The book starts on a planet called Lusitania where humans discover a new intellectual species, the Pequininos or Piggies as they call them. Soon however one Piggies turns up brutally murdered near to the perimeter fence of the human compound. The local xenobiologist and two xenologers have a hard time reconciling the murder with everything else they know about the Piggies but they continue their efforts to understand them. The lead xenologer, Pipo, discovers something from the xenobiologist’s (Novinha) data that he doesn’t share with anyone before confirming it with the Piggies. Unfortunately his discovery leads the Piggies to slaughter him in the same brutal manner that they slaughtered their own. Novinha, feeling guilty and in pain, calls for a Speaker for the Dead to speak Pipo’s death so that the Catholic rituals that feel hollow to her due to her childhood experiences won’t be the last word spoken for Pipo.
The closest Speaker turns out to be Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, who sees Novinha as someone who would understand him and starts off for Lusitania. He arrives thirty years later, only a few weeks after Pipo’s son, Libo, has been killed by the Piggies. As luck would have it, Novinha’s abusive husband has also died of his chronic disease. Novinha’s children call for a Speaker, not knowing that one is already on his way and indeed almost ready to arrive to Lusitania. Ender’s arrival puts Novinha’s whole family and indeed the small human community of Lusitania into a tailspin that none will recover from unchanged.
The Speaker for the Dead is an odd book. The world building is strong and indeed the ending completely relies on it. The mystery is weak, looking at Goodreads it’s clear that I’m not the only one who guessed the twist ending well in advance. The characters are quite complex and certainly pretty fully realized but the character based plots are wholly based on everyone’s inability to communicate. Novinha refuses to talk to the love of her life, Libo, and thus condemns herself to an unhappy life with Marcão. Pipo does not explain to Libo or Novinha his realization of the nature of the Piggies despite the fact that both are supposed to be more or less his students. Novinha doesn’t talk to her kids, or Marcão. Marcão does not talk to Novinha’s kids, leaving them all feeling abandoned. Libo does not talk to his wife or Novinha, or any of his children. There would not be a book, if these people just communicated with each other and so it sort of makes the whole book that much more difficult to believe.
I finished reading this book more than a month ago and I still can’t make up my mind on whether I liked it or not. There are certainly problems galore with it and maybe if I had been reading the physical book, I would have given up before the end or skipped much more. But the audio version went by quite nicely and I really enjoyed the ecological implications of the worldbuilding. It is very unlikely though that I’ll ever read it again and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for people who aren’t science geeks. And yet I don’t think it bad in any sense of the word. I really don’t know what to think about this book.
And thus with this post I am officially caught up to the review/month pace.
YA/MG Science Fiction
Adult Science Fiction
Science Fiction Classic – Pre-1950s
Science Fiction Modern Classic – 1951-1992
Time Travel/Alternate History/Parallel Universe
Mad Scientists/Genetic Testing/Environmental Disaster