29 July, 2012

Review: Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A family torn asunder by lies, frailties, and seemingly unspeakable acts nevertheless survives as any good catholic family would. Until Ender Wiggin, Speaker for the Dead and destroyer of an entire ramen species, arrives. He brings truth, and with it, redemption. Meanwhile, the aliens of this world provide mysteries to solve both scientifically and politically.

Ender as a child was remarkable in his own way, but as an adult, he is even more interesting. Card is able to weave a story here that consistently keeps the reader on edge, always wanting to know more. As the mysteries surrounding the family he meets, the aliens he comes to know, and the disease that threatens to kill them all deepen, Ender, along within his (faithful?) companion Jane, uncovers truths that change everything at a level that the preceding novel cannot come close to matching. This is a story that speaks on several levels.

However, there are significant problems, despite the five star score I give this book. First, his characters are stupid. I know he is trying to ensure that there is a clear distinction between the super-human intelligence of Ender and Valentine when compared to the characters that happen to live on the world he visits. There is some justification for the people he writes to be of only average intelligence. But the way they are written makes most of them (with a few notable exceptions) nearly brain-dead. They make very poor life decisions -- which creates a stark contrast to the characters of Ender's Game, who were all extremely intelligent. Second, Ender's victories come too easy. Sure, Ender is VERY smart. But his powers of empathy here are incredible. Third, what is up with the philosophy Card uses?

As a philosopher, one of the most interesting parts of this book for me was reading about Ender's philosophic viewpoint. Believe me when I say that the fact that Ender's philosophy is completely opposed to my own, I nevertheless found this book a VERY entertaining read. But I almost feel like warning the reader of this book to treat the philosophy espoused within as nothing but fiction in the same way that I might warn a teenager before letting them read Ayn Rand. Nevertheless, the book thoroughly entertains and warrants the full five stars. I'm willing to use suspension of disbelief to handle the parts I disliked philosophically in the same way that I give no fault to the text for not being hard science fiction.

This book is worth the read even if you didn't like Ender's Game. Although this is a sequel, it is completely different in every way, and deserves a chance from any fan of soft science fiction. Highly recommended.

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