I may as well plunge right in by saying that I consider “Speaker for the Dead” a far superior book to “Ender’s Game”, though it is its sequel. “Ender’s Game” is, for the most part, standard science fiction. It is good, even great, science fiction, but only in the last few pages does it really open up and reveal the depth that runs through and through “Speaker for the Dead”.
“Speaker for the Dead” begins 3,000 years after “Ender’s Game”. Ender, the hero who saved humanity from the alien race called the buggers, has been hopping from world to world and, due to the relativity of time, has kept his youth. In the intervening years humanity’s opinion of him has changed; whereas once he was hero now he is villain, responsible for the extinction of the bugger species. Now a new alien species has been discovered which has been dubbed the piggies, and they have apparently begun to murder humans. Ender, since his military days, has become a Speaker for the Dead, someone quasi-religious but universally respected, called to witness the truth about a person after death. Ender is called to the piggy world, and a complex chain of events unfolds as Ender and those who called him seek to understand the piggies’ bizarrely different xenology and culture to prevent a misunderstanding similar to that which happened with the buggers. At the same time Ender is carrying the last bugger queen, which he found at the end of “Ender’s Game”, searching for a world on which she can give birth to the eggs she carries.
At no time does this descend into maudlin adventure. Card does not go for the quick entertainment fix. Instead, he explores the spiritual, philosophical, and emotional ramifications of alien encounter in an intelligent, thought-provoking way. That’s the wonder and triumph of this book. In a lesser writer’s hands it would have been a much different story: more action, perhaps, but less heart. But as I plunged into the heart of this story what I really felt was the heart of Orson Scott Card, and that’s what I appreciated as I read on and on. Each time I picked it up it was more and more difficult to put it down. It is extremely well told. More than that, it is not too long but just long enough to explore its subject matter thoroughly. The tendency these days seems to be to create huge rambling door-stopper sized epics, but a story should be just the right size to tell its tale well, and that’s what this one does.
There is, in fact, a cliff-hanger of an ending; however, it’s not necessary to read on into the next volume if you don’t want to. The story as it stands resolves all of the intellectual and emotional plot-points satisfactorily, and if you want to read the sequel it would be to learn more about the universe Card created in this series rather than because he does not complete what he has begun. I suppose it would be possible to read this tale without having first read “Ender’s Game”, but personally I would not advise it. “Speaker for the Dead” takes for granted Ender’s past and the character development that has led him to become the person he is in order to make the decisions he does, decisions he would not have been able to make, or would have made differently, as a younger man.
Completing “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead” was my goal, and having done so I don’t know whether I will continue on and read more of the Ender series, which runs into six volumes. I have so much I want to read I know I will not get to any of the other books soon. But these two books I highly recommend. They are science fiction at its best, science fiction as it was meant to be: intelligent, empathetic, emotional, exciting, thought-provoking, well-written.