Trident's Forge is the second book in The Children of the Dead Earth series by Patrick S. Tomlinson. I really loved the first book in the series, The Ark, because it was a fast-paced, funny mash-up of mystery-thriller and post-apocalyptic science fiction. It's sequel is a very different book, but with several familiar characters from the first book returning: Bryan "The Zero Hero" Benson, his wife Teresa, their former nemesis Chao Feng, and Bryan's sidekick Pavel Korolev.
Trident's Forge is set three years after the events of The Ark and now the 30,000-member strong remnants of humanity are settling down and surviving on the planet Gaia. It is more than 250 years after a black hole destroyed Earth and forced humanity to abandon our home planet and seek another. The planet we found is inhabited by aliens the humans call Atlantians (and who call themselves the G'tel). I didn't get a good image of the G'tel in my mind's eye but one interesting move by the author is to give the reader point-of-view chapters from the perspective of one of the aliens. The alien in particular, named Kexx, is a "truth-digger" which is an important role in G'tel society (sort of a cross between a religious leader and academic/intellectual). Because the aliens have three genders (although this is not really fully explained that well), Kexx uses the pronouns ze and zer instead of she/he and his/her to describe zer fellow Atlantians.
Tomlinson has a way of combining action scenes with comedic situations that remind me of John Scalzi (Redshirts) and Wesley Chu (The Rebirths of Tao). I don't know if this is a compliment or a dis (your mileage may vary) but I intend it as a positive recommendation.
The reason why I loved The Ark so much was that the stakes for the characters were so high ( all of humanity is on one ship and the villains want to blow it up with nukes!) and one problem I had with Trident's Forge is that level of tension is not repeated. Yes, Benson is put in one incredibly dangerous situation after the other (and is actually declared dead at one point when his heart stops) but I never believed for a second that the Zero Hero would bite the dust. Thus I think Tomlinson realized he needed to find dramatic tension in different ways and he tried to do so by complicating the political situation at Shambhala, the main colony city for the former Ark residents, with a surprising assassination.
The best part of Trident's Forge for me is in the interactions between Benson and the aliens as they uncover a sinister plot to exploit the planet Gaia and learn (grudgingly at times) to overcome their differences and suspicions in order to cooperate and survive against common enemies.
I do love mash-ups, and Trident's Forge has a melange of a plot combining alien first-contact, frontier intrigue, colony politics, fast-paced action, quirky and irreverent humor and some (minimal) mystery/thriller elements. I am definitely looking forward to the third book in the series, but I hope it is set far enough in the future that maybe Benson is no longer the main character. I also hope that we get a resolution about whether the black hole that destroyed the Earth was a deliberate act and if so, we get to meet those aliens. Now that would be raising the stakes!
Title: Trident's Forge.
Author: Patrick S. Tomlinson.
Paperback: 448 pages.
Date Published: April 5, 2016.
Date Read: June 11, 2016.
OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.67/4.0).