As a teacher, I have insisted that my high school freshmen all read Ender's Game. The fast pace and excellent character development engage the students and lead them toward discussion of serious issues, like how we treat those who are "different" and the ultimate goals and purposes of education. Speaker for the Dead has a different focus, and perhaps a different audience. Although many of my students have read it because they so loved Ender's Game, not many were ready for its sophistication.
Speaker for the Dead works for me in its treatment of two major issues. The first of these, expressed through the interaction (and its disastrous results) between the piggies and the humans, has to do with cultural relationships and the arrogant assumptions often made by the dominant culture. The humans function at a level of cultural blindness hard to understand through most of the novel, and that blindness has tragic consequences.
The second issue I love in this book is the concept of the Speaker for the Dead, the role that Ender Wiggin has taken on in his adulthood. A Speaker's job consists of traveling to places he is called to "speak" the life of someone who has died. These itinerant Speakers come to the person's life completely objectively, and thus they are able to speak the truth about that person--good and bad. The speaker helps the community deal with the person's death by allowing them to see that person completely; all the person's facets, foibles, and fortes are displayed. I found myself thinking that if mopre people read this book, we might have a whole new funereal ritual to deal with.
In short, while of a completely different tone than Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead brings up some important issues, and it is well worth the time spent in reading it. Invest several days in this book; it deserves them.
--Prudence Plunkett (Prudence_Plunkett@breadnet.middlebury.edu)