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Book review: Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston revisit 'Ender's Game' world in solid prequel, 'The Hive'

"THE HIVE," by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston, Tor Books, 400 pages (f)

SALT LAKE CITY — Fans of "Ender's Game" have another solid, though not outstanding, entry to Orson Scott Card's fictional universe to enjoy.

Preceded by The First Formic War trilogy and "The Swarm," the first of The Second Formic War series, "The Hive" serves as the fifth prequel to Card's best-selling "Ender's Game," which took the sci-fi publishing world by storm in 1985, earning both a Nebula Award and a Hugo Award, and was eventually adapted into the 2013 film starring Harrison Ford.

"The Hive" follows a variety of characters who intend to save the Earth from the invasion of the Formics, an insect-like alien race with superior technology, instantaneous communication and rapidly evolving tactics that humanity is ill-prepared to counter. The action is set in the near future takes place largely in space, from the human colony on the moon to the outer reaches of the solar system, filled with the dangers of space as well as marauding pirates and the Formics themselves.

It follows the development of Bingwen, a Chinese boy who serves as something of a predecessor to Ender Wiggin as a precocious young man who has been thrown into an adult's world and must learn to navigate military culture and find solutions with his team of fellow children. His mentor, Mazer Rackham — who readers know from "Ender's Game" will eventually become the hero of this war — is forced to contend with commanding officers from his own fleet who are more concerned with maintaining power than doing the right thing, a recurring theme in this series.

Then there's Victor and Imala, the newlywed couple from a blue-collar mining ship whose familial loyalty and dynamics are a welcome respite from the military focus of much of the book.

The character of Lem Jukes may be the highlight of the novel, as he slowly morphs over the course of these five books from a cold-hearted corporate type with a combative and competitive relationship with his father, the Hegemon of Earth, to a well-intentioned though flawed man who creates his own place in this war that threatens humanity. That journey leads to some satisfying payoffs here.

Readers can expect the same level of writing quality from the preceding four prequel novels, all of which were co-authored by Card and Aaron Johnston. The sci-fi concepts, plot and character motivations are carefully thought out, and as always the characters are well-developed with an intriguing variety of perspectives, although at times there is far more expository dialogue than there needs to be and the story bogs down in the middle as a result.

The plot picks up nicely in the final fourth of the book however, when the Formics unveil a new and terrifying tactic, and readers see their baffling interactions with the first human prisoners they take. The story clearly doesn't end here, and it leaves you wanting to know more.

"The Hive" does an admirable job of setting up the conditions we see in "Ender's Game," from the political maneuvering to the Battle School to Rackham's evolution on the ethics of putting children into combat, not to mention the slow unfolding of the Formic culture and mindset. It also offers a story that's interesting in its own right.

Content advisory: "The Hive" contains depictions of war violence and mild language.