Posted June 4, 2013 by Colin O'Boyle in Books & Comics

Book Review: ‘Earth Afire’

When the Formics invade Earth, it’s not pretty. (Both inside the story and out.)

I’m not sure if you’ve read Orson Scott Card’s science-fiction novel, “Ender’s Game,” dear readers, but it is fantastic. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone A) because there’s a movie coming out soon and B) “Ender’s Game” probably has one of the best twists in a sci-fi novel ever. I’m a big fan of Card’s, and I even got to meet him at Quail Ridge Books & Music, a store near where I live in North Carolina. He’s a great speaker, and I enjoy his work very much. So when I heard that “Earth Afire” was coming out, I was really excited. “Cool,” I thought. “We get to learn more about what life on Earth was like when humanity and the Formics first encounter each other.” Unfortunately, the book failed to live up to my expectations.


Not as good as this one, essentially.

First off, “Earth Afire” was a joint venture between Mr. Card and screenwriter Aaron Johnston. I’ve not read anything else by Mr. Johnston, and I’m not sure how much of “Earth Afire” he wrote, but I definitely felt a lack of Card’s style in this book. If it hadn’t been about the Formics or if Mazer Rackham hadn’t been a main character, I would not have thought Card had anything to do with this novel at all.

I’ve come to expect an attention to detail in Card’s work, descriptions in terms of the senses that put me into the world of the story without my even realizing it. But “Earth Afire” left me high and dry in that regard. That’s not to say there weren’t any sensory details. For example, when the Formics land on Earth and start scooping up all the once-living things they’ve killed, they pile all the dead matter into big heaps of decomposition. I remember one good line about a putrid odor on the wind, and “The smell of rotten flesh.”

And one of the really cool machines from the book, the drill sledges–essentially drill cars like the ones from the “G.I. Joe” movie–has to keep its interior exceedingly cold in order to protect its driver from the intense heat of its drill. So a pivotal scene near the end of the novel where a few characters are using them to make an attack on a Formic base made me shiver sympathetically. But overall, I felt like there was a layer of smoked glass between the main characters and myself. They’d say and do things, and their inner lives were somewhat better described, but the things that happened to them seemed distant to me.

Truth be told, my Ender-verse history was somewhat rusty on reading “Earth Afire,” so things that initially confused me (like the fact that the Formics came to Earth at all), can’t be laid at the feet of the authors. I also liked the character of Bingwen very much, and he is where I saw Card’s writing voice the strongest. (I’m going to be very embarrassed if I learn that Card had almost nothing to do with him.) Like Ender and Bean, characters that will fight the Formics a century after the events of “Earth Afire,” Bingwen is brilliant,  unafraid and a child. Adults, Mazer Rackham included, want to protect Bingwen from danger because he’s so young. But he knows that trying to save him/keep him from danger might end up costing the lives of the human race.

Certain aspects of this novel worked better for me than others. For example, we got to see where the Dr. Device from “Ender’s Game” comes from in the glaser developed by the Juke Corporation. (Originally designed to destroy asteroids for their minerals.) We get a more intimate look into the life of Mazer Rackham, the man who would destroy the Second Invasion’s Queen, and a closer insight into what life on Earth was like when the Formics came. I appreciated Victor Delgado (the man who warns Earth about the incoming Formic ship) and his frustration with Earth’s fractiousness nature. The fact that our nations squabble amongst themselves while an alien ship that killed many of Victor’s friends and family enrage/baffle (enraffle?) him, and the authors did a great job of getting that emotion across.

So all in all, “Earth Afire” is an okay read. If you’re interested in picking up a copy, you can find it here on Amazon. Let me know what you think.

Any Ender fans in the audience? How excited are you for the movie? Be sure to check out the trailer on Geek Smash TV (and don’t forget to subscribe).


Colin O'Boyle

Colin wears many hats (only some of which are trilbies). He's a writer of strange and sundry things, from novellas about smugglers on a flying ship to short stories about the perfect prison of the future. He works in digital marketing and has a master's degree in creative writing. In his free time he likes to read (especially anthologies of the Year's Best speculative fiction), play video games (can't wait for Fallout 4!), and he enjoys making board and card games as well.