Friday, July 27, 2012

Earth Unaware Mines First Contact

There aren't any top science fiction lists that neglect Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. The high stakes game of interstellar conflict is a classic. The life and story of Ender Wiggin unforgettable.

Given that Ender's Game is also the most highly anticipated science fiction movie (November 2013), the timing for a new trilogy in the Ender's Game universe has never been better.

Earth Unaware is the story of first contact with the Formic. 

Set one hundred years before Ender's Game, humans still believe they are alone in the universe. Humanity is just starting to creep out to the furthest reaches of the solar system, hoping to mine asteroids in the remote and isolated Kuiper Belt.

There, in the cold vacuum of space, 30UA from the Sun (30 times the average distance of the Earth to the sun), a few families of free miners eke out an existence. Most of them have traveled this far out to avoid the petty squabbles and territorial disputes that frequently occur in the asteroid belt among themselves, space pirates and corporations.

Life on board the free miner ship El Cavador.

The work, however, is hard. Ships frequently travel for months before happening upon an asteroid with valuable ore. When they do, they tether their ship to it and send out suited miners to guide laser drills and collect the material.The worst environmental risk, besides the obvious loss of a life line (air and power) and a life spent in mostly zero gravity, is hitting a mining ice pocket that pitches ships off their axes. The worst societal risk is falling in love aboard a deep space miner populated by relatives.

It's a painful lesson for a young Venezuelan mechanic named Victor Delgado. In a preemptive move by ship seniors, his lifelong friend and second cousin Alejandra is to be quietly exiled to an Italian family of free miners. The decision creates an immediate and personal conflict, seemingly the most important in Victor's life until other threats materialize all around them.

Somewhere in deep space, traveling at near light speed toward their position, is the first alien ship ever detected by humans. Much closer 
to their position is the Jukes corporate ship under the command of Lem Jukes, who sees the asteroid claimed by the mining family to be the ideal target to test a new technology.

The handling of multiple story lines and the trilogy will baffle some.

Earth Unaware, The First Formic War, was released with several elephants between its pages. And because of this, it's best to dispense 
with them quickly because they've become sore spots for some.

It seems likely that the entire trilogy was written as one big book, making the decision on where to break the installments painfully suspect. It means Earth Unaware ends on an anticlimactic cliffhanger.

The cliffhanger feels especially disjointed because of the third storyline. It follows Wit O'Toole, the unsuspecting leader of an earthbound international peacekeeping force called Mobile Operations Police (MOPs) and made up of the world's military elite (and apparent predecessor to Wiggin's training camp).

It never also catches up to the primary story. Just one additional chapter could have made all the difference, even if O'Toole is properly poised to dominate book two.

Equally noticeable is that compared to the depth and prowess of Ender's Game, the novel feels considerably lighter than what Card fans are used to. However, the comic book thinness does evolve rather quickly. It reads like
 an opening flower, starting with the confined details of one mining ship and blossoming to include more and more of the universe as it existed 100 years before Wiggin.

The whole will be better than any one part of the trilogy.

The introduction will eventually pay off, especially for anyone being introduced to Ender's universe for the first time. It provides an opportunity to appreciate life before the constant threat of war and invasion.

It also shows why Card has always been astute voice in science fiction. His prose, even with the assist of author Aaron Johnston, is plausible enough to make science fiction feel physical and human enough to introduce characters who could exist in the present as they do in some far off future.

Specifically, Card and Johnston provide a glimpse of humanity at the predawn of 
interstellar travel, creating mining folklore not all that dissimilar to the American West. They also pen some vividly memorable characters. 
Delgado is a gifted but naive protagonist forced to grow up too early and Jukes is an exceptional transformative antagonist who is forced to grow up too late. 

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card Mines 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although Earth Unaware isn't Orson Scott Card's finest work, it still outshines many other authors who are extremely talented except by comparison. As long as anyone picking up the book is prepared for a disappointing place to break the trilogy, Card's disposition toward scenic writing is well worth it.

Earth Unaware, The First Formic War is available from Barnes & Noble. You can also find the novel on Amazon. The book can be downloaded from iBooks or as an audiobook from iTunes. The audiobook is read by seven different voices, which might even be an advantage over print in helping to further define various points of view.
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