The Swarm: The Second Formic War #1
by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston
Cover Artist: John Harris
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765375629
Date: 02 August 2016 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The Swarm is another excellent book by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston that chronicles the citizens of Earth preparing for a second attack by an alien species. In the first attack, Earth learned a lot and they are moving forward quickly, but the same old human traits of self-promotion and greed slow the pace at times. The Swarm is a great and intricate novel full of advanced technology and great characters and is fun to read.
The Swarm, by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, is the continuation of a trilogy of novels about the citizens of Earth against an alien race. There is plenty of information in The Swarm to follow the story even if you have not read the previous novels, but I recommend that you read them. They are: Earth Unaware, Earth Afire, and Earth Awakens. I loved them. The plot of The Swarm is extremely complicated and for the sake of the review on The Swarm I will summarize the trilogy. The information in my summary is not necessary to understand the rest of the review. You can skip this part if you want because there are spoilers for the general plot of the trilogy, but I am not giving away any details. There are no spoilers for The Swarm.
The story of the trilogy covers the First Formic War on Earth. Formics are an alien race that are the size of a 10-year-old human and physically resemble ants. They do not speak, but communicate telepathically among themselves and with their Hive Queen at a remote location that runs their race. The trilogy follows three plotlines.The Swarm picks up three years after the First Formic War. The Formics came to Earth as an advance party for their civilization, with the intent of destroying all human life and taking over the planet. Fortunately for Earth, the humans were able to defeat them using both a little bit of skill and a little bit of luck.
The plot of The Swarm is immensely complex but in the three years since the war, the people on Earth have realized that they are facing a much more technologically-advanced species, and that they better prepare for the Formics return. The countries of Earth have unified their government and the military forces have joined together in the International Fleet, or IF. The plot can be broken down to three major plotlines.
Mazer Rackham, a Special Forces officer from New Zealand, was instrumental in stopping the Formics that landed on Earth in the first war, but his involvement has been kept Top Secret. Instead of being the international hero that he really is, Mazer is still as a regular officer in the IF. He is part of a group of teams that test new technology being developed by defense contractors to try and stop the Formics. Earth has a little bit of an advantage this time, because they captured the Formics' ship to help study their technology and they gained experience fighting the Formics on land.
Victor Delgado was also instrumental in stopping the Formics in the first war, but he has returned to his family-run mining ship in the Kuiper Belt. Even though Victor was a nobody prior to the first war, he is very tech-savvy and his ideas and inventions were useful in the first war, and he continues to be involved in development of new weapons to fight the Formics. Victor and Mazer know each other from the first war, and continue to stay in touch via email forums. Each is able to help the other as Mazer tests Earth's new weapons and Victor continues to develop improvements and have new ideas.
Lem Jukes is the owner of a large international company with huge manufacturing capability named Juke Ltd. In the first war, Juke Ltd. provided some of the resources to Victor that enabled him to capture the Formics' ship. Lem's father Uko ran the company then, but has since turned over the company to his son and Uko now to runs the world government. In the three years since the first war, Juke Ltd. has developed a huge research facility in space that is built in rings surrounding the Formic ship. Juke Ltd's team of scientists is working on weapons to breach the hull of the Formic ship, that is made of a material that nobody on Earth understands.
Overall, Earth's defenses have improved because the people of Earth now have to face an enemy that threatens the whole human race, and the various nations of Earth must work together to defeat it. Earth has a world government and a world military, but nothing ever operates smoothly. This is the overall theme beyond the plotline in The Swarm. If you consider all of the political infighting that we have in the US today, and magnify it to the scope of the world, then you have the world at the time of The Swarm. The people of Earth have made great progress, but it is difficult to combine a group that has so many cultures, ideas on leadership, and individual priorities.
Mazer learns this very quickly and at a personal level since he is involved in testing new equipment to breach the Formic hull. The equipment was designed by a defense company (other than Juke Ltd.) and Mazer has discussed various flaws he sees in the equipment with his commanding officer during the testing phase. Mazer's team has an accident during an operational test that injures one of the men on his team, and as Mazer confronts his commanding officer, he figures out that his commanding officer is corrupt and is dealing under the table with the contractor. In the overall theme of no government system is perfect, Mazer's commanding officer sends him to court martial for insubordination, to protect his own skin and to keep maintaining his questionable contract deals.
Since the first war, Earth has never determined exactly where in the universe the Formics originate, and has set up a large network of telescopes to watch outer space. The Formics are able to destroy the telescopes and the people of Earth realize the Formics are much closer than they originally thought. I don't want to give up too much more of the plot, but the people of Earth continue to develop more weapons to breach the Formic hull, more communications technology, and to develop battle tactics to fight the Formics. Mazer is heavily involved in training battle teams, and Victor and Juke, Ltd. continue to be involved developing technology.
Mazer is the perfect hero. He is smart, handsome, physically gifted, rational and reasonable. His role in the first war is classified, so instead of being a hero he is a criminal. If I tell you too much more, I will give away the story, but Mazer is able to have his charges dropped and return to service. The plot of The Swarm flows quickly, all the characters interact at many levels, and it is a great read.
I loved reading The Swarm. As an engineer, I like the postulated technological advancements and they are fun to consider too. I highly recommend The Swarm.