Sunday, April 20, 2014

Steph Reads Baened Books: Charles E. Gannon's Fire with Fire

If you want clear proof that certain fen have been radicalized beyond all hope of sanity, I present Chuck Gannon's Fire with Fire as Exhibit A. That the aforementioned novel is up for the Nebula apparently bothers fandom leftists -- and personally, that strikes me as absolutely bizarre. For heaven's sake, Gannon's primary antagonist is a multinational oil company. Shouldn't that be right up these folks' alley?

To summarize without spoiling: Gannon's main character, a journalist and polymath by the name of Caine Riordan, stumbles upon a sensational secret on the moon and, for his trouble, is stuck in the freezer for thirteen years. When his handlers finally deign to wake him up, they rope him into their covert intelligence outfit and send him to Delta Pavonis III to determine whether Exxon's future iteration, which has set up operations on the planet in the hopes of cornering the oil market in the outlying colonies, is hiding evidence of sapient native life. Riordan's role in this mission - and what he eventually discovers - makes him the target of some very persistent assassins. It also pulls him into a dicey diplomatic adventure that may very well bring doom to Earth.

This is Gannon's first solo novel, I believe, and the start of a series -- and on the whole, I liked it. Gannon strikes a good balance between penning a story that feels satisfying and complete and introducing some new questions that will no doubt be tackled in book two. I particularly enjoyed the final segment; once the aliens show up, the political intrigue that results is masterfully written. Watching the alien powers in question jockeying for position - and watching poor Earth getting caught in the middle - was absolutely fascinating

There were a few things that bothered me about Fire with Fire, though. I'm not a fan of large corporations, but I do think Gannon misses - or at least fails to mention - how government has played a role in their ascendancy. I also think Riordan is just a little too perfect. Renaissance man though he may be, he would've been more sympathetic if, at least a few times, something turned out to be beyond his multiple areas of expertise.

Still, when I read reviews such as the one discussed in Amanda Green's post above, I boggle. Said reviewer complains, for example, that Riordan doesn't react with sufficient emotion to losing thirteen years plus a hundred hours of his life -- which prompts me to wonder if we've even read the same book because I saw plenty of signs that he isn't happy with his situation and is especially motivated to find out why he was effectively pulled out of circulation. What did this reviewer want exactly? Oh, right -- crying in the bathtub. But here's a newsflash: people don't all react to trauma in the same way. Riordan does not appear to have personal attachments that would have been wrenched by a thirteen year displacement (except for the one which, for spoilery reasons, he doesn't remember anyway). What's more, he strikes me as a stoic; it makes sense, therefore, that instead of bemoaning his fate, he would put on the hat of the investigative journalist and seek to uncover what the hell happened -- with, of course, some liberal amounts of snark directed at the people responsible for his predicament.

And the claim that Gannon's characters are indifferent to genocide? Based on what I read, that's completely off-base. When Riordan discovers that atrocities are indeed being perpetrated against the natives on Delta Pavonis III, he does do something about it -- but because he doesn't spend pages nursing a useless rage about future!Exxon's malfeasance, that fact evidently fails to register on the GHH radar.      

This is a book about people who act in a deliberate and considered way based on high ideals and a mature sense of the universe's dangers. The title - Fire with Fire - refers to the existential crisis Earth ultimately faces and to the sad reality that those tasked with protecting the innocent are often forced to dirty their own noses on their charges' behalf. Upon reflection, I suspect this is probably what bothers the above-discussed detractor most. Many would like to imagine that there is no need for the cloak and dagger -- that there is no need for government secrecy, honeypot spies, and all the rest. But the wolves are at the door, and we do in fact need our own dogs to drive them away. That is the state of the fallen world in which we live.

Final Verdict: Recommended

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