Ender’s Game & Speaker for the Dead

I recently finished listening to the unabridged audio books of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.

Ender’s Game in particular was awesome. I can’t say enough about how powerful this book is, all things considered. My biggest problem with it was that it just didn’t feel complete. It wasn’t much of a surprise, therefore, when Orson Scott Card came on at the end of the audio book and said that he’d written it as an introduction to another book he had already been working on: Speaker for the Dead. The zero gravity game had been an idea he’d had a while before, and had written about in the novelette of the same name, but the actual book Ender’s Game had only really gotten written because he needed to flesh out Ender’s back story so he could finish the book he really wanted to write.

It’s ironic, therefore, that Ender’s Game is the significantly more well known and widely read novel. And rightly so, in my opinion. I hated all the loose ends he left dangling about, but the process of creating those loose ends is just a more powerful story than Speaker for the Dead.

That’s not to denigrate Speaker for the Dead, which is a respectable and solid novel in its own right. It’s certainly a more fulfilling story, in that most of the problems I had with Ender’s Game were resolved in Speaker for the Dead. Most notably, it infuriated me that, Ender, a child of such devastating intellect and empathic sense, was used as a mere pawn in the military’s xenocidal desires in Ender’s Game. In Speaker for the Dead, however, Ender has grown up, has retained and refined his intellect and empathy, and is now the pawn of no one. In fact, one is left with the impression that there’s nearly no situation he would be incapable of taking absolute control of, if he so desired.

But, it’s just not as good of a story. I was locked into the story of Ender’s Game from beginning to end. I only took two breaks when listening to Ender’s Game. The first was my lunch break at work. The second was because my shift was over and I needed to go home. The moment I came back home from work, I started playing the rest of it on my own desktop, because I just couldn’t stop. I never felt that sense of urgency with Speaker for the Dead. Also, Ender’s Game tends to have more of an emotional impact overall. Speaker for the Dead has its moments: when he speaks the death of Marcão, and when he switches off Jane (I’ve always had a soft spot for SciFi AI), for example. But Ender’s Game has more than emotional moments; the story itself is powerful.

I certainly enjoyed them both. In fact, I think I might have grown to despise Ender’s Game had I not seen how Ender grew up to become the person he was in Speaker for the Dead. I needed to hear Speaker for the Dead to really appreciate Ender’s Game. It’s an extremely important book to me, for that reason.

I will say that Orson Scott Card’s religions viewpoints crop up in Speaker for the Dead a lot more than they do in Ender’s Game, and I do feel the story suffers a bit from that. However, nothing in the book is particularly controversial, and I actually happen to agree with most of the stuff that’s actually there. I could still nitpick about assuming one KNOWS what GOD’S LAWS are, when the only source we have is our own common sense, and (if you’re Christian) a book written by other fallible human beings, many of whom actually admit to being fallible (something that should be common sense, even if they didn’t admit it)… But that’s really nitpicking in this case. He says nothing that I consider controversial, but I think the book does suffer, if only because the religious content was completely irrelevant to the larger story. Frankly, he’d have done better just renaming Catholicism something random for the various subplots he included. The injection of a five thousands year old religion (Speaker for the Dead takes place three thousand years after Ender’s Game) into the story without any notable changes to its dogma just stretched my suspension of disbelief, especially considering how the rigid and archaic catholic teachings are already dying off in general religious circles today.

I don’t think I’m going to continue with the other two sequels in the series. Speaker for the Dead buttoned things up for me nicely. There’s clearly more story there, since he left this book a little open ended too, but not so much that I have a burning desire to continue listening. I might listen to Ender’s Shadow eventually, but I want to listen to other things for a little bit, before coming back to this story.

Also, in Mr. Card’s comments at the end of the Ender’s Game audio book, he talks about his work to get Ender’s Game made into a live action movie. He said that a lot of people have come up to him and said that it would make a great movie. I don’t know who these people are, but I think they’re wrong. This might make a B-movie, at best. Live action SciFi can be great, but they are very uncommon when you really look at the vast amount of SciFi movies out there. He goes over a lot of the problems he faces in making it a good live action movie, and in my opinion, no one is going to be able to overcome all the obstacles in the same movie. A director might be able to make a zero gravity battle arena filmed on earth not look completely fake and retarded, but even if he could pull that off, he’d still need to make a horde of 12-year-olds look like prodigies, with intellects to rival that of most modern adults. We have examples of individual kids being able to pull it off, but never more than one at a time in a movie. No, I’m sorry, but a live action adaptation of Ender’s Game just screams Starship Troopers for kids, and I don’t want to see that.

We do, however, have a visual medium that has demonstrated the ability to pull both of those things off really well: Anime. I never got as into Gundamn Wing as I’d have liked when I was younger, but I think it does demonstrate very conclusively that Anime does space opera in a way that would complement Ender’s Game far better than some 2 hour live action Hollywood movie. Child prodigies, zero gravity combat, and deep introspective stories… These are things that live action struggles with, while Anime thrives with them. I really hope Mr. Card comes to his senses on this.

Currently, I’m about half way through listing to Ringworld by Larry Niven. Unfortunately, the narrator I’m listening to (it’s not the same guy on audible) isn’t nearly as good as I’d like, but he’s good enough to tolerate for a suitably interesting book. I won’t say too much about the book itself, but I’ve noticed the contrast between these authors, and it’s funny in and of itself. Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead were written by a religious social conservative in the early-to-mid 80s (published in 1985 and 1986 respectively). Ringworld was written during the late 60s (published in 1970) by a man who, deep down, would probably have liked to be a free loving hippie. I don’t know what his opinion of the issue is now, but I think in the late 60s he had a lot of respect for the idea. Though, I’d find it a lot more funny if the main female character in Ringworld wasn’t such a ditz (very smart, but still a ditz). Granted, her being a ditz adds to the humor too. I just think the combination of the humor inherent in “free love” and that inherent in ditziness don’t work together as nicely as they do independently…but that’s a side note.

In conclusion, Ender’s Game is great, and Speaker for the Dead is really good, and helps to give the series a far more satisfying conclusion than is provided by Ender’s Game alone.

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