Speaker for the Dead
By Bobby Neal Winters
I am in the process of cleaning out my home office. I refuse to speculate on how long it has been since the last time I did this, though an experienced archaeologist could probably make a guess.
I proceeded in this enterprise in a methodical way. I first took everything that had been on the floor of the office and put it out on the front porch, some of it spilling into the yard. I then took everything that had been on my countertops and put it on the floor. I then cleaned.
I found the bodies of dead insects; I found money; I found 29 cent stamps. I found electronic devices, writing implements, and ... cat puke.
Then came the process of putting it all back together, and as I did so I threw things away. And threw things away. And threw things away.
I am on the second day of this, and it promises to go into a third.
It has been an instructive process in discerning the things I toss away versus the things I keep.
I threw away many pounds of computer software that I’d spent a lot of money for. This is software that I’d been storing reverently for a decade, give or take. It’s useless now. Progress in computing has shifted it into obsolescence.
I kept DVDs, CDs miniDV tapes, and VHS tapes of family photos and movies. I can pay people to bring the out of date stuff to the current model.
What is the difference between these two? The software is a means to an end. The family photos and movies are an end of themselves. They are part of my memory, part of my self that I want to preserve. In some sense, they are what I am about: my family. Though, when pressed, I have to admit the means I use is a big part of me as well.
I just finished reading Speaker for the Dead. It was the sequel to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. I’d seen the movie made from Ender’s Game and it inspired me to get an audiobook of the novel. Having finished the novel I had to rush to get a Kindle version of Speaker for the Dead.
In Speaker, Card continues with Ender has his protagonist. Ender has started a quasi-religion based on speaking for the dead. This is not given a eulogy (good word from the Greek) for the dead, but actually laying out the life of the dead person warts and all in such a way that you understood who they really were.
Ender goes through the process of sifting through the garbage of a man’s life and in doing so pieces together who that man was and presents it to the community in such a way that reconciliation is possible for him, even in death.
The novel has many mysteries and surprised that I will not even allude to. There are no spoilers in the sequel. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer up Card for some praise.
Card has grasped in a way I’ve not presently so clearly elsewhere in science fiction the nature of man as a creature of the community. Our communities create us and if we cannot find a place within them then we suffer. (The language I grew up hearing to describe this is that we are lost.)
I believe that it’s Card’s experience as a Mormon which has given him this understanding of the importance of community. He himself seems to have recognized this as a commonality with Catholicism, as the community in the book is a Catholic one.
Card has crafted little presents for those who like to find theological symbols in their literature. I will not spoil them, but there are prizes to be found for those who know a little theology whether they be Catholic or Mormon.
In the end, whether you share his particular religious views or not, Card is a craftsman with a deep understand of human nature. If you like science fiction, religion, and good writing, I suggest you give Speaker for the Dead a try.