Speaker for the Dead
Orson Scott Card
A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK
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For Gregg Keizer
who already knew how
Some People of Lusitania Colony
Pronouncing Foreign Names
7. The Ribeira House
8. Dona Ivanova
9. Congenital Defect
10. Children of the Mind
16. The Fence
17. The Wives
18. The Hive Queen
Tor Books by Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead is a sequel, but it didn't begin life that way--and you don't have to read it that way, either. It was my intention all along for Speaker to be able to stand alone, for it to make sense whether you have read Ender's Game or not. Indeed, in my mind this was the "real" book; if I hadn't been trying to write Speaker for the Dead back in 1983, there would never have been a novel version of Ender's Game at all.
How did Speaker for the Dead come to be? As with all my stories, this one began with more than one idea. The concept of a "speaker for the dead" arose from my experiences with death and funerals. I have written of this at greater length elsewhere; suffice it to say that I grew dissatisfied with the way that we use our funerals to revise the life of the dead, to give the dead a story so different from their actual life that, in effect, we kill them all over again. No, that is too strong. Let me just say that we erase them, we edit them, we make them into a person much easier to live with than the person who actually lived.
I rejected that idea. I thought that a more appropriate funeral would be to say, honestly, what that person was and what that person did. But to me, "honesty" doesn't simply mean saying all the unpleasant things instead of saying only the nice ones. It doesn't even consist of averaging them out. No, to understand who a person really was, what his or her life really meant, the speaker for the dead would have to explain their self-story--what they meant to do, what they actually did, what they regretted, what they rejoiced in. That's the story that we never know, the story that we never can know--and yet, at the time of death, it's the only story truly worth telling.
I have received several letters, by the way, from people who are called upon to speak at funerals from time to time, and who, having read Speaker for the Dead, make an effort to turn the funeral service into a Speaking. I hasten to add that they have done this either with the permission of the family or at the urging of the deceased (given, obviously, before death!). Some of them have even sent me the text of their Speaking, and I must tell you that the stories thus told are astonishing and powerful. I hope someone will do a Speaking at my funeral. I think there really is power and truth in the idea.
But that was not the only source of Speaker for the Dead. I was also a longtime aficionado of anthropological science fiction--stories in which a scientist studies an alien culture and uncovers the reasons for their strangeness. The first such novel that I read was James Blish's A Case of Conscience. Not many years later, I read Michael Bishop's story "Death and Designation among the Asadi." Both had a powerful effect on me. So in the back of my mind, I had a strong desire to add something of my own to that subgenre.
So when I thought of the idea of an alien species which, in order to reproduce, had to slaughter each other in terrible intertribal wars, it was only natural that I decided the story should be told from the viewpoint of a human scientist studying them. Only gradually, over several years, did I develop the idea of the piggies and their strange lifecycle, and the intertribal war receded in importance--so much so that I didn't need to make it an issue in Speaker for the Dead at all. But it was in trying to think of an evolutionary reason why these little porcine aliens would need to slaughter each other for the species to thrive that I came up with the pequeninos that you meet in the pages of this book.
I was living with my wife, Kristine (nee Allen), in Orem, Utah, when I made the first breakthrough in creating this book. The two ideas were still quite separate, and the speaker-for-the-dead idea was still in a very primitive form. In fact, I had decided that the funeral "oration" should be in song--that it should be a "singer of death." I suppose I thought of this because I had sung at a few funerals, and found it a moving experience even when I didn't know the deceased. But when I mentioned this singer-of-death idea to Kristine, she winced. "You've already written 'Unaccompanied Sonata' and Songmaster," she reminded me. "They were both about music. If you do another music story people will think that's all you can do."
I realized that she was even more right than she knew! It happened that "Unaccompanied Sonata" and the original short story, "Mikal's Songbird," on which Songmaster had been based were also two of my stories that had been nominated for awards. In fact, a novella called "Songhouse," which was really the opening chapters of Songmaster, had also been nominated for a Hugo. The only story of mine which had been nominated for awards and that wasn't about music was the novelet version of "Ender's Game"! So Kristine had inadvertently caught me in the unconscious process of imitating my own past successes. I knew she was right--the music motif may have won me some favorable attention, but it was time to set aside that crutch and do something else.
So it would be a speaker of death in my story, not a singer. That felt right. But here's the silly part. Perhaps I was still unconsciously trying to lean on my most successful previous work, but I immediately wondered, What if the Speaker of Death was Ender Wiggin? It was obvious to me what I was doing--if I can't do the music thing, I can still bring the kid-who-saves-the-world back for another round! And yet the idea appealed to me. I didn't trust it yet, but it appealed to me.
After all, Ender had to do something after destroying the buggers. What if Ender Wiggin comes to an alien world as a Speaker of Death, and accidently gets caught up in the mystery of why these piggies are slaughtering each other? It had a delicious symmetry to it--the man who, as a child, destroyed one alien species now has a chance to save another.
The idea sat there in the back of my mind for many months, and as it did, the story grew. More to the point, the character of Ender grew. I had never thought much about what he would do after winning his war at the end of "Ender's Game," except that his life would never be that interesting again, and he would have a terrible time adjusting to normal human life. A writer friend of mine, Jim Tucker, had once proposed doing a sequel to "Ender's Game" that involved bringing Ender back to Earth, but while the story he came up with had some appeal, I knew in my heart that the one thing Ender could never do was return to live out his life on the birthworld of humanity. Having him become a speaker for the dead, however, wandering from nation to nation and world to world, researching and orating for the dead--that, I
Gradually the ideas came together. When my agent, Barbara Bova, said that she'd like to sell a book to Tom Doherty's new publishing house, Tor, I realized that the book I wanted to write next was Speaker of Death. So I wrote an outline and the first few chapters, the contract was written, the deal was made. I was living in Indiana at the time, working on a doctorate at Notre Dame and finishing up Hart's Hope, Worthing Chronicle, and Saints for another publisher. It wasn't until the recession interrupted my degree program (forever, I'm afraid--no doctorate for me now!) and sent me to Greensboro, North Carolina, for my only stint doing honest labor since 1978 that I had a chance to get back to Speaker of Death.
What I discovered then--the spring of 1983--was that the book was unwritable. In order to make the Ender Wiggin of Speaker make any kind of sense, I had to have this really long, kind of boring opening chapter that brought him from the end of the Bugger War to the beginning of the story of Speaker some three thousand years later! It was outrageous. I couldn't write it.
When Compute!, the publisher I was working for as a book editor, sent me along to the American Booksellers Association convention in Dallas, I noticed that Tom Doherty himself was at the Tor Books exhibit. I greeted him, and then on impulse asked him if I could talk to him. I had no well-formed plan in mind, and I was a little frightened when he said, "Sure," and set an appointment not long after. Our meeting consisted of walking through the crowds as I explained to him the problem I was having writing Speaker. The only solution I could think of, I said, was to write a novel version of Ender's Game, so I could put all that material about how Ender became a Speaker for the Dead at the end of that book, thus allowing Speaker to begin at its true beginning.
Once I proposed the idea (having only thought of it a short while before) it seemed so obvious that I wondered why I hadn't tried to sell a novel version of Ender's Game years before. (Only later did I realize that it wasn't until I was working on Speaker that the character of Ender Wiggin grew enough to be able to sustain a novel.) Still, Tom agreed with me that a novel version of Ender's Game was a good idea. "Let's do it," he said. "Same terms as Speaker?"
"Sure," I said, hardly believing that the decision could be made so easily--I hadn't talked to him more than five minutes.
"Fine. We'll send a contract to Barbara as soon as I get back to New York."
Lo! It happened exactly as he said! This was something I had never seen before--a publisher making a decision instantly, and then having everything he said turn out to be true! I still marvel at it--a publisher who is not only an honest man, but also loves (and reads) books, makes decisions quickly, and then can sell the books he publishes!
Gratefully I set aside Speaker and began plotting Ender's Game. By the time I quit my job at Compute! that fall, after only nine months in the position (I'm not cut out for corporate life anymore, I'm afraid), I was raring to go. I began Ender's Game before Christmas that year, took a break to go to Utah to promote my novel Saints, and then returned home and finished the book in a couple more weeks.
Then I turned to Speaker and the real suffering began. By now, of course, the title had changed from Speaker of Death to Speaker for the Dead, as the concept had clarified at the end of Ender's Game. By now, the character of Ender had developed so much that my original draft of the opening of Speaker was almost laughable. I had begun (except for the "introductory chapter") with Ender's arrival on the planet Lusitania, just in time to speak the death of an old lout named Marcao. But it was hollow and empty and it just wasn't working. So I went back to the drawing board and began all over again.
I began the book several more times, each time getting a little farther, but each time being blocked because it still wasn't right. I didn't know what "right" was, of course--but I did have several hundred pages of "wrong." (During this struggle with Speaker I wrote the novel Wyrms, which in some ways was a tryout of the scientific ideas in Speaker and, eventually, Xenocide--using a semisentient molecule that adapts itself easily to alien species in order to take them over and control them.)
Finally I knew I had to begin with the character of Novinha, who hadn't even existed in the original outline. And the characters of Pipo and Libo had also emerged, along with Pipo's death, pretty much as they happen in the first few chapters of the book you now hold in your hands. But I still wasn't done. It still wasn't enough. I was about 200 pages deep and the book was dead in my hands and I didn't know what to do.
It happened that a good friend of mine, Gregg Keizer, was working for Compute! In fact, I was the one who had recruited him away from his job as a junior high school English teacher (for which I think he has forgiven me) and brought him out to North Carolina. I had met Gregg when he became my student at a science fiction writing class I taught in the University of Utah's evening school program back in the seventies. He was one of those frustrating students who are simply brilliant when they walk in the door, so the teacher can't take the slightest credit for anything they do. He was also one of the most decent human beings I know, which makes me very nervous around him--so nervous, in fact, that the only times I have ever gotten thoroughly and stupidly lost have been while he was in the car with me and I was supposed to know where I was going. Some teacher!
(I once was so certain that a story of Gregg's would sell that I made a wager with my class--if it didn't sell within one year, I would run naked through the corridors of Orson Spencer Hall on the U of U campus, which is where our class met. The story didn't sell in a year--a pox on editors!--and, perhaps out of an exaggerated commitment to aesthetics, I reneged on the bet. Since the story did sell a short while afterward, Gregg has never demanded that I make good, but he does have the debt hanging over my head.)
Anyway, right during the time that I was stymied on Speaker, Gregg and I decided to go to New York for the 1985 Nebula weekend. Ender's Game had only just been published, and neither of us had anything on the ballot. We just wanted to go to New York and to the Nebulas, so why not? I brought along the manuscript of Speaker for him to read--or perhaps I gave it to him in advance--I don't remember now. I do remember, though, sitting at the foot of his bed while he lay there and explained the problems he saw in Speaker.
He had many good ideas. Of course, most of them dealt with small fixes for problems in the manuscript as it now stood. One comment he made, however, illuminated everything for me. "I couldn't tell Novinha's kids apart," he said. "I couldn't remember which was which."
I had enough experience by then to know exactly what this meant. He couldn't tell Novinha's kids apart because they weren't characters. They were nothing but placeholders. At first I toyed with the idea of simply cutting them out. In my novel Saints, I had run into a problem with a younger sister of my protagonist--I kept forgetting she existed and completely neglecting her for hundreds of pages at a time. The solution was to eliminate the character; callously, I had her die in infancy. But excision wasn't the right move in this case. Because I wanted Novinha to be voluntarily isolated, I had to have her be otherwise acceptable to her neighbors. In a Catholic colony like Lusitania, this meant Novinha needed to have a bunch of kids.
Yet I had no idea who they were or what they would do in the story. Once you've read Speaker, of course, you'll wonder what the story would be without Novinha's children, and the answer is, It wouldn't be much! But at the time I hadn't developed their role in the story; yet there was something in the story that led Gregg to want them to amount to something more--that made him want to be able to tell them apart.
It meant throwing out all but the first couple of chapters of what I had written so far (and, in fact, I ended up completely writing the novel from the beginning), but it soon dawned on me that it was worth doing, for this was the final idea, the one that would pull me through the whole book. I had observed before that one thing wrong with science fiction as a whole was that almost all the heroes seemed to spring fully-grown from the
Not only did they have no parents, few science fiction heroes seemed to marry and have kids. In short, the heroes of most science fiction novels were perpetual adolescents, lone rangers who wandered the universe avoiding commitments. This shouldn't be surprising. The romantic hero is invariably one who is going through the adolescent phase of human life. The child phase--the one I had dealt with most often in my fiction--is the time of complete dependence on others to create our identity and our worldview. Little children gladly accept even the strangest stories that others tell them, because they lack either the context or the confidence to doubt. They go along because they don't know how to be alone, either physically or intellectually.
Gradually, however, this dependency breaks down--and children catch the first glimmers of a world that is different from the one they thought they lived in, they break away the last vestiges of adult control themselves, much as a baby bird breaks free of the last fragments of the egg. The romantic hero is unconnected. He belongs to no community; he is wandering from place to place, doing good (as he sees it), but then moving on. This is the life of the adolescent, full of passion, intensity, magic, and infinite possibility; but lacking responsibility, rarely expecting to have to stay and bear the consequences of error. Everything is played at twice the speed and twice the volume in the adolescent--the romantic--life.
Only when the loneliness becomes unbearable do adolescents root themselves, or try to root themselves. It may or may not be in the community of their childhood, and it may or may not be their childhood identity and connections that they resume upon entering adulthood. And, in fact, many fail at adulthood and constantly reach backward for the freedom and passion of adolescence. But those who achieve it are the ones who create civilization.
Most science fiction dealt with adolescent heroes, yes--but only because most fiction deals with adolescents. This is not to say that fiction about adolescents is necessarily adolescent fiction, either in the sense of being for an adolescent audience or in the sense of being undeveloped or immature fiction. Still, most storytellers invent their fables about the lives of footloose heroes--or heroes who become footloose for the sake of the story. Who but the adolescent is free to have the adventures that most of us are looking for when we turn to storytellers to satisfy our hunger?