Tag Archives: sci-fi

SFRC: Speaker for the Dead

Science Fiction Reader Challenge
Science Fiction Reader Challenge
The Ender series is generally considered YA but in my opinion Speaker for the dead is NOT YA. Almost all of the POV characters are adults and most especially Ender, the central character, is an adult with adult concerns.

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
Hugo Winner
Science Fiction Classic – Pre-1950s
Science Fiction Modern Classic – 1951-1992
Steampunk
Robots/Cyborgs/Androids
Spaceships/Aliens
Time Travel/Alternate History/Parallel Universe
Apocalyptic/Dystopia/Utopia
Cyberpunk
Mad Scientists/Genetic Testing/Environmental Disaster

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Extra-terrestial life

Everyone knows how it goes in Star Trek; the intrepid team with at least Captain Kirk, a varying number of people and one guy in a red shirt go on to a new planet; the red shirt dies in some attack or another and Kirk goes off and boinks some hot alien lady. There are several things to consider about alien life however and before I go on, I’d like to recommend the talk given by Professor PZ Myers (he teaches evolutionary biology at the University of Minnesota) at this year’s TAM; A Skeptical Look at Aliens


(Part 2 , Part 3. You should also take a gander at the two slides he left out because he ran out of time)

Professor Myers makes an excellent point about how diverse life is even on this planet. How different might it be on another planet?

The Chemistry

Last year there was that whole controversy about the arsenic-loving bacteria, and while they were cool and everything, they’re not actually necessary for life outside of our own Tellus to exist. We are made, literally, out of stardust and not only that but we are also made of the most common elements in the whole universe, in roughly the relative amounts that they occur in the universe. While it seems like other planets in our solar system may not have developed life, they’re still likely to contain roughly the same elements in roughly the same quantities as Earth does. Less Oxygen of course, since it’s a by-product of photosynthesis. There are some speculations that Mars may have had life at some point before its atmosphere was blown away by solar winds. Strike that. There are some speculations that Mars may still contain life underneath the crust, hidden in the ice that may or may not be hidden there.

DNA

On Earth it would seem that DNA has only developed once. For life to evolve it is absolutely necessary for DNA or something similar to develop first. Life depends completely on a self-replicating mechanism. Evolution depends on that mechanism being flawed. Let me make it clear that I’m not saying that evolution is impossible or purely happened by chance or other such creationist nonsense. The copying mechanism itself is ever so slightly flawed in that it won’t produce the same exact copy every time. It’s like those episodes of Catch-That-Murderer type of shows (CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc) where the killer is caught by his copier or printer. The two papers look exactly the same, but the killer’s copy has a flaw that’s only noticeable when you look at it with a magnifying glass or microscope. Of course, when we get into sexual reproduction the importance of mutation becomes much less pronounced since any offspring will inevitably be a combination of both parents’ genes and so different from both.

Features

Let’s be honest; ape-like intelligent extra-terrestials seem very unlikely to say the least. As far as we know, our type of imaginative intelligence has developed only once on this planet. To compare, echo-location has apparently evolved several times, independent of each other. Eyes are also ubiquitous in this sense, having evolved several times and in several ways. Although, to be fair, we’re not nacessarily up to speed on other species intelligence either. We know that there are other self-aware at least moderately intelligent species on earth (dolphins, some molluscs, some other big apes and some birds). So who knows, there may be intelligent life on Earth as well.