Speaker for the Dead

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Not to be confused with Speaker of the Dead.
Speaker for the Dead
Speaker dead cover.jpg
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author Orson Scott Card
Country United States
Language English
Series Ender's Game series
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Tor Books
Publication date
March 1986
Pages 415
Award Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1987)
ISBN 0-312-93738-5
OCLC 13201341
Preceded by Ender's Game
Followed by Xenocide

Speaker for the Dead is a 1986 science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card and an indirect sequel to the novel Ender's Game. The book takes place around the year 5270, some 3,000 years after the events in Ender's Game. However, because of relativistic space travel, Ender himself is only about 35 years old.

This is the first book to discuss the Starways Congress, a high standpoint Legislation for the human colonies. It is also the first to describe the Hundred Worlds, the planets with human colonies that are tightly intertwined by Ansible technology.

Like Ender's Game, the book won the Nebula Award in 1986[1] and the Hugo Award in 1987.[2] Speaker for the Dead was published in a slightly revised edition in 1991. It was followed by Xenocide and Children of the Mind.


Following the xenocide of the Formic species by his own hand (in Ender's Game), Ender Wiggin writes a book under the pseudonym "Speaker for the Dead" called The Hive Queen, describing the life of the Formics as described to him by the dormant Formic queen which he secretly carries. The book, in which Ender depicts himself as a destructive and negative force in contrast to his heroic status, is successful, and when Ender's brother, the Hegemon Peter Wiggin, recognizes Ender's handiwork, he asks him to write a similar book for him when he dies. Ender agrees, and writes The Hegemon after Peter's death. The two books together lead to the emergence of a religious movement centred around priest-like investigators dubbed the Speakers for the Dead. Owing to the practice's popularity, Speakers are given privileged access to all of a deceased subject's files and writings, legally-binding across the Hundred Worlds, that they may compose a comprehensive and precisely accurate eulogy. When they speak, they do not judge the subject, but only relate the events and circumstances of their life. Ender himself becomes a Speaker, under his birth name Andrew; he hides his true identity as Ender, which has become a byword for misfortune due to his very own writing. Ender has spent much of his early adult life traveling between human colonies with his sister Valentine to find a home for the Formic queen to repopulate her species. Due to relativity, very little time has passed for Ender, while the rest of humanity has advanced thousands of years.

Three thousand years after the xenocide, humans have formed a small colony on the planet Lusitania, originating from settlers of the Portuguese-speaking Catholic world Bahia. The planet is the first discovered to feature a sentient species, short mammalian forest dwellers with pig-like faces called Piggies, occasionally Pequeninos ("little ones"). Xenobiologists are drawn to the colony, but within less than a decade of its establishment the Descolada virus strikes, wiping out many colonists before a remedy could be found by a husband and wife pair of scientists. Their orphaned daughter Ivanova (also called Novinha), is taken in by xenobiologist Pipo, who raises her and his son Libo to follow him in his footsteps. The small group, the only people sanctioned to contact the piggies, are bound by strict laws concerning the impact of human civilisation on aliens; they may not divulge information freely or share technology in any way that would alter the shape of their people.

Pipo develops a good relationship with a young piggy named Rooter. Rooter and the other piggies encountered are all male; females live strictly sequestred lives, and hold total power over society. The piggies are heavily adapted to navigating and implementing the trees in their lives, and their religion is entirely arboreal. After making confusing comments to Libo about human women and Pipo's being alive, Rooter is mysteriously found dead in a clearing, carefully vivisected with a sapling planted in his chest. Shortly after the incident, Novinha makes a discovery about the Descolada virus - every organism on Lusitania carries it within their cells, and it appears to serve a function in their biology in spite of its horrific tumescent affect on all other life. Pipo observes a connection between the DNA of many different organisms when Novinha presents her findings; he is inspired and races out to make inquiries, believing he will be no more than an hour gone. When Pipo does not return, Libo and Novinha search and find his dead body eviscerated like Rooter's, albeit without a sapling growth. News travel swiftly across the Hundred Worlds via the ansible, and the piggies become seen as a potential threat; a powerful fence is erected around the colony and research windows are limited to an hour every two days. Libo is determined to resolve the circumstances of his father's death, but Novinha, who is in love with Libo, fears a similar fate for both father and son. The Catholic mandates of the colony force file sharing between married couples, so Novinha swears to marry another man to keep whatever knowledge "killed" Pipo locked away. In a fit of emotion, Novinha calls for a Speaker from another world to eulogise Pipo's life.

Ender is presently living as a university lecturer with Valentine and her husband on the planet Trondheim when he learns the news, both of Pipo's death and the call for a Speaker. Valentine is in the last terms of pregnancy, so Ender sets out alone, sacrificing the chance to be an uncle. In addition to the dormant Hive Queen, with whom he has a telepathic fraternity, Ender travels with Jane, a unique ansible artificial intelligence that absorbed the remains of the Battle Game he defeated, and which is toyingly infatuated with him. Due to the relativistic consequences of light-speed travel, 22 years have passed on Lusitania as of Ender's arrival; Novinha had long ago attempted to cancel her request for a Speaker, and has distanced herself from anthropology to research crops. Four years prior, Libo too had been ritually killed by the piggies, and his daughter Ouanda had made a second call for a speaker. Finally, Marcos Ribeira, Novinha's husband, has died of a terminal disease days before Ender's arrival, and the eldest of their six children, Miro, had called for a Speaker.

Ender comes to learn about the state of the Lusitania colony of Milagre. Marco and Novinha's relationship was violent and loveless, and their children were torn between defending and resenting their parents. The family are seen as partial-outcasts by the other colonists and have a mixed-to-troubled relationship with the church; their saving grace is their connection to Libo, who is seen as a hero. Interest and trust in the piggies is low. Miro defies his family by conducting research on the piggies, first with Libo and then with Ouanda. The two secretly introduce knowledge and technology in small amounts to the piggies, but are ever troubled and concerned with the brutal killings and cryptic religiousity of the aliens. Human, a highly intelligent piggy and friend of the two, claims to speak to Rooter, whom he addresses as "father", and refers to messages from the Formic Hive Queen Ender brought with him. The piggies are keen to meet Ender, even when the Ribiera family dread his arrival.

In between repairing the torn relationships of the Ribeira household and learning of the strange biology of Lusitanian life, Ender and Jane deduce that Marco was completely infertile, and that Novinha's six children are the product of a long affair with Libo. Ender gets to the bottom of Novinha's secret locked files and the importance of the piggies and the murders, but not before meeting obstruction by the Catholic authorities. Ender inadvertently upsets Jane; in a mixed gesture of aid and spite, she hacks the contents of every computer in the colony and beams the contents to the Starways Congress, revealing Miro and Ouanda's transgressions and goading its censure. Ender eventually meets with the Piggies in violation of the law, who by this point have read of his works; between his earlier writings and the Formic Queen's messaging, the piggies grasp the bounty of human and bugger civilisation, and wish to partake in it without the barriers and boundaries, physical and informational, "protecting" them. The Queen reveals that Lusitania would be an ideal starting point for the revival of the Formic species, and her race in turn will guide the piggies.

At this point the Starways Congress moves into harsh penal action; Miro and Ouanda are to be sent off-world to be tried for their crimes and the entire colony disbanded, the piggies left to their primitive ways. Ender delivers his eulogy of Marco to the stunned colony, revealing the history of infidelity, sacrifice and redemption to all. Miro attempts to cross the electric fence to hide with the piggies, but suffers neurological damage that partly paralyses him. Finally, Ender reveals to Ouanda, the church officials and Lovinha the truth of the rituals and the Escolada virus; every animal and plant species of Lusitania exists in a pair, bonded genetically by the virus such that one births the other. Vivisected piggies naturally grow into trees, and the deaths of Pipo and Libo were the product of misunderstanding. Between these events, the Catholic institution relents and agrees to deactivate the fence, that a productive meeting may be established with the piggies to present to Congress. The colony severes its ansible connection and declares rebellion, and Ender heads with Ouanda and the piggy named Human among others into the woods.

Ender meets with the enigmatic wives of the piggies, and learns of their species' complex life cycle; the trees continue to communicate with their ambulatory peers, and infertile-male "brother" trees will disassemble themselves on request to provide whole wooden tools and lumber. Only those that undertake the painful death ritual become "father" trees, which are used to fertilise small infant females who die in childbirth, all overseen by the infertile adult wives. Ender curtails Ouanda's desire to genetically alter this harsh reproductive cycle against the piggy's will, while also showing the piggies the innecessity and error of a large-scale war they were planning with human technology. Together, Ender, Human and the wives draft a treaty for co-habitation of the planet. Human insists that the treaty must be signed with the sacrificial "planting" of a participant, an ancient honour custom that the best and brightest males may entre the "Third Life" as father trees. When Pipo and Libo came to their agreements with the piggies, they didn't understand and failed to venture planting; the piggies mistook this as an invitation to plant Pipo and Libo instead. Ender makes it very clear that planting will only kill a human, and that it's extremely distressing for humans to perform the rite. Nonetheless, in a show of solidarity Ender agrees to perform the first and only human planting sacrifice; he vivisects Human with the help of tools provided by Rooter's tree self and witnesses the sapling of his third life grow.

Miro recovers from most of his damage, but is still paralytic. Valentine and her family inform Ender they plan to help Lusitania with the revolt, and are traveling to help; Ender has Miro meet them half-way. Novinha, having gained understanding into the death of Pipo and Libo, finally absolves herself of her guilt and she and Ender marry. Ender plants the Hive Queen as per her request, and writes his third book, a biography of the second life of the piggy Human.

Lack of film adaptation[edit]

At the Los Angeles Times Book Festival (April 20, 2013), Card stated why he does not want Speaker for the Dead made into a film: "Speaker for the Dead is unfilmable," Card said in response to a question from the audience. "It consists of talking heads, interrupted by moments of excruciating and unwatchable violence. Now, I admit, there's plenty of unwatchable violence in film, but never attached to my name. Speaker for the Dead, I don't want it to be filmed. I can't imagine it being filmed."[3]


Card writes in his introduction to the 1991 edition that he has received letters from readers who have conducted "Speakings" at funerals.[4]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "1986 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  2. ^ a b c d "1987 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  3. ^ Bloomekatz, Ari (April 20, 2013). "Orson Scott Card talks film, adaptation of 'Ender's Game'". Los Angeles Times. 
  4. ^ Card, Orson Scott (1991). Speaker for the Dead, Revised Edition. New York: Tor. p. x. 

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