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Literature: Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead is the first sequel for Enderís Game, written in 1986 by Orson Scott Card. Followed by Xenocide and Children of the Mind.

Thousands of years after the events of Ender's Game, humanity has managed to find only one other alien species in the known universe: the Pequeninos on the planet Lusitania. The Pequeninos, or "Piggies" as they are nicknamed, have a not fully understood culture involving the flora of Lusitania, and the small human population on the planet is dedicated to researching them and the planet. Lusitania is also home to the Descolada, a disease that is deadly to humans but harmless to the Piggies.

One of the Pequeninos researchers, Pipo, discovers a link between the Piggies and the Descolada and goes to talk to the Piggies about it, and is later found ritually murdered in a manner similar to how the Piggies kill their own. Pipo's son Libo wants to know what it was that his father discovered, but childhood friend and fellow researcher Novinha locks Pipo's research so that Libo won't meet the same fate as his father. Unfortunately, it doesn't work. Novinha then makes a request for a Speaker for the Dead for Pipo. A Speaker for the Dead is a sort of professional eulogizer, someone who investigates the life of their dead subject to try and understand their life—and then explains the life and character of their subject in blunt, honest terms, without leaving anything out.

The Speaker Novinha gets is none other than Ender Wiggin, who is still alive thanks to Time Dilation. In the time since the first book Ender is remembered for the xenocide of the Bugger species, so he goes by the name Andrew. Ender travels to Lusitania with his AI friend Jane, but discovers that Novinha has since tried to have the order cancelled in the twenty-two year interim. Novinha's children, however, want a Speaker for Libo and their own father Marcos, who died recently. In the course of his investigation, Ender then discovers the secret of the Pequeninos, and the secrets behind the tragic mess that made up Novinha, Libo, Pipo, and Marcos's life.

Speaker for the Dead provides examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with and examined with Jane. She's spent most of her existence hiding in the Galactic "Internet" because she's aware of the whole Killer Robot cliche and worried how humans will react to her, and in the next two books they do indeed try to kill her by shutting off every ansible in the galaxy at once.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The colonists of Lusitania initially practice this towards the Pequenios. Turns out the Pequenios are less than happy with this arrangement. Turns out later that breaking the clause brings the threat that the human government will try to subject you to rather extreme "decontamination" procedures.
  • Artistic License - Biology: Microbiology and crop cultivation are two overlapping fields but have vastly different implications. Justified by Xenobiologists being extreme Omnidisciplinary Scientist types.
  • Babies Ever After: Subverted at the end: there's still half a series to go, plus Ender never actually has a child. Played straight otherwise.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: How bizarre the aliens are becomes a plot twist, as it reveals why the "piggies" murder two humans. It happens because in order to have babies, pequenino males have to turn into a tree. The piggies were trying to honor the men by making them into fathers.
  • Break the Haughty: Ender's introduction to Novinha's family involves multiple break the haughty moments, all done quickly. This is viewed in Ender's mind to be just a practical as his rapid physical conquests. It shows his clear social dominance in this situation, allowing them to respect him in a way no one else had.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Surprise Incest is responsible for this one. Ender discovers during his investigation that two characters who are boyfriend and girlfriend are in fact half-siblings due to an extramarital affair by Novinha.
  • Commander Contrarian: Quara
  • Common Tongue: Stark, an English-based language, derived from "STARways Kommon."
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Novinha
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Novinha, though she only gets a certain amount defrosted.
  • Disappeared Dad: Marcao. It takes Ender to point out the trauma that this really inflicted on the family.
  • Eye Scream: Olhado lost his eyes in a freak accident with a hologram projector.
  • Freudian Excuse: Novinha builds her entire life around trying not to get her lover killed. (She fails.)
  • Genre Shift: Speaker for the Dead is an excellent book by any standards, and it's still science fiction, but it's very philosophical and revolves about stopping a war, not winning one.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: There's a reason the main setting is Lusitania - everything there is named after terms in Portuguese (though of the Brazilian variety as Orson Scott Card learned the language there).
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Some of Novinha and Libo's decisions, and how the Xenologers act towards the pequinos before Ender shows up.
    • Jane's idea to alert Congress about the Xenologists' meddling out of a misguided desire to move things along for Ender ends up causing most of the major conflicts in the series.
  • Inscrutable Aliens: A species that humanity cannot communicate with is called "varelse". The Formics initially fit into this category, although by now Ender and the Hive Queen's relationship shows that it doesn't have to be this way.
  • Keeping Secrets Sucks: Novinha's desire to keep potentially lethal information away from her beloved meant that she couldn't marry him, since married couples on Lusitania have complete access to each other's files.
  • Love at First Sight: Ender, to Novinha. Also Jane to Ender, because she assimilated the old Battle School psychology program's files on him. And the Buggers did it.
  • Love Martyr: Deconstructed in the person of Marcao.
  • Mama Bear: Novinha
  • Minovsky Physics: Philotes. Pay attention to that word, it shows up a lot.
  • My Beloved Smother: Novinha, although more cold and detached, and neither was she directly abusive.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The Pequeninos' reaction after being told that humans, unlike them, can't become Fathertrees upon death, meaning instead of honoring their most favored humans, they ritually murdered them. There is literal wailing and gnashing of teeth when they find out.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: The whole point of being a Speaker For The Dead is to avert this custom, by telling the truth instead. Fortunately, the kind of people who have Speakers at their funeral tend to have more interesting truths than lies.
    • Word of God is that Card was disgusted with what he saw in some funerals, with people literally rewriting the lives of the deceased by claiming them to be something they weren't. An example would be a Brazilian funeral where a wife who was constantly abused by her husband would periodically jump out and wail in front of his body about how great he was to her. To Card, this was the ultimate "fuck you" to her dead husband - changing the way he was.
  • The Nondescript: Plikt, through personal habits.
  • Not Blood Siblings: The Reveal is inverted: they are blood siblings, and didn't know it.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Olhado is quite possibly the most intelligent person in the entire series, but is content with his happy home life, as he learned from Ender that it was worth more than science. In Xenocide, he's revealed to have basically solved Grego's questions about the nature of the universe long before Grego even brought them up to him.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Olhado ("the guy with the eyes") is the big one, but it's true of everyone on Lusitania, mostly due to the Overly Long Names that seem to be the vogue for the Brazilian colonists.
    • Played straight and then averted with Quim (which comes from his middle name Rei, meaning "King", which is transliterated into Portuguese), whom Bishop Peregrino insists on calling "Father Estev„o" after the latter becomes a priest, even by his family members.
  • Planimal: A lot of species on the Pequenino's world, including them.
  • Planet of Hats: Justified as a natural consequence of instant communication with sub-lightspeed travel. In the later books, after the 3,000 year Time Skip, many specific cultures - industrialist Japanese, Nordic sailors, and Brazilian Catholics, for example - have entire worlds to themselves. The gulf of space keeps them from having to butt heads with each other, while ansible technology allows them to stay in constant contact.
    • Revealed to be a deliberate plan by Graff, who grouped colonists by culture so that humanity would become more diverse and therefore stronger.
      • Justified too; we only ever see a smattering of planets, and the two of the only ones shown in any detail are limited in certain habitable areas, meaning that they more adequately represent a nation rather than a completely separate planet.
  • Poor Communication Kills: While a lack of understanding and proper communication between formics and humans lead to xenocide in the first book, the Starways Congress decides that to prevent the same thing from ever happening again... they should be as conservative as possible and deliberately withhold as much knowledge as they can from another sapient species. This leads to two men being killed in what is merely a gross misunderstanding of alien biology.
  • Preacher Man: Quim
  • Promotion to Parent: Ela, and to a lesser extent Miro, due to their parents' messy lives
  • Robots Think Faster: Jane acts so quickly that her companions Ender and Miro learn to simply ask her for something and then immediately get to work on the next steps requiring it. Her catchphrase is essentially is "Done." Because of this, it's a sign that something's terribly wrong in one instance where she ponders one dilemma cutting off a colony to keep an order to terminate her from getting out for several minutes. After she is repurposed so that she can "teleport" starships faster-than-light, the travel is so quick that the ships are little more than boxes that one walks into, then out off.
  • Science Marches On: Xenology. In part thanks to books like this one, the xenologer's assumption that piggies have similar biology to humans (a pivotal part of the story) would scarcely be considered at all. In fact, even the study of the piggies would probably be avoided, given advances in remote probes.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Lusitania. Of course, it was deliberately terraformed by some heartless-bastard aliens.
  • Starfish Aliens: The central moral quandary of this series is whether an alien species is too different to co-exist with. It occasionally descends into Humans Are Bastards territory.
  • Surprise Incest : Miro and Ouanda are siblings but don't find out right until Ender speaks Marcao's death. Luckily, thanks to them being Catholic, they never actually did it, Ouanda for religious and Miro for practical reasons.
  • Technology Marches On: 3000 years in future and the world hasn't changed much.
    • Right at the end of the book, Miro is very impressed by the AI's unique capability of... auto-completion.
    • The fact that the xenologists have no unobtrusive recording devices. We already have cameras attachable to eye-glasses, shouldn't be too hard to place a couple in their clothes or wherever.
    • Olhado's mechanical eyes aren't quite yet possible, but we can be sure that within five years of the first, very obviously mechanical version that we get, there will be ones that aren't easily distinguished as such from a distance. Also, even today, no one in their right mind would insert the plug in the other eye socket rather than at the side or back of the skull.
      • Olhado mentions that he could have opted for binocular vision instead of the socket, but decided on the latter. As it is, he sees everything as a flat image with people appearing as cardboard cut-outs.
    • The concept that a husband and wife can automatically gain complete read access to all the files of their mate, even the very important ones pertaining to their job, is rather ridiculous from today's information security standpoint. Of course, one must remember that they were living in a Catholic Mission colony in which marriage was still a high sacrament with lots of strings attached.
    • Likewise the concept of a team of a handful of people doing the work of dozens (Xenologists and Xenobiologist both) is completely ridiculous. As mentioned above in Science Marches On, it's unlikely that Xenologists would even be allowed to make contact, due to great advances in remote probes.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Miro to Ouanda because they learn they're half siblings. Not to mention Novinha and Libo.
  • The Untwist: In universe. The piggies never bother concealing anything about their culture; when they refer to trees as fathers they are being literal.
  • The Virus: The descolada, complete with mutation. "Descolada" translates to "ungluing," for what it does to DNA.
  • Vow of Celibacy: Lusitania's inhabitants include a Catholic sect that requires members to marry but be Chastity Couples, as a sort of Self-Imposed Challenge. Ender and Novinha join in Xenocide.
  • Time Dilation: Occasionally veering into Timey-Wimey Ball territory. Speaker for the Dead establishes that the first ships of the Lusitania fleet will get to their destination in 22 years - as long as it took Ender himself to travel there from Trondheim. When Valentine departs for Lusitania, it's said that her trip would take upwards of 31 years because she's taking detours so as not to let her destination be discovered (and it is confirmed in Xenocide that the detour was made). Yet, she arrives on Lusitania in Xenocide with over a year to spare before the arrival of the Fleet.
    • Children of the Mind piles on another: Miro refers to himself having been crippled "for years" despite that in his subjective time, he'd spent at best a year in this state (several months prior to his departure from Lusitania to meet Valentine's ship mid-way, which took five days in either direction, subjectively for him, and at best a half-year after his return to Lusitania before the philotic FTL travel is discovered which has the side-effect of giving him a new body).
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Jane. Actually more like an Internet with a voice.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In an early chapter, Valentine's eldest daughter Syfte is set up as having a bit of a hero-worship for her uncle Ender, and planning to maybe follow him to Lusitania to help him. In the next book, Valentine's family does do that... But Syfte is barely mentioned.
    • Word of God states that it took many rewrites to avert this for Novinha's children in Speaker for the Dead to begin with, so perhaps it is the ever-expanding cast size that is the root of the problem?

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