Friday, 17 June 2016

speaker for the dead

On Saturday 30th April I finished Speaker For The Dead by Orson Scott Card. I enjoyed it; an interesting and thoughtful novel.

I read Ender's Game some years ago, to which this is the first sequel, and really enjoyed that too. (I see that they both won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, in consecutive years.) That whole book was thought-provoking, I thought, on the nature of war, and means and ends, and the ending took me by surprise (probably partly due to the fact that I knew there was a series so I was expecting it to feel more like the start of a long story than a standalone novel).

There was a lot of controversy at the time of the film to do with Scott Card's views on homosexuality, arising out of his Mormon faith. Judging a creative work by the creator's views/actions is always a dodgy road to go down, I think (but that's a whole other story too long to reflect on at length here). I did see somewhere that some people thought the book itself clearly depicted 'hatred of gay people'; all I can say is that such a possibility never crossed my mind when I read it, and from what I remember of it, and looking back at descriptions/summaries of the book, I don't think I missed anything.

(One possible thing might be that, as I understand it, in the original editions the alien race were referred to as 'buggers' - as in bugs, being antlike - which I understand doesn't carry the kind of connotations in the US as it does in the UK, and that this was changed to 'formics' in later editions (because of the UK meanings), and I guess I read a 'formic' edition. (And, for what it's worth, if you'll pardon my french, whatever meaning 'bugger' originally had in relation to 'buggery', I never heard it being used of someone to allude to any homosexual inclinations but rather, to give what Concise Oxford gives as its first meaning, either 'a contemptible or pitied person' or 'an annoyingly awkward thing').)

The version of Speaker For The Dead I read was the 'author's definitive edition', but I'm not sure how different that is from the original edition. Although closely linked to Ender's Game, the themes and issues were quite different, though still about how different species related/interacted/understood each other.

That edition also had a fascinating introduction by the author (which I read after reading the book) about the writing of the book, which said that this was the book he wanted to write, but he ended up having to expand the Ender's Game short story into a full novel (which became a huge success) to set it up properly.

There are more, but I'm not sure how keen I am to continue into the series, as I'm sure these two are the best; but then, I was hesitant to read this one...

First line: In the year 1830, after the formation of Starways Congress, a robot scout ship sent a report by ansible.
Last line omitted.
Dedication: For Greg Keizer, who already knew how

The cover is surprisingly usual in science fiction in having no connection I can see with any scene from the book. Certainly not any of key locations as I understood them. The illustration itself is pretty dark and background, anyway; it's the advertising furniture which is the important stuff, clearly: award stars, author edition splash, from the author of line, review line. Even the title, in its storefront font, sits back somewhat. On closer examination, the most striking thing about it is that it's 'from the author of' Ender's Shadow - a much less award-winning and critically-acclaimed book than this one, published (in 1999) thirteen years after this book was originally published (1986 - though the 'author's definitive edition', which this is, was published in 1991) and five years after this edition was first published (1994); obviously a later imprint of that edition, which must have come out not long after Ender's Shadow had been published, probably when the latter was his most recent publication. If I hadn't known what this book was to start with, I don't think I'd have been drawn in by the cover to pick it up. It is a US edition (Tor); I don't know if the UK edition from that time would have been any different. (I got it for 20p in the animal welfare charity shop in Lower Marsh in March 2013).