Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: "Earth Unaware: The First Formic War" (NO SPOILERS)

Just got done reading Earth Unaware: The First Formic War,the prequel to Ender's Gameby Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. Here goes...

Overall, it's a pretty good book. It begins with a bang--the Formic starship is discovered in the first chapter. No slow buildup there. The initial battles between the asteroid miners and the Formics are entertaining. In particular a daring mission to the Formic ship realistically has things go wrong. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy after all.

The opening of the book also shows some of the limitations on personal freedom that would exist in a deep-space mining environment. In my opinion this wouldn't be enough to justify imposing legal limits on who can colonize space or claiming space colonization is fraught with ethical issues--I kid you not, some members of my alternate-history message board believe this--but it contrasts nicely with overly-idealistic frontier depictions.

I did like the character of Lem Jukes, son and heir of one of the solar system's richest men and the commander of a corporate expedition testing out a prototype "glaser" (gravity laser). He seems decent enough deep down--and there are several, in TVTropes terms, "pet the dog" moments that show this--but his desire to prove himself to his father leads him to do some downright nasty things. And much of his inner monologue seems to devoted to finding ways to blame other people for what happened.

I liked how they made the mining ship El Cavador and its crew Venezuelan. That's pretty creative. I've never read anything centered around a group of Venezuelans in deep space, facing an alien invasion.

Finally, after a character goes to all kinds of trouble to get from the Kuiper Belt to the lunar colonies with information on the coming alien invasion, he promptly gets arrested for his highly-illegal method of arrival. The way it's handled is actually kind of amusing.

However, there are some problems. When Lem has to manipulate one of his employees into doing some underhanded but necessary (for him) task, he and another character hash out just how they're going to get him to do the job, then they call him in and it pretty much goes exactly according to plan. Exactly. It would have been better to have something throw Lem and friends for a loop, or skip Lem hashing out the plan. The text could have Lem saying something like, "I've got an idea..." and then we cut to the idea actually being implemented.

Also, when we first meet Lem, how they're going to interfere with the crew of El Cavador is pretty obviously foreshadowed. That's better than it not being foreshadowed at all, but was rather predictable.

Finally, we briefly meet Mazer Rackham, who will play a major role in Ender's Game. However, the focus is taken off him to follow a character who will probably play a major role in shaping Rackham into the man he will be later. It would have been better for Rackham to play a much larger role in the story than he does. There's setting up stuff for the sequel, and then there's pushing forward something that would be really interesting now into the sequel.

Still, it's an entertaining book and it sets up the trilogy depicting the first war very nicely. 8 out of 10. Here's to a trilogy covering the First Formic War and the Second Formic War.

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