Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

Earth Unaware (The First Formic War)

One of the things that I find most exciting about storytelling in the last several years is the cross-pollination between media.  TV shows now have extra scenes or even discussion shows online, movie series have novels that flesh out off-camera events, and social media offers glimpses behind the scenes of just about every act of creation.  Orson Scott Card’s Ender series has recently been getting the comic book treatment, and now those comics have turned back around and inspired new prose.  Earth Unaware takes a page from the graphic novels to tell the story of the first Formic War.

(Description nicked from B&

“The mining ship El Cavador is far out from Earth, in the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto. Other mining ships, and the families that live on them, are few and far between this far out. So when El Cavador’s telescopes pick up a fast-moving object coming in-system, it’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s massive and moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

El Cavador has other problems. Their systems are old and failing. The family is getting too big for the ship. There are claim-jumping corporate ships bringing Asteroid Belt tactics to the Kuiper Belt. Worrying about a distant object that might or might not be an alien ship seems…not important.

They’re wrong. It’s the most important thing that has happened to the human race in a million years. The first Formic War is about to begin.”

I haven’t been reading the Enderverse comics.  I picked up the very first one and was put off by the art style for some reason, and so I never pursued the series.  I wasn’t even aware until now that the comics had gone beyond the established storylines and struck out for parts unknown.  As a result, I came to this novel with no expectations and no preconceptions.  And what I found was a pretty darn good book.

Card and Johnston already have some good story hooks to play with.  This novel intertwines three bits of backstory: the first contact with the Formics; the creation of the weapon known as the “Little Doctor”; and the military background of war hero Mazer Rackham.  All of these elements have been mentioned in previous novels, but they’ve remained unexplored until now.  As a result, longtime readers know just enough already to make them curious, and this novel will start filling in some of those gaps.

There is one hiccup in this process, however—after Mazer Rackham’s initial appearance as a candidate to join the elite MOP force, he vanishes from the novel entirely.  I was really disappointed, because he’s a pivotal character not only in the Enderverse history but also in Ender’s Game itself.  I was looking forward to finding out more about him and about how he ended up in the crucial battle that ended the first Formic War.  While I understand the need to flesh out the characters that he will (presumably) be working with, I do wish that plotline had moved more quickly so as to get back to him.

Despite the fact that almost every character is new to longtime readers, the authors draw them skillfully enough that longtime readers will still care about them.  The trials faced by the families on El Cavador start small and slowly get larger until the novel’s climax.  And Card and Johnston don’t pull any punches either—don’t expect any character to be “safe” just because they seem to have a large role in the story.  This is war, and quite realistically, nobody is completely safe when the weapons start firing.

I really got into the action in this book.  There are not only the encounters between Formics and humans, but there are conflicts among the ships in the Kuiper belt.  The corporate ship mentioned in the synopsis plays a large role in setting up the conditions into which the first Formic ship arrives, and much of the action flows from that single incident.  It’s a cascade of believable circumstances that set up what happens down the line, and I for one was completely hooked into watching the chain of events play out.  I even felt bad for the characters who had bad things happen to them.

Although the last Enderverse novel disappointed me, Earth Unaware is a triumphant return to the solid, compelling storytelling of the original Ender’s Game.  There’s lots of history to explore in this classic storyline, and Card and Johnston lay out the first Formic War in grand style.  I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next novel in this series.

Also by Orson Scott Card: Empire, Ender in Exile, Ender’s Game, Invasive Procedures (with Aaron Johnston), The Lost Gate, Magic Street, Shadow of the Giant, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, Shadows in Flight, A War of Gifts

Also by Aaron Johnston: Invasive Procedures (with Orson Scott Card)

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 29, 2012.

Series: The First Formic War
ISBN: 9780765329042
Publisher: Tor
Page Count: 368
Publication Date: July 17, 2012
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Orson Scott Card’s website
Aaron Johnston’s website
Read an excerpt