I never expected Ender's Game to be so damn engrossing when I finally got around it last January. I certainly wasn't expecting I would even read anything written by Orson Scott Card ever, considering his homophobic stance which had personally offended me. However, I wasn't quick to dismiss his literary contributions to the science fiction genre, so I put aside my negative bias and bought the Ender Quartet series.
And I'm glad I gave myself the chance to do that because I can honestly say that two books later into the series, what Card accomplished in both Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead has made me into a massive fan.
Unlike its predecessor, Speaker for the Dead is more humane in scope, focusing on the empowering choice of peace and tolerance whilst Ender's Game dealt with war and annihilation of a species that threatened our own.
Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is no longer the sole and primary focus of the story though his importance is still pronounced; but in a different sense from his destroyer days. Set three thousand years later after the bugger wars, Ender is no longer that prodigy child who won the war for humanity's survival; he's a man in his thirties who traveled the stars for so long that he never had a chance to feel at home. Together with his sister Valentine, Ender had seen humanity spread across the galaxies, and he had moved with them but as a Speaker; one who tells the truth about a person's life upon death. He is in fact the very first Speaker since space travel has slowed down his ageing process, and he wanted to once and for all discard Ender by speaking on behalf of the dead to impact their histories on the living. This is the perfect form of penance for Ender, and the only people aware of his identity are his sister and the sentient artificial intelligence Jane who sought him out herself and hoped one day that he could help human beings accept her kind.
Though Ender still plays a huge role in Speaker for the Dead, the story is focused on a human settlement called Lusitania which is a largely Catholic community that lives alongside a newly discovered species called "piggies". Ender was called to speak for someone's death in that place, a summoning by a suffering young girl named Novinha. But before Ender ever gets there, Novinha (who was now an adult) cancels the summoning, especially after she figures out a significant revelation about the piggies, and wants desperately to protect it to avoid bloodshed among the people she loves the most. Puzzlingly enough, Novinha's other two children have also called for a speaker, and this is when Ender knew that something troubling is brewing in the stifling confines of Novinha's family; that there is a corrosive wound that has made it essentially hard for both her and her children to move forward with their lives.
The book's plot goes twofold. On one hand, the anthropological examination of the piggies' culture and practices is zoomed in, enabling readers to understand this species in the human context but even that is already limited. With Ender's arrival, he served as an ambassador between humans and piggies, offering agreeable alternatives for co-existence between these two species. On the other hand, Ender's presence was also a powerful instrument that shattered the shackles that surrounded Novinha and her children. By speaking on behalf of their dead father, Ender exposed the painful truth and the healing process thus began. He had also unwittingly woven himself into the family's fabric, and perhaps in doing so he finally had a home to belong to after being a vagabond for so long.
Speaker for the Dead is an astounding follow-up that is drastically different from Ender's Game in tone, setting and execution, and yet in most ways it was also able to surpass its predecessor. It's a daring commentary on science and religion, challenging the limitations of both fields. It also served as a heartfelt testament about the freeing capacity of truth and compassion. It's a searing examination of what makes families grow together and communities prosper as one. The characters are memorable and sympathetic even when they do and say things that are more harmful that they thought (I'm of course referring to Novinha and her insistence to conceal the truth which cost her the love and trust of her own children).
And as much as I enjoyed Ender as a child in the first book, I was pleased to see him in this new role as Speaker, and that he is making amends from his past transgressions and in my eyes he has truly become a mender of worlds.
* A well-developed and earnest parable about forgiveness and acceptance set in a futuristic backdrop of moral ambiguities and social discord.