Book Review: Carnifex by Tom Kratman
After going to war with the Islamists of Pashtia, and either conquering them honourably or thoroughly destroying them, the Legion moves on to Sumer, where it proceeds to thoroughly crush the Islamist insurgency taking hold there. The narrative follows Carrera's expansion of the Legion from a formidable force of predominantly ground-pounders, to its own self-contained military; in fact, at some point along the way, Carrera amasses enough gold to actually start up his own currency. The Legion expands into a full-fledged military organisation, complete with a navy (and an aircraft carrier, to boot!), an intelligence organisation, a military academy, and its own administrative bureaucracy. Along the way, the Legion makes strong allies in the nation of Yamato (Terra Nova's analogue for Japan), who send them one of their most legendary and skilled naval commanders. They make alliances with the non-loony Islamists of the Pashtu region in order to take the fight to their true enemies, the Salafists and their leaders.
Meanwhile, the United Earth Peace Fleet, orbiting above Terra Nova, decides to get involved indirectly by supporting the insurgency with tactical information and, eventually, actual armaments, for the UEPF high commanders are utterly terrified of what Carrera is becoming. They recognise that Carrera will not stop until his world is free of the monsters of the past- of fundamentalist Islam, of progressive stupidity, of softness and weakness that prevent his people from living in peace. Matters eventually come to a truly brutal head during the final, climactic assault on the insurgents' mountain base.
I warn you now that this book does NOT make for easy reading, even though it's difficult to put down. The violence is graphic and brutal, and the actions taken by several of the characters may well leave you sickened- particularly at the very end, in which Carrera makes a decision that very probably destroys whatever little humanity is left in his soul by sentencing tens of thousands to death by atomic fire. If you are of the fluffy-clouds-rainbows-and-unicorns type, then you're going to HATE this book.
If, however, you understand that freedom and liberty are worth fighting and, if necessary, dying for, then this is the book for you.
The first is related to a criticism that I had of the first book. In my review I said that, during the parallel plotline narrated in the interludes that sprinkle that book (and this one), the United States of America keeps coming off scott-free relative to the moribund economies of Europe, consistently growing and outproducing its sclerotic, progressive-minded rivals. And as Tom pointed out in his response, the second book shows that the USA is not immune to the forces of history either. That is in fact exactly what happens; the parallel narrative in the book shows that in fact the USA does succumb to the r-selected progressive disease of the mind, and chooses to create a socialist utopia on Earth- by getting rid of all of the productive, hard-working, intelligent people and keeping only the stupid, the indigent, and the bureaucrats. So as far as I am concerned, this book is already a significant improvement upon its predecessor for that reason alone, and is much more believable because of it.
The second has to do with Tom's uncanny understanding of how an Islamist thinks, and how an Islamic insurgency works- and most importantly, how to fight both. Tom understands, perhaps better than any other military sci-fi author I've seen this side of John Ringo's The Last Centurion, exactly what kind of tribalist mentality drives Islamists to do the bats**t-crazy things that they do. (He basically explains why in the afterword to the book, in fact.) The Salafists and other Muslims in the book are not necessarily portrayed as evil, at least not outright; indeed, the Legion actually ends up employing a number of them in capacities ranging from the Pashtun scouts to the "interrogators" (read: torturers) that staff the Legion's secret prison ship. Kratman truly does understand that Islam is a tribalist creed, and as such is neither rational nor enlightened, and that the only way to stop it in its tracks is to meet it head on with the same kind of brutality and horror that Islam inflicts upon its victims. Hell, the Islamists in the book literally admit as much late in the book- they realise that Carrera is exactly like them, that he will never stop, he will never be satisfied, until all of them, and their descendants, are destroyed physically, morally, and spiritually, unable ever to threaten the inhabitants of Terra Nova again. Kratman, perhaps uniquely among sci-fi writers, understands what it takes to win an ugly war like this, and he explores that theme to the full in this book.
The third theme, a much larger one that I suspect will be explored in the next book, The Lotus Eaters, has to do with the degeneracy that comes from progressivism. In this, Kratman's writing reflects precisely my own thoughts on the subject of the endpoint of liberalism. Liberals love to talk about "fairness" and "progress" and "equality", but they never stop to think about the rational consequences of their belief system. If they did, they would realise that the utopia that they seek to build would in fact be Hell on Earth- a system in which the very few and very privileged live lives of utter degeneracy and depravity, convinced of their superiority as human beings, while the great majority struggle below them as near-slaves. We have seen this exact scenario played out time and again throughout history, most notably (though far from most recently) in the old Soviet Union, but we never seem to learn from it. As a race, we seem to be doomed to repeat the mistake that Adam and Eve made in the Garden when they fell prey to the Serpent's words: "And ye shall be as gods".
Not so with Tom's book. Kratman forces the reader to confront the logical endpoint of liberalism in all of its hideous glory: a society so polarised, so ugly, so lacking in virtue, that you wonder how the people at the top of it can live with themselves. This book isn't just entertainment, it's a warning.
This book is, in almost every way, superior to its predecessor. The writing is tighter. The plot is more thoroughly developed. The action sequences are visceral and absolutely gripping. The characters are people that you begin to understand and truly care about. There is no real sense of black and white in this book- many of the actions that Carrera and his Legion take in destroying their enemy are far beyond the pale of what soft Western militaries consider to be "honourable" in war. The book makes you confront war in all of its ghastly horror, to face the choices that must be made in order to achieve absolute victory, and to understand the cost that such actions exact upon a man's soul.
And also there is a great reference to Starship Troopers right at the end; in my estimation, anyone who can work a reference to the greatest military sci-fi novel of all time in like that, is worth reading. I'm very much looking forward to getting down to the next book in the series, that's for damn sure.
Didact's Verdict: 4.5/5, an outstanding military sci-fi novel in every possible way which will demand as much from the reader as it gives back.
Oh, and one more thing- if you see the phrase banzai, motherf***ers making its way into this blog's lexicon over the coming months, well, this book is the reason behind it. Read it and you'll find out exactly what I'm on about.
Buy/download Carnifex here.