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Speaker For the Dead audio book by Orson Scott Card

01/07/2009. Contributed by Rod MacDonald

Buy Speaker For the Dead in the USA - or Buy Speaker For the Dead in the UK

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Macmillan Audio. 14 hours 12 CDs. Price: $49.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59397-476-3) read by David Birney and Stefan Rudnicki.

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A very accomplished performance from this audio book. Not only do we get two seasoned narrators in Birney and Rudnicki, there's even an appearance by the author himself. In a book where the characters seem to come alive, we are taken out into the galaxy to other star systems and strange life-forms only to find...death!

While this audio book may have been out for about four years, the 'Ender series' by Orson Scott Card is still going strong. Despite the passing of a generation since it appeared in print, our own continuing history from the Cold War to the Middle East and terrorism means there is always something new to find in the text: new meanings, interpretations; references and facts.

'Speaker For The Dead' was the original sequel to 'Ender's Game'. Many will know that this was the book in which a young Ender Wiggin wiped out the insect race referred to as the Buggers using his intelligence and strategic acumen. We now find ourselves 3000 years into the future and Ender is on his way to a planet called Lusitania where precious life has been found. He has the task of speaking for the dead, basically a eulogy for the deceased.

In fact, Ender is only in his thirties. Orson Scott Card doesn't mess about with warp drives and maintains faith with Einstein's relativity. This basically means that space-time slows down for the traveller. At first sight, this seems cumbersome but it's probably a reality and that leads to very interesting situations for people living in such conditions.

In the time since he was a boy, humanity's progress into the galaxy has continued and, on finding very little else in the way of sentient life, the guilt of the past weighs heavily upon society's shoulders. Of course, it's all dumped on poor old Ender. He was to blame! He wiped out the Buggers! During the relativistic time, books he had written about the situation, under a pseudonym of course, had become very influential in the way that future contact with alien species should be handled.

On the colony planet Lusitania, what life there is seems to be quite strange. With past encounters in mind, the Earth government is highly protective, even excessively protective, about any life that comes in to contact with humans. They don't want to make the same mistake again and wipe out an intelligent species because of a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, even with all the safeguards put in place, it seems they have no idea of what they are doing.

On Lusitania, a rampant virus was causing trouble but appears to have been stopped by the actions of biologists, not without their own ultimate sacrifice. A girl called Novinha develops to be a brilliant biologist and attempts to come to terms with the situation. The dominant life on the planet or so it seems, is the Prequeninos (also known as Piggies). These tree-worshipping beings are somewhat of an enigma. Novinha calls out for The Speaker For The Dead following the mysterious death of her husband and this precipitates actions which will have important consequences for everyone.

Ender is The Speaker. This is an official position, almost like a coroner but blame isn't proportioned. Basically, this person has to investigate the life of the deceased and make a statement thereafter, maybe more poetical than functional. Curious this may be but it's best understood within the context of the book.

In the 3000 years since the extinction of the Buggers, Ender has become a persona non grata. However, time is a good concealer and nobody seems to know that Ender is Andrew Wiggin, The Speaker For The Dead. Although it will only take a few days to travel to Lusitania, relativistic speaking, about 20 years have passed on Lusitania.

Things can change in 20 years. Novinha has had second thoughts about The Speaker but despite this she is technically incapable of cancelling the visit. Matters become worse when more people are killed in very curious circumstances making the prospect of genocide against The Piggies a possibility. Further, it is eventually discovered that Andrew Wiggin is indeed Ender. Still further, the Hive Queen of the Buggers comes onto the scene.

This is not like 'Ender's Game'. The action is muted and there are no swashbuckling battles in space. It's a thoughtful work, examining the way we look at ourselves and, in the context of this book, other species existing in the galaxy. Curiously, what we see as death can mean life to others and that's as much as it's possible to say without spoiling matters.

A well presented audio novel, this is one to enjoy with your feet up and a cup of tea or coffee. Don't have any other distractions. The results will be rewarding.

Rod MacDonald
May 2009

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This book has 68 votes in the sci-fi charts

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