Speaker for the Dead: The Piggies

How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy Orson Scott Card
Card’s book on genre writing, which I definitely recommend!

Hello again everyone! Last week I tap-danced around spoilers while attempting to give an explanation of what Orson Scott Card’s character Ender Wiggin is in Speaker for the Dead, but this week I’m not going to be able to keep that up. I want to get into what makes this book good writing, and to do that I need to actually talk about the writing in more detail. I want to talk about the design of Card’s alien race which introduced in this book and plays a role in the next book in the Ender Saga, Xenocide, but to do that I need to spoil a few important plot-related details. I could try to do this in another very round-about post, but I’ve decided not to hamstring myself. All that to say:


But even if you decide to read the rest of this post and learn a few of these details, the book is still well worth your read. The details I reveal have vast implications that only become clear if you read the book, and Card’s other characters are excellent.

Another note before we begin: the reason I want to talk about the Piggies (and Speaker for the Dead, for that matter) is because Card demonstrates very well all of the things he talks about in his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, which I’ve examined thoroughly in a post series I did a while ago called Science Fiction Problems: How to Write Aliens. Check out the posts if you want to see Card’s tips and tricks, and my examples. Without further ado, let’s talk about the Piggies.

Piggies, Pequeninos, or “The Little Ones”: an Introduction

Ender’s life’s work, as I talked about in the last post, is to prevent a second xenocide from occurring. After the humans wiped out the Bugger homeworld and therefore killed every Bugger everywhere else in the galaxy, the humans started colonizing the now empty previously Bugger-inhabited worlds. During this process, the humans came across a garden world which they call Lusitania, and while it had a very limited ecosystem with surprisingly few species of flora and fauna, the colony, founded by a new wave of Catholic charters which were pushing out from the home system of Earth, was able to eke out a living fairly easily. All of this is complicated when the short, bipedal, pig-like creatures that lived in the forests of this world were found to be intelligent. For the first time since the Bugger Wars 3000 years before, humans had found a non-human sentient race.

But unlike the Buggers who were space-faring and efficient in war and inter-stellar colonization, the Piggies (called this because, well, they look like earth-pigs walking on their hind legs) were basically stone-age. Not even that, really. More like… wooden age? The Piggies didn’t event really use tools except some inexplicably sharp and durable wooden knives, and sturdy wooden clubs used in their infrequent wards with other Piggy tribes. They speak verbal language. In fact, they speak several of their own languages, and quickly learn the human languages of Stark (short for Starways Common) and Portuguese (the cultural language of the settlers of Lusitania). The Piggies love song and conversation, and ravenously seek knowledge and learning in any form they can manage, especially when they figure out that the humans have so much they could teach them. From a world-building perspective, the Piggies are basically a complete 180 from the Buggers, with one very important exception.

Formic Wars Burning Earth Vol 1 1 graphic novel cover
Another terrifying rendering of Card’s alien race. Seems like it’d be hard to feel sorry about killing those things!

The plot of Ender’s Game, centered around the looming threat of the terrible Bugger fleet which so incredibly outmatched the human starships, all stemmed from one primary theme: miscommunication. The entire Bugger war, from the initial contact in which the Buggers killed humans indiscriminately and viciously, to their wiping out most of the starfleet scrambled together by the frantic humans, to the annihilation of the Bugger homeworld, were all because humans could not talk to the Formics. The insect-like beings evolved, unsurprisingly, from a hive-like species centered around a queen, mingling the minds of the entire colony into one consciousness. They never talked to each other, and so did not have any idea how to communicate. In fact, the Formics’ mode of “communication” is basically telepathy, instant thinking to each other in such a way that made each individual drone nothing more than an extension. So the queens, controlling their drone-children from light-years away, came across the ships filled with squishy humans and thought they were basically killing communications antennae, not people. Opposite, the humans thought they were fighting a monstrous, xenocidal race of war-machines bent on destroying them. It was only through Ender, who lead the human fleet that destroyed the Bugger homeworld and killed all of their queens, that the human race eventually realized the tragic mistake, that they all killed each other only because they didn’t know how to communicate.

The Pequeninos, which is Portuguese for “little ones,” do speak, but a grave miscommunication occurs that Ender fears may result in another xenocide. As soon as the Starways Congress finds out that the Piggies are sentient, they order that the colony on Lusitania would be fenced in and isolated so that the new intelligent beings would not be contaminated culturally or technologically. They do, however, allow two scientists to directly interact with the Piggies to research them, disallowing and direct questions that might reveal information about the humans, or introduce corrupting influences. The Piggies kill two of the scientists working with them, ritualistically vivisecting them.

Essentially, Card has hit the same theme of miscommunication from an entirely new angle. Humans are in the seat of terrible power, able to completely destroy the Piggies just as the Buggers were no doubt able. And to some people, the Piggies have just announced that they are uninterested in living peacefully. After working so hard to get this second change right, for humans to redeem themselves for the mistake of the Bugger War, the pendulum has swung too far. By isolating the Piggies, their hunger for knowledge, to be uplifted from their primitive lives into the space age only grows, and the scientific community is completely incapable of learning anything meaningful about them.

Orson Scott Card Speaker for the Dead graphic novel #3 piggy and Ender
A little less terrifying. Still hard to empathize with, though.

The Piggies themselves are so integrated into their environments that they could literally not live anywhere else. They rely on the massive trees of their forests for their reproduction, just as every other species in the world of Lusitania (except the humans, of course) relies on a partnered plant species for its reproduction. The Piggies (and the Buggers, to a degree) are probably they only cases I’ve seen for legitimate monocultures, something I harped on in Part II of my series. But as I also talked about in Part II, this biology also figures directly into their culture. The Piggies revere the trees, and their terminology and turns of phrase revolve around their relationship with the forest, and not in the sort of cliche elf-y sort of way we hear so often in bad fantasy books.

And that’s enough for one post! Next week I’ll get into how the Piggies fulfill Card’s recommendations for how to write aliens quite beautifully. Until then, have you read Ender’s Game or Speaker for the Dead? What do you think of the Buggers or the Piggies? Let me know in the comments below!


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