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Literature / Speaker for the Dead

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Speaker for the Dead is the first sequel for Ender's 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.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The colonists of Lusitania initially practice this towards the Pequeninos, to incredibly extreme degrees, to the point that a xenologer's correspondence with an offworld colleague explains that he cannot comment on their reproduction because they have yet to perform it in front of him. Turns out the Pequeninos 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.
  • All for Nothing: Novinha put herself through decades of hell to keep the piggies from killing Libo. It didn't work.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Microbiology and crop cultivation are two overlapping fields but have vastly different implications. Justified by Xenobiologists being extreme Omnidisciplinary Scientist types.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Novinha and Marcao, but for different reasons.
  • Ancestor Veneration: Played with via the Pequeninos of Lusitania. The human xenobiologists THINK this is what the Piggies are doing when they talk about their fathers, even claiming to be able to talk to said fathers via the trees that bear their names. The reality is that the Fathertrees the sexually mature forms of the more mobile pequeninos and therefore are their fathers in a most literal sense. That a pequenino has to either do something exceptional for the tribe or be a certified badass to be allowed to take this form, rather than the sterile brothertrees, explains the generation.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Marcos was bullied as a child by other children who were intimidated by his huge size compared to theirs. Once, after being physically attacked, he struck back, badly hurting one of his attackers. When the adults arrived, his attackers blamed it all on Marcos, until Novinha spoke up and told the adults what really happened, letting Marcos off the hook. Marcos was completely dazzled by her helping him, even though everyone else easily saw that she wasn't speaking up for him, she was speaking against everyone else.
  • 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 between Novinha, the boy's mother, and Libo, the father of both of them.
  • Chilly Reception: Ender is not exactly welcomed to Lusitania with open arms. Instead, much of the deeply religious population considers him a heretic.
  • Common Tongue: Stark, an English-based language, derived from "Starways Kommon."
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: There's a considerable faction of Catholics who believe implants are a sacrilege, "trying to improve on a body that God had created perfect". As a result, users of prosthetics such as Olhado have it hard, even though he was blinded by a malfunctioning holographic projector. However, that prejudice even extends to gadgets such as the jewel Ender wears in his ear to communicate with Jane — and please note that said jewel is not a cybernetic interface, but simply a radio with a microphone capable of interpreting subvocal speech. Future Catholics consider wearables to be ungodly!
  • 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.
    • Novinha and Libo are both devastated by Pipo's death. Worse, this is the second time Novinha lost a father, after her own parents died to the Descolada.
  • Distant Sequel: Speaker for the Dead is set about three thousand years after Ender's Game. Ender is still alive after all this time (and not even particularly old) thanks to the time-dilation of many trips across the galaxy.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Was intended to be a standalone novel but Card then decided to make the protagonist the same on from the Ender's Game novella. He then rewrote Ender's Game as a full novel to explain how Ender came to another planet.
  • Driving Question: Why did the pequeninos kill Pipo?
  • Everyone Has Standards: Nobody in Milagre really likes Novinha, but all of them loathe Marcos for beating his wife.
  • 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, after losing her parents to a plague and her lover's father, who was also like a father to her. (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 pequenininos 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.
  • In-Series Nickname: Marcos was known as 'Marcao' ('Big Marcos') and 'Cao' ('Dog'), the first for his sheer size, the second for his abuse of his wife.
  • Intelligent Forest: Although each tree is intelligent, they are host to a more powerful entity collectively as the forest.
  • Job Title
  • 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.
  • Kid Hero All Grown-Up: Ender and Valentine have grown up from the first book.
  • Love at First Sight: Ender, to Novinha. Also Jane to Ender, because she assimilated the old Battle School psychology program's files on him.
  • Love Martyr: Deconstructed in the person of Marcao. He married the one woman who had ever spoken up for him, and worshipped her. She not only did not reciprocate his feelings, she never felt any real affection for him, and married him so they'd both fit in better and so she'd have a cover for the children she would have. Marcos had a disease that rendered him sterile, so he knew fully well that all of his children were fathered by the man his wife actually loved. He became an alcoholic who repeatedly abused his wife and made his children's lives hell.
  • Mama Bear: Novinha.
  • Mighty Whitey: Downplayed. Ender's ability to solve all of Lusitania's problems is not presented as being a product of his hailing from Western culture (specifically, Greensboro, North Carolina), but he does solve their problems and he is the only white person there.
  • 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 genuine 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"). Almost nobody even remembers his real name ("Lauro").
    • 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 Estevão" after the latter becomes a priest, even by his family members.
  • Overly Long Name: well, Brazilian Portuguese, really, but the trope still stands. This is partially why "Only Known by Their Nickname" is in effect.
  • Planimal: Every species on Lusitania, due to the descolada.
  • 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 in the Shadow series 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. Conversely, the aliens who killed the men never explain why they did it, and thus don't understand why it was a big deal. It turns out to be a massive plot point about the nature of the descolada in the planet's ecosystem.
  • Preacher Man: Quim.
  • Promotion to Parent: Ela, and to a lesser extent Miro, due to their parents' messy lives.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ender gives one to the people of Milagre in the form of his Speaking Marcao's death. He tells them that Marcao, while an asshole, never deserved to be bullied by them as a child, and he definitely deserved to be treated better as an adult. If they had, maybe he wouldn't have become such a dick.
  • Robots Think Faster: Jane acts so quickly that her companions learn to simply ask her for something and then immediately get to work on the next steps requiring it. Her catchphrase is essentially "Done." Because of this, it's a sign that something's terribly wrong in one instance where she ponders one dilemma for several minutes.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: A tragic result of Poor Communication Kills by Pipo and Libo.
  • 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.
  • Transflormation: How the piggies reproduce. The humans' inability to do this is a major plot point.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Miro to Ouanda because they learn they're half siblings. Not to mention Novinha and Libo.
  • The Un-Twist: 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.
  • Would Be Rude to Say "Genocide": When the Starways Congress decides to send an evacuation fleet to Lusitania (in reality, they have orders to destroy the planet), Valentine (under the name Demosthenes) publishes articles attacking the Congress and revealing the true mission of the fleet, to the point of calling it the Second Xenocide. The Congress immediately sends their State Sec to discover who is writing the articles to shut up Demosthenes, declaring whoever it is to be a traitor to the Hundred Worlds. Anyone using the term the Second Xenocide is likewise considered to be speaking treason. So much for free speech.
  • 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. Of course, this is the same series that can't even remember how many other kids Valentine had (every time she counts her children, she comes up with a different number).
    • Word of God states that it took many rewrites to turn Novinha's children into anything but Flat Characters, so this might just be more of the same problem.