A State of Disobedience is a first novel from Tom Kratman, published by military science fiction powerhouse Baen Books. Like most of Baen’s authors, Kratman is a military veteran and extremely conservative. He enlisted in the infantry, left to attend Boston College and then returned to serve as an officer in the first Gulf War. He then went to law school and now practices law in Virginia. Since writing this novel in 2003 he has collaborated with John Ringo on two other novels and has two more solo novels coming out later this year.
Despite the alarming premise this book is not a bunch of idiotic reactionary twaddle about a second American revolution like The Turner Diaries. It’s better thought out and more believable, once you’ve swallowed the basic idea that Hillary Clinton wins the 2008 election and then proceeds to do everything her worst detractors suspect she wants to do, by turning the US into a politically correct, socialist, police state. Kratman is clearly an astute political observer and keenly intelligent. His extrapolations from the body of anti-Hillary rhetoric are logical and fully explored. After you’ve read a few pages and begun to suspend your initial disbelief his distopian scenario becomes dismayingly convincing.
It’s a tribute to Kratman’s intelligence that even though the book was published in 2003 and ran the risk of becoming dated very fast, nothing which has happened since then has really failed to follow his version of history, except perhaps the rise of Barack Obama as a serious Democratic presidential contender. His story is made more convincing by his transparent use of historical figures with only small name changes, and with their well-known personalities clearly described on the page. Hillary Clinton becomes Wilhelmina Rottermeyer (after having divorced her philandering husband and taken back her maiden name). James Carville is James Carroll, and so on. Many of the central characters are fictional, although clearly drawn from life, and there are enough little tidbits of factual scandal and historical abuse of power to lay a believable foundation for the more extreme parts of the story. He even gets in a nice dig at ACORN and the largely ignored Democratic vote-buying scandal.
The story starts after the election of Willi Rottermeyer who has used her first two years in office to consolidate power, undermine the political opposition by blackmail and intimidation, increase taxes, expand welfare programs, weaken the states, increase federal power, and even provide various executive branch agencies with their own special police forces, including a much expanded secret service functioning as a secret police force. One of the things Rottermeyer has done is to give the Surgeon General his own police to protect abortion clinics, and this inevitably leads to conflict with right-to-life protestors whose politically incorrect freedom of speech is of no interest to the administration. A situation gets out of control when a bombing suspect takes sanctuary with a Catholic priest and the orphans he cares for in a church in Waco. A siege ensues, which in one of the weakest points in the book, is much too reminiscent of the siege of the Branch Davidian compound, with a similar outcome.
It turns out that the priest is the Texas’ governor’s brother, and she sends in the national guard to try to relieve the siege. They arrive too late to save the victims, but end up arresting a Janet Reno-like Attorney General and the besieging forces. From there the situation escalates in a logical manner, with the ego-driven president intent on breaking the back of the rebellious Texans and using them as an example to assert more control over the other states, and the excesses and atrocities of the federal government eventually forcing more and more of the nation into open rebellion.
Common issues of political concern are used very effectively, including the increasing receptivity of the media to government propaganda, the continuing ideological division between ‘red’ and ‘blue’ states, the persistent unwillingness of the lower economic classes to believe the government just wants to help them, the dichotomy between the federal military and the national guard, and the hostility of politicians on the left towards the military.
Yes, much of it is over the top, but it’s clear that the author is having fun and it’s hard not to be carried along with him. I suppose that someone far enough left or fanatical enough about Hillary Clinton might find the book deeply offensive on many different levels, but I suspect that Kratman would be pretty pleased if that was the case.
Although clearly anti-statist and anti-socialist, Kratman is not necessarily writing as a Republican partisan here. He gives plenty of blame to his surrogate President Bush for creating the mess that puts a potential dictator in office and gives her unprecedented executive power. His heroine, Texas Governor Juanita Seguin is also a Democrat – just one who can’t stomach what the far left of her party does to the country. He also saves plenty of blame for the spineless, opportunistic congressmen of both parties.
The book is basically driven by Kratman’s intellect rather than his literary skills. It has some of the roughness of a first novel and it’s structurally disjointed. Despite this, the basic story and the cleverly developed plot keep the whole thing going up to the very end. The book probably goes on just a bit too long. When the story is really pretty much over, Kratman drags it out a bit with a subplot which is a very believable warning to would-be reformers, but reads more like an editorial than fiction. This is not to say that Kratman is a bad writer. He has the basic skills of narrative and dialogue. It just seems like he had this idea burning in his brain and pumped this novel out fast with most of the effort going into the ideas and not as much into finely crafting the vehicle which presents them. Nonetheless it remains a pretty good read, much less preachy than most dystopian novels, and oh so relevant in the context of the upcoming election.