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Earth Unaware - Audiobook Review

Earth Unaware: The First Formic War
Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki and Cast
Macmillan Audio, 14 hours

Victor is an apprentice mechanic to his father, the person responsible for maintaining life-support and other essential systems on board the mining ship, El Cavador. A gifted student with a natural ability to understand all things mechanical, Victor is already a valuable member of the ship’s crew, although he’s still a teenager. But it is his dedication to ideals instilled by his family and his sense of responsibility that may catapult him into the history books of the First Formic War.

Moored to an asteroid out in the lonely Kuiper Belt, El Cavador’s crew is made up of a large Venezuelan family that eeks out a living by mining heavy metals from space rocks.  They are only one of a far-flung group of independent family clans known as Free Miners. Free Miners are always on the lookout for other clan ships which they can dock with in order to exchange news, trade for supplies and arrange marriages between the clans.

 When El Cavador’s sensors pick up a small speck in distant space, it’s obvious this is no lumbering sister mining ship. In fact, it’s travelling too fast to be a human ship of any kind and when that realization sets in, attention turns from concern about each other to a growing fear for the entire human race.

For those of us who’ve always wondered what happened before Ender Wiggin’s decisive defeat of the Formics, Orson Scott Card is finally revealing those events in a trilogy prequel to Ender’s Game. Subtitled The First Formic War, it holds out the promise of epic battles and unflinching heroism to defeat the ant-like alien invaders. However, while there is plenty of heroism, this first title in the trilogy only teases with a few small skirmishes between humans and aliens.

 The story is told from three different vantage points. The majority of the story is related from the perspective of the crew of El Cavador – their encounters with the Formics and their attempts to warn an unsuspecting Earth. The concept of a society built upon the existence of “family” ships, with each ship representing a different nationality or ethnic group is a part of Card’s universe I particularly enjoyed. My only complaint with the Free Miners is that too much time was spent with character development at the expense of action and moving the story forward.

 Listeners are also introduced to a likely villain in the form of Lem Jukes, son of corporate mining mogul Ukko Jukes and a force to be reckoned with in his own right. He and a select crew are also in the Kuiper Belt, testing a new piece of mining equipment. The success of this prototype has the potential to make millions for the company and Lem is determined to make it work at any cost.

 The third perspective comes from Earth in the form of an elite fighting force recruited from top special forces recruits from nations across the globe. Their commander will stop at nothing make his squad the most deadly group of fighters on the planet. Ironically, most of the military action and battle scenes are provided by this group – the only ones stuck on planet Earth. Still, it doesn’t take much extrapolation to see that men brave enough to fight and defeat the human terrorists, dictators, and drug lords of this world will undoubtedly be up for fighting the aliens from another world.

The book is narrated by Stephen Hoye, Arthur Morey, and Stefan Rudnicki; with Vikas Adam, Emily Janice Card, Gabriel de Cuir and Roxanne Hernandez.  In general, scenes that focus on female characters are read by female narrators, while scenes with males are voiced by male narrators.

Narrators do not take individual character’s “parts” but read entire sections or chapters. I’m still debating the advantages of this approach. It doesn’t eliminate men voicing female characters or women voicing male characters, because the readers narrate chapters at a time – chapters which often have dialog between men and women. I suppose the different voices do add variety and if the sound of one particular narrator is not particularly pleasant to your ear, you at least know it won’t be long before someone else will have their “turn” to narrate a passage.

 Whatever the reason for multiple narrators, the entire cast does an excellent job and it’s a pleasure to listen to the book. Everyone reads with emotion and captures the essence of the characters they voice. Switching between different voices is not jarring at all, Surprisingly, the various voices helped to hold my attention, which was not an easy task as the story has a slow start. You’ll need to be patient with this one while it lays the groundwork for things to come. It gradually picks up steam and by the midpoint, both the pacing and the narration seem to become tighter, creating energy and excitement about what’s going to happen next.  

It’s been a long time since I’ve read Ender’s Game, so I can’t speak to continuity issues or how characters in this novel may relate to events in Ender’s Game. However, I don’t think this is a novel that stands on its own, as its main purpose feels like a set-up for the second volume in the trilogy. But endings count for a lot, and in this case, the ending is a cliff-hanger that makes the slow start worthwhile. It has me looking forward to the inevitable confrontation and to see where all of the pieces from this first book will fit in the next installment.

As an added bonus, there is a short interview with Orson Scott Card. He discusses his enjoyment of audiobooks and how, when he writes his books, “I write them to be performed.” As an audiobook fan, it’s nice to hear an author say that – I sure wish more had that same attitude.

For those who’ve never read Ender’s Game, or maybe read it many years ago, this book offers a convenient way to ease into Card’s classic work for the first time or as a re-visit. But for die-hard Enderverse fans, the jury may still be out until round two of this trilogy is published.

Thanks to Macmillan Audio for providing a review copy of this title.