"EARTH AWAKENS: The First Formic War No. 3," by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, Tor Hardcover, $25.99, 400 pages (f)
Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston deliver an action-packed, thrilling conclusion to their First Formic War trilogy in “Earth Awakens.”
The authors are on familiar ground in the final act of the story about Earth’s disastrous first encounter with an insectlike alien race that seems determined to colonize the planet, removing all existing life in the process.
The trilogy forms a prequel to Card’s classic science fiction novel “Ender’s Game,” even though it is set almost 100 years before that volume. But there is no question that Ender’s world is created largely by the events presented here, and each installment foreshadows much of what Card’s fans call the “Enderverse” — especially this final act.
“Earth Awakens” picks up where “Earth Afire” leaves off, with the aliens called “formics” terraforming large swaths of China and killing millions in the process. The alien’s main ship is in orbit around Earth and is about to be boarded by a young asteroid miner, Victor Delgado, one of a handful of protagonists through whom the story is told.
Another is Mazer Rackham, the Maori soldier who is the only character here to also appear in "Ender’s Game." (How he makes that time leap is explained in “Ender’s Game.”)
What follows is intricate plotting, plenty of intense action and elaborately choreographed battle scenes, both on the planet and in space, that will delight military-minded readers. It includes a fair amount of mayhem, alien gore and human casualties.
It is the fully drawn characters — flawed but for the most part well-intentioned — who keep the story alive and interesting, however. One of the strongest elements of the authors' writing is in their ability to give real personalities to characters and then to show us what motivates them. This includes foolish military commanders whose failure to act threatens the planet, as well as misguided captains of industry whose desire for glory overrides common sense.
It's a lot of territory to cover, and shifting the point of view between four main protagonists makes that possible while maintaining dramatic tension from start to finish.
Card and Johnston avoid the use of foul language common in many novels about soldiers in battle, and there is no sex in “Earth Awakens.” The violence is detailed but not gratuitous.
Marc Haddock has been a newspaperman for 35 years and is currently a marketing writer for Xactware.