Review: Fire With Fire
I can’t stop smiling. It’s been far too long since I’ve read a good Science Fiction novel. Once my go-to genre, Science Fiction has taken a back seat to Fantasy of late. Charles E. Gannon’s FIRE WITH FIRE absolutely falls under the definition of good Science Fiction. It is a novel that has reminded me just what it is that I love about the genre and it has ensured that I will be following Gannon’s work closely in the years to come. FIRE WITH FIRE sets a great many things in motion, signaling the start of what I assume will be a sweeping SF epic.
Here is the Amazon description:
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.
And that is just the beginning of the beginning. FIRE WITH FIRE is a first contact story overflowing with espionage, politicking, diplomacy, and problem solving. Given the complexity of the novel, Intelligence Analyst Caine Riordan makes for a suitable protagonist. I appreciate Caine’s prior background in journalism, as it speaks of his experience following leads and exposing hidden agendas. It also brings Caine into conflict with his superiors. Caine is a Boy Scout. He has made a career of airing the dirty laundry of the powerful and influential. Now he finds himself working behind the scenes, going from straight-arrow to cloak and dagger. Caine is also a polymath, making him a jack-of-all-trades. He’s not nearly as suave as James Bond, but he is three times as resourceful.
Caine does exhibit moments of reluctance during his service of the Institute of Reconnaissance, Intelligence, and Security or IRIS for short. IRIS is responsible for his thirteen year long nap, and though Caine supports the Institute’s mandate to protect Earth from exosapient invasion he detests their methods. Caine suffers from a short term amnesia of the 100 hours before being placed under cryo-sleep. Corcoran and Downing, the spy masters of IRIS, use this as leverage to get Caine to do their bidding. Corcoran and Downing are Machiavellian in their processes but they are not unsympathetic, especially later in the novel when it becomes apparent what they have sacrificed to protect their species. After all, “Sometimes adopting the methods of your adversaries is the only effective strategy…” Opal Patrone, another recipient of long term cryo-sleep, also becomes an asset of IRIS. Her military history marks her as an ideal bodyguard for Caine, whose actions place a target on his head.
It’s worth noting that all of the characters in FIRE WITH FIRE are strong and dynamic. They aren’t particularly deep but they do display multiple dimensions. The characters act and react to ever-evolving circumstances but none of them ever feel like spectators. Still, it’s not the characters that make FIRE WITH FIRE such a fantastic read. Gannon obviously knows his stuff. I’m not afraid to admit that I was glad for my Kindle’s dictionary function while reading. That’s not to say that there are loads of incomprehensible words or science. This isn’t space opera but it’s not quite Hard SF either. There is an exploration of scientific concepts, particularly the Wasserman Drive, but FIRE WITH FIRE is more of a thriller than anything else.
Gannon delves into the economics of interstellar trade, the politics of planetary colonization, struggles between government and corporations, the consolidation of power, and the complications of first contact. Exosapient diplomacy is the best part of the novel and in this way FIRE WITH FIRE is reminiscent of another favorite of mine, THE COURSE OF EMPIRE by Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth. There are moments of thrilling action, including narrow escapes and botched assassination attempts, but the real excitement comes from the human-alien interaction.
“You came here expecting a tea party and found yourself in a diplomatic death match.”
It’s not long after the Earth unifies under the World Confederacy that it gets an invitation to participate in the Accord, a democratic council of alien states. What at first appears to be a friendly invitation soon takes on a sinister light as the human ambassadors realize that the council might not be so unified, leaving humanity in an unenviable position. The communication between the different races is awesome. Each race has different mannerisms, culture, and motivations. It takes quick thinking and collective brain power for the human ambassadors to maneuver through the pitfalls that come with walking into such a FUBAR scenario.
FIRE WITH FIRE is a building block in the foundation of Gannon’s Science Fiction epic. This could be read as a standalone novel but I don’t see why anyone would want to. There are big, big things on the horizon as the book closes. Some questions are answered (quite satisfyingly I might add) and even more questions are posed. Once Gannon starts the ball rolling, there’s no stopping the momentum. I am ecstatic to have found a new SF author worth following and I eagerly await the sequel.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Some, not too heavy.
Violence: Some, nothing too graphic.
Want it? Buy it here.