Counterstrike, by Hal Colebatch
(Acashic Publishing, 245 pages, $23.99 paper; $19.99 e-book)
In the Information Age, a lie may be the most powerful weapon of all.
The American Spectator’s own Hal G. P. Colebatch, Australian lawyer and poet, as well as author of nonfiction books and co-author of works of science fiction, has branched out into a new subgenre of speculative fiction — a near future story focusing on the war of ideas, in his freshly released novel, Counterstrike.
The time is about five years from now. The war of militant Islam against the West continues. There has been murderous rioting in England, and Sharia Law is taking hold there. But far away in Australia, it all still seems unreal. Harry Godwin, our hero, is a lawyer and a part-time university instructor in an unnamed (but not unguessable) western Australian city. Still smarting from the break-up of a romantic relationship, he diverts himself with sophisticated war gaming along with other members of a local club, moving model ships and sailors across an elaborate board. He’s a romantic at heart, somewhat regretful that he’ll never have the chance to participate in a real naval battle.
He joins his friend Toby in what they call an “immram” (an Irish word for a sea pilgrimage, inspired, they say, by The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) to explore offshore ocean islands and do some diving from Toby’s small sailboat. En route they encounter a pair of Toby’s friends, a married couple who sail a large yacht, along with their attractive friend Leonie. They decide to all throw in together for the immram. In the course of it, Harry and Leonie are drawn to one another, though he’s gun-shy and awkward with her.
As they voyage they encounter a university research vessel carrying, among other personnel, a visiting lecturer from the United States, a Professor Sojourner, who has recently made headlines with his theory that the British government knew in advance of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, but withheld the intelligence from the U.S., hoping to draw the Yanks into the World War II. A famous lost warship, he believes, carries proof of this betrayal.
In the course of their diving, Harry and his party discover what seems to be the wreckage of a warship of that period. Which sets them on a collision course with Professor Sojourner and the university faculty, in a battle of truth and lies that threatens the very existence of the U.S.-Australian alliance, just when both countries need each other more than they have for decades.
Counterstrike isn’t an action novel. No shots are fired onstage, no punches thrown (though there is an explosion). This Armageddon is ushered in through ideas, through words, through the mendacity of people who hate liberty, who feel a “moral” compulsion to destroy the cultural roots that nurture them in service of an ideology more powerful (to them) than loyalty or love. Some things are won, and many things are lost, but hope abides.
Colebatch is a sensitive and descriptive writer, investing his story with all his affection for his city, his country, the sea, great literature, and history. Through Harry Godwin’s eyes, we observe a sun-bright world made fragile under the threat of a thing so apparently trivial and laughable as a conspiracy theory. At one point, Harry says:
There’s a strange syndrome present. Different conspiracy theorists will very often associate with, and reinforce, one another even when they have mutually incompatible beliefs. On the 9/11 conspiracy sites one theorist who claims that a missile was fired into the Pentagon will associate himself with another theorist who claims a remotely controlled plane was crashed into the Pentagon. And how many Islamicists will proclaim simultaneously that 9/11 and the rest were great blows struck for Islam against the West and that they are part of a Jewish plot to discredit Islam and give the U.S. an excuse for invading Iraq and threaten Iran?
…Tens of thousands of people evidently think there’s something in it, “if” — magic phrase — “you keep an open mind.” I’m coming to think the truth is that if you keep an open mind people will throw all their crap in it — and as often as not have you pay them for doing so.”
Counterstrike is something like a bright photographic negative of a night scene, displaying evil through its contrast with goodness. Not only is it an enjoyable entertainment, it’s a “beat to quarters” to defend the truth, for its own sake and for the sake of all the things we cherish, that depend on freedom.