"Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card
I normally refrain from including a lot of biographical information on authors, but in Orson Scott Card's case I feel the need to state that he is a practicing Mormon. He has also publicly opposed gay rights, and marriage rights for homosexuals; he believes that global warming may be a hoax, and he has emerged as an advocate of Intelligent Design. While some of these fantastic notions might label him a great fit for the fantasy side of sci-fi/fantasy, one wouldn't expect rigorously scientific explanations from someone who believes in the Book of Mormon, literal interpretations of Genesis, and in the erroneous nature of evolutionary theory.
Many of the attitudes and opinions described above can be glimpsed throughout "Speaker for the Dead," which is a novel he wrote in 1986. "Speaker for the Dead" won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for science fiction, and is part of the "Ender's Game" series of novels. Whether this novel's enormous popularity speaks to the widespread ignorance of the American reading public, or whether this book is proof that an author can transcend his ideological shortcomings, I leave to you, the reader, to decide.
I haven't read "Ender's Game," but apparently that book was about the extinction of an alien race at the hands of Ender Wiggins, a single human being. In "Speaker for the Dead," a group of Portuguese (Brazilian?) colonists is dealing with the discovery of a second extraterrestrial lifeform, and the Starways Congress is determined not to allow a second "Ender's Game" to occur.
I've got to say, this book doesn't make a lot of sense from the get-go. The two colonists in charge of studying the "piggies" are pursuing some kind of non-intervention doctrine, but somehow fail to understand that their mere presence among the aliens is itself a kind of intervention. For some unexplained reason, it's OK to teach the aliens our language, but not OK to give them any indication of our level of technology. They seem to think that the act of learning English (Stark) wouldn't speak volumes about our culture. They seem to think that the act of interacting with us wouldn't be undo influence by itself. What's more, the observers seem unduly constrained in their methods of observation, and are somehow unable to view the "piggies" from orbit, use concealed cameras, or even use the most rudimentary radios or mobile technology. Even in the late 80s, somebody had to be wondering how these observers could travel to other star systems, and yet fail to invent the cellular phone.
Another thing that got me about this book is how absorbed with religion everyone is. Would they really be arguing about Calvinistic predestination in the future? Would Catholicism be as convincing on other planets? I think that at best these creeds would have to be reformulated for such a future society, and what one sees in "Speaker for the Dead" is just a little too much like the same backwards religions seen on Earth. I'm not saying that in the future people won't go to church or believe in God, but given that the world of "Speaker for the Dead" features not only space exploration, but also the discovery of multiple alien intelligences, one has to wonder why the Christianity of yesteryear wasn't reinvented to meet the challenge.
I know that there are a lot of Orson Scott Card fans out there, and mine is probably going to be the minority opinion. Even so, if this is/was the best he can do, then consider me disappointed. This work of "science ficition" isn't even remotely scientific, and moreover pales in comparison to other works by Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, and other sci-fi greats. I wouldn't even group him with B-list writers like Simak and Pohl, because both of those authors displayed a consistency that "Speaker for the Dead" lacks entirely. As it is, it might explore its characters fully, but some of the underlying ideas have been treated in the laziest manner possible. Orson Scott Card might believe in Intelligent Design, but I don't. I haven't found evidence of it in the world outside my door, and I haven't found evidence of it in "Speaker for the Dead."