Earth Afire (First Formic War)

Image of Earth Afire (The First Formic War)
Release Date: 
June 2, 2013
Tor Books
Reviewed by: 

“. . . it’s great to see that Orson Scott Card is still making magic . . .”

The idea of a prequel trilogy to a science fiction classic hasn’t always turned out well, as some Star Wars fans might lament. But Orson Scott Card has no such problems describing the alien blitzing of earth that set up Enders Game.

Before Ender takes to the big screen in November featuring Harrison Ford, readers can learn how the ruthless bug-like aliens first attacked the planet in The Formatic Wars trilogy.

Mr. Card teamed with advertising specialist Aaron Johnston here, and the writing remains engaging, with likable heroes and slimy power brokers that the heroes have no choice but to trust when humanity is threatened.

The first book in the series, Earth Unaware is mostly about asteroid miners trying to warn Earth of the approaching alien ship after they failed to stop it. In Earth Afire the Formatic mothership is practically on the planet’s doorstep when Victor Delgado escapes the carnage of the space battle to deliver a video of the aliens to the lunar base.

Although it’s posted over the Internet, his video is treated as seriously as a Big Foot sighting. Victor Eventually succeeds in spreading the word after convincing mega rich space mogul Ukko Jukes to confirm his findings, but the reaction of the world body is underwhelming.

Instead of preparing for war, they ignore the trail of blasted out space ships and ready a peace offering. After the Formatics turn their goodwill ambassador and news cameras into laser fodder, the governments can’t join together for a coordinated response. The aliens attack China first, setting down three massive landers, but the Chinese refuse outside assistance.

I’d like to say that in reality we’d put our differences aside and defend the planet. Something tells me Mssrs. Card and Johnston have it right. Bureaucracy and politics often prevent common sense from prevailing.

Another poignant commentary on human nature is Lem Jukes trying to leverage the invasion to take control of the corporate empire from his father. Fiction isn’t the only place where businessmen see bloodshed and ponder how they could make a fortune off it. In this case, Victor knows Lem is up to no good, but he needs his money to launch a sneak attack on the alien mothership.

The novel follows a host of characters that are on the front lines of the invasion. Eight-year-old Bingwen has big dreams despite living in a simple Chinese village, but the alien lander devastates his valley. The Formatics emerge from the ship spraying toxins that instantly kill all living things, from people to plants, and then strip the soil bare.

Bingwin forms an unlikely team with Lieutenant Mazer Rackham, who came from New Zealand to train the Chinese army and defies orders by helping their civilians. Mazer initially rescues the boy, but much like Ender, the kid proves useful on the battlefield.

The only character arc that does not mesh well is following Victor’s mother with the remaining mining crew as they look to earn their keep on a new ship as it was not clear how this relates to the core invasion story, but perhaps it is setting up something for the third book in the trilogy.

The good thing about this prequel is that while the reader knows who wins the war, the fate of the engaging characters in this story is up in the air.

Thirty-five years after he introduced Ender to the world, it’s great to see that Orson Scott Card is still making magic in this imaginative world.