Imagining Counter-recruitment: A Review of Michael Chatfield’s ‘Recruitment’

MiChRi

Review by Curtis Cole

Military science-fiction tends to be a conservative outfit; many authors express a hardy, even jingoistic support for imperialism, often becoming apologists for fascist regimes infamous for the mass murder of critics. So for a voice to go against the grain and promote progressive values is an oddity. After reading The Recruitment: Rise of the Free Fleet I was pleased to see that author Michael Chatfield seems to have added his name among the small stable of semi-lefty authors.

As the book’s namesake implies, Chatfield’s overriding concern is that of militarism. With the opening of the text depicting the abduction of thousands of earthlings by an interstellar power calling itself the Union/Planetary Defense Force, the reader already sees the parallels between this mysterious collection of aliens and contemporary armed forces; the bellowing face projected upon screens announcing that the time has come for Earth’s “call to service.” The abductees, protagonist—and gamer extraordinaire Salchar among them—becoming the latest in conscripted cannon fodder.

Forced to endure a brutal training process by which a group of mostly children and young adults are required to ingest body altering foods and augmentations, the subtext is one of unity. To circumvent the dehumanizing aspects of the training, Salchar—though originally acting for purely personal reasons—creates a fighting code, later referred to throughout the fleet as “Salchar’s Rules”, meant to preserve the dignity and honor of the abducted by enforcing an ethical code of fighting and moral guidelines of non-combat interactions. This speaks to a sense of community which transcends the typical warrior code found in military sci-fi novels: that of the reactionary Bushido code; something fully adopted and allegorized by the story’s femme fatal, and eventual wife to the protagonist, Yasu Ono—a stolid loner who values honor and battle above all else[1].

After training is complete, the humans are assigned to ships and forced to participate in the Union’s military affairs: shortly after their departure from Earth, they raid a “terrorist” vessel and become pawns in a planetary invasion not unlike an operation which deprived them of their own freedom. Of course, Salchar has a plan of his own, one which involves destroying the Union and making them pay for their heinous treatment of the galaxy.  It is at this time he is introduced to an Artificial Intelligence (A.I) named Resilience; an entity on a mission to wage war against the Union. She enlightens Salchar on the hidden history of the Union, revealing that long ago there was an interstellar war between the Union, as it was then known, and an expansionist empire known as the Kalu. Not ending for several hundred years, the victorious Union had achieved a pyrrhic victory; a vast pirate horde, in the meantime, known as the Syndicate had grown in influence within the weakened Union zones of control, eventually staging a successful military campaign against the Union, stealing their name in an effort to legitimate their recruitment of an army of slaves to do their bidding.

From here the novel branches out in several interesting narrative directions. One direction, it needs to be said, is heavily concerned with society and culture. More to the point, it is a thread concerned with violence and how coordination and cooperation are used to penetrate what Marxist theorist Guy Dubord called the “Spectacle”, or, that edifying aspect of advanced capitalist society which prevented people from realizing the truth of their economic reality by virtue of the overwhelming proliferation of signs (mass media, popular culture, revisionist history, etc.). Chatfield’s contribution to this debate is that of historical truth: the victories achieved by the abducted members of humanity only come as a result of the disillusionment with the establishment, the status quo, of the revisionist history regaling all of the necessity of violent means to win peaceful ends, being uncovered as a fraud.

Resulting from this revelation is an insurrection. Salchar emerges as a leader and cajoles the oppressed into joining his audacious plan to seize a major Syndicate base. In classical Marxist theory, it is easy to view the Syndicate as a decadent bourgeoisie (capitalist class) with the slaves composing a working class, or proletariat. Hence why Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin’s words echo so strongly during this desperate battle for the space station: “The overthrow of the bourgeoisie can be achieved only by the proletariat becoming the ruling class,” (State and Revolution 25), speaks to the historical truth espoused by the masses of life-forms, human and otherwise, which flock to Salchar’s banner since “the proletariat needs state power, a centralized organization of force” which will enable the disparate slave species to re-take their various home worlds, an undertaking impossible without a violent, organizational apparatus to guide and grow the endeavor.

The other narrative direction is one of interpersonal relations. Although the author is heavily concerned with how the Military Industrial Complex expands and propagates itself, he is also equally concerned with societal ramifications of this expansion, namely, social violence. Early in the book Chatfield speaks of a super-competitive gaming event called Mecha Assault, a game with fans and players so rabid that “For some of them if they lost a battle, then they would have to regain their honor in another battle” (Chatfield 490[2]), which was often undertaken within the real world as often as it was undertaken within the virtual. Such behavior encouraged player militarization. With gamers learning defensive martial arts simply to survive, to stay in one piece, and in some cases, from being killed, many youths found themselves with deadly talents highly sought by armed organizations: whether they be human or otherwise.

Societal concern such as militarization carries over into those recruited: of the abducted, the majority are children, adolescents, and young adults. Rushed through training, while being pumped full of drugs and hormones to encourage development, sexual and social lines are blurred; this becomes even more acute with “the marriage fight” which paired up the abducted with those of the opposite sex into legally binding unions. Something which becomes concerning once one remembers the age of the participants and their expectation to breed slaves which the Syndicate is able to train, from birth, into soldiers.

One could expect developmental problems to arise within youth who are expected to sexually engage with one another when not on the battlefield. And so it is not unexpected that references abound to the youth being unable to distinguish reality from fantasy; in the case of one fifteen-year-old, Wiry, the development of a murderous pathology. Both the narrator and the protagonist chronicle how the soldiers believe their actions to be like a video game. A reoccurring track of social commentary signaling Chatfield’s concern with how militarist social-media texts (such as Call of Duty and America’s Solider) are negatively affecting contemporary youth in a postmodern age.

The ending, both conventional and unconventional at the same time, belies the author’s commitment toward storytelling. On one hand it rejects typical notions of heteronormativity within military science-fiction literature; the marriage battle, through forcing Salchar and Yasu to marry and enforces a reader’s expectation of latent sexual desire between the couple, this desire is never affirmed; the furthest the couple gets is a lukewarm kiss. Sexual intimacy is never consummated and, indeed, throughout the book, Salchar is paranoid of the murderous intents his so-called wife has upon him, while Yasu herself is disgusted with Salchar’s perceived sexual promiscuity and lack of honor. So while heterosexuality is very much the lifeblood of the book, the actual content reveals a disturbed core, from the marriage battles to the relationship between Salchar and Yasu, antithetical to the romanticized views which predominate literary texts.

In the end, Chatfield’s first swipe at being an author is a conflicted bag. Although I admire much of his work, especially when we consider this effort to be among the first of his authorial commitment, one cannot ignore the literary faults inherent within the text. The most glaring of which is punctuation and grammar. While I can overlook the occasional typo, and even stomach some incorrectly or misused words, The Recruitment is littered with mistakes; from missing parentheses, incorrect temporal alignment (for example, “destroying” when “destroyed” is the appropriate tense for a passage), to missing commas, periods, and quotation marks, the overall manuscript is riddled with errors. Although I did not find these mistakes to be terribly distracting, it is a shortcoming which I would advise the author to take steps to overcome, as any work destined to be read should be first put through a rigorous date with an editor before publication.

Some of my smaller complaints are directed toward the uneven pace of the plot. At times, specifically in the second half to final 35% of the book, there is this breakneck speed which the narrative takes up. Prior to this portion of the text the plot felt as though it was reaching a natural conclusion; however, upon reaching this point, it increasingly felt as though the scenarios were not given the necessary time to be wholly coherent, or as if the events were novellas which the author hastily fused into a larger work so as to give it more diversity in content. Considering this ebook is an estimated six hundred pages, this is mildly concerning as it points to a lack of organizational skills. But, as this is an early work by the author, and as such, he is still honing his skill, I can forgive such quirks and state my belief in that the author should continue writing.

The Recruitment: Rise of the Free Fleet

Michael Chatfield

600 pages. Published by Booktango. $14.13 (Paperback), $2.99 (Kindle). 2015.

 

Works Cited

Chatfield, Michael. The Recruitment: Rise of the Free Fleet. Bloomington: Booktango, 2015. Kindle E-Book.

Lenin, V.I. State and Revolution. Mansfield: Martino, 2009. Print.

 

[1] This is not to say that the author, Chatfield, is a Leftist. On the contrary, he displays reformist tendencies (liberalism and conservatism). Although the code of “Salchar’s Rules” is a moderate alternative to the Bushido code, it is still one rooted in humanist ideology and reactionary social-Darwinist thinking; after several Union/Syndicate ships are seized, for example, humans are found aboard in a terrible state. They are depicted as violent, dirty, sexually threatening, and lawless. Close to sub-human, in fact. It is discovered that these individuals never trained with “Salchar’s Rules” and so descended into a chaotic cabal where the strong provided over the weak. Such a display contrasts sharply with those trained keeping Salchar’s Rules in mind: they are organized, healthy, and able to cooperate while supporting one another. Salchar, by extension, is set up as a pseudo-Christ figure as the savior of humanity; this connection is later reinforced during his encounter with the Avarians and his subsequent “transition” marking its similarity to the Bible tale of Jesus’s Resurrection.

[2] Citation for this review utilizes Kindle’s “location” based system instead of page numbers.

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