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Book Review: Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

Okay, so I said I probably wouldn't do a new review for this book, because I reviewed the audiobook a little more than a year ago.  But I haven't done a review of the print version yet, so why not?  This is another book, like Ender's Game, that I've read in paperback, hardcover, and NOOK formats, and listened to also.  I've listened to this one at least seven times since 2005, which makes an average of at least once per year.  And I've read it in print three times.  (And I just finished listening to it again.  I know.  I must be stopped.)

I know I'm not reviewing the audiobook, but I can't help but recommend it here.  The audio cast is stellar.  Scott Brick does a wonderful job, as usual, reading the crucial first chapter of the book along with Gabrielle De Cuir, and also reads the introductions to each chapter.

And I suppose this is one place to rave about how OSC writes his books.  Each chapter is introduced, in both Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead (and most of the other Ender books), by a tangential discussion/dialogue/transcript.  In the case of Ender's Game, they give a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the Battle School administrators.  In Speaker for the Dead, they drop hints and clues about the core mystery of the book.  And Scott Brick's execution of them in Speaker is one of the highlights of the production. (Clarification: the first one is done by Gabrielle De Cuir, but all subsequent chapters start with Mr. Brick.)

Actually, one of the reasons I became interested in audiobooks at all was Mr. Brick's work on Xenocide, which is a much more uneven production overall due to one particularly vexing issue.  But the chapter intros kept me listening.

Stefan Rudnicki and John Rubenstein provide most of the other narration along with Ms. De Cuir, and it's all top notch.  The low point is the actor who voices the lone chapter from the perspective of Dom Cristao.  The same actor was spot on with his voicing of Colonel Graff in Ender's Game, but his characterizations didn't work for me here.  The actress who voiced Ela Ribeira was also a bit lackluster, though she wasn't brutal to listen to, and she had her moments.

Oh, I forgot another highlight: The actress who voiced the chapter "Jane," one of my favorites of the book, is spectacular.  She also did a wonderful job with Qing-jao in Xenocide.

So much for reviewing the print book, eh?  Really I guess I'm wanting to communicate how much I love this book.  As I mentioned, the Jane chapter is one of my favorites of the whole series, in no small part due to my first experience of it being with Amanda Karr's acting on it.  I also love, love, love the chapter in which Ender meets with the Children of the Mind of Christ and finds himself opening up much more than he'd anticipated.  And the discussion between Ela and Ender about xenobiology is some great science fiction.

And, of course, Ender's first encounter with the Ribeira family.  Awesome.  I love Ender's reaction to getting peed on.

"Grego has given me a gift.  It's the only thing he has to give, and he made it himself, so it means all the more."

And then there's Ender's interactions with the Pequeninos.  I love his discussions with Human, and his discovery of the reasons behind the terrible things the piggies did.  There's a moment in their discussions that causes me to tear up every time.  Along with about four other places in the book.

Of course, I can't neglect to mention the chapter titled "Speaking," which features Ender acting out his titular role.  The idea of the Speakers for the Dead is at once appealing and repellent, but the power of the way Ender does it makes me think it's not a bad idea.   (Another audio highlight is Stefan Rudnicki just absolutely nailing this chapter.)

More than anything, though, I love the mystery of the book, and even though I've experienced it a good dozen times, I still get pulled into it.  And I love the way Ender comes to identify with not only the people of Lusitania, but the planet itself.

Ender did not understand that he loved this place because it was as devastated and barren as his own life, stripped and distorted in his childhood by events every bit as terrible, on a small scale, as the Descolada had been to this world.  And yet it had thrived, had found a few threads strong enough to survive and continue to grow.

From the point of view of theology, there are a few things to note.  First, OSC apparently doesn't care for Calvinism.  I don't either, but I also wouldn't caricature it in fiction, which I feel he does a bit, though it could be easily ignored or written off as Card's misunderstanding of the Doctrines of Grace.  His understanding of Catholic theology, particularly the veneration of Mary, also seems a bit amiss, but not much more amiss than how most Protestants view it.  But I feel it's all balanced by the portrayal of The Children of the Mind of Christ.  It's just a very cool idea, so I give OSC a pass for his other theological missteps.  The whole idea of Speaking as a substitute for other religion or for the rites of given religions is another topic that could spark discussions, but it's also an interesting science fiction concept.

It's worth mentioning that Speaker is followed by Xenocide and Children of the Mind, and I recommend both books.  It's just that Speaker is the high point to me, and I don't find myself re-reading the other two quite so often.  (Though I've read both twice, I believe.)  But there are a couple of plot threads left dangling at the end of Speaker, so feel free to forge on with the series.  Just don't expect them all to be finished.  (I've read this book enough that I know of at least two threads that are still dangling, and I don't expect either to be wrapped up, even if Mr. Card writes another book in the series.  Oh, and I also know of at least one mistake in the book.  Let me know if you caught it.  It's in the third chapter, I believe.)

(It just occurred to me that I really haven't done anything like a plot summary here.  But I never intended to even write these thousand-ish words.  So just go read the book.)

I should clarify something, I suppose.  Just because this is my favorite book doesn't mean I think it's the best book LIKE EVAR!!!  I just love it, though I've read better books.  Some of them, like The Road, I'm not sure I'll ever re-read.  But this one keeps me coming back.

Speaking of which, I'm soon going to dive back into one of my previous favorites, Shogun.  Just need to finish up a few library books first.  I don't think Neutrino will be the next one, as I just got Outliers from Library2Go, and it's terrific and engaging.  So look for that next week-ish.

Oh, one more thing.  I'm currently listening to the audio version of Shadows in Flight, and it's another one worth listening to, though I'm underwhelmed with Emily Janice Card's narration.  (I don't begrudge Mr. Card a bit of nepotism, and Stefan Rudnicki and Scott Brick more than make up for any shortcomings of the other narrators.)

And yet another last thing.  I definitely can't end this review without plugging a certain XKCD comic.  If you've read the Speaker series, you'll get it.  If not, you might not.

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  1. Good review. And thanks for the heads-up about the audiobook – I’ll keep an eye out for that version, since I’m planning to get Speaker from this month.

    Shogun is on my TBR list for this year. Looking forward to it. Like, a lot. 🙂

    • I tore through Shogun the first time I read it. I must’ve read a good hundred-fifty pages in the first sitting, and I finished its 1200 pages in a week or so. I think I’ve re-read it once, but that was probably ten years ago.

  2. I’ve not listened to this one though I’ve read it many, many times. I love the quotes you share!

    • Even Mr. Card says his books are only properly appreciated in audio. Maybe it’s his background as a stage writer. But both Ender’s Game and Speaker are phenomenal audiobooks.

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