I just finished Charles Gannon’s Marque of Caine. It’s a wild ride through alternate universes and star systems controlled by a variety of aliens. The protagonist, Caine Riordan, is an intelligence specialist and “jack-of-all-trades,” looking for the love of his life, who is in the hands of aliens whose intentions are at best uncertain. He’s persistent, sometimes has to blunder through, but usually gets things right despite being surrounded by unfamiliar social mores and advanced technologies. I especially enjoyed his descent into Britain during an alternate 19th century with echoes of London Bridge Coming Down.
Despite the epic in which he lives, Riordan is an effectively drawn character. There were moments when the technology swept me away, but generally I was there with him.
Marque of Caine is the fifth book in a remarkable series. Gannon sets things up so that it’s not necessary to have read the earlier books. These constitute the Terran Republic novels, all of which are now available from Amazon. He explains what he is trying to accomplish in these books, that the universe in which the action is set is very different from the one we live in. That we have crossed from our everyday world to a completely different type of universe.
Gannon has no problem with setting up that completely different place, but he wants us to arrive gradually, to understand how we got there, to experience the change. And this is what he tries to accomplish in the Terran Republic series. The reader of a Marque of Caine misses the earlier history and technological development, but Gannon picks it up and carries his hero through ongoing change. “I hope,” he says, “readers will, in retrospect, not only reflect upon how far we have come and how fast, but also, how in getting there the characters did not experience the journey as an endless rollercoaster of dislocating jolts. Rather, the progress into that vastly changed future seemed deceptively, almost insidiously, gradual, more marked by its seeming normative rather than stupendous.”
The author’s point is for the reader to experience life as it happens, “not as a fast cascade of momentous events,” but rather as something approaching us “on cat’s feet.” He also hopes to demonstrate that revelation “arises not from a single point source event, but from an amalgamation of experiences and reflections.” If that sounds like a difficult task for a writer to bring off, and simultaneously introduce gripping action sequences, you have it right. But if we have any writers capable of managing it, judging from what I’ve seen in Marque of Caine, Gannon succeeds in making it happen.
The titles, in order: Fire with Fire
Trial by Fire
Marque of Caine