Book Review: Foreign Enemies and Traitors by Matthew Bracken

Ever since I "unplugged from The Matrix", as Keoni Galt would put it, I've generally enjoyed the fictional works of authors who share the same anti-establishment views as I do. These works, as flawed as they can sometimes be due to a lack of polish or believable characters, are worth reading simply because they present a view that you simply cannot get from conventional fiction or media. This certainly holds true of the last book in Matt Bracken's Enemies trilogy, Foreign Enemies and Traitors. Matt clearly learned a few things from his previous two efforts, the flawed but promising Enemies Foreign and Domestic, and the much-improved but still somewhat problematic Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista. This book shows a bit more polish and a bit less... shall we say, silliness than the very first book in the series, but I still maintain that the best book in the trilogy is actually the second one.

The strengths of the book are the same as those of the previous two. Matt clearly has a great eye and pen for realistic combat scenarios- unsurprising, given that the man is a former Navy SEAL and has fought in some of the world's nastiest combat zones. His grasp of politics and the current world situation is no less impressive, however. He clearly gets it. He understands where the world is heading. He sees the inevitability of the breakup of the once-United States into several distinct political bodies of different ideologies, and he goes about describing the manner in which the coming crisis will unfold with impressive skill. In his view (and in mine), the United States financial system will collapse thanks to trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities, destroying the banking system and forcing the government to basically nationalise the entire economy. Money printing will go completely out of control; the currency itself will be subsumed and destroyed, eventually to be replaced with a new currency as hyperinflation reaps its inevitable toll. And the politics of this country, already heavily liberal, will become ever more left-leaning as those of us who seek nothing more than to be left in peace are steadily outnumbered by those who seek to take everything we have.

Out of this macroeconomic and macrohistorical background, the leaders of this country will eventually force a new "progressive" Constitution down the throats of the American people. And they will succeed. Natural disasters, when they strike, will do so with a ferocity and violence never seen before in human history- largely because the human ingenuity and free enterprise that could have mitigated the effects of those disasters will have fled or been destroyed. In this respect, Matt Bracken is clearly a disciple of Ayn Rand's views (note, I am NOT calling him an Objectivist, I'm just drawing clear parallels between the way the collapse comes in Bracken's work to the way it comes in Rand's Atlas Shrugged- through the loss of the productive and the skilled).

The novel focuses on a small cast of characters, one of whom we actually met in the first novel. Phil Carson, the novel's protagonist, finds himself shipwrecked in Mississippi, a state that he barely recognises after a monster hurricane practically leveled it (in this, Bracken basically draws a worst-case scenario of a mega-Katrina coming through and doing a number on the entire Gulf). Phil finds his way into Tennessee, a state that has been virtually destroyed thanks to a massive earthquake along the New Madrid fault line (and in this, he's simply extrapolating from the current scientific consensus that we're long overdue for another Big One along that very same fault). The country he finds himself in is one he doesn't recognise. The Federal government has long since given up any pretense of limits on its power and is hopelessly corrupt, having devolved into outright tyranny. The President is a thinly-disguised (and in my opinion, chillingly accurate) caricature of President Jackass. And he soon realises the awful truth that the President has now taken the one step that none of his predecessors would have dared to take: in the wake of unprecedented and repeated natural disasters, he has called in foreign mercenaries to "enforce the peace", in return for vast grants of American land and property.

Into this miasma of loss and terror are introduced some rather good new characters. I particularly liked the ex-Special Forces operator Boone Vikersun, who I thought was an excellent foil for the story. Some of the foreign mercenaries also serve as point-of-view characters during the story, in order to give the story a continuous but interesting flow. And Lt. General Armstead's introduction towards the end of the book is nothing if not excellent. The book follows a diverse cast of characters in a small and badly outgunned resistance movement as they fight to reclaim their country from foreign mercenaries, domestic terrorism committed by their own government against their own people, and the absolutist tyranny of a government that has long since abandoned any pretense of being by, for, and of the people.

Do I really need to explain why it's a good idea to provide a picture here?
Sadly, there are quite a few flaws to this book as well. Ranya Bardiwell, whose character was far better developed in book #2, gets basically two cameo scenes in this novel, and the first one is so pointless that I wonder why it's even in the book. Bob Bullard, the perennial bugbear of the freedom-loving patriots of these books from first to last, is even more irritating in this book than he was in the previous one- though I suppose that's rather the point. He gets his comeuppance in the end, but I found the approach used in said delivery of justice to be... well, unsatisfying somehow. Let me put it this way: there is nothing quite like seeing Batman pummel the crap out of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, then fall victim to betrayal himself, and finally see Bane torn to pieces by a vengeful Catwoman. That sense of a climactic showdown between good and evil just isn't there in this book. Indeed, without giving away the ending, all I can say is that the end of the book comes about with a whimper, not a bang. Of any kind. Basically the bad guys get toasted thanks to a video recording, not a massive armed confrontation in which the heroes, outnumbered and desperate but with God on their side, manage to pull off something incredible. The Sword of Shannarah, this is not. (That analogy is very deliberate, by the way; in Sword, the protagonist- it's a bit much to call Shea Ohmsford a "hero"- confronts the unspeakable evil of the Warlock Lord with the truth of his own existence, and in confronting evil with the one thing it cannot withstand, so destroys it. This is exactly how things proceed in FDAT.)

These basic flaws aside, I still strongly recommend this book to anyone who loves good alternate-reality fiction. I recommend this one even more so because there is nothing "alternate" about this reality- this is what WILL come to pass. Bracken only got his timing and the exact sequence of events wrong, probably; eventually, the government WILL make a move to usurp and destroy your freedoms, and eventually, the banking system WILL collapse. It's just a question of how and when, not if.

Verdict: 4/5, great read but a bit limp at the end


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