I have mixed feelings about reviewing Earth Unaware (The First Formic War) by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston.
I received an Advanced Reader Copy from my buddy, who, until recently, was relatively high up with a bookseller. I saw the plain white cover of the ARC at his apartment, and picked it up with no small degree of glee.
“Ooh! This isn’t due out until July!” I squealed.
“You want it? Take it.” My buddy said. He’s more into swords and magical rings than real life stuff like bug-eyed (literally) aliens and lasers.
Orson Scott Card was, at one point, my favorite writer. I read Ender’s Game in one day, finishing it on a family vacation sometime around two or three A.M., with a flashlight under the covers. I loved his short stories, the Alvin Maker series, the other Ender books, his one-offs like Enchantment and Magic Street and Lost Boys. So, it was with great excitement and joy that I began reading Earth Unaware.
Unfortunately, Earth Unaware is not a good book. It’s not a bad book, either. It’s not even really a book. Unbeknownst to me (I was Unaware?), Earth Unaware is a novelization of a comic book that Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston wrote earlier. And it reads like a novelization. There are obvious bits of padding, description of scenes that would work better in a visual medium, and stereotypical characters that read as if they were in a series of panels printed on cheap wood pulp.
So, that’s one reason why Earth Unaware isn’t really a book. Another reason is my experience upon reading about a third of the novel, then stopping for a break. I peered at the cover. The book says it’s the story of the first Formic War. A third of the way into the book, and the Formics/Buggers weren’t even on stage yet. I thought to myself, “Huh. Well, I suppose once the aliens do arrive, the pace must really pick up.” I thought back to Ender’s Game, and the description therein of the first Formic War. Space battles, hand to claw fighting in ships, the Razing of China. It seemed like a lot to fit into the rapidly diminishing pages.
And, of course, it was a lot. Too much, perhaps. Because Earth Unaware isn’t a complete story. It’s the first of (probably!) three novels about the First Formic War. I’m glad that Ender’s Game didn’t follow that trend. The whole first book of the Ender’s Game trilogy would have been Ender Unaware: The Kindergarten Adventures. It would have ended with him beating up the kindergarten bully, and (perhaps!) a teaser where the Battle School teachers show up at his house.
And then there’s Mazer Rackham.
You might remember Mazer Rackham. He’s the venerable sensei of Ender’s Game, the man who single-handedly won the Second Formic War. He was also a useless old bugger who didn’t play by the rules in Ender’s Game, so he was assigned to a fleet that wasn’t supposed to see any action. He never mentions any First Formic War experience.
Well, in Earth Unaware, he shows up as an elite-of-elite soldier, the creme-de-la-creme of all of the Earth’s warriors. I understand that in the later comics, the ones past the three that this book is based upon, he gets pretty involved in the resistance, and is (almost) single-handedly responsible for winning the First Formic War.
And then he’ll go on and win the Second. And in Ender’s Game, only the second will be brought up.
I don’t know. It could work, in the long run, and the subsequent novels. But it takes a lot of plot convolutions and sharp changes in character to get from the Mazer Rackham of Earth Unaware to the Mazer Rackham of Ender’s Game. It’s probably not worth it.
There’s a concept called “fan service”, where a writer will include bits of extraneous, plot-superfluous lines, costumes or characters, simply to satisfy long-time fans, who are (presumably) waiting around, twiddling their thumbs, until something familiar shows up. Mazer Rackham in Earth Unaware is anti-fan service. He shows up, and fans initially cheer, but then the Earth Unaware version begins to ruin the old version that we love.
Is Earth Unaware anti-fan service? No, it doesn’t retro-actively ruin the old books. It does take the First Formic War from the realm of the imagined, implicit to the land of fleshed out, explicit. And sure, something that fans have imagined for over twenty years cannot possibly live up to those expectations when it finally comes out. The book is not bad. It’s just not good. But for me, who imagined for twenty years what this aspect of the Enderverse’s history would be like – that’s a shame.
Final Verdict: 2 out of 5 compound eyes.