I was told before going in that the rest of Orson Scott Card’s Ender series is massively different compared to the original Ender’s Game novel. I was also told that it shouldn’t affect my enjoyment of the series one bit. They were right on both counts. Ender’s Game was a story about a young teenager being sent away to military school to train him to fight against an alien race known as “buggers” who seemed set on annihilating the human race. Speaker for the Dead (and the following book, Xenocide) is about attempting to understand and live in harmony with other alien races. It helps to know that Ender’s Game was rewritten from a short story for the sole purpose of leading in to Speaker for the Dead, but the transition is handled remarkably well.
The main focus is around a newly discovered alien race known as Pequeninos (or “Piggies” for short) due to their somewhat swine-like appearance. People only ever see the males of the species, yet they all talk about their wives and mothers in (usually) respectful tones. You never see a father or a child, yet they’re also often talked about in very fond tones. They live on a planet with remarkably few species due to a deadly mutating virus that they are somehow unaffected by. Oh, and those they have love the most, they kill in an incredibly brutal fashion.
The one thing that amazed me the most is just completely alien the Piggies feel. Sure, different alien species are dime a dozen in the Sci-Fi genre, but it’s rare you get a story that delves so deeply into developing such a rich species that it tries to help you understand. The best part is, it all fits together by the end of it too. The following book, Xenocide (which is the last book of the series that I’ve read so far), continues this theme and starts expanding out into detailing the races that have appeared in the earlier books. This is where things start to get a bit iffy…
Ender’s Game tells a story of survival by wiping out an entire alien species, something which Ender feels incredible remorse for. Speaker for the Dead tells a story of understanding those who seem so incredibly different to you, acknowledging and accepting these differences as part of what they are. Xenocide also tells the tale of survival and goes into some very heady directions in terms of the sci-fi, but I was somewhat distracted by how they were also converting the Piggies to Catholicism. Stranger still, in Speaker for the Dead, Ender reacts angrily when others talk about how they could change something about how the Piggies live, arguing that it’s part of what makes them “them” and how dare they try to change them for what they think is “better”. Then in Xenocide they are talk about marrying the Piggies before they can breed and baptising the young, which all makes no sense once you understand the complex lives of the Piggies. Even the Piggies attitudes seemed to have changed dramatically, going from treating the bible as only good for wrapping food to the one of the most highly honoured text among the entire species. I’m not sure where this drastic change came from, but the jarring change was a little uncomfortable. It’s like the books are asking for tolerance, understanding and accepting the differences of others with one hand, then trying to make them more “normal” with the other. This is made far worse when you learn about the strong homophobic views held by the author, which while it didn’t affect my opinions of the first two books certainly reared its head for the third. I’m not sure if his views became more pronounced around the same time as Xenocide was published, but it certainly at this point that I started to dwell on it more.
Overall, I can highly recommend both Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead to everyone, in fact I’d go as far to say they’re must reads for anyone who’s even vaguely interested in the sort of conflicts that arise between dissimilar people, even if you’re not a science-fiction fan as a rule. Xenocide though… You’ll probably be fine to skip that one, unless you were already hooked into the series like I was.