What’s It About
Trial By Fire is the sequel to the Nebula nominated and national bestseller Fire By Fire. This book, like the first, follows the rollicking adventures of space diplomat Caine Riordan.
The following is the point where I threw in the towel. Just to set the scene, two alien races are discussing Earth’s defensive capabilities:
Urzueth picked up the tale. “Our sources indicate that the mass driver was an attempt to economically strengthen the nation, to foster foreign trade and investment, and to thereby assuage the general dissatisfaction that fueled the various insurgencies. Besides, the island of Java was a logical location. It sits astride or near several major shipping routes, including the singularly important Strait of Malacca. It is close to the equator and its mountainous spine was a natural support for the mass driver’s long, high-angle, electromagnetic launch tube. Labor costs were cheap and local environmental restrictions—what few there were—were easily waived.”
Given their interest in labor laws, it’s a wonder these unknowable aliens don’t start chatting about Trade Unionism and whether Marxism is truly dead.
Should I Read It? / Commentary
It’s been a few weeks since I gave up reading Trial By Fire after trudging through the first quarter of the novel. Any antipathy I had toward the book has long since faded. Yeah, I could spend five hundred words snarking about the horrible prose, the constant need to info-dump (both the events of the previous novel and the observations, thoughts and reflections of each character) and the endless scenes of people and aliens talking plot to each other, even during action scenes.
But instead here is typical moment from the book*. To provide some background, a bunch of experts are providing a politician (or bureaucrat, I forget and can’t be bothered to check… ) a briefing on the fraught situation between Earth and the Accord (a Galactic Federation of aliens other than humans).
Wasserman’s smile was wolfish. “Wrong—because even the Ktor, who are the second oldest members of the Accord and have had FTL capability for millennia, apparently, can’t pull off deep-space shifts, either.”
Downing blinked. “How can you be sure, Lemuel?”
Wasserman shrugged. “Simple logic. The Dornaani have assured us that they can prevent the Ktor from entering our space. But if the Ktor did have the capacity for deep space navigation, then they could get around the Dornaani by going from one prepositioned deep space fuel cache to another, and show up unannounced in our back yard. And if they did that, then we’d know the Dornaani are liars and wouldn’t support their interests anymore. So, if the Ktoran technology can’t handle deep space shift navigation, then we can be sure as hell that the less advanced races—like the Arat Kur—can’t pull it off, either.”
Downing was determined not to let his admiration for Wasserman’s swift deduction show in his face. “So what can you tell us about their shift range?”
“I’ve run all the stellar pairs that are joined by shift-lines. No distance is greater than nine point five light-years.”
“And what is the shortest distance between any two stars that are not joined by a shift-line?”
“Nine point seven. So their maximum shift range is someplace between nine point five and nine point seven light-years. And that confirms our suspicions that they’re operating at something like our level of technical ability. At least within the same order of magnitude.”
“Equally important,” Downing mused, “it allows us to predict their preferred strategic option.”
“What do you mean by that?” Gaspard asked.
“I am referring to the places they are most likely to attack first.”
“And given that shift range, what do you project as their most likely path of attack?”
“They’d start with Barnard’s Star.”
Downing shrugged. “Why, Earth. Of course.”
If that lengthy excerpt excites you than (a) you and I have very different views about what makes for good dialogue and good drama and (b) Charles E Gannon is waiting for your hard-earned cash, because that scene is only the tip of a massive 700 page iceberg.
And really, what more can I say?
*I’m not normally precise with my language, but my use of “moment” is deliberate. This “moment” is part of small section of a larger scene that goes on for pages and pages.