- Part of the Enderverse
- The First Formic War (#1)
- Published by Tor
- First published in 2012
- Military SF
- 444 pages
Something is coming. An alien object, possibly a spaceship, is hurtling towards the Earth, But the only ones who know are the crew of a remote asteroid mine, and they have more immediate concerns . . .
Because I know someone will bring it up sooner or later, I’m going to kick this review off with a disclaimer. Orson Scott Card is a controversial figure. If you disapprove of his views, that is perfectly understandable. If you don’t want to read his work as a result, that is valid. But I personally am uncomfortable with the idea of blacklisting someone’s creative endeavours due to their personal and political beliefs and opinions. If those opinions bleed through to their work, then it’s fair game. If not, then it isn’t. Ultimately, I am not here to sit in judgement over Orson Scott Card. I am here to review a book. So let’s get on with that.
Earth Unaware is very much the opening of a larger series. It is almost entirely comprised of set-up for events further down the road. That’s fine, and is indeed the job of a trilogy’s opening volume, but it does mean that the plot arcs are a mixed back. Everything that happens in space is thrilling. Everything that happens back on Earth fails to launch.
In space we have asteroid miners – a favourite trope of mine – and the squabbling between independent family businesses and corporate heirs really builds the sense of a new frontier. There’s some weird stuff at the start about falling in love with your cousin, but that is mercifully swept aside quite quickly. The struggles of the Delgados feel rooted in reality, and the whole mining endeavour is very plausible. To an extent, it’s reminiscent of the Belter culture from James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse, minus the alien plagues and Martians.
I also found that the playing out of first contact with the Formics felt real in a way that is unusual for more space operatic books like this. The encounters are brief and terrifying, with word spreading through rumour and grainy footage. I’m hoping that future books will go into more detail about the ambitions and origins of the Formics, but here they serve their purpose as an unknowable and terrible foe.
All things considered, this is a very good entry point to a larger saga. It works as both the first book of a trilogy and as the launching point for a universe as a whole. This may be my first Orson Scott Card, but it won’t be my last.
Deeper Dive: Starting at the Start
My personal experience with Card’s work is extremely limited. I have read some of his short fiction, and I’m fairly certain I’ve come across an Ender Wiggin short story at some point. I have, however, never read Ender’s Game. I have seen the most recent film adaptation, which I rather enjoyed, but I am in no rush to read the novel that started it all. School settings are a pet hate of mine, and I feel I have absorbed much of the general story through osmosis at this point.
Yet I do enjoy a lengthy literary universe. The Enderverse provides exactly that, with several series falling under its umbrella. When I approach a universe I am unfamiliar with, there are a few options. The obvious choice is to head straight for the most famous work. But do that, and how can anything else compete? A lot of people I know are vocal that publication order is the only choice. While I think they are right in most cases, I prefer to start at a different beginning.
I like to approach fictional settings as if they have a real history. So I go to the earliest book in terms of internal chronology. I read prequels before originals. I read spin-offs alongside the main series. I’m not someone who worries a great deal about spoilers. It is, after all, all fictional anyway. I don’t merely want a good story. I want to lose myself in a future history that will never happen.
And sometimes, as in the case of the Enderverse, the earliest book is also the one I happen to see on sale first.
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