Archive for April, 2013

Chuck Gannon’s “Fire With Fire” — An Amazing Debut

Fire With FirePart of reading a new novelist is the joy of learning how they write. Their pacing, their characters, their voice… all new and exciting.

While Chuck Gannon isn’t entirely “new” for me (I’ve read his 1632 stories), this is his first solo novel I’ve read and I was quite pleased with the end product, Fire with Firea science fiction novel that has a lot of everything in it — intrigue, suspense, action, mystery, and even a little bit of romance. Without a doubt it’s one of the best SF books I’ve read this year.

Caine Riordan wakes up out of cold sleep and missing memories from the past 100 hours. He is disoriented and confused, since cold sleep (cryogenic freezing) was not something one usually lost that many memories to. He learns that he has not been asleep for 100 hours but, instead, for over 13 years. He struggles to answer questions and to find out what had happened, how it happened, and what would drive them to keep him asleep for so long. However, answers aren’t entirely forthcoming from those asking him questions, and he soon realizes that the man asking him questions, Richard Downing, has a hidden agenda. The man also wants to give him a job.

Recruited into a world of intrigue, Caine must figure out what is going on at a small island known only as Shangri-La on a planet humans have settled far out in the galaxy. Initially thinking that it is simply an oil operation by a major corporation, he soon discovers that something far deeper and darker is at play as he stumbles upon the remnants of a lost alien culture living, and sentient aliens living on the planet. Armed with this information, Caine must make it back to Downing and his allies before the assassins of the oil corporation can stop him.

The only downside of this book is that it really is two books in one, which means that reviewing this without spoilers is very difficult.

Caine must survive long enough to make a presentation to a group of power brokers on Earth at the Pantheon in Greece, and again survive assassination attempts in order to let the politicians on Earth know that humans are not alone. A world government is being formed, and the news of alien existence could make or break the proceedings.

And then the book really gets going as aliens themselves initiate First Contact, and request that none other than Caine Riordan be on the first contact team.

Gannon’s plotting and pacing is fabulous, and Caine is a believable character you can’t help but to root for. His bodyguard/companion/potential love interest, Opal Patrone, is a solid support character with her own tragic past and, due to cold sleep, a woman out of her time. The empathy one feels when she struggles to adapt and, after she does, going about her business with a strange mixture of relentlessness and trepidation is nerve-wracking. The author keeps the action and story barreling forward with only one inevitable conclusion at the end.

Gannon has himself a winner here. Fire With Fire is a tremendous first effort and promises so much more in the following sequels. This is a must-buy for fans who love a good SF story.

Reviewed by Jason

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Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Hidden Fires”is Intriguing, Intelligent SF Romance

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s HIDDEN FIRES is the third book of her Chronicles of Nuala to be reviewed here at Shiny Book Review, but is the second book in the series in chronological sequence, following FIRES OF NUALA (FIRE SANCTUARY was the first book written and sold).  As it is the second book in sequence with FIRES OF NUALA, many of the same characters appear as in the previous novel, including Sheel Atare, his wife, Darame, his sister, Avis (the Ragäree, both a powerful politician and a huge symbol of fertility for both the Atare family and Nuala as a whole), and many more.  As with FIRES OF NUALA, there’s a complex plot, a goodly amount of realistic romance, and worldbuilding that is second to none, along with a great deal of storytelling that, put simply, drew me right in and never let me go.

New to HIDDEN FIRES is Garth Kristinsson, the son of free-traders.  He has a past connection to the woman he knows as “Silver” — Darame — and he’s bent on finding her.  However, he doesn’t know she’s gone to Nuala, much less that she’s now a member of the Nualan aristocracy — he only knows her as a former free-trader of considerable acumen, and someone who may know exactly why Garth’s father was murdered.

As with FIRE SANCTUARY, we see Garth’s slow transition to Nuala and the difficulties he endures, particularly with regards to the irradiated food (Nuala has some severe problems with radiation, which has caused systemic problems with fertility and many, many other issues).    The main thing to consider is that unlike in FIRE SANCTUARY, or even in FIRES OF NUALA, Garth the reluctant, possible immigrant is not taken in hand by the honest, ethical and forthright Atare family — instead, he’s taken in hand by Lucy, a scion of the diabolical Dielaan family.  Lucy’s interest in Garth is two-fold: One, Garth is an off-worlder, so his genes have not been compromised by radiation and should be able to give her at least one healthy child if all goes well.  And two, because Garth is an off-worlder with an enigmatic connection to Darame Atarae (meaning, the wife of the Atare), perhaps Garth can be used by the Dielaan.

However, what Garth really doesn’t understand is that there’s a power struggle going on with the Dielaaners.  Rex Dielaan, the next head of the family, is twenty-one, hot-blooded, and impatient.  All of that could be worked around by his mother, Livia (the Ragäree of Dielaan, an ethical, though ruthless, woman).  But the fact that Rex is both xenophobic and psychotic is something that gives her great pause.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Lucy either does not realize Rex is crazy, or she’s willing to go along with him.  Yet she’s drawn to Garth, and really wants to be with him . . . which way will Lucy turn when the worst happens?  (Further reviewer sayeth not, at least not about this.)

Getting back to the Sheel/Darame arc, Sheel has grown into his role as both Atare and healer.  He’s been aided in this by Darame, who as a former free-trader (think: consummate con artist, who only cons other con artists) is skilled at sniffing out scams and is nearly as skilled dealing with various forms of political intrigue.  They now have three children who will never rule due to the peculiar inheritance laws of Nuala (the next ruler will be one of Avis’s sons, which is part of why the Ragäree is so important), but of course Darame wants them to grow up to be strong, intelligent, capable, and ethical — what every good parent wants for his/her child, in short.

Sheel and Darame, surprisingly enough, are very good friends with Livia, the Ragäree of Dielaan.  They’re aware of at least some of Rex’s problems, mostly because Livia’s second son, Quin, has ended up with many of Rex’s duties due to Rex not wanting to be bothered.  As noblesse oblige is a very big part of the Nualan aristocracy (even though it’s not called that), this has not set well with Livia, Sheel or Darame because a poor ruler can do a great deal of harm without even trying.

And, of course, Rex is trying his best to live up to the worst aspects of the Dielaan family, which may plunge all of Nuala into a war.  (Thus ends the plot summary, or I’ll give far too much away.)

Look.  This is a book that you really need to read if you love science fiction, romance, or any blend of the two.  It’s complex, engrossing, honest, surprising, intelligent in how it deals with the problems of a completely different world with its own history and nuances, even more intelligent when it deals with the problems unwitting potential immigrants face on Nuala, and contains two realistic and root-worthy romances in the continuing, enduring love between Darame and Sheel, and the newfound romance between Garth and Lucy.

If there is a flaw here, it’s that Garth’s character seems remarkably naïve.  There were times I just wanted to shake him, because he obviously didn’t know what he was getting into, and Lucy’s oblique hints just weren’t helping.  Yet Garth being young and impulsive enough to have followed Darame’s trail for a hundred subjective years (most of that spent in cryogenic freeze/sleep) is an important plot point, and I’m not sure if there was another way to get this point across.  (Really, an older, wiser man would’ve given up long ago and never ended up on Nuala at all.)

I also was a bit annoyed by Lucy.  She was smart, well-educated, ethical in her fashion and honest, but she couldn’t seem to figure out that Rex was flat-out crazy until way too close to the end to suit me.  (I’m dancing around the spoilers, folks.  All apologies if I’ve unwittingly given something away.)  She truly cared about Garth.  She wanted the two of them to have a future.  But she couldn’t see a way through to that future, and was so inarticulate about it that it took a miracle of subtext by Ms. Kimbriel to get this fact across — a very neat authorial thing to do, and something for which I applaud Ms. Kimbriel.

While I enjoyed HIDDEN FIRES a great deal and found it a worthy companion to the two other novels comprising the Chronicles of Nuala, I adjudged it just short of a full “A” mark.  So the grades stand as follows:

HIDDEN FIRES: A-minus.  (Solid, smart, entertaining, intelligent, and two good romances.  What more could you want, save a bit more life out of Lucy and a bit less naïveté from Garth?)

For the Chronicles of Nuala as a whole: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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“Fire Sanctuary” — Another Excellent Novel of Nuala by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

FIRE SANCTUARY, technically, is the third book in the Chronicles of Nuala by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel.  (The first book in the series, THE FIRES OF NUALA, was reviewed here.)  But it was the first released, and as it contains different characters and situations than THE FIRES OF NUALA or HIDDEN FIRES (to be reviewed soon), it can be read alone.

If you’ve read THE FIRES OF NUALA, you already know how important the Atare are to the people of Nuala.  The Atare are aristocrats of the first water, and are a fertile family made up of “20s” (the infertile, or people with borderline fertility, are called “80s”).  Their leadership has been essential to the survival of Nuala.

The main storyline of FIRE SANCTUARY deals with the interplay of five characters — Moran and Lyte, officers from the Axis worlds, Braan and Ronuviel (“Roe”) Atare, siblings and an important part of the Nualan aristocracy, and Teloa, a planter from Caprica.  Perhaps Teloa’s story is the simplest, as she lands on Nuala and immediately claims sanctuary.  As Nuala has been known for millenia as a planet that will welcome anyone, providing you are willing to be honest about who you are and who you’ve been, she is accepted with relative ease — especially as planters are valued highly on Nuala.

Now, the main reason we have so many differing and important characters involved is this: there’s a war brewing, and Nuala may not be able to stay out of it.  The Axis has been at war with the Fewha Empire for many years, and in this conflict, it’s possibly easiest to see the Fewhas as classic xenophobes, while the Axis is the old, corrupt empire that no one particularly wants to belong to, but everyone (save the Fewhas) has been forced to deal with anyway.  Moran and Lyte have long been considered essential to the Axis, yet because times are changing — and because Moran has fallen in love with Roe — both Moran and Lyte have been ordered to Nuala.

This is much more important than it seems, and not just because Moran and Lyte have major roles to play in FIRE SANCTUARY.  You see, the Fewhas quickly attack Nuala and drive the Axis off.  Nuala sustains a great deal of damage, with many people killed, even more crops destroyed and no real way of getting back at the Fewhas save by surviving long enough to outwait them.  And because of the immediate attack, Braan, formerly a third son, and his sister Roe must assume power as the ruling Atare (Braan) and the Ragäree (Roe).  This is no light thing, as what they actually now are happens to be the most important political leader and the most important, living symbol of fertility the Nualans have.

Obviously, Braan and Roe will need all the help they can get.  And Moran and Lyte’s help will be considerable.  But don’t underestimate Teloa — she’s not only a planter, but has also been a “hustler” (what might be considered as a particularly high-end prostitute).  She’s been forced to live by her wits due to a planetary disaster at Caprica, and because of that, she’s become an extremely quick study.

Which is a good thing, because as Teloa finds out, Nuala is a tough place to live.

As previously seen, Nuala is an extremely fragile planetary ecosystem.  The radiation is what’s damaged so many people’s fertility over time, and it still needs to be accounted for in every facet of daily life.  Planters like Teloa are valued because they must deal with the fact of the radiation along with everything else, and every available method — including sophisticated solutions from the Axis-aligned worlds and much easier, yet more intensive, methods such as crop rotation — must be applied or Nuala cannot feed its people.

And it’s because Nuala is so fragile that a most unusual system of marriage has cropped up.  The Atare have been bound by law to marry only off-worlders for years due to Nuala’s radiation and the need for off-world genes to add to the mix, and because of this, the Atare may take only one spouse as the people of Nuala have found, over time, that off-worlders do not take too well to polygamy or polygyny.  Plus, there are extensive rules, lightly sketched by Ms. Kimbriel yet real, dealing with how the 20s may not take multiple spouses unless they do so from the 80s . . . and the upshot of all these rules is that the people of Nuala (Ms. Kimbriel never calls them “Nualans”) are both moral and flexible when it comes to dealing with human sexuality.

The good part of this is that there literally are no illegitimate children.  Like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series, children are known by their mother’s name the vast majority of the time (only the aristocrats take a surname, it seems).  And even when a father is acknowledged, his contact with the child he’s fathered seems largely up to the individual — something Ms. Kimbriel denotes by the attitudes of both Moran and Lyte as they acclimate to the society of Nuala.

Most of FIRE SANCTUARY deals with how Nuala must adapt and survive now that the Axis has withdrawn from actively helping them keep the Fewhas off.  Yet all of this action is underscored by the human relationships we see between Roe and her husband Moran, Braan’s growing attachment to Teloa, and Lyte’s various adventures.

And that doesn’t even get into the important minor characters, including the remaining family of Roe and Braan, the high priest and priestess of Nuala, the other healers (Roe’s contemporaries), and the movers and shakers among both the Sinis (the radioactive people) and the Ciedärlien (nomadic tribes that live in what was once an inhospitable waste).

Overall, FIRE SANCTUARY is an excellent novel, full of believable characters, interesting challenges, cross-cultural romance, and a goodly amount of action. As it was Ms. Kimbriel’s first-ever published novel, it’s not quite as good as her later FIRES OF NUALA — but that’s like saying an orange isn’t quite as good as an orange with chocolate sauce on it.

Really, the only bad thing about FIRE SANCTUARY is this — it needs a sequel.  Because I really want to find out how Braan, Roe, and the rest manage to keep the Fewhas off while staying alive to appreciate another day (or three).

Grade: A.

— reviewed by Barb

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