Book Review: A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman

Ever since Vox Day declared war on pink SF/F and started posting reviews by authors and readers of books in his "Lion's Den" segments over on his blog, I've been keeping an eye out for books that seem to hold promise as examples of good old-fashioned hard-core sci-fi and fantasy. I stumbled across Tom's "Carrera" series by way of this review over at Vox's pad and decided to give it a shot by starting with the first in the series.

(The fact that Tom graced this dinky little counterculture haven with his presence recently didn't hurt either.)

Being the mildly OCD character that I am, though, I couldn't just dive into the fourth or fifth book in the series without figuring out what the whole thing was about in the first place. So I went over to Amazon, bought the first book (it's on sale at a very reasonable price), and got to reading it. I actually finished it on the flight back home, and with luck I will get started on the rest of the series pretty soon.

A description of the Carrera universe is in order first. I really can't do much better than quote (read: blatantly copy verbatim) Tom's own description of his work:
Caveat: If you're a staunch liblepr (liberal-leftist-progressive-red) the odds of you're getting through the series without suffering a fatal case of exploding brain pan are, at best, fifty-fifty. This is hilarious, too, because the main character, in the course of creating a one export economy for a small country - the export being highly trained formations of military auxiliaries - finds that he had inadvertently done what most single export economies end up doing, creating a partial "socialist workers paradise." Nonetheless, every time someone buys one of my books a liberal, somewhere, cries or screams. And remember: Every time a liberal cries or screams, an angel gets his wings. 
I wrote the series to discuss a large number of different things and I wrote it to work at different levels, for different readings, by different people, at different times. At one level, the first two volumes concerned how the current campaigns should have been fought and why everything has gone to shit. Note that I predicted that before it happened, well before. These were also books on revenge and on how one tends to become much like ones enemies. They also discussed, incidentally, with the Cheng Ho disaster, the failed first attempt at colonization, the likelihood or lack thereof of a colonization attempt that mixed culturally incompatible peoples
At still another level - and it's a shame, you'll agree, that "literary fiction" is invariable [sic] concerned with mere style and never with sophisticated thought - we have something very like the world of today - called with deliberate lack of imagination, "Terra Nova" - engaged in war against the world of tomorrow, Old Earth, a hellish nightmare of UN, EU, NGO, and Quango dominated oligarchy, to prevent that kind of oligarchy from arising on the new world. At yet another level, it's about demographic change, and what that does to societies, not merely as a result of who comes in, but also about who leaves. 
(Emphasis mine, of course)

That is, I would say, a pretty fair summary of the general approach and tone of the entire first book. The quotes that I've highlighted will turn out to be very important when you read the first book, especially the bit about Liberal Exploding Brain Syndrome. I actually put the odds of a liberabbit reading this book all the way through at less than 25%, and I put the odds of a liberal who actually manages this feat and does not experience LEBS at under 10%. It's that provocative.

All of which means, of course, that I rather enjoyed it.

A Desert Called Peace is not really just one book or story. It's actually three or four stories wrapped together into one more or less coherent narrative, concentrating throughout on the story of one Patrick Hennessy. The story begins with the happy family man, ensconced firmly within his family home in what might as well be Paradise, or at least one man's piece of it. As is to be expected in a book that actually starts off with a large bunch of captive Arabs being executed through crucifixion (so that they would be judged as apostates by their "god" and immediately sentenced to Hell), Patrick's life is torn apart when a group of Salafist Islamic loonies (yes, I know, "Salafist Islamic loony" is highly redundant) hijack a pair of aircraft and crash them into two large buildings in a major metropolis on Terra Nova (a world colonised by settlers fleeing the dying nations of Old Earth).

Grief-stricken by the deaths of his stunningly beautiful wife, their three children (and unborn child), and his uncle-in-law, Hennessy eventually picks himself up in order to form a private army for the Terra Novan nation of Balboa, with the aim of establishing a permanent defence corps, and with the explicit intention of bringing bloody and terrible vengeance upon all those who follow the creed that killed his family. Using every logistical planning trick known to Man (and a few invented for the purpose), and rebranding himself as Patricio Carrera with his dead wife's surname, he creates the Legio del Cid as a tool of vengeance and sets off to bring that vengeance down upon the mutual enemies of the Balboans and the Federated States.

You can already guess where most of the novel is going. It is basically a lengthy and rather interestingly written revenge fantasy for 9/11, taking place on a distant but familiar world in a distant but familiar future. You can almost hear Tom Kratman asking himself throughout the book, what if someone had the balls to truly take the fight to the bastards who committed this atrocity against our people?

The strong points of this book are very strong indeed. The book is full of fascinating ideas, starting with the parallel narratives of Patricio Carrera's work to build a functioning legion of well-trained, well-armed men out of the thousands of young, unemployed Balboan men happy to volunteer for good pay and free food, and the story of how Terra Nova was originally colonised. Tom succeeds admirably in setting his novel in a universe that is at once futuristic and yet believably familiar, showing that though humanity might change and advance through time, Man's basic nature stays constant.

One particularly strong point of this book is the way it depicts Islam and fundamentalist Muslims. Kratman pulls absolutely no punches here. Islamists are generally shown to be vile examples of the worst aspects of humanity. In this book, they are uncaring about the lives they destroy, or the lives of their own people. They engage in immoral acts of sodomy and pederasty. They betray their fellows in the name of tribal and familial loyalties. There are certain stark exceptions to these rules- in the latter half of the book, Carrera finds himself fighting an honourable and decent opponent who abides by the laws of war and eventually surrenders to Carrera, who grants great respect and honour to his defeated opponent and even eventually folds him into his army. But in general, Islamists are unequivocally the enemy in this book.

Kratman also shows a deep understanding of how the Islamic mind operates. He shows, through the eyes of multiple characters, how Islamists think- in a very backward, tribal-oriented fashion that permits exactly zero room for individuality. He dramatises the gulf between the Arabic tribes of Pashtia and the Westernised militaries of Balboa and the FSC by showing, again and again, how well Carrera understands his enemy, and how poorly the various do-gooder types in the book do not. This is something that the heads of Western militaries around the world need to read and understand, so that they can figure out very quickly just why their idiotic nation-building exercises will always fail in countries where the basic mindset still has not moved beyond 7th-Century tribalism.

The parallel story of the founding of Terra Nova bears touching upon. Basically, an automated probe sent out by the USA goes through a previously unknown warp gate of some sort and finds itself suddenly in orbit around a world that is virtually identical to prehistoric Earth, populated by many of the same species that were found during and before the last Ice Age. As Earth's nations continue to buckle under the strain of their idiotic welfare statist policies, and Europe in particular feels the terrible strain of a growing and virulently hostile Muslim majority, the decision is made to build a colony ship and send it out to Terra Nova to colonise the new world. Unfortunately, the bureaucrats of the UN very stupidly decide to try to make sure that the colony ship, christened the Cheng Ho, is crewed by the most diverse crew possible with zero separation between nationalities. The result is a completely predictable fiasco: the various races on board the ship rapidly band together, war breaks out due to the very fact that diversity breeds conflict, and the entire ship commits fratricide.

There is a great deal to like about this book. It is solid red meat for any red-pill-aware bloke out there, and there's a lot of good stuff in it for all of us hardcore blue SF/F buffs who like our heroes to be heroic, our women to be beautiful, our plots to be simple, our enemies to be clear, and our sense of justice and vengeance to be vindicated.

However, I would be doing myself, and Kratman, a disservice if I did not point out that there are several things about this book that I do not like. First and foremost is this notion, pervasive throughout the book, that the United States will somehow escape the social and economic problems faced by the rest of the world. This is made clear repeatedly in the book- somehow, back on Old Earth, the Americans are prosperous and growing and the rest of the world keeps exporting its best talent to them, hence the UN has to send as many people to Terra Nova as possible so as to "make things fair again" (read: impoverish the USA). I find this flatly absurd for a number of reasons, not least being the fact that America is only about 20 years or so behind the EU in terms of rabbit-brained stupidity and is trying desperately to speed up its insane drive towards national suicide.

Second, the book gets bogged down quite badly in the second third or so with logistical details. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually quite interested in the mechanics of how a war is fought and how a division is armed, fed, trained, and deployed. I just wish it didn't take quite so long to go from seeing Carrera's family being killed to seeing him exact brutal and bloody revenge upon his enemies.

Third, the battle sequences are rather uneven. Some of them are extremely well written- there's a rather good bit toward the end of the book concerning the siege of a town in Pashtia which I think is really well done and really shows how Carrera transitions from loving family man to terrifying instrument of God's wrath. Other sequences, though, are a bit murky and muddled and I had a hard time sorting through what all was going on; there's one bit roughly in the middle in which the troops are mustering to capture a couple of enemy fortresses high in the mountains where I just couldn't tell what the hell was going on.

Despite these flaws, I'd still recommend this book. It's a solid read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The prose is taut, muscular, and (despite the book's length) terse where it needs to be. The characters are interesting and believable. The overarching themes are deeply relevant. And the plot, while fairly basic, lends itself to a lot of exploration and expansion in the subsequent books, which I'm sure I shall get around to reading at some point.

Didact's Verdict: 3.5/5, a few big flaws here and there but still a good solid SF/F read that will keep you busy for a while.

Buy/download A Desert Called Peace here.

Comments

  1. No, it happens to the US, too. That, however, gets shown in Carnifex. From the interlude before chapter 9:

    SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
    CORDER, GOVERNOR, UTAH v. SIMPSON, COMMISSIONER,
    INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE
    CERTIORARI TO THE TAX COURT OF THE
    UNITED STATES
    Argued October 13, 2104—Decided March 1, 2105
    The overwhelming weight of international opinion that
    fair and just taxation of the richest portion of humanity
    for the benefi t of the poorest and most exploited
    is not controlling here, but provides respected and
    signifi cant confi rmation for the Court’s holding that the
    Fairness in Taxation Act of 2101 is both constitutional
    and binding upon those states which have, so far, failed
    to implement its provisions. See, e.g., Tomlins, supra,
    at 831–832, and n. 30. The United States is the only
    country in the world that continues to deny to its
    superior organization, the United Nations, its fair and
    just due in fi scal and tax matters. It does not lessen
    fi delity to the Constitution or pride in its origins to
    acknowledge that the concept of national— still less
    so, state—sovereignty has grown dated, and no longer
    meets the aspirations of a kinder and more enlightened
    world. Express affi rmation of certain fundamental
    rights by other nations and peoples underscores the
    centrality of those same rights within our own heritage
    of freedom. Correspondingly, their entitlement to
    support and development lays a duty upon the so-far
    privileged portion of humanity to pay. The duty to pay
    implies, indeed, requires, the right to tax.

    ReplyDelete

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