Speaker for the Dead – 4/5 Stars
This is the direct sequel to Ender’s Game, in that it’s an Ender book, doesn’t stay on Earth with Bean and Peter like other later books, and is the book that Card wrote right after Ender’s Game. It’s also one of those books I skipped for the longest time. I read the first book in high school 25 years ago and have read all the Ender’s Shadow books at least once. I think when I read the premise of this book I was bummed that it’s such a departure, and those books filled that itch better. I also didn’t understand the premise of this book until a few of the Ender books made me better understand how Card was using space travel and relativistic time.
So this book takes place 3000 years after the first book, but only 20 for Ender. He’s been jumping from planet to planet for some 20 years looking for the ideal world for the Hive Queen larva he gathered up from the Bugger homeworld to repopulate. In addition, his actions from the first book have been reinscribed as xenocide, the eradication of a species, and the new religious-adjacent “speaking for the dead” is well established part of the universe.
On the planet Lusitania, a planet inhabited by formerly Brazilian Catholics there’s a fragile shared relationship with the “Piggies” a sentient race whose evolution, biology, and culture are far different from humans. A local xenologist is killed at the hands of species and the alarm at his death calls a lot into question. Drawn by the quest for a speaker of the dead, and by the possibility of this planet being right for the Hive Queen, Ender travels there to see about both.
It’s a very good sequel that is more spiritual and thoughtful than the Bean books, and touching in a lot of ways.
Dakota – 4/5 Stars
I guess I want to read about looking at the land, about “empty spaces” and thinking about what it means to be purposely unattached from modern society. This book is a meditation on the space of land called “Dakota” from the perspective of someone who purposely sought it out, tried their best to understand it, failed in some ways, succeeded in others, and tried to make sense of things. Because of the emptiness of the land, the history of migration and exploitation and oppression and death visited upon the land this a sad history. But this book is really beautiful in ways as well. There’s also a long treatise of monastic life and what draws this author to that life. What’s probably most interesting to me about this book is how much it anticipates internet culture and constant connectivity before it really happened. I know that so so many books do that and the whole “machine in the garden” concept in American letters goes back a long way. But this book not only anticipates that additional and exponential growth in feelings of over-abundance of communication, it also anticipates the certain kinds of reaction to it.
Out of Sight – 4/5 Stars
If you’ve seen the movie, this book really sings because there’s a kind of dual reading here. Stephen Soderbergh’s production of this book is masterful. The dialog that’s sharp in the book is sharp in the movie, the music is great, the casting is perfect, and the parts in the book that are underdeveloped is sharpened and heightened in the book.
So while I do recommend both, the movie is masterclass in adaptation. The book is solid though. It’s not as sharp and well-wrought as the movie, but it’s also a writer who’d already been writing for 40 years producing another very good and very sharp book. It feels VERY 1990s, but it also feels like it is inventing a world, a set of characters, and presenting the whole of the plot in real clarity with falling too deep in tropes.
Shuggie Bain – 4/5 Stars
This is the newest book to win the Booker Prize. Thinking about last year’s prize split between what I thought was the runaway winner, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl Woman Other and Margaret Atwood’s fanfic could not have presented a more clear and broader contrast. This book is a strong realistic, thoughtful, and psychological novel. It’s long and a little bloated, but it’s well written, earnest, and raw in good ways, without falling into some cloying or poorly written traps.
It’s the story of 15 year old Shuggie Bain (Hugh), a queer Scottish teen pretending to be of age to escape a fraught home life. We meet him in this state in 1992. His youth and beauty is attractive to the many predatory adults around him, but his experience in the world helps to fend them off. We spend the bulk of the book however in his childhood and before he’s born exploring the differing lives of his parents, a wastrel father who’s produced three Hugh Bains around town, and his mother who is falling further and further into alcoholism. The novel is tender, but not sentimental. It’s a worthy book to be added to the Booker list (though I wonder how memorable it will end up being).