First to Fight: Starfist Book I, David Sherman and Dan Cragg (Del Rey, 1997)

Grade: Δˡ  — A good read, but only if you like the genre (or subgenre).

In brief:

First to Fight: Starfist Book I by David Sherman and Dan Cragg is the opening salvo in the immense Starfist series.  It is a stand alone Military Science Fiction book is a rip-roaring adventure that does exactly what it says on the tin.  If you like MilFic, buy this book. If you don’t like MilFic, move along, you will not like it.

Setting:

It’s the 25th Century, but the Marines are still looking for a few good men… 

With a tag line like that, what more do you really need to know?  The Starfist series follows the adventures of the 34th FIST (Fleet Initial Strike Team) Marines as they fight to defend the Confederation of worlds set around Earth. While the Confederation is the largest union of planets, it is not the only human government in the region, and as the series progresses, it becomes clear that other species are also lurking out their in the stars. 

In Depth:

David Sherman

First to Fight: Starfist Book I by David Sherman and Dan Cragg is just what it says it is, a Ripping Yarn by two former NCOs, one a Marine, the other Army.  It, like the rest of the series, is an action-adventure tale filled with military life and combat.  If you’re looking for in depth social commentary[1] or high science, go elsewhere, but if you want a fun read that is filled with military combat that is written by veterans who know their stuff… this is a blast. 

Dan Cragg

This book, the first in the series, is the best place to start,[2] for while it is not the best of Sherman and Cragg’s works, it does set the scene and is a very easy read.  This book introduces many of the characters who become the staple of the subsequent books, most particularly Charlie Bass, the hardened Marine NCO who leads his men through countless combats. Charlie begins this book as a Gunnery Sergeant, but his reaction to a badly designed piece of new equipment called the Universal Positionator Up-Downlink, Mark One, or UPUD (giggle) for short, leads to his demotion to a Staff Sergeant in the Prologue. 

The book (and series as a whole for that matter) also follows the adventures of several other characters, from the raw recruits to the Officers of the now famous 34th FIST (Fleet Initial Strike Team) Marines.  It is a tale of hard men (and women) who fight for their country (the Confederation of Worlds). 

Despite the more-or-less American outlook of the characters, there are a lot of futurist multicultural elements in this (and the subsequent) book. Religion, for example, is a mélange of many of the existing world belief systems.  Sherman and Cragg create a strange and never quite explained theist approach (is it monotheist?  Polytheist?  Not really explained and not necessary to), that could equally offend any true believer of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, or just be seen as an interesting Science Fiction blend of the three done in a pretty adept manner that shows the authors have at least some working knowledge of the different faiths. Is it a deep anthropological examination of such a blend of theologies?  No. Will it offend many people who hold religious convictions?  Yes.  But really, what do you want?  The book is called First to Fight: Starfist Book I.  As I said, it does what it says on the tin.

In this First to Fight, we meet Charlie’s seven man squad as they find themselves separated from the rest of their unit, on an uncharted, waterless wasteland, with two-thousand hostile renegades armed with state-of-the-art equipment they are using to kill other indigenous[3] members of their planet… and the Marines who stand in their way.  To that end, this tale follows an archetype[4] of the MilFic subgenre: the lost unit fights its way from behind enemy lines storyline.

As such, it is not a revolutionary novel in any sense of the word.  It is simple story that follows straightforward characters.  It does not have any deep philosophy or huge insights.  It is a book about individuals’ experience of small unit tactics.  Those tactics are straight-line extrapolations of modern (or perhaps even somewhat dated) small unit tactics, that are only changed by the advent of new technologies created by the authors.  Those technologies are not unique to this story, nor are there hard-sci-fi explorations of the science involved in them. They are effectively bigger badder versions of what we have today… need a gun?  Try a blaster (plasma rifle).  Need a ghillie suit?  The Confederation Marines have adaptable cammo that changes according to what you are stepping on.

Yet it is a fun, exciting tale that pulls you into the characters and sets you on the road for adventure.  To that end, it really is a must read for anyone who likes Military Science Fiction, and is highly likely to entertain and pull in anyone who likes action-adventure tales. 

Will it change your outlook of the world?  No!  But the primary role of fiction is to entertain, and if you want a MilFic story, this book (and series) does that in spades!

Additionally, unlike many series, each book in the StarFist cycle is a complete read on its own.  There are no cliffhanger endings, and they are easy to pick up anywhere in the series.  To that end, one does not have the “George R.R. Martin Effect” of having to read the WHOLE BLOODY SERIES just to feel closure.  Instead, one enjoys each book for what it is and when done, looks forward to the next one without feeling unsatisfied at the closure of the one you just finished. 

Pick ’em up and enjoy, cuz even in the 21st Century, Readers are looking for a few good fun books… and this is one of ’em.


[1] Though, to be fair, this volume has several interesting points about life in the military and as the series moves forward, it makes many salient points about the effects of long term combat tours etc.  It is particularly poignant in the most recent additions.

[2] Mind you, you can pick up just about any of the series and read it from that point. Key points from previous volumes are explained.  There are spoilers if you read it that way, however.  What do you expect? If it’s a series about combat and you know whose alive in the subsequent books….

[3] Well… indigenous in so far as they are humans of Terran descent whose ancestors populated this planet generations before.  There are no aliens in this book… though later volumes do introduce them.

[4] At this point, most critiques would use the term trope, but while that may be an acceptable term for English studies, it is a bastardization of the original Greek term trope that totally inverts the actual meaning of the phrase, and as an archaeologist, I just can’t bring myself to use it. 

 

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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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