Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fire With Fire - Charles E. Gannon

This science fiction novel by Charles E. Gannon was nominated for a Nebula Award last year (as is the sequel this year). That honor was well-deserved, in my opinion, because this is the sort of adventurous, big-idea SF that I grew up reading and loving.

The protagonist, Caine Riordan, is an investigative journalist about a hundred years from now. He's on the moon, probing into the mysterious activities of a retired general and a former British commando when somebody jumps him and puts him into cryosleep for thirteen years. When he's finally awakened, he discovers that the two guys he was investigating are the top brass in a ultra-top-secret intelligence agency—and they're going to press him into working as a reluctant secret agent investigating reports of a sentient alien species on a distant planet. Earth has developed a faster-than-light drive and established a few interstellar colonies, but so far they haven't run into any other species. Caine doesn't particularly want this assignment, but he's missing some of his memories from before he was put into cryosleep and his captors/new bosses dangle that information in front of him like a carrot to get him to work for them.

This is just the beginning of a long, very complex plot. FIRE WITH FIRE is a kitchen-sink book, but in a good way. It's a First Contact novel with a lot of mysterious layers about the history of the galaxy. It's an espionage/intrigue/corporate shenanigans novel, and these sections read much like a well-done contemporary thriller. It's an epic space opera with the threat of interstellar war looming massively over everything, including some elements that put a grin on my face as they reminded me of the work of E.E. "Doc" Smith.

What ties it all together is Caine Riordan, who's a great character, tough but flawed, extremely smart, and able to navigate not only through ambushes and other dangerous action but also hold his own in all sort of diplomatic intrigue on the galactic level. Gannon populates his story with plenty of other good characters, too, but Caine serves excellently as the focus for most of the book.

It's hard to talk about FIRE WITH FIRE because there's just blasted much in it, all of which works pretty well. It's a much longer book than I normally read, but it held my interest all the way through with no problem. This is science fiction in the classic tradition and one of the best books I've read so far this year, so it gets a very high recommendation from me.


Steve O. said...

Couldn't get thru this. Just found it poorly written.

James Reasoner said...

Gannon's style takes some getting used to. The only thing I'd read by him before this was a novelette that I didn't really care for. But the storytelling and the ideas in FIRE WITH FIRE worked for me and pulled me along just fine.