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Earth Unaware: The First Formic War    by Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston order for
Earth Unaware
by Orson Scott Card
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Ender's Game, Ender Wiggins, youngest in a family of manipulative geniuses, was selected for ruthless training in the arts of war as humanity's last hope against annihilation by aliens. The epic continued with many excellent SF novels, including the spin-off series that began with Ender's Shadow. Now, Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston launch a new series, The First Formic War, revealing how humanity first became aware of the alien threat to its survival. They aptly open with Earth Unaware (first published in comics).

We meet one of many trading families who live and work on an asteroid-mining ship, El Cavador. Victor, a mechanical genius, is devastated because his cousin (and best friend) Alejandra is leaving 'the family forever, to marry into the Italian clan.' He feels that it's his fault - worried that he and Alejandra were getting too close (second cousins are not allowed to marry in these clans, where inbreeding is a taboo), the family Council made the arrangement.

Next, Janda's younger sister Edimar (an apprentice spotter who watches for movements in space 'that might pose a collision threat to the ship') asks for his help - she's observed an alien starship that 'might very well be headed for Earth.' Though Victor urges the Council to send out an immediate transmission of their finding, caution prevails. Victor and his father start working on their ship's defenses and weapons.

Another key player in the developing drama is Lem Jukes, heir to 'the largest space-mining corporation in the solar system' and captain of the Makarhu, whose objective is to test a new gravity laser. Lem is desperate to prove himself to his ruthless father and will take unwarranted risks to do so. He decides to test it on the asteroid being mined by El Cavador, and to bump them off their claim in order to do so. That action has severe consequences for them all.

Back on Earth, Captain Wit O'Toole seeks new candidates for his elite, international peacekeeping force, the Mobile Operations Police - one of these candidates is Mazer Rackham, well known to Ender fans for his key role in later events. And on the Moon, Apache Lunar Trade Department auditor Imala Bootstamp does too good a job, refuses a bribe, and is sidelined. But she'll soon have something even bigger to sink her teeth into.

When it becomes clear that the aliens 'will attack without provocation', and are an immediate threat to El Cavador and an eventual one to mankind, getting word to Earth becomes a priority, but the only way to do so is a long shot. Victor volunteers. But even if he reaches his goal, will he be able to find anyone to listen?

Despite having to establish baseline context and characters for this new series, Card and Johnston do an excellent job of keeping the action moving, as well as creating interest in the leads' personalities (whether admirable or not) and emotional lives. Earth Unaware is a rousing start to a thrilling new SF series and I can't wait for more of the First Formic War.

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