The story begins with Novinha, a pre-teen orphan with no friends who feels different from others and doesn't fit in with others of her age, asking to be an apprentice xnynobiologist. She continues to play a central role throughout the rest of the book. The man named Ender on a distant planet recognizes a kindred spirit in Novinha and travels the 20 light years to speak for her dead mentor. So begins the book, Speaker for the Dead
. This is the second book in the "Ender" science fiction series. Reading Ender's Game
first isn't required, but certainly helpful in getting into this second book. But this book is very different from the first book. Speaker for the Dead
is more mature in subject and theme than Ender's Game
, which explains why my older self liked this book better than Ender's Game
. But the child in me was wondering, where did the young Ender and those shootem-up computer games go?
If all the extraterrestrial science fiction is stripped away, the remaining plot is a murder mystery with Ender filling the role of the detective who has arrived to learn the truth. But this basic plot is well disguised within a science fiction environment. The dominate conflict and mystery explored by the book is the relationship between the recently arrived human settlers and the native life present on their new planet. In many ways it is a speculative anthropological and societal look at what may be encountered if humans move to other planets. The time setting of the story is several thousand years in the future, 3,000 years after the story contained in Ender's Game
. But Ender is still living thanks to the slowing of time caused by spending a lot of time traveling near the speed of light.
Everything Orson Scott Card writes seems to have religious overtones. So it's probably no accident that the plot has a religious theme for those seek it. There's even a sacrificial death toward then end that has connotations of resurrection. Even after thousands of years with humans traveling throughout the universe, they are still very concerned about religion in the story and self identify as either Nordic Lutheran, Portuguese Catholic, Muslim, etc. The story even contains a Catholic monastery containing both men and women living together in chaste marriages. Hmmm, this is science fiction, so I guess anything is possible.
The strangest entity in the story is a coalescence of awareness (non-human, and non-material) present throughout the universe who provides special communication to Ender. This entity goes by the name of Jane and comes pretty close to what most people think of as a personal God. She's a bit capricious, so in that regard she more like one of the ancient Greek Gods. She functions as the ultimate research assistant. The narrative contains no suggestion that Jane is the same thing as God, but the reader can put two and two together and ponder the possibilities. Her loyalty shifts to another person near the end of the book when Ender gets married. Yep, Ender gets married. So that's something to look forward to while reading this book.