To some degree, this is
true. “Speaker for the Dead,” the sequel to “Ender’s Game,” is a very
different book from its predecessor, not least in its treatment of
aliens and violence. “Ender’s Game” involves an intergalactic war to the
death between humans and the super-advanced alien buggers. “Speaker for
the Dead,” on the other hand, is set 3000 years later, mostly on the
single planet of Lusitania, where anthropologists are studying a race of
relatively low-technology aliens known as “piggies.” In “Ender’s Game,”
violence almost always escalates; whenever Ender is attacked, either by
humans or buggers, he responds with overwhelming, deadly force. In
“Speaker for the Dead,” the piggies torture and murder two of the
anthropologists, but in neither incident (separated by decades) do the
humans return violence for violence. Instead they wait and try to
understand — and the result is not genocide, but peace, alliance, and
“Speaker for the Dead,” then, seems to repudiate the
morality of “Ender’s Game.” And yet, the book is oddly chary about
explicitly condemning the genocide of the first volume. It’s true that
Ender’s genocidal actions are reviled throughout the galaxy. Yet Ender,
still alive after 3 millennia due to relativistic space travel, suggests
that, in context, the genocide was understandable and even justified:
for the Dead” suggests that there were in fact other options, like
patience and wisdom. After the bugger invasion, for instance, the humans
could have waited to see if they were attacked again rather than
preemptively sending fleets off to destroy the bugger homeworld. But the
text somehow manages to acknowledge other option and and yet still see
the earlier genocide as inevitable, and therefore, by default,
justified. How can it do that? And, more importantly perhaps, why does
it do that?
answer to both questions is Ender. Ender is not only the destroyer of
the buggers; he’s also their salvation. At the end of “Ender’s Game,” he
discovers the lone surviving bugger hive queen pupa, and determines to
find her a new planet where the buggers can be reborn. He also writes a
history of her and her people titled “The Hive Queen,” which he signs
“The Speaker for the Dead.” The book becomes the center of a widespread
religion; it’s the reason that humans see the death of the buggers as a
tragedy. In the 3000 years between “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the
Dead,” Ender goes from planet to planet seeking a bugger homeworld and
as a Speaker for the Dead delivering eulogies for those who request it,
in the same way he eulogized the buggers.
So to sum up, Ender is,
(a) the greatest military leader in human history, (b) the greatest
religious leader and prophet of his time, and, (c) the hope for the
rebirth of the buggers. But! That’s not all! He also has been chosen as
sole human interlocutor by a spontaneously generated super-sentient AI
named Jane, who communicates with him through an interface in his ear.
Thus, Ender carries about with him a literal deus ex machina.
is, then, a massive, honking, preposterously exaggerated, Mary Sue.
Indeed, the wish fulfillment on Card’s part couldn’t be much more
obvious. For Ender is not just the destroyer and the savior; he is the
destroyer and savior as writer. Ender’s greatest ability is his
amazing capacity for empathy, for understanding others. In “Ender’s
Game” he used this power (and it does function almost like a superpower)
to destroy the buggers. In “Speaker for the Dead” he uses it to tell
stories — the stories of the bugger queen, the dead people for whom he
speaks as an itinerant eulogist, and eventually the piggies. He is the
sensitive conduit through which the alien is met, interpreted and
comprehended. And to emphasize this point, through most of the book he’s
the sole human contact for not one, but two alien intelligences — the
Hive Queen and Jane. It’s hardly a surprise that it’s Ender who breaks
through and really understands the piggies after generations of local
anthropologists fail to do so.
Ender succeeds with the piggies because he treats them with respect:
“It’s all part of their system of totems. We’ve always tried to play along with it, and act as if we believed it.”
“How condescending of you,” said Ender.
“It’s standard anthropological practice,” said Miro.
“You’re so busy pretending to believe them, there isn’t a chance in the world you could learn anything from them.”
[…]“We’ve devoted our lives to learning about them!” Miro said.
Ender stopped. “Not from them….You’re
cultural supremacists to the core. You’ll perform your Questionable
Activities to help out the poor little piggies, but there isn’t a chance
in the world you’ll notice when they have something to teach you.”
Ender wants to learn from the piggies, rather than wanting to learn about them — an elegant and pointed critique of anthropology and of social sciences in general.
But while Card’s insights here are well taken, they can’t quite balance out the fact that they are presented as Ender’s insights.
Or, to put it another way, Ender eloquently explains why the piggies
need to be seen as equals, but his own position as explainer, martyr,
and general avatar of awesomeness means that, narratively, they can’t be
equal. Ender is the hero/author/interpreter — Ender is the savior with
whom we identify, and the different others are the supplicants whom,
with him, we save. Thus at the end of the novel, it is Ender who writes
the story of a piggie named Human, adding it to his work on the Hive
Queen and to his book about his brother, Peter, who became the ruler of
earth. All stories are told through Ender; he speaks for everyone. Is
that universal, egalitarian empathy? Or is it a way to ensure that there
is only one voice?
That question is, perhaps, most pointed when
it is applied not to the piggies or the Hive Queen, but rather to the
woman our hero eventually marries. Ender is initially called to
Lusitania by a young girl named Novinha, a xenobiologist who worked
closely with Pipo, the first anthropologist the piggies killed. Ender
essentially falls in love with Novinha’s picture at first sight. But by
the time he arrives on Lusitania by relativistic space flight, decades
have gone by for that young girl; Novinha is now a middle-aged woman,
with children of her own. She doesn’t want Ender to speak Pipo’s death
anymore. But two of her children want him to speak the recent death of
their father, Marcão, an angry, bitter man, who beat Novinha for years.
Ender speaks the story of Marcão’s life, which is also the story of
Novinha’s life. Novinha believed that she had made a discovery which led
to Pipo’s death. She wanted to keep that discovery from Pipo’s son,
Libo, whom she loved. But if she married him, he would, by the law of
the colony, have access to her files. So she married Marcão instead.
Marcão, she alone knew, had a genetic disease which rendered him sterile
(and eventually killed him). So she had six children by Libo, with
nobody suspecting except Marcão, who had agreed to the arrangement.
Thus, Marcão’s violence was a direct response to Novinha’s adultery.
Ender reveals these truths in his speaking, the family is able to put
all the lies behind them, and begin to heal. At the conclusion of the
book, Novinha marries Ender.
What we’re supposed to get from this
is that everyone, even the most despised, most violent person, is
understandable. Even a wife beater deserves empathy. In order to get
there, Card presents a narrative which reproduces and validates the most
invidious myths and excuses for domestic violence. Specifically, the
violence is presented as an understandable reaction to Novinha’s
failings; not just her adultery, but her lack of compassion. Marcão
“hoped that she might someday feel some affection. That she
might feel some — loyalty.” But she doesn’t, so he hits her, out of
love. And even she agrees she deserves it. “It was her penance. It was
never penance enough. No matter how much Marcão might hate her, she
hated herself much more.”
That’s not Novinha’s internal monologue
there. Rather it’s Ender, speaking her inmost thoughts aloud to the
community. But we’re supposed to believe those are her inmost
thoughts — Ender understands her to her core. And what he understands is
that she fits perfectly into a common male fantasy of domestic violence
which highlights the woman as the instigator and the man as sufferer.
His empathy doesn’t so much give him insight into her (female)
perspective as it allows him to ventriloquize her in the interest of
validating male violence. Which is, not coincidentally, exactly what
happens in “Ender’s Game,” where Ender’s connection to the Hive Queen
reveals that she accepts and forgives the genocide against her people.
“Ender’s Game,” genocide becomes a sacrament because Ender is a saint
of empathy, and genocide is what he does. In “Speaker for the Dead,” on
the contrary, Ender works for understanding with the aliens. In some
sense, then, the second book repudiates the first, rejecting genocide
for peace. But in genocide or peace, Ender remains the standard, the
white male savior whose perspective is truth. Whether with guns or
words, the alien is erased so that Ender may be glorified.