Sunday, August 26, 2012

Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card

I was inspired to read Speaker for the Dead after reading Ender’s Game. Speaker is a sequel to Ender’s Game even though it is set 3000 years after the Bugger Wars. Despite the long time lapse, however, Ender is still alive. I’m not going to go into the plot summary, because I would highly suggest reading it for yourself. I will say, however, that I liked Speaker for the Dead even more than Ender’s Game, and I really, really enjoyed Ender’s Game.

A lot of the same themes we saw in Ender’s Game are continued in Speaker. At the forefront of Speaker for the Dead we are presented with the idea of intentions being more important than results. That is essentially the whole point of having Speakers for the Dead. Ender explains that, “No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one's life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.” Speakers follow the idea that to truly understand and love someone you must know their motivations and desires, for it is the desires that truly determine someone’s worth. Ender explained this by saying, “When it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart.” Ender is the perfect example of his own philosophy. He became Ender the Xenocide, the most hated person in the universe, because of the destruction of the Buggers. His intentions, however, were not to destroy the Buggers but to protect humanity. He didn’t understand that they were one in the same.

This leads us to the other great theme in Speaker for the Dead. It’s the question of humanity. What makes someone human, or ramen? This was touched on briefly in Ender’s Game, but was really expanded on in Speaker. Throughout a lot of the book Ender, and almost everyone else, was trying to discover if the Piggies were ramen (a different species that is human) or varelse (strangers from another species that are not able to communicate with us). While the Piggies were obviously capable of talking to humans, the question was more whether they were capable of understanding us on a moral and philosophical level.

            The question becomes by what criteria do you judge ramen, and if humans really have a right to do so. Demonsthenes explains this well, “The difference between raman and varelse is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging. When we declare an alien species to be raman, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity. It means that we have.” By declaring another species ramen we have to acknowledge that killing them would be murder. We then face the challenge of learning to cooperate and trust them. We can no longer kill them unless we are willing to commit xenocide to do it. The action of xenocide is one that would push us farther from ramen and closer to varelse. Homo sapiens, after all, are not the standard by which humanity is judged.

            Jane further challenges the definition of ramen. She was born from the connections in the ansible, and is in a sense, a super computer.  Can you be alive and human, if you don’t need to breathe, eat, or sleep and have no physical body? Jane has feelings as poignant as any human, and thoughts more complex than any human could possibly achieve. She is human in every sense but the conventional one. However, I heard through the grapevine that the ansible is discussed more in the third book. I’m assuming that Jane reappears in that book, so I’ll save discussion of her for later. ((If you like super computers you’ll love Mike from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.))

            In a lot of ways I feel like Speaker for the Dead was more educational and eye opening than any textbook or lecture I’ve experienced. It’s surprising that such feeling and humanity could be so eloquently expressed by a computer or a Piggie. I didn’t expect to relate to them so easily and deeply. I can say, without a doubt, that Speaker for the Dead is an important piece of literature. I only wish it was required reading in school. 

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