Rating: 7.0 (out of 10)
In my review for Fire with Fire, the first book in this series, I expressed that Gannon’s brand of science fiction was old-fashioned in the best and worst sense of that term. Those same virtues and shortcomings carry through Raising Caine, the third and latest novel in the series, though unlike the second book (Trial by Fire) its virtues are more evident and its shortcomings more tolerable. Gannon is a genius at grand scale world building and high adventure, but his narratives can get bogged down by his tendency to over-explain everything (and I mean everything) and fall down every rabbit hole he stumbles across. In Trial by Fire, this meant a very long book that constantly took the long way around to get from point A to point B. Raising Caine is plenty long as well, but this particular rabbit hole involves what interested me about the series in the first place – the discovery and exploration of believable alien worlds and cultures, for which Gannon’s detail-obsessed style is a welcome facet.
Raising Caine follows its hero Caine Riordan and a team of diplomats, scientists, and soldiers as they are brought into contact with the worlds inhabited by the Slaasriiti, who hope to form an alliance with the human race to help them combat the alarming aggressions of the empathy-challenged Ktor. The Ktor, of course, are looking to wreck their plans and destroy the delegation before such an alliance can be achieved.
Raising Caine is easily the best novel in the series so far. The pace is a little quicker here than in the previous two novels, and the plot considerably more straightforward. The novel’s perspective unfortunately still skews anglo-centric, but at least in this one the diverse, international supporting cast contributes more to the plot than just waiting for Caine Riordan to tell them what to do (though there’s still a bit of that from time to time – he is the hero, after all). Raising Caine’s female characters are also a significant improvement over those in the previous volumes, in that their behavior seems to be informed by something other than whatever their motives are for wanting to sleep with Caine Riordan. In fact, I am pleased to report that not a single woman in this novel appears to have any sexual interest in Riordan at all – a first for the series.
I don’t think Gannon’s writing is for everyone. My contemporary liberal arts educated eyes did plenty of rolling during this one, just like they did for the first two books. For those of you with similar post-colonial/feminist/Marxist leanings thinking of starting this series, you may have to get your retinas reattached before you get halfway through Fire with Fire. But despite my more enlightened impulses, I’m afraid that I am also exactly the kind of lizard-brained weirdo who gets into this stuff. I gave in; so, might you.