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War for fun and profit.
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Poor Man's Fight is a military science fiction series by Elliot Kay.

Quick-witted Tanner Malone has bombed the Test, an all-important exam that establishes how much he owes for his corporate-funded education. With his future plans crushed under a mountain of debt, Tanner enlists in the navy of his home star system of Archangel. But he hasn’t factored in the bullying shipmates, the civil war brewing on the border, or the space pirates.

As Tanner begins basic training, the government ramps up its forces to confront the vicious raiders wreaking havoc throughout human space. Led by the complex and charismatic Captain Casey, the outlaws never let their egalitarian and democratic ideals get in the way of a little murder or mayhem.

Assigned to the front lines, Tanner learns there’s only one way to deal with his ruthless foes, cruel comrades, and the unforgiving void of space. He’ll have to get up close and personal.

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It contains the following books:

  • Poor Man's Fight (2013)
  • Rich Man's War (2014)
  • Dead Man's Debt (2016)
  • No Medals for Secrets (2017)
  • Last Man Out (2018)


  • Action Survivor: Despite being ridiculously badass in a high-stress situation, Tanner is more this than anything else. He's traumatized by killing just one person and barely able to move after his adrenaline rush wears off.
  • A Lighter Shade of Gray: While you are overall sympathetic to our hero Tanner, the books make very clear that many of the mooks he kills are not evil, perhaps just another young person trapped into military service by unfair debt like him. At the same time, many of his allies have noble goals, such as protecting their nation from foreign invaders who would ruthlessly exploit its people... but also gladly employ psychopathic killers and war criminals if they can help get the job done. Tanner is also a through and through Combat Pragmatist, and the foreign media portrays him a ruthless killer for doing such things as not giving a group of assassins that outnumber him 4-to-1 a chance to surrender before he gives them all brutal, and mostly lethal, take-downs, or blowing up an entire ship full of thousands of invasion troops before they realize the threat.
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  • Badass Bookworm: Our protagonist Tanner Malone is a self-confessed bibliophile who other characters describe as "... gentle. Nice. I never saw him hurt anyone. All he wanted to do was work with furry animals and estuaries and stuff." Because of crushing student debt, he joins the local militia and has to Take a Level in Badass. True to this trope, he reads every manual on the ship. By the end of the FIRST book, he ends up conducting a one-man boarding action against space pirates after his ship is shot out from under him, killing dozens of the pirates in close combat and spacing hundreds more. Before storming a SECOND ship to free the pirates' hostages. It get's even more badass after that.
  • Being Good Sucks: Tanner finds this out in Dead Man's Debt when he loses the backing of Archangel when he exposes the President's criminal activities.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Tanner only manages to succeed in his battles by taking advantage of stealth, tactics, cheap shots, and not hesitating to kill whenever he gets an opening.
  • Corporate Warfare: The various megacorps start using battleships and weapons against Archangel after their initial deniable assets fail. This becomes known as the Debtor's War.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • The government is deeply under the influence of the transtellar corporations. So much it becomes obvious at the end of Poor Man's Fight they were the ones paying for the pirates to raid commerce and stir up trouble.
    • The Big Three (Northstar, La Wai, and CDC) are all composed of these as not only did they rig the Test to trap virtually all citizens in debt to them but they resort to Corporate Warfare to avoid letting Archangel default on its loans.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: In Rich Man's War, the good guys are facing 2-to-1 odds just on numbers, and their ships are smaller and weaker than the invaders, making it more like 20-to-1 or more on firepower. What does the defending admiral do? She personally leads most of her ships in a desperate Hold the Line to tie them down while a few other ships strip escorts off the enemy's big guns, and has her corvettes (tiny ships) circle around and make a mass run in. Initially, the attacking admiral on the battleship thinks they are trying to kamikaze, but instead they are getting in close to drop off boarding parties. It turns what was supposed to be a Curb-Stomp Battle into a victory when they manage to take control of key places like fire control and start shooting up the invading fleet with their own battleship. However, the corvettes lose ~2/3 of their number, and judging by descriptions of the action, the boarding parties probably suffer more than 50% dead. It's explicitly described in a later book as overturning a century of tactical dogma.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: Die Hard on a Luxury Liner describes the latter half of Poor Man's Fight pretty well. A somewhat ordinary soldier is trapped on a starship taken over by criminals and moves through the air ducts to eliminate them one by one.
  • Did Not Think This Through: The Big Three waging war on a planetary star system with their private security forces results in the collapse of one of their ranks, another being treated as an enemy state, and the third just losing a massive amount of money. The fact that they never thought they could lose this war and it would have astronomical costs is poor thinking.
  • Doomed Hometown: Tanner's homeworld of Michael is conquered early in the Debtor's War and occupied for three years.
  • Eat the Rich: What motivates many of the pirates as they consider their victims deserving because of their wealth, leading them to be more brutal than they should be because of their anger.
  • The Everyman: Tanner is just a new recruit to the Navy who just wants to pay off all of his student loans.
  • Evil Counterpart: Danny is an ordinary person with too much debt who is trying to make it as a Space Pirate as compared to Tanner being the same as a Marine. Danny ends up killed without fanfare by Tanner in the middle of the first book.
  • The Exile: Tanner becomes this after the events of Dead Man's Debt due to exposing the President being behind Casey's attack on Prince Khalil's world.
  • Famed in Story: After the events of Poor Man's Fight, Tanner is known as a war hero to the entirety of the Archangel System.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity:
    • The Big Three try to paint Tanner Malone as a Sociopathic Soldier whose massive kill count is due to his psychosis rather than the fact that he has done his very best to survive multiple bad situations.
    • By Last Man Out he has protests on his college campus and is treated as a pariah in his own home system.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: The head of the attack in Rich Man's War is treated as a pirate instead of a prisoner of war since he is not technically working for a nation state.
  • Karma Houdini: Casey, despite his atrocities, is recruited by Archangel due to the fact he's capable of acquiring starships that it desperately needs.
  • Kick the Dog: The pirates do this on multiple occasions, executing innocent prisoners and engaging in rapine, simply because they view their targets as rich.
  • May–December Romance: Tanner and Andrea are separated by forty years due to her being a two-time senator as well as Presidential Press Secretary. She looks much younger, though, due to advanced technology.
  • Megacorp: The Big Three. Northstar, La Wai, and CDC are interstellar corporations with the power of nations.
  • One-Man Army: Tanner develops this reputation but he actually achieves most of his results through stealth.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: This is done as a form of punishment as Northstar is forced to become a nation state due to waging war against Archangel. As such, they suddenly become subject to massive numbers of new sanctions and other issues.
  • Private Military Contractors: Every soldier working for the megacorps are this, whether they realize it or not. This actually backfires on them as the Archangel government refuses to treat them as prisoners of war but pirates.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Dead Man's Debt has a Blonde Republican Sex Kitten reporter threaten this to Tanner. He proceeds to threaten her in return and utterly terrify her.
  • Space Pirates: The primary villains of Poor Man's Fight are a bunch of murderous psychotic criminals who kill, rape, and plunder across the book. Ironically, the book takes care to show they were driven to steal by a bad economic system only to become monsters because of what they did to escape it.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy: The Big Three keep throwing starships at Archangel when the Debtor's War begins because they don't want to give up their debt despite the fact running a war against a nations economy is massively expensive.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In Poor Man's Fight, Casey has a habit of executing the passengers of the luxury ships he robs as well as betraying his word to the wealthy out of a sense of class warfare/vengeance. This means that when he attempts to intimidate/negotiate with Tanner by threatening hostages, he fails because Tanner believes he's going to murder the passengers anyway.
  • War for Fun and Profit: An interesting aversion in that Tanner joins the military because it's the only career he can afford that won't result in him being destitute for the rest of his life.


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