I just finished reading the Ender quartet by Orson Scott Card. It is so awesome. It is kind of weird that I finished it now because I started it in my third year of college when I read Kelly’s copy of Ender’s Game. A few years later, after I moved to Michigan, I bought Speaker for the Dead but never got around to reading it, until sometime in mid-August when I started it on a whim. I had decided to start reading some of the numerous unread novels that I had accumulated over the years, and I started with Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk. I began with that one because it had a good reputation for being a funny novel, and it was an intriguing enough portrait of life in the Caribbean that Jimmy Buffett made an off-Broadway musical about it, and the senior scientist at my NIH lab highly recommended it, so I had thought about reading it for a while.
However, it turned out not to be that funny and not really fascinating, either. I suppose it was well-written and the characters were somewhat interesting, and I got a little bit of a flavor of what life was like on this fictitious Caribbean island. But all the trials and tribulations that the main character suffers through in the purchase and management of his new hotel/restaurant/bar were more frustrating and stressful than funny.
Next was an Agatha Christie novel, which was very clever, as usual. I have a lot of those still to read, and they’re short, so I felt both interested and obligated to read one of those.
After that, though, I knew I wanted a clever and thought-provoking science-fiction novel. Over the last few months, glancing at my bookshelf, some of the novels I considered reading were Bruce Sterling’s saga about the future technology and space colonization of the human race, Schismatrix; Dan Simmons’s beloved, epic, Hugo-winning novel Hyperion; Ursula K. LeGuin’s story of an anarchist utopia of sorts, The Dispossessed; and Connie Willis’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning novel about time-travel, Doomsday Book. I have also long wanted to dive into two large books I own, a collection of Harlan Ellison‘s short stories and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which also came highly recommended by the aforementioned NIH labmate.
However, somehow that afternoon I was drawn to Speaker for the Dead and grabbed it first. I am really glad I did because it is awesome in every way. It picks up a considerable time after Ender’s Game, and I had forgotten a lot of the details of Ender’s Game, apparently. I remembered a lot of stuff about Battle School, and his siblings publishing essays under the pseudonyms Locke and Demosthenes, and the little holographic instant messages the students used to send each other, and of course the most important plot points. But a lot of things Ender does after Battle School that Orson Scott Card mentions in the other novels were news to me. Maybe they weren’t actually included in Ender’s Game and we’re supposed to learn this history as we go. Like the good and bad aspects of the Hegemon, who the Hegemon even is, and Ender’s exile from planet Earth for the rest of his life (which is the subject of a new and enticing novel). Some things that must have been featured prominently in Ender’s Game that I had completely forgotten, however, were the ansible, Ender’s killing of two Battle School mates partially in self-defense, and the significance of those dreams Ender kept having about that giant.
Maybe since I had forgotten so much about Ender’s Game, I’m not in a position to make quality judgments about the novel, but nevertheless I would say Speaker for the Dead is an equally good novel. I just loved it. The plot was fascinating, the science-fictional aspects that Card invented like the pequeninos and the descolada were clever, and Ender’s ability to deal with people and understand and love and heal them is just perfect.
Within a day of finishing that, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought the second half of the quartet of novels, Xenocide and Children of the Mind. I loved those almost as much and agreed with the blurb on the back of the latter that described the Ender novels as “a saga of the ethical evolution of humanity”. The main point of each novel, it seems, was to use science-fiction to explore ethical dilemmas that humans and even other species might face.
When I read Ender’s Game I credited Card with inventing or at least successfully predicting the future nature of instant messaging and blags/discussion forums. I don’t know what other authors might have made similar or different predictions that influenced him, though.
I found it very coincidental that today’s xkcd comic was about Ender’s Game and its blag-like ansible forums.
So if you haven’t read any of the Ender books or you were stuck on one for a long time like I was, get out and buy Speaker for the Dead today!