Review: Carnifex by Tom Kratman

Tom Kratman’s new book Carnifex is a sequel to A Desert Called Peace which was published only a few months ago. It continues the story of Patricio Carrera on the war-torn planet of Terra Novo where history and the political forces of the world bear a not entirely coincidental resemblance to our contemporary world. Kratman continues his theme of using the science fiction setting to explore issues and events from the real world, and ends up producing insights and making strong political statements which are sometimes jarring but often right on the mark. Along the way he also manages to tell a pretty good story.

Carnifex picks up where A Desert Called Peace winds down, with Carrera and his Balboan mercenaries having swung the tide in the war in Sumeria and opened the door for a stable government under the sympathetic government of his local ally General Adnan Sada. The action now moves to two main fronts, the internal struggle for control of Balboa and the protection of the Legion’s homebase from Tauran Union ‘peacekeepers’ bent on maintaining the corrupt Balboanregime in the face of an electoral challenge from Carrera’s ally retired General Raul Parilla, and the mountainous nation of Pashtia where the last leaders of the Salafi Ikhwan terrorists are hiding out and regrouping their forces.

There’s a lot of very satisfying story in these two plot lines, between the political machinations in Balboa and the concerted effort to neutralized and subdue the terrorists in their home ground in Pashtia. But what I actually found most interesting was a third plot line involving Carrera’s development of a small naval force to deal with terrorist-allied pirates. The tactics and technology involved were intriguing in an aspect of terrorism and law enforcement which has a rich history but is little considered today, even though it certainly still exists.

Inevitably the book culminates with Mustafa ibn Mohamed ibn Salah (Terra Nova’s answer to Osama bin Laden) cornered after a pitched battle in the caves between Pashtia and Kashmir, and ultimately captured by Carrera’s Legion. It’s a nice bit of wishful thinking to see the chief architect of terror brought down in fiction in a way which has not happened here in our world. The final campaign also leaves Carrera a virtual husk of a man, almost destroyed by the megalomania which drove him to go to any lengths to avenge himself on the terrorists. In addition to all of its other themes, the book contains a strong message on the price one must pay for vengeance.

Throughout the book other plot-lines continue to be developed, including some exploration of the process by which Terra Nova was settled and the historical degeneration of society back on Earth. One rather satisfying element is getting to see the reprehensible Terran High Admiral Martin Robinson brought low along with a new despicable terrestrial oligarch, Marchioness of Amnesty Lucretia Arbeit. Seeing these symbols of corruption hoist by their own petard is rather satisfying. Kratman continues to explore the theme of the inevitable corruption and decadence which socialist rule decays into, and the abuses inherent to entrenched bureaucratic institutions. He also lays some groundwork for subsequent books in the series which might take the fight for freedom from Terra Nova back to Earth.

There is, of course, a strong element of ideological polemic in the book. Most of the time it fits in pretty well. Occasionally it’s a bit ham-handed. Examples with obvious real-world parallels become familiar and fairly easy to relate to. Some of the measures Carrera condones are extreme and unappealing, but understandable. The reliance on torture and assassination as means to an end can be troubling, but it makes sense in context. Kratman wants us to see what a real war on terror would be like and the degree of ruthlessness it would require, and that’s valuable, even if it makes the reader uncomfortable. His attacks on the transnational progressive elites of both Terra Nova and Earth still aren’t terribly subtle, but they’re well thought out and pretty convincing in context. Only a couple of the cheapest shots ring false, such as a brief dissertation on hostile alien plantlife like the Tranzi Tree and Progressivine which bear fairly contrived relationships to the groups he targets for criticism. Kratman’s first-hand familiarity with the real-world cultures and regions on which he bases his settings helps make the whole book more convincing.

Reading the book as I did, while controversy was breaking about Blackwater’s involvement in Iraq, added an interesting twist. The news was revealing the important role which mercenaries played in the real war at the same time that they played an even larger and more glorious role in Kratman’s book. Carnifex also brought home to me even more than Kratman’s previous book, the guilt which attaches to those organizations and individuals who for their own political advancement are willing to tolerate the barbaric behavior of terrorists and tyrants when they share a common enemy, especially when that enemy is individual liberty.

On the whole, Carnifex is a good read. It will offend some readers, but those readers probably wouldn’t have made it through the first book anyway. For the rest of us it’s a valuable combination of literary entertainment and thought provoking exploration of thinly disguised recent history. Kratman should get to work on a sequel, because I’m eager to see how Carrera and his followers deal with the decadent oligarchs of old Earth.

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About Dave 536 Articles
Dave Nalle has worked as a magazine editor, a freelance writer, a capitol hill staffer, a game designer and taught college history for many years. He now designs fonts for a living and lives with his family in a small town just outside Austin where he is ex-president of the local Lions Club. He is on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus and Politics Editor of Blogcritics Magazine. You can find his writings about fonts, art and graphic design at The Scriptorium. He also runs a conspiracy debunking site at IdiotWars.com.

14 Comments

  1. Ah, c’mon, Dave; the Tranzitrees and Progressivines were _funny_. And they were very nearly the only things in there that were funny.

    Good review, thanks. Might want to check a couple of spellings. Terra Nova, forex, and cheap.

    The sequel (The Lotus Eaters) may be a while. It’s already partly written but I have to finish a Posleen book (The Tuloriad) before I go to serious work on TLE.

    Hmmm..note to self: tell Baen to send you a copy of Caliphate, when available. Unless you would prefer an e-copy?

    best,

    Tom

  2. Ah, c’mon, Dave; the Tranzitrees and Progressivines were _funny_. And they were very nearly the only things in there that were funny.

    Taken by themselves, they’re funny, but put in the middle of the story they seem kind of jarring.

    Good review, thanks. Might want to check a couple of spellings. Terra Nova, forex, and cheap.

    That’s what I have an editor for, right? This is the unedited version. The edited version is over on blogcritics.org. They won’t have caught Terra Nova. Not sure why I got that other spelling into my head, but I usually replace my draft here with the edited version once it’s available.

    The sequel (The Lotus Eaters) may be a while. It’s already partly written but I have to finish a Posleen book (The Tuloriad) before I go to serious work on TLE.

    I’m starting to lose interest in the Posleen stuff. It’s just gone on too long and it all starts to seem the same. Maybe your contribution will breathe some new life into the series.

    Hmmm..note to self: tell Baen to send you a copy of Caliphate, when available. Unless you would prefer an e-copy?

    I’d love a printed copy if you can spare one. The ecopy is kind of slow going, so if you want a review quickly a printed copy is better. Hey, and tell them to quote one of my reviews on the back cover – can’t hurt to ask.

    Dave

  3. Well, I won’t have printed copies until maybe next March. And Caliphate comes out in April. Indeed, they’re pushing my stuff out on a schedule that has made it problematic to get copies to Publishers Weekly in time…and for ADCP it _wasn’t_ in time.

    If you’re familiar with the first four Posleen books, The Tuloriad covers the escape from Earth of the Posleen, Tulo’stenaloor and his re-establishment of Posleen civilization along somewhat different lines…that, plus the later conversion of many of them to Christianity. Yes, I’m serious.

    Have you read the Posleen books I did, Watch on the Rhine and Yellow Eyes? I don’t think they’re stale though YMMV.

  4. Actually, I think it’s more the Posleen who are stale, not the more recent books, especially yours. I liked Watch on the Rhine quite a bit, but mainly for the human characters and the general concept behind the book.

    If your new books can take the Posleen and make them less one-dimensional, then you may really be on to something. Christian Posleen is a somewhat scary concept, though.

    As for Caliphate, if I can get an ecopy I’ll be happy enough, especially if it means getting the book a good bit earlier than otherwise.

    Dave

  5. I’ll send Caliphate shortly. Note that it’s unedited draft. I doubt Toni’s even opened the file yet.
    Note also that there’s no sense in putting up a review until maybe early to mid March.

    I’d send you a copy of Yellow Eyes but I only have left the one I need for display for cons. I think you would find the Posleen quite a bit more fleshed out and interesting.

    Well…think Christians of about the 12th century, somewhere around Jerusalem, perhaps. (They’ll be some Jews and Buddhists, too; the missionary mission is ecumenical.)

  6. I’ve already got Yellow Eyes and yes, it did do more with the Posleen than the Ringo novels did, but I still don’t find them totally engaging.

    I can ignore typos pretty well, so send Caliphate on. I’ll read it slowly and make the review timely. BTW, the editing on Carnifex was quite good. The final version was as clean as any Baen book I’ve read.

    I’m about to start Robert McCammon’s Queen of Bedlam which is about a zillion pages, so that will keep me occupied for a bit anyway.

    dave

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