Friday, June 27, 2014

Earth Awakens Sets A Stage For Ender

Set nearly a century before Ender's Game, Earth Awakens is the third installment of the First Formic War trilogy by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. The series tells the story of first contact between humans and aliens, beginning in the furthest reaches of the solar system and concluding in near orbit around Earth and on mainland China.

As much as the story is a science fiction prequel, it is also about the transformation of four protagonists, some of whom play prominent roles in future shorts, stories, and novels. They include the Venezuelan free miner and mechanic Victor Delgado, corporate raider and heir apparent Lem Jukes, the insightful 8-year-old Chinese prodigy Bingwen, and the half-Maori New Zealander military operative Mazer Rackham.

At the same time, the co-authors still leave room to develop supporting characters. Imala Bootstamp expresses her independence despite her obvious affection for Victor. Rena Delgado is slowly accepting her role as the matriarch of the Delgado family. Ukko Jukes walks a thin line between being the stereotypical near-omnipotent puppet master and a misunderstood interstellar visionary and entrepreneur. (Most people assume the stereotype rings true, but Lem is not a reliable narrator.)

The conclusion wraps up the trilogy tightly. The end. 

As the conclusion to the trilogy, there are far fewer surprises than in the first two books. And in an attempt to maintain continuity between the novels and graphic novels, Johnston takes fewer liberties with the story. There isn't enough room to do it, creating a relatively brisk place to align the events and characters with the greater Ender universe.

While there is nothing wrong with that, some readers will find the third book to be overly predictable despite the well-written, realistic descriptions of war and numerous philosophical inquiries into the moral and ethical execution of it. Still, Johnston and Card offset the rigid timeline with characters worth caring about.

Bingwen easily becomes a favorite as an innocent and super-intelligent child that is the hallmark of those who will eventually be recruited into the future Battle School. Lem Jukes undergoes a partial transformation from a ruthless industrialist struggling in the shadow of his father desire for his own successes into a man who is willing to place his home planet over profits. Victor and Mazer transpose each other's transformation with Victor becoming cooler and Mazer warmer as the result of their respective experiences. People learn different lessons from the same experiences.

Most of the action plays out against a surprisingly short timeline. As Lem Jukes works to ensure Victor and Imala may find a weakness in Formic defences, Bingwen and Mazer bide time in war torn China, where the bulk of the terraforming and mass extinction is taking place. It isn't until after a rogue mission to the Formic ship that the story lines find their natural convergence.

Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston wrap up Act I.

While Earth Awakens is weakest installment, it is also the tightest in that it required the most discipline to complete. The story evolves and concludes the way it does because there is only one way it may conclude. That in and of itself most fans will find satisfying, especially those really wanted the trilogy to remain intact without the year-long wait between publishing dates.

Where Johnston and Card excel in the telling of this installment is in solidifying our empathy for Bingwen, appreciating the dual complexity of Lem Jukes, and placing Mazer on the pedestal he will eventually ascend to in his career. In some cases, the foreshadow into the Second Formic War could not be made more clear.

Earth Awakens By Orson Scott Card Orbits 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Earth Awakens is a necessary installment in the greater universe of Ender's Game. As such, it accomplishes what it set out to do but without the tension brought to bear in Earth Afire or the mystery of man's first steps toward the stars in Earth Unaware. The novel make a bigger impact as part of the trilogy than it does as a standalone. It's the perfect launch point for what's next.

While this trilogy is complete, Johnston confirmed last year that he will be working on a second trilogy focused on the Second Formic War. The completed manuscript is due this year, placing it on track for an early 2015 release date. Johnston and Card are likely to enjoy more freedom in writing it.

Earth Awakens (The First Formic War) by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston is available on Amazon. Earth Awakens is also available for download for iBooks or as an audiobook via iTunes. The narrators of the audiobook include the same cast as the first two novels, making for a lively and entertaining production. You can also order Earth Awakens by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston from Barnes & Noble.
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