speaker for the dead

March 27, 2009


speakerforthedeadRemember when I mentioned Ender’s Game, the story about children trained to wage space war against bug-like aliens? I’m now going to ruin the surprise: the kids think they are playing simulated war games but the battles on their view screens are in fact real. They win the war in some daring maneuver that completely wipes out the alien enemy. Then they find out what they’ve done.

In the sequels, Ender, the leader of the battle school kids, is wrought with grief for his role in the genocide and has fled to a foreign world, where he has adopted the role of “speaker for the dead” for the departed race. Mostly what I remember about the sequel is that he meets some aliens described as piggy and they end up having weird rituals. I forget the particulars of Ender’s being speaker, but I think the point was to preserve some trace of the departed aliens identity by having someone think about them and maybe griever for them, giving them a representative of sorts, someone who listened with their ears and spoke with their voice.

The phrase popped into my head tonight while I was sitting at the end of the driveway staring at the trees down the broad, steep hill in our backyard. First I thought about whether Zach Braff was a cliche of a human being. Then I thought about my dad. I need to go talk to my parent’s old pastor, Revered Jim, the one who did the memorial service. I touched on the same ideas in my rumblings on the distributed identity of David Foster Wallace.

If you’re interested in the speaker for the dead role I’ll let you look it up. Better yet, read the book and refresh my memory.


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