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Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Fire with Fire" by Charles Gannon (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"Original trade paperback. New Science Fiction Thriller Series! An agent for a spy organization  uncovers an alien alliance in nearby interstellar space—an alliance that will soon involve humanity in politics and war on a galactic scale.2105, September: Intelligence Analyst Caine Riordan uncovers a conspiracy on Earth’s Moon—a history-changing clandestine project—and ends up involuntarily cryocelled for his troubles. Twelve years later, Riordan awakens to a changed world. Humanity has achieved faster-than-light travel and is pioneering nearby star systems. And now, Riordan is compelled to become an inadvertent agent of conspiracy himself. Riordan’s mission: travel to a newly settled world and investigate whether a primitive local species was once sentient—enough so to have built a lost civilization.

However, arriving on site in the Delta Pavonis system, Caine discovers that the job he’s been given is anything but secret or safe. With assassins and saboteurs dogging his every step, it's clear that someone doesn't want his mission to succeed. In the end, it takes the broad-based insights of an intelligence analyst and a matching instinct for intrigue to ferret out the truth: that humanity is neither alone in the cosmos nor safe. Earth is revealed to be the lynchpin planet in an impending struggle for interstellar dominance, a struggle into which it is being irresistibly dragged. Discovering new dangers at every turn, Riordan must now convince the powers-that-be that the only way for humanity to survive as a free species is to face the perils directly—and to fight fire with fire."

Fire with Fire was a novel I really did not expect to even open as based on Extremis, the Starfire novel co-written with Steve White which did not work in the least for me, I put Charles Gannon on my avoid list a while ago. However, I really enjoyed By the Book, his contribution to the 6th Honorverse anthology, Beginnings (Goodreads mini-review to be edited July), so I decided to take a look at his solo series debut Fire with Fire.
In 2105, Caine Riordan, gadfly writer/reporter, investigates rumors of shady goings on the Moon, accepts to stay quiet
for the good of the humanity as said events are part of something big and universe changing so to speak, but is still put in cryo for 13 years with induced loss of short memory so he cannot remember what he had found out in those 4 days there.

When Caine wakes up in 2118, humanity has ftl and colonies here and there, while a rumor floats in intelligence circles, namely that on Delta Pavonis advanced alien artifacts have been found but the discovery has been covered up by the local company building the colony there. As he is "out of time" by 13 years, our hero accepts to work for the people who put him in crio - a super-secret spy agency - and investigate. Stuff happens... 

Fire with Fire has 3 distinct parts in addition to the 2105 prologue: the first part is outstanding investigative/mystery sf, the second is pretty good but not particularly special action thriller sf, while the last part is again outstanding old style first contact segueing into space opera.

The transition between the parts when the pov's multiply a little, is not as smooth as it could be, but it is acceptable. The Odyssey inspired code names that denote the respective pov's - Caine being obviously Odysseus himself - are a little jarring at first but then one gets used with them and in the end the choices turn out to be even more inspired than I originally thought. 

However you have to read the book to find out why with the final cool twist which I really did not see and which raised the enjoyment a notch and made a reread a must. Also Fire with Fire ends at a good tbc stopping point and for the most part has great narrative energy with the first and last parts being real page turners that one doesn't want to put down.

The characters and world building are commensurate with the above with "honorable guy" Caine, the almost typical old style sf hero but for him being a writer, so not particularly experienced in combat to start with, though (of course) he learns quickly. 

Fire with Fire also has a diverse and quite modern assortment of other good and bad guys and girls - ethnically, racially and gender wise, which is where the difference with the all white males old-style sf is most evident -, while similarly the alien species are both stock and with enough originality to make only a "half predictable" storyline there.

Overall Fire with Fire is
the kind of sf that is basic and that made the genre my favorite for so long, so it can be described as entertaining old-style sf with modern sensibilities. It does things very well with great promise for more and I am really looking forward to the next installment which has become an asap.


Anonymous said...

At last, a refreshing book by an upcoming author. I enjoyed reading this book for the story, the ideas and the structure. It is a real SciFi book not fantasy. The book posits science advances and their impacts.
It is not even military SciFi for the most part. Refreshing book.

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