4 stars. Eliot Kay’s Poor Man’s Fight follows Tanner Malone as he matriculates from high school, looking forward to a life of college and opportunity. A giant wrench is thrown into the works by family issues and the crushing debt of his corporate-financed compulsory education, and he enlists in his star system’s navy. His training is put to the test by the pirates who feast upon the system’s bounty.
Tanner is a well-conceived character who is easy to identify with; his actions and reactions are believable. His struggles through boot camp make for an interesting read, and his relations to other characters give a dramatic depth beyond simple space combat action.
The last third of the book unfolds with breathtaking speed; it’s hard to put down once the plot comes to fruition. The blockbuster action scenes provide page after page of over-the-top fun.
Science fiction’s ability to present a world similar enough to our own that we immediately recognize it yet strange enough that we can see the absurdity in our own gives some real bite to Kay’s social commentary on debt and corporate power. These themes resonate strongly given the current political focus on the role of government and corporation in individuals’ lives. Kay deserves kudos for letting his themes speak for themselves through the events and characters rather than preaching or ranting about them.
Parts of the book were told from the pirates’ POV. These seemed unnecessary given the conclusion of the book; they probably would have made a good standalone, but seemed out of place in this narrative. While the pirates are democratic and egalitarian, their viciousness is such that I never felt conflicted about who to support.
Poor Man’s Fight is action oriented mil sci-fi that revolves around an interesting premise and strong characters combined with thoughtful political themes. A solid, entertaining read.