Sunday, July 15, 2012

Review: Earth Unaware

Title: Earth Unaware
Author: Orson Scott Card, Aaron Johnston
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9780765329042
Series: The First Formic War #1
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2012
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: eArc from publisher


Buy it from:
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Amazon.com
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A hundred years before Ender's Game, humans thought they were alone in the galaxy. Humanity was slowly making their way out from Earth to the planets and asteroids of the Solar System, exploring and mining and founding colonies.

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.

But the ship has other problems. Their systems are old and failing. The family is getting too big. There are claim-jumping corporates 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. This is humanity's first contact with an alien race. The First Formic War is about to begin.
In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game we never got the complete backstory of how humanity found itself in a situation so desperate that it became acceptable to use children in war. There were hints and brief references to the Formic Wars, but the details were largely left to the readers’ own imagination. In Earth Unaware, co-authored by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, we finally get to see how it all began. Buckle up, double-check your spacesuit, clip on your lifeline and prepare yourself - the buggers are coming and it’s going to be one hell of a ride!

Earth Unaware follows three main story lines. The first, and most important, is that of seventeen year old Victor Delgado onboard the El Cavador, a family-run mining ship eking out an existence in the Kuiper Belt. Then there’s the ruthless Lem Jukes onboard the Makarhu who will stop at nothing to prove himself to his father, the founder of Jukes Enterprises, the largest space-mining corporation in the solar system. Lastly, back on Earth, there’s Wit O’ Toole, the leader of the Mobile Operations Police - an elite peace keeping force tasked with training for any eventuality.

It took me only 19 pages to be completely engrossed in the story. Card and Johnston manages to fill the novel with such well-crafted and believable characters that you are emotionally invested in their lives almost immediately. The novel kicks off with a pivotal moment in Victor’s life when Alejandra, his second cousin and childhood friend, is sent away due to fears that they might be falling in love.
“It was as if the boundary between friendship and love was so thin and imperceptible that one could cross it without even knowing it was there.”
(p 16)
From that point onward I was completely hooked. Why? It’s simple - the attention to detail which brings the whole world to life. The authors went so far as to imagine how relationships/marriages would work for these isolated miner families. Inbreeding is seen as the ultimate taboo which, should it be allowed, would put the entire family into disrepute and make them outcasts amongst the miner community.

The world-building is top-notch and the amount of thought that went into portraying the dangerous and isolated life onboard a space-mining ship and the entire infrastructure needed to sustain the miners really stood out. The vastness of space is used to great effect and throughout the novel you are constantly reminded of just how perilous life at the fringe of the solar system is.

After the El Cavador detects a mysterious object entering the solar system things come to a head and the pace picks up considerably. There’s never a dull moment and the action sequences, especially those with the Formic encounters, will have your heart pounding. The pages just flew by and towards the end I reached a stage where I slowed my reading just to make the novel last a little bit longer.

Ultimately this is the story of how a disparate group of individuals facing insurmountable odds band together in order to ensure the survival of the rest of the human race. They don’t hesitate to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. To borrow from the afterword – “We knew from the get-go that we weren’t writing Ender’s Game. This wouldn’t be the story of a single hero; it would be the story of many”. And that’s precisely what it is.

Since this is the first novel in a trilogy the ending leaves lots of things unresolved, but there is enough closure to make it a satisfying read. Earth Unaware stands well on its own and with the Ender’s Game movie currently in production it might just be a good entry point for a new generation of Ender fans.

My only complaint is that there seems to be the potential for a rather large discrepancy in continuity with the events in Ender’s Game, but I’ll have to wait to see what happens in the rest of the trilogy before I can tell if that’s in fact the case.

The Verdict:
Earth Unaware is a stunning read filled with fascinating characters, lots of suspense and emotional turmoil that will have you at the edge of your seat. You don’t need to have read Ender’s Game to enjoy this, but for fans this will be a welcome return to the Enderverse. If you read only one science fiction novel this year it should be this one.

Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10

Earth Unaware will be released on 4 June 2012

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