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Literature / Formic Wars

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Formic Wars is a science fiction series by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. It is a prequel to Card's Ender's Game series, and shows Earth's earlier encounters with the insect-like alien species that is the antagonist in Ender's Game.

The First Formic War trilogy consists of Earth Unaware, Earth Afire, and Earth Awakens. A Second Formic War trilogy is forthcoming and will consist of The Swarm, The Hive, and The Queens. There is also a Formic Wars comic book series, with the same authors, published by Marvel Comics.

This series contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: While the Ender's Game series ultimately established that the Formic Wars were the result of a fundamental misunderstanding between the Formics and humans, this series seems to characterize the Formics as an actively malicious force that is bent on conquering Earth and destroying all life on it.
    • This is because in Ender's Game, we have the benefit of hindsight. In this series, the war is currently raging, so naturally, the Formics are seen as genocidal monsters because for all we know, they want to wipe us out for being strange aliens.

  • Arrested for Heroism: After Mazer Rackham and the MOPs manage to destroy a Formic lander in China, they are greeted by Chinese soldiers and promptly arrested. The officer in charge thanks them for their heroism but explains them the long list of laws they violated in the course of their heroism. He thanks them and tells them that they're likely to be released and deported soon. At their incredulous looks, he laughs and tells them that all heroes in China get arrested at first. They're only released after the rest of the MOPs spread the news that it was General Sima (the commander holding Mazer and Wit) who orchestrated the attack on the lander. Sima is reluctantly forced to accept credit for something he didn't do (not that it makes a difference, as he is killed in battle a few days later, cementing his status as the hero of China) and has the MOPs placed under his command.
  • Artificial Gravity:
    • Pioneered by Jukes, Ltd., gravity lensing technology allows vehicles to fly without using wings, rotors, or rockets. The craft projects an artificial gravity source above it and shifts it forward, thus allowing the craft to counteract gravity and move forward. The tech is still in its infancy. During the first trilogy, the tech is mainly used to build a new type of evacuation helicopter.
    • Jukes, Ltd., is also secretly developing a new type of asteroid mining drill they call a "gravity laser" (or "glaser" for short). All indications are that this is the prototype tech for what would eventually become the "Little Doctor". The glaser proves to be too unpredictable for asteroid mining usage, even though it does the job (i.e. breaking the large rock down into its component molecules, which can then be "vacuumed up" into waiting tanks and sifted through). When the Formics attack, Ukko Jukes has his latest top-of-the-line prospecting drones refitted with the new glasers and sends a wing of them to take out the ship. They largely fail, although they do prove that Formic Deflector Shields don't stop glaser beams, since the hull of the ship is far too strong even for gravity to rip. They do, however, manage to damage some of the turrets, which ends up helping others later. Ukkko's son Lem expresses his concern over using glasers in Earth's orbit, claiming that a stray shot could do untold damage to the planet, possibly even vaporize it. Ukko brushes him off. Fortunately, none of the shots end up hitting Earth.
    • In order to counteract the unpredictable nature of the glasers, Lem has his scientists develop "shatterboxes", which consist of two boxes, connected by a flexible line, with a glaser in each. The idea is to launch the boxes like bolas at a Formic craft. When the glasers are diametrically opposite one another, they are to engage their beams, their combined energy multiplying the force but also confining the gravity field to avoid damaging anything else. While the cost of such a weapon are exorbitant (especially given the single use nature of them), several are made and end up being used during the final Space Battle.
    • Early in the second trilogy, Mazer and his team of IF marines are practicing a technique for landing on a Formic ship in tiny pods and deploying four shatterbox-like devices at key points around the outer hull. The idea is to then engage them in order to create a powerful gravity field that should tear the ship to pieces. Unfortunately, it's pointed out that the idea won't work on any large ship, since their outer hull is too strong for that (the gravity field might still do damage inside the ship, though, especially since Formics don't have this tech and operate in a zero-g environment).
  • Artistic License – Physics:
    • El Cavador has retro-rockets counteracting the pushing effect of the laser drill during mining operations. If a laser beam encounters a pocket of ice, it quickly cuts through it, and the ship "lurches" forward, as the forces acting on it are now out of balance. The problem is, lasers are not physical objects with which a ship touches the asteroid. The force pushing it back is from the laser firing, not from impacting the asteroid. therefore, it shouldn't matter how fast the laser is cutting through matter. Besides, such force would be negligible, the thrust of the retro-rockets would need to be minimal to compensate.
    • Also "gamma plasma": gamma radiation is photons, not matter like plasma. Which actually would make it a lot easier to focus into lasers. At least this is addressed in the second prequel trilogy, where a scientist explains that they keep using the name for lack of a better term, even though it's not a good description. They simply don't understand how it works, so they're forced to use a term given to them by an asteroid miner.
  • Asteroid Miners: Many mining ships prowl the Asteroid Belt and the Kuiper Belt of the Solar System in search of resource-rich asteroids. A good number of them belong to corporations, but some are owned and operated by families of free miners. El Cavador is one such ship, home to a Venezuelan clan. Despite being a decidedly one-sided battle, the free miners are the ones who put up the longest fight against the Formic ship, and Jukes mining ships were the ones who took down smaller fighters in Earth's orbit. In the Ender's Game audioplay, Graff mentions that the miners have since never let the fleet forget this, which is why the IF keeps all the coolest toys for itself.
  • Attack Drone: The first successful attack on the Formic mothership is performed using automated Jukes, Ltd., Vanguard prospector drones refitted with gravity lasers. All but one of the drones are shot down by the mothership's turrets. The remaining drone takes out some of the turrets and damages the ship but is destroyed by "gamma plasma" emitters before the gravity field can become strong enough to rip the mothership apart. Each drone costs the company a fortune, and the glasers are even more expensive.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Earth Unaware ends with El Cavador destroyed in the battle with the Buggers with Victor and a group of women and children as the only survivors. However, Victor manages to transmit the evidence of the Buggers' arrival to the Net, although the rumors of an alien invasion have already started to spread.
  • The Chessmaster: Say what you want about Ukko Jukes, but he know how to take advantage of any situation, even if that situation threatens humanity with extinction. From the moment he finds out about the Formics, he plans everything out to the point where, even if a certain step fails (like his extremely expensive Attack Drones failing to destroy the alien ship), he still comes out on top. In the meantime, he uses his global political connections to get the world leaders to form the International Fleet and the Hegemony. And, of course, who is best suited for the job of the Hegemon but the "visionary" who made it happen? He even accounts for the possibility of his son plotting to oust him from his own company by turning the tables on Lem... and then handing him the company as a consolation prize.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: In the second prequel, the Chinese military gives Bingwen, a young but brilliant farmboy, his own command, consisting of a few dozen soldiers. His superior hand-picks the soldiers, who are least likely to accept a child as an officer and replaces them as Bingwen brings them to his side. This is all done to train the boy for the realities of command.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: Why did the Formics destroy Weigh Station Four? It was on their trajectory to Earth. And they didnt even try to do it. It was simply a side effect of their periodic venting of gamma plasma.
  • Cool Plane: The hover-copters developed by Jukes, Ltd., use gravity-lensing technology to keep the craft aloft. It has backup rotors that can be deployed in about a second, in case the gravity lens fails. New Zealand contracts Jukes, Ltd., for two such craft. While it appears to be an exclusive agreement, it's pointed out that China is also interested in purchasing them. When someone complains, it's pointed out that China can order a lot more than two, and Jukes couldn't give a crap about such a tiny fish as New Zealand, when there's a whale like China on the hook. Notably, the New Zealand SAS plans to use the craft for evacuation rather than combat. They are to fly in low, keeping their radar profile as minimal as possible by nearly grazing treetops, deploy the mechanical arm, pick up the damaged tank or another vehicle, and get the hell out of dodge, while cutting it open and moving the crew/passengers up to the craft's cabin. Because it flies so low to the ground, it's stated that the deployable rotors are useless, as they would never have time to deploy before the craft hit the ground (this is later proven true, when the craft is hit by Formic fire).
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Ukko Jukes, the owner and CEO of Juke, Ltd. His son Lem shows traces of this as well, but Lem is more than willing to put his fortune and life on the line in order to save Earth from the Formics. Lem does make some questionable decisions, but he mostly acts like a good guy in the end (even giving Victor as parting gift in the form of top-of-the-line mining equipment for his clan, making sure that Victor couldn't say no).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • The attack on the Formic/Bugger starship by the Asteroid Miners (involving getting men on the surface of the ship and planting mines) is a spectacular failure. The Formic ship is only slightly damaged, while El Cavador is obliterated.
    • The so-called Battle of Cleopatra, where 64 corporate and free miner ships, hastily refitted with additional armor plates make a stand against the Formic ship. The Formic ship is barely damaged as it picks off the human ships one-by-one with its gamma laser turret.
    • Followed up by a multinational assault spearheaded by the US weaponizing dozens of shuttles and trying to take out the mothership's turrets and shield generator. Even less effective, as the space miners, at least, know how to fight in space. The attack does, however, serve to show that the Formics target the fastest-moving objects first, even if the slower-moving objects are more of a threat.
  • Deflector Shield: The Formic mothership and the landers are protected by shields impenetrable to conventional arms, although lasers and slow-moving objects are able to pass through it. The landers' shields don't extend underground. These are one of the first pieces of Formic tech to be reverse-engineered by Jukes, Ltd. In fact, they manage to improve on the design, making them more powerful.
  • Drill Tank: The Chinese have self-propelled drill sledges that are able to move through solid rock at 25 kph. In fact, they actually move faster through solid rock than through clay or soft soil, as their rate of movement is dependent on the strength of the jet of molten rock that spews out the back. Their range is pretty limited, though, being only about 10 kilometers. Seeking to buy them, the New Zealand SAS sends the newly-promoted Captain Mazer Rackham, as well as his men, to China to teach the Chinese how to pilot Juke-manufactured hover-copters while learning how to pilot the drill sledges. During the Formic invasion of China, these sledges prove invaluable to getting close to the Formic landing craft that otherwise shoots down any aircraft or land force attempting to get near.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Wit O'Toole manages to get from the surface of the mothership to the helm, slowly being poisoned by the intense radiation coming from the gamma plasma pulsing through the ship. Then, when he's just about ready to give up, his MOP comrades start a Navy SEAL cadence to encourage him to continue on, and he succeeds using that. Victor finds him later, dead from the radiation.
  • Hostile Terraforming: Victor hypothesizes that this is what the Buggers are doing when they defoliate the ground and scoop the dead biomass up, as well as dumping bacteria in the ocean. This conclusion is independently reached by Bingwen, a young Chinese boy with genius-level intelligence. Bonus points for never heard of such a concept before but deriving it based on his knowledge of farming. The officer escorting him to a school for children like him (and his future instructor) commends Bingwen not only for reaching this conclusion but also for even asking why the Formics are attacking (not a question that most people ask).
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • The gravity laser (AKA glaser) is a new mining drill developed by Juke, Ltd., to quickly and efficiently break apart asteroids for resources. The engineers claim that the bigger the asteroid, the larger the effect of the directed gravity field. When the Formics attack, none of the weapons in Earth's arsenal prove useful against the shielded Formic ships. Then Ukko Jukes suggests using the glaser, believing that the gravity field will pass right through the shields and break the enemy ships down into molecules.
    • Lem Jukes devises an alternative to make the glaser safer to the firing ship, as the first test against a large asteroid created an expanding field that nearly consumed the ship itself. The alternative involves two glasers being launched bola-style towards the target, attaching themselves at the poles, and firing glasers, which keeps the destructive field limited to the target itself. While the engineer in charge of the project claims that this is not cost effective (both enormously-expensive glasers would be destroyed in the process), Lem reveals that he plans for this to be used as a weapon against the Formics.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In The Swarm:
    Vaganov: "Careers like his implode sooner or later. Particularly considering this ridiculous tactic he's pursuing, the training of preteens for space combat. He can't expect anyone to take him seriously."
  • Kissing Cousins: Earth Unaware starts with Concepción calling Victor into her office and telling him that they're sending his second cousin and good friend Alejandra to live on an Italian miner ship, as all the adults can see that Victor and Alejandra are behaving more than just "good friends" or "good cousins". Victor is initially indignant of the notion that he would be "dogging" (i.e. marrying within the clan) but then realizes that he really did unconsciously love Alejandra. He accepts Concepción's decision for the good of the clan and refuses to see Alejandra off so as not to unintentionally reveal his affection to the Italians.
  • Love Interest:
    • Dr. Kim Arnsbrach for Mazer Rackham. They have an on-and-off relationship due to Kim's work and Mazer's military service. Mazer finally breaks it off for good, claiming that he doesn't want Kim to be a widow should he be killed in battle. After the First Invasion, though, he changes his mind and proposes to Kim, although he admits that he has just enlisted in the newly-created International Fleet. Kim briefly muses on the possibly advantages of changing her last name from "Arnsbrach" to "Rackham" before admitting that it's not much of an improvement. She still accepts.
    • Imala Bootstamp for Victor Delgado, although Victor refuses to see it. In the end, when Victor decides to go back to his clan in the belt (as the only surviving adult male), Imala decides to join him over his objections (mostly having to do with her throwing away her career). Imala is perfectly willing to go to the middle of nowhere to "find happiness".
    • Averted with Lem Jukes and Despoina. Lem initially seduces Des, who is one of his father's personal assistants, in order to get information that his father doesn't want him to know. He keeps planning to break it off, but usually ends up continuing the secret relationship. Despoina isn't stupid and tells him that she knows it's not going to last but asks him to let her down gently when he tires of her. Later, Lem finds an email from Despoina to his father, informing him of Lem's plans. He realizes that Des was his father's plant all along and has her arrested and deported from Luna under false charges. His father later admits that he faked the email to test Simona, his most trusted assistant, whom he fires after she shows Lem the email, proving that her (secret) love for Lem is greater than her loyalty to Ukko. Lem is angry with his father for playing with people's lives like that.
  • Made of Indestructium: There's nothing in the human arsenal that can even dent the hull of a Formic ship (their fighters and landers are aversions). This includes gravity-based weapons, although they can damage turrets. Only Formic "gamma plasma" can punch through the hull material, but human scientists have no idea how to make, store, or fire it.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The mining ship El Cavador stands for "the digger" in Spanish.
    • A young man named "Victor" ends up serving a key role in defeating the Formics.
    • "Imala" means "strong-minded" in Apache. Imala Bootstamp definitely fits.
  • MegaCorp:
    • Juke, Ltd., runs most of the mining operations in the Solar System. It's owner and CEO Ukko Jukes realizes that the best weapon against the Formics is his company's latest invention, the gravity laser, designed to quickly cut through asteroids, and seeks to weaponize it.
    • Among its competitors is WU-HU, a Chinese corporation that also plays a part in the trilogy.
  • The Mothership: The First Invasion involves a single huge ship arriving to the Solar System and heading straight for Earth. The ship is armed with a single turret but also has emitters all along its hull that violently expel "gamma plasma" collected with its Ramscoop. The mothership holds a number of landers and hundreds of smaller fighter craft. Averted at the end of the prequel trilogy with the Sequel Hook. Victor's cousin scans records from the Parallax satellites and discovers that the "mothership" was actually a scout ship sent ahead of the real mothership, which is many times bigger. The records also show that the Formics aboard the real mothership are cannibalizing it to turn it into an armada.
  • Multinational Team: The Mobile Operations Police (or MOPs) is formed from the cream of the crop of various special forces branches all over the world. They get sent into hot zones where no one else will dare go. In Earth Unaware, Captain Wit O'Toole (the commander of the MOPs), orders them to prepare for any conceivable scenario, including a battle against a technologically-superior enemy (e.g. aliens), since their usual enemies are in Third World countries. Lieutenant Mazer Rackham of the New Zealand SAS is invited to try out for the MOPs (he fails the test). When the Internation Fleet is formed, it's modeled on the MOPs.
  • Nanomachines: In the second trilogy, a "gel" full of nanites is used to "glue" IF marines to a hull in space. The "gel" can even stretch to an extent, creating a taut line. Mazer's marines come up with the idea of a nano-shield of sorts to protect them from Formic bio-weapons.
  • Neck Snap: Mazer finds that they work on Formics.
  • Nuke 'em:
    • A massive nuclear strike fails to reach the Formic mothership, as its point-defense weapons easily pick off the missiles long before they get in range. Instead, dozens of satellites are wiped out, crippling Earth's communication network.
    • Mazer and two MOPs get a briefcase nuke aboard a Formic lander and blow it up from the inside.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat:
    • Endemic to the Lunar Trade Department, much to Victor's frustration. Fortunately his caseworker Imala Bootstamp is one of the exceptions.
    • The STASA captain who declares that any ships that fires at the Formics will be committing an illegal act and prosecuted accordingly. Why? Because he wants to show the aliens that humans are a peaceful race. This is after he has just witnessed the Formic ship easily swatting aside a fleet of 64 corporate and free miner ships at Cleopatra.
    • In the second prequel trilogy, the IF is full of these, officers, who care more about their careers and pockets than humanity's survival. Competent soldiers and marines are sidelined and kept from making waves. Their ideas are ignored simply because they don't come from the officers themselves. Many are involved with defense contractors, helping to push through any number of possible weapons and equipment, whether or not they're good.
  • Point Defenseless: Averted. All mining ships are equipped with "pebble-killers", lasers designed to take out small rocks that pose a danger to the ship. The Formic mothership's "gamma plasma" laser turrets are very effective, picking off every nuke launched at it. They don't destroy the short-range missiles launched by the multinational assault force, but that's because the turrets are busy destroying the ships. The missiles never get past the shield anyway.
  • Retcon:
    • In Ender's Game, it's stated that the Formic presense was discovered when astronomers saw the asteroid Eros "blacking out" and sent a ship to investigate. The ship subsequently transmitted a video showing Formics boarding and slaughtering the crew but not touching communications equipment (as they don't understand radio-communication). In the Formic Wars comic and the prequel novels, Eros is not mentioned at all. Instead, the Formics send a mothership that heads straight for Earth, destroying several mining ships and several Space Stations on the way. The final battle between the Formics and the humans isn't even done by an organized military force but by a MegaCorp using repurposed mining equipment. Asteroids "blacking out" does play a role in the second trilogy, however.
    • It's also claimed in Ender's Game that the First and Second Invasions were fought with nuclear missiles. In the prequels, nothing the Earth militaries are throwing at the Formic mothership and the landers has any effect due to Deflector Shields. Only gravity-based weapons developed by Juke, Ltd., have any effect. These are later repurposed for the newly-created International Fleet.
    • Also, in Ender's Game, it's specifically mentioned that the Artificial Gravity was Imported Alien Phlebotinum, reverse-engineered from Formic/Bugger technology. However, in Earth Afire, it's stated that Juke Ltd. already has gravity-lensing technology, allowing aircraft to fly using projected gravity fields. It seems that they didn't need the aliens after all.
  • Scary Black Man: Captain Arjuna of the Gagak, a Somali salvage ship. Unlike most Somali salvage ships, frequently called "vultures" for their pirate-like tactics, the crew of the Gagak call themselves "crows" and only go after ships that have no live crew remaining. Arjuna proves himself to be a man of honor and is far less sexist than most of his crew, although he frequently has to make decisions based on what his crew will accept (e.g. refuse partnership with Rena Delgado because women may not be full partners with men in Somali culture).
    • Where Arjuna is a subversion, Khalid in the Second Formic War series is a more straightforward version. He's the most notorious vulture, and he manages to infiltrate and then murder an entire IF ship single-handedly.
  • Sequel Hook: While it's a Foregone Conclusion that the Second Invasion follows the First, it's still a little jarring when the ending of the trilogy reveals that the huge alien ship that took so much effort to defeat was little more than a scout ship sent ahead of the actual Formic mothership that is currently on the way. Worse, the truly enormous ship is being rapidly cannibalized by the Formics in order to create an armada. Then there's the creation of the International Fleet and Mazer enlisting in it.
  • Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb: The MOPs manage to destroy a Formic lander by getting a suitcase nuke aboard. Unfortunately, one of the MOPs is forced to stay behind to keep the Formics from disarming it.
  • Space Navy:
    • The International Fleet is formed right after the First Invasion. Nothing of the kind has existed before that. Humanity's only presence in the Solar System mostly consisted of Asteroid Miners, a few Space Stations, and a Moon base.
    • Even before that, the US and several other countries weaponize 50 shuttles in order to take out the Formic mothership in a concentrated multinational assault. It's a spectacular failure.
    • Juke, Ltd., receives the lucrative contract to build most of the fleet, shifting their focus away from mining and towards shipbuilding.
  • Space Pirates: The so-called "vultures" are salvage ships (frequently of Somali origin) who "salvage" ships that still have people aboard. The people are usually Thrown Out the Airlock. The "crows" are the salvagers who only go after ships with all the crew already dead, so they don't really fit this trope (then again, most non-Somali tend not to differentiate between the two groups).
  • Too Dumb to Live: The UN during the initial days of the Formic ship's arrival to Earth's orbit. Despite Ukko Juke's warning about the aliens' clearly hostile nature and the fact that they know about the aliens destroying dozens of mining ships and several space stations on its way to Earth, the UN still thinks that the aliens are probably peaceful and that the miners were the ones who provoked a violent response. Only a few nations urge the creation of a coalition that would start building defenses, but the proposals get shut down in the UN Security Council by the big boys. Essentially, everyone is too worried about politics in the face of an alien invasion. It takes the destruction of the Egyptian ambassador's shuttle to finally get the UN to see the truth.
  • Weaponized Exhaust:
    • The mothership focuses gamma radiation from its drive into lasers for point defense. It also periodically vents radiation in all directions, much to the hazard of everyone around it.
    • For a non-space example, there are the Chinese drill sledges. Their propulsion involves the rock that's being crushed by the front-mounted drill being passed through the vehicle to the rear, being melted on the way and spewing out in a superheated jet of lava. Pointing the sledge away from the target seems like a good way to melt pretty much anything. This is used effectively by Mazer and two MOPs to melt a hole in a Formic lander's underside in order to get a nuke inside.
  • We Have Reserves:
    • The miners are shocked to see the Formics fight in this manner, sacrificing two or three of them to get rid of one miner, exiting their ship without spacesuits.
    • The Chinese also fight like this when invaded by the Formics, who are using face-melting gas.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: No matter what Lem Jukes does, it's never good enough for his father Ukko Jukes. The only thing that Lem thinks will impress his old man is if Lem takes over Juke, Ltd., from within. However, even this turns out to be part of Ukko's plan, who wants to turn his son into a hero who personally led the attack on the Formics in the final battle (which is partly true), hand the company over to Lem, and become the first Hegemon.

Alternative Title(s): Earth Unaware, Earth Afire, Earth Awakens