- Part of the Enderverse
- The First Formic War (#2)
- Published by Tor
- First published in 2013
- Military SF
- 517 pages
Humanity is not alone in the universe. Dubbed ‘Formics’ the antlike aliens have cut a brutal path to Earth. Even with greater numbers on our side, can a divided humanity hope to emerge triumphant . . ?
I have to admit to a slight sense of disappointment when it comes to Earth Afire. You see, the first book in this Ender’s Game prequel trilogy took place in space, in a world of asteroids and miners and space-dwelling families. It was a brilliant setup, especially as disparate families were brought together to fight a single, seemingly unstoppable alien warship. So much of that worldbuilding and plot development has been stripped away in this second book that it’s hard not to see it as something of a reset. Shuffle around a character or two, and this could easily be the first book in a series.
Earth Afire takes place almost entirely on Earth, first as the Formics approach, and then when the ground invasion begins. We meet a slew of new characters (to replace those who were unceremoniously killed off in Earth Unaware), and bit part players from earlier in the series take centre stage here. Victor Delgado takes a backseat to Mazer Rackham as the central protagonist. Lem Jukes remains solidly throughout, and is a fair bit more complex than the other protagonists.
With the overall story having shifted from first contact to alien invasion, we get treated to a book full of humans being unable or unwilling to work alongside each other. The Russians hate the French. The Americans distrust the Chinese. And so on, and so on. One thing I think Card and Johnston did very well is make the Formic invasion feel like a genuinely global threat. This isn’t yet another tale of the United States facing the danger alone. Setting the action in China, and viewing much of it through the lens of a Chinese boy and his family, makes for a nice change of scenery, and it’s refreshing to see an invasion that doesn’t immediately head for recognisable landmarks. Though I admit, that is more of a movie phenomenon than a literary one.
Everything in here works well, but aside from a few innovations in setting, it all feels par for the course when it comes to invasion literature. The sense is very much that this part of the story only exists to get us to the next step. That might be an odd criticism for a prequel novel, but as someone who is generally a fan of middle books in series, I was surprised by how lacking in tension this one is. It serves its purpose well enough, but there’s not much more depth to it than that.
Still, if this is only the stepping stone to another, stronger book, I’ll take it. The first Formic War is nearly at an end, and I want to see how it pans out.
Deeper Dive: Spacing Out A Series
There are some people out there who refuse to read a series until it is complete. I’m not one of them. I have multiple ongoing series on my shelves. There are plenty of good books out there to fill the gap between favourites. Even when I have the completed series waiting for me, however, I don’t necessarily read them all back to back.
I’ve done that a couple of times, and often I find that spending too long in a single story grows tedious. There’s a reason trilogies exist instead of thousand page novels, after all. It’s good to space things out. That way, the story stays fresh and exciting. It allows you to dip in and out so you don’t grow bored of a story. More than that, stretching out a series allows you to spend more time in a universe without the burden of doing it all at once. There’s more time to think about the books on an individual level, rather than just ploughing through them in one go.
There’s no wrong way to read a series, but shaking it up with gaps between books might just give you a new perspective on things. Why not try it out?
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