Dan Sandman

30: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

In Books on 24/07/2015 at 12:00 pm

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott CardIn the nineteen eighties, science fiction was an established part of global popular culture. Many great SF films were being produced and enjoyed by millions of fans worldwide; comic book shops had sprung up in our towns and cities; and heavy metal could be heard blasting out in record shops and on live stages. Arguably, all of this had sprung from a Gothic fantasy novel called Frankenstein (1818) by Mary Shelley, a book that riffed on enlightenment fears surrounding scientific advancement. Then, in the Victorian era, a British writer called H.G. Wells begun to expand on the ‘scientific romance’ novels made popular by the French writer Jules Verne before him. These books used the latest scientific theories to create exciting stories, and, like their Gothic predecessors, played on human anxieties surrounding technological advances, contact with alien civilizations, and the evolutionary changes that might occur as a result of man’s actions.

Later, in the twentieth century, with America and Russia competing to be the first to venture to the moon, questions surrounding the potential long-term consequences of space travel were raised by the science fiction novel Foundation (1951) by Isaac Asimov. It is within this historical context that Orson Scott Card begun writing Ender’s Game (1985), a novel about a boy who is trained to become a deadly weapon. This now classic story was made into a film in 2013, sparking renewed interest in a series of books known as the Ender saga.

Speaker for the Dead (1986) is volume two of the Ender saga, and occurs three thousand years after the first story. Due to the time-shifting effects of space travel, Ender is still in his thirties and has spent his life travelling from planet to planet. After the scene is set, he travels to a Catholic community, who live inside a fenced zone alongside an alien species called the Piggies. In a similar way to Ender’s Game, this second installment is a moral tale about why alien cultures are misjudged and how alien encounters are mishandled. It is only through Ender’s intuitive use of empathy, diplomacy and honesty, that bridges can be built between different civilizations. Heroically, he is able to understand different viewpoints and question the rule of law when appropriate.

Many present-day diplomats could learn from such a hero.

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