Friday, May 1, 2020

Echoes of War: Fight the Good Fight By Daniel Gibbs

Echoes of War: Fight the Good Fight

By Daniel Gibbs
Before we begin a pair of quick notes. First, as many of you likely noticed, we haven't been redacting the editor's content throughout April, as part of our effort to help you fight the boredom of lockdown, we're gonna keep doing this through May (Happy May Day! Insert Communist Recruitment Slogans Here.{I would like to for the record that the editor's comments are his own and do not reflect my views or the views of the review.}). Afterward, however, we will be moving a lot of the side commentary back behind the 3$ month limit on our patron site. Remember folks, stay safe, wash your damn paws (Papa Nurgle is not your friend.). Second, I should note that while this was voted for by our patrons, a friend of mine has worked with Mr. Gibbs on another novel, which I'll likely be reviewing later this summer (I also work with that author on some of his other projects.). While everything in this review is my honest opinion, I feel its best to be upfront about that.

Now Mr. Gibbs is an American born author, who worked with the US Navy and US Marines as an IT engineer, in his own words designing and building computer systems, for many years, an experience that informs his writing. Also informing his writing is the fact that his father served for 30 years with the US Navy, joining up in 1945 and after the end of his service working as a civilian contractor in ship repair for a couple more decades. Which is also something you can see the influence of in this work. Other influences that have been mentioned are the Muntineer's Moon series by David Weber and Destroyermen by Taylor Anderson. Fight the Good Fight is his first novel, published in 2019 through Amazon, although in some interviews Mr. Gibbs has stated that he has been working on this universe for around 20 years. Let's dive right in shall we.

The Terran Coalition is a nation founded by refugees. They fled centuries ago from a victorious movement called the World Society that was determined to unify Earth under a single communist government, (That isn’t how communism works. This is straight-up communism as presented by Cold War Propaganda. The whole point of the Internationale is that we should have self-determination. Yes, the revolution needs to be international, and the different socialist countries need to show some level of solidarity with each other; but once it’s world-wide, you should be doing away with governments as we understand them. And then there is that name. This dude is actually agreeing with Margaret Thatcher, likening the idea that we live in an interdependent society where we have responsibilities to each other as being tyrannical cartoon communism) that argued to achieve socialism that certain political and personal freedoms had to be given up. Among those freedoms, religious belief of any kind.  Resistance was futile but luck, or perhaps divine provenance was with the dissenters, as through a work of genius they were able to crack the light-speed limit and flee beyond the solar system. They settle the world of Canaan (Really? The Land of Milk and Honey to which Moses led the Israelites? Did they wander the void for forty years too? {That could be a pretty interesting story, I know Battlestar Galatic was trying for something like that but it never really worked for me}) and others, thinking they were beyond the reach of the rest of humanity. The worlds of the Terran Coalition aren't paradises but many of the issues that plague modern humanity seem to be gone, as Christians, Jews, and Muslims live and work together without any violence, discrimination, or even social tension. Additionally, the Coalition seems fairly free of sexism or racism. For the most part, the Terran Coalition seems to be an idealized version of Space America and friends (Marx’s Beard. It’s like he just couldn’t get over the end of the Cold War and had to get his over the top American propaganda fix. Look, I do write propaganda; but when I write propaganda, I tell you that it’s propaganda, I don’t hide it in thinly veiled allegories while taking potshots at the British Labour Party. I don’t even bowdlerize the USSR or lie about capitalist ideology and its consequences.). Those friends being chiefly a new British Commonwealth (Did they evacuate the Queen?) that is also a member state in the Coalition as well as a New Israel and a Saudi Arabia. I'll admit to some confusion here because there's no sign of a monarchy there, which means a Muslim Arab state would more likely be named Arabia or something like that. As the Saudi part of Saudi literally refers to the royal house (It just means the author is ignorant of political geography. How American of him. Sorry Frigid, but you know damned well that many Americans can’t find Saudi Arabia on a map, let alone know that it’s named for the royal house. {I suppose the royal house could have been evaced but... why?}). The name of the country basically translates to the piece of Arabia that House Saud owns for crying out loud! While the peoples of the Coalition hold to their faiths, they seemed to have abandoned the more hateful elements, perhaps because some of the more troublesome believers were simply left behind to distract the socialist as I can't imagine members of the Taliban or the Westboro Baptist Church sharing space with each other on a starship (No, though it would make for a hilarious and short-lived reality show.). While it wasn't always easy, as there is at least one war mentioned with alien powers, the Terran Coalition seemed to be moving forward. But everything changed when the League of Sol attacked (Boooo!).

The Solarian League is the creation of the people that the ancestors of the Coalition were fleeing from in the first place and they do not seem to have reconciled with the idea of fellow human beings living outside the League's authority. The first attack occurred shortly before our main character's David Cohen's 9th birthday. David's father Levi was an officer in the Terran Coalition Navy, he fought and died becoming one of the Coalition's first heroes in a long war, a decade's long war. David, however, doesn't especially want to follow in his Father's footsteps. While he’s been drafted to fight against the League's aggression, what he really wants is to complete his service and turn to study to become a Rabbi. Sadly for David, he has a talent not just for fighting but for command. If the Coalition was going to survive, David had to set aside his dream and use those talents to their full potential. Because the entire war has been fought on Coalition territory and while the Coalition has kept their heartland mostly free of warfare the fact is that their resource base is constantly being worn away. Additionally, while the Coalition maintains a technological edge, the League has numbers, an untouched resource base, and the willingness to fight for decades more while the will of the Coalition's people is starting to crack under the strain. However, when the League makes a surprise offer of peace, David is tapped to lead his new ship as the escort to the delegation. He has to discover if the peace is genuine or if this is a trap. Can he be objective, however, when working for peace means sitting down across from the man who killed his Father?

Most of the book is told from David's viewpoint and it's David's internal conflict that provides the center of the narrative here. David, being an Orthodox Jew, wrestles with a great many questions, such as how he can square his duty to kill people by the thousands with the commandments he is supposed to live by (It’s really easy under Judaism. The first and most important unwritten commandment - unwritten in the Tanakh anyway, it shows up in the piles and piles of rabbinical commentary - is Live. If that means killing someone who is trying to kill or enslave you, that’s what it means. If it means eating pork because you’re starving or the Goyim will kill you if you don’t, you eat the fucking pork. The 613 laws he lives by are not a suicide pact with G-d. I get how this could be a reaction to trauma, but religiously… it’s not actually a big deal. Now, if this is a response to war-guilt that he’s put into religious terms, I could see that.). How does he make peace with himself having made decisions that have gotten people following his leadership killed? The most important question, of course, is one that every one of faith has to wrestle with at least once in their life, why? Just, why would a just and merciful God allow half the crap that gets done? That's a hard question to answer even when a giant fleet of invaders isn't burning cities down around your ears. Mr. Gibbs does a great job showing this internal conflict and how David tries to find a way to if not answer his questions, at least come to a conclusion that will let him sleep at night. You won't find any novel answers or deep philosophical answers here but not everyone is going to provide a novel or deeply philosophical answer. David's answers are true to his character and honestly, that's good enough for me. Nor is David the only conflicted character in this story, almost every supporting character displays an understandable and believable motivation. The interaction between characters is another place that Mr. Gibbs shines fairly well. In a lot of mediocre military fiction, you get characters who are 100% about the military and unable to have interactions outside that context. In this story, we get people who have interests and hobbies and can have normal conversations about things other than the military and the war (Well, the dude is the son of a veteran and former contractor. Presumably, his dad had conversations in his life… Most people who write terrible military sci-fi like that aren’t veterans or at least veteran-adjacent, I’ve noticed.). Despite having fought this war pretty much their entire lives. For example a discussion between two Jewish members of the fleet over whether or not Christ could be the Messiah. The discussion is emotional but it's also handled believably. The story also avoids having the Coalition military just be the US military in space, for example, the Coalition Navy uses army ranks, with colonel's commanding ships instead of captains. Which is at least an interesting change. I also like how the meeting between the League and the Coalition was handled, when the seemingly required dinner scene came up I honestly braced myself expecting something like the one in The Myriad. Instead, I got a scene of two groups of people who clearly don't like each other, have good reasons for not liking each other, but are determined to act like professional adults and not embarrass themselves. Don't get me wrong, the dinner is awkward as hell but it's intentionally and believably so! I mean a dinner where you have to be polite to a man who killed members of your family is gonna be awkward at best! The fact that instead of overwrought posturing from the League delegation or self-righteous ranting from the Coalition we get tense, restrained discussion with both sides pulling back from full out fencing is a great example of how to write such scenes. It reinforces that everyone here is an adult professional determined to do a distasteful but necessary job.

However, that leads me back to the most obvious problem in the novel. The setting is honestly lackluster and kind of black and white. The League comes off as a flat cardboard stand-in for an enemy and the twist of the novel isn't really a surprise. Honestly, you could replace the League with Nazis, or Feudalists, or some alien empire; it wouldn't change much (Ideology Matters. When the Indiana Jones films had the Nazis looking for occult artifacts - even though most of the Nazis were just mooks in pulp fiction - it felt real. It felt real because that was something the Nazis actually did. Himmler was a complete crank even by the incoherent standards of Nazism, and had Nazi anthropologists combing the world for things like the Holy Grail, and Thor’s Hammer. When Dr. Jones goes to Berlin, to the book burning, that is a thing the Nazis did. They were Nazis, doing actual Nazi Things, and their ideology was portrayed correctly. Contrast this with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. They couldn’t do the whole religious artifact thing with the USSR, because the Communist Party didn’t believe in any of it. So they had to go with space-aliens which the USSR absolutely hoped were real. Now, they flubbed it a bit in the execution. The writers decided to have the USSR going after crazy psychic powers for mind control. The Americans laugh it off as cranky, but the Army and CIA were experimenting with them up until 1995. To be clear, both sides tried to use psychic powers. The Soviets were more interested in telepathic communication for agents and submarines, and with precognition to avoid danger in space. The US actually preferred mind-control and remote viewing for spying purposes. This difference, in reality, is driven by the ideology and strategic doctrines of both powers; and the writers flubbed it - in addition to their other failures-in-execution - to make the USSR more evil. This book doesn’t even try as hard as Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This is what happens when your villains are just boogeymen and you haven’t bothered to study the ideology you’re describing as evil. Your villains end up being cardboard cutouts with no depth, and that doesn’t make for a compelling conflict, even if you don’t have a political ax to grind, which is always false, because there is no such thing as non-political art. You’re always trying to get your audience to feel or think something, and that is by its very nature a political act.). Admiral Seville, for example, is honestly kind of predictable and nowhere near as compelling as David. It also doesn't help that it doesn't feel like anyone in the League really believes in what they're doing, except for the one diplomat who's here to bring peace because he's lost both his sons in the war. Part of this is I think a lack of space given over to the villains, not that I blame Mr. Gibbs as that space was honestly better used looking at David's internal conflicts and motivations. The politics also aren't especially well done in this book either (I mean…). Mr. Gibbs avoids turning anyone into a ridiculous parody but it's very clear where his sympathies lie (I would argue that he’s not actually interested in exploring his villains or psychologically can’t.). So Coalition politics feels like he transported his idea of modern American politics onto a space-faring nation in a completely different situation and context. For that matter, the Coalition doesn't feel like a nation engaged in a total war for its very survival. For example, privately owned defense companies are often engaged in padding their bills or so the officers believe. This leaves me wondering why the Coalition isn't at least using a lot of the measures enacted in the UK or US in WWII. I don't expect them to copy the USSR but honestly, if we were fighting a foreign power that had invaded Hawaii and Alaska, managed to bomb the East Coast and pushed us on the defense for decades... I would expect our economy and political setups to be radically different (Capitalism is very good at making consumer goods in relative peacetime, but when you’re in a survival situation, it tends to either break down or become a profiteering nightmare. We’re seeing that right now, by the way. This is why capitalist democracies tend to switch over to privately-owned command economies very rapidly in total war scenarios. Seriously, the economies of the USSR and the USA were not that functionally different in WWII. The difference was in who owned the factories. The level of state control was almost the same.). This just maybe because we don't spend a lot of time around civilians in the book however so I could be completely mistaken.

If I had to sum it up though, I would say the Fight the Good Fight is a good story with great characters trapped in a very so-so setting, with fairly sub-par villains. That said, it's possible that the setting gets a lot better down the line in other books in the series and the characters are strong enough that I'm willing to give the series enough time to convince me that my first impression of the setting is wrong. The Action is also fairly well done, but I will state that I think the boarding actions are more interesting than a lot of the ship to ship combat in the book. Except for the sections where Mr. Gibbs focuses on damage control, which he does a great job at. I would say if you're interested in military science fiction that explores a very nonstandard character for the genre you should give this a spin. I'm giving Fight the Good Fight by Daniel Gibbs a B-. There are a lot of good scenes and strong character development here but it's held back by the setting, and the villains really need some development as well.

This book, as I mentioned was selected by our patrons. If you're interested in voting for reviews or themes consider joining us at and thank you for your support. Quick note, we had to split off a discussion of religion and religious freedom in the communist states since it was verging on length equivalent to the review. We will post it separately tomorrow. Next week is Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee, where we complete another series! Until then stay safe, stay frosty and Keep Reading!

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your editor Garvin Anders

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