“Trial By Fire,” by Charles E. Gannon, Baen Books, 640 pages, $15.

Someone is trying to kill Caine Riordan. Riordan cannot figure out who it is.

Riordan is a key piece in the game of diplomatic and military chess played in “Trial By Fire,” a new science-fiction novel by Charles E. Gannon.

Several parties might want Caine dead.

It could be someone hired by one of the interplanetary megacorporations. Riordan made dangerous enemies among them with his investigative journalism inquiries. It could be a religious fanatic, angry at Riordan’s discoveries of other sapient species in the galaxy.

It could be one of the exosapient species from other stars, who realizing his importance and wish him removed from the game board. It might even be his own government — perhaps as part of an attempt to defend Earth.

The humans are being attacked. Several exospecies chose to oppose human entry in the interstellar organization of sapient species.

Now, two of the species are invading Earth. The invasion violates several of the Accords these species have signed, but humans frighten them enough for them to ignore their own rules.

Through a sneak attack, the aliens sweep aside the resistance of the human navy at Barnard’s Star, and have sent a fleet to the Solar System.

Before the humans can react, the aliens capture the space around Jupiter, the asteroid Vesta, and the island of Java. Jupiter gives them reaction mass for their spaceships.

Vesta has the human’s biggest antimatter factory, and Java holds Earth’s only mass driver, the cheapest way to get stuff into space.

The aliens hope to use these to blackmail the humans into signing a disadvantageous peace treaty, one that will hobble human access to interstellar space.

The aliens find they have a tiger by the tail. The humans have just begun to fight back. And Caine Riordan may be the key to human victory.

“Trial By Fire” offers the type of hard science-fiction those familiar with the John Campbell era of Analog Science Fiction will remember.

Gannon throws his readers into an action-packed adventure. A sequel to “Fire With Fire,” it is a nonstop tale filled with military science-fiction action.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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