the Descolada virus which, though lethal to humans, appears to serve a beneficial purpose to native lifeforms. When Pipo learns of this, he suddenly has an insight, and before he tells the others, races off to talk to the Pequeninos. Libo and Novinha find Pipo’s body cut open just as Rooter’s had been, but with no sapling planted. As Pipo’s death appears unprovoked, the Pequeninos are now considered a threat by the Starways Congress and restrictions on studying them are tightened. Distraught, Novinha makes a call for a Speaker for the Dead for Pipo. She is in love with Libo but fears that if he sees her files of research he will make the same discovery as Pipo and meet the same fate. She marries another colonist, Marcos Ribeira, so as to lock her files from being opened.
Andrew Wiggin, unbeknownst by others to be the Ender Wiggin responsible for the Formic xenocide, lives innocuously on the planet Trondheim. He responds to Novinha’s call, parting with his sister, Valentine, who has traveled with him but is now settled with a family. He travels with an artificial intelligence named Jane who communicates with Ender through a jewel earring; she was born in the Ansible network that enables faster-than-light communications and keeps her existence secret. After relativistic travel, Ender arrives at Lusitania 22 years later (1970 S.C.), finding that Novinha canceled her request for a Speaker five days after sending it. In the intervening time, Libo died in the same manner as Pipo, and Marcos succumbed to a chronic illness. Novinha’s eldest children, Ela and Miro, have requested a Speaker for Libo and Marcos. Ender, gaining access to all of the appropriate files, learns of tension since Pipo’s death: Novinha has turned away from xenobiology to study crop growth and had a loveless relationship with Marcos; Miro has secretly worked with Libo’s daughter Ouanda to continue to study the Pequeninos, breaking the law to share human technology and knowledge with them. Miro and Ouanda have fallen in love. With Ender’s arrival, Miro tells him that one of the Pequeninos, Human, has taken a great interest in Ender, and Ender becomes aware that Human can hear messages from the Formic Hive Queen. Ender discovers that Marcos was infertile: all six of Novinha’s children were fathered by Libo. Ender also learns what Pipo had seen in Novinha’s data.
As word of Miro’s and Ouanda’s illegal sharing of human technology with the Pequeninos is reported to Congress, Ender secretly meets with the Pequeninos. They know his true identity and they implore him to help them be part of civilization, while the Formic Queen tells Ender that Lusitania would be an ideal place to restart the hive, as her race can help guide the Pequeninos. Congress orders Miro and Ouanda to be sent off-planet for penal action and the colony be disbanded. Ender delivers his eulogy for Marcos, revealing Novinha’s infidelity. Miro, distraught to learn that he is Ouanda’s half-brother, attempts to escape to the Pequeninos, but he suffers neurological damage after he tries to cross the electrified fence. Ender reveals to the colony what Pipo learned: every life form on Lusitania is paired with another through the Descolada virus, so that the death of one births the other. In the case of the Pequeninos, they become trees when they die. The colony leaders agree to rebel against Congress, severing their Ansible connection and deactivating the fence, allowing Ender, Ouanda, and Ela to go with Human to speak to the Pequenino wives, to help establish a case to present to Congress.
The Pequenino wives help Ender corroborate the complex life cycle of the Pequeninos, affirming that the death ritual Pipo observed was to help create “fathertrees” who fertilize the Pequenino females to continue their race. The Pequeninos believed they were honoring Pipo, and later Libo, by helping them become fathertrees, but Ender explains that humans lack this “third life”, and if the Pequeninos are to cohabitate with humans, they must respect this difference. To affirm their understanding and agreement, Ender is asked to perform the ritual of giving Human “third life” as a fathertree.
Miro recovers from most of the physical damage from his encounter with the fence, but he is partially paralyzed; Ender transfers Jane to him, and she becomes Miro’s companion. Valentine and her family decide to travel from Trondheim to Lusitania to help with the revolt and will arrive in some decades due to relativistic travel; Ender has Miro meet them halfway. Novinha finally absolves herself of her guilt for the death of Pipo and Libo. She and Ender marry. Ender plants the Hive Queen as per her request, and he writes his third book, a biography of the life of the Pequenino, Human.
This is a very different beast of a book than Ender’s Game. In subject matter, tone and even philosophically. There is no outside threat uniting humanity but only a potentiality of a threat. That “threat” is the pre-industrial piggies that the Commonwealth of Humanity now wants to keep locked onto their one world. At the same time Ender is seeking redemption for his xenocide of the formics by finding a planet where the buggers can be reborn live again.
Card really dives into what makes a sentient being and the various ways different sentient creatures view each other and how they interact. He comes at it from a completely humanistic and evolutionistic viewpoint. Everthing in the book springs directly from those two ideas.
There is also an odd side story about Jane, an AI that spontaneously came into being with the use of the ansibles, the faster than light communication system. She seems to have some sort of relationship with Ender until she abruptly takes up with one of the side characters. It felt very forced and something that Card uses to bridge to the next book.
This felt like a closing on the Andrew Wiggin (Ender) character. I have my doubts about him being in the future books. I am ok with that, because Card has turned Ender into a prototype Beta-Male like Ross from the tv show Friends. Ender stays in the background, even psychologically, the entire time. It is so different from the previous book and I didn’t like that change. I almost wish Card had used a different character instead of turning Ender into what is shown here.
I will definitely be reading the rest of the original Enderverse books. However, I suspect I will not be enjoying them nearly as much as I did Ender’s Game or Card’s Pathfinder trilogy. This book felt much more akin to his Alvin Maker series than to the Formic Wars novels. Cerebral navel gazing instead of doing.