Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card image
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

I really liked this book.
I’ve never read Ender’s Game.
I’ve never read any other Orson Scott Card.
But I will, because I really liked this book.

The overall premise is superb – mankind’s dark history with the buggers, their potential for redemption with the piggies, the mysterious Descolada plague, the precautions taken to protect the xenobiology making understanding the evolutionary leaps impossible... it’s fascinating stuff.

But it's the individuals who populate this world – Ender who is the very epitome of his race, the killer seeking redemption, the last Hive Queen, Jane, the insecure AI, Ender’s genius sister, Valentine, Novinho, the brilliant but bitter xenobiologist who Ender is determined to make accept his love – her dysfunctional family! and finally, there are the stars of the show – the piggies themselves – an alien race who rank up their with Hamilton’s Kiint as my personal favourites. Lots of sci-fi starts with a good idea or two – but very few have a cast like this.

It’s awkward, anguished personal stuff, wrapped up as a murder-mystery inside a scientific enigma, driven along relentlessly by a humble messiah.

My only complaint is the choice of names, the ‘buggers’ and the ‘piggies’. Let’s face it – these are bloody ridiculous names for well-crafted alien races.

One of the ways I judge a book is by how many moments remain behind afterwards, resonating with my understanding of the world. For Speaker, there are dozens – and they’ve lingered in vibrant, sparkling form.

The one I’ll never forget is the moment that gives Ender his purpose (and the book it’s title) – when he Speaks the Death of Marcão. It’s a scene that I knew was coming from the get-go, – a scene I tried to guess and second guess, and still found surprising, still found emotional and couldn’t have broken away from had my wife gone into labour while the house was on fire.

When the piggies ask a brothertree for wood – I was grinning like a loony!

When the piggies realize why Pipo and Libo hadn’t grown into Fathertrees – my heart broke for the murdering little aliens!

When Ender helped plant Human – my chest ached.

When they crack the descolada!
When Ender wins over Grego!
When Valentine comes to join the rebellion!
Olhado’s eyes!
When Ender marries Novinho!
When Ender buries the Hive Queen!
When Ender writes The Life of Human!

Speaker for the Dead is the kind of book I was looking for when I started my Locus Quest and I’ve found it hard to resist buying Ender’s Game and Xenocide immediately. But those are the bad old ways – to find a new author I like and then devour their catalogue before moving on - that’s a habit I’m trying to break. So I’ll space out the Ender's Saga books – enjoy them over a few months (or maybe years?) – but I will definitely be reading them at some point.