Monday, July 15, 2013

Poor Man's Fight

There's a point where one wrong tends to bring about another wrong through an appeal to something right. I remember the '60s and its appeal to freedom and its contempt for regimentation. It was pretty cool, despite being morally handicapped.

It's common in GOP West Michigan to think that Ann Arbor is the Democrat Nirvana. But that's not true, there are a lot more Libertarians (of the secular kind) in Ann Arbor than Democrats. If you want to do weed in AA, it's a non-criminal infraction.

Poor Man's Fight starts out on planet Sally Mae. Not really, but I want you to think about a future where every bit of education mandated by the state, costs money, and is borrowed from an Interstellar Sally Mae. (Its a perversion of the separation of School and State gone horribly wrong.)

If you are unaware of how US higher education gets funded, the gubmint artificially keeps tuition dollars flowing into universities by promiscuously offering student loans to anybody who wants to get a degree in feminist post-colonial film studies or something less fashionable. (My daughter, the nuclear engineer, printed the paperwork for her last Sally Mae check onto a sheet of paper on which she'd placed an image of a blood-sucking tick. Education loans are one of those paving stones on the road to hell good intentions that makes wage-slaves of young college graduates.)

Now, imagine Sally Mae debt-slavery cranked to eleven.

Poor Man's Fight begins with our protagonist, Tanner Malone, blowing an achievement test that's clearly rigged against him. (Good move that.) And by failing, he is indebted to a greater degree than had he passed the test. It's an ingenious form of slavery. And I give Elliot Kay high marks for thinking of it and putting it in his book.

Debt slavery is the dynamic force moving Poor Man's Fight along.

The protagonist, Tanner Malone, enlists in the military to acquire some debt-forgiveness. He then is enrolled into a Space Navy boot camp that's quite brutal and intense.

Alternating chapters follow the exploits of the Space Pirates that we know Tanner is going to be fighting in the third act. I'm something of a broken record about antagonist design, however. You have to be careful about that, because AFTER seeing how Tanner Malone gets screwed over, I started to sympathize and identify with the pirates. The pirate captain recruits among the crews of the ships he captures with an opening question, "How much debt do you carry?" Since I've seen the system is rigged to enslave everyone through debt, I found his sales pitch most appealing.

I started wondering whether the Space Pirates were the heroes.

In particular, the Space Pirates seemed cool in an Ann Arbor kind of way. I started wondering whether the pirate base would be Galt's Gulch.

Meanwhile, Our Hero goes through boot camp and despite the brutality of the training and his unsuitable temperament to fighting, he excels. I think everyone who writes Military Science Fiction has to write a few boot camp chapters. It's probably in a NATO treaty or something.

After Our Hero graduates from boot camp he gets assigned to a space ship where he is the low man who's unfairly treated. Just like that poor, nice Mr. Midshipman Hornblower was mistreated. And like Midshipman Mr. Hornblower, he acquits himself very well in action against the Space Pirates.

In fact, he becomes quite adept at killing pirates. So much so that he loses touch with his humanity. That's pretty cool. It's one thing to see John Carter of Mars going from adventure to adventure, but an altogether different thing to see a sensitive human being turn into a killing machine.

The final third of the book gets a little rushed, and I think a few points could be fleshed out a little.

The last chapter is where you sell the sequel. And that's where Elliot Kay lost me. In the opening chapters of any novel you wonder, "who's pulling the strings" as the author shows you his/her world-building. He does a good job of teasing out a few clues in the middle of the novel to set up the final scene. But he showed he's going to take the sequels someplace I don't wanna go.

Poor Man's Fight 5-stars well deserved.

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