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Book Review: A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman

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Kratman has a military background and served in the Gulf War and is clearly keenly aware of how things have gone wrong in Iraq and in the War on Terror as a whole. He uses the book to play out several examples of how he thinks important aspects of that conflict should have been handled, including the use of some of the harsh methods mentioned earlier, and an interesting alternative version of the Siege of Fallujah. Particularly hard hit in the novel are the Kosmos, Terra Nova's equivalent of our international community of "Tranzis" or Transnational Progressives, as well as their fellow travellers in the news media. One of the more disconcerting aspects of the novel is Kratman's clear personal animosity towards these groups and individuals. I have plenty of reasons to dislike them and be suspicious of them myself, but clearly Kratman has some personal experiences, which turn certain scenes in the novel into a bit too much of a revenge fantasy.

A Desert Called Peace is a much more complete novel than some of Kratman's earlier works. The characterizations are better, the integration of plot and backstory are better. The narrative flows and keeps the reader engaged, and the didactic elements are expressed by example rather than by lecturing. That makes it a good read. You can kind of shove the message to one side and just enjoy the book as pure story, though there is still plenty of material which those who are squeamish or not fans of military SF will find disturbing.

That said, this is still primarily a dystopian novel based on current events. It even operates as such on two levels, because the interludes about the settlement of Terra Nova and about the state of Earth in the 25th century form a second angle of attack against the forces which Kratman sees as a threat to freedom and western civilization. It is harsh and doesn't softpedal its ideas, and it's likely to piss people off.

Kratman has elicited some pretty harsh reactions from the political left in the past, being called all the usual names reserved for those who they do not understand but find threatening. This book isn't going to make them any happier. However, it's not just a gung-ho, macho, neocon stroke-book (there, I beat them to the description). Kratman finds plenty of fault with America's political leadership and certainly doesn't push an overt right-wing agenda, even though that's what many will mistakenly see in the book. There's also a signficant subtext of the difficulty of fighting an enemy effectively without becoming like that enemy and losing your humanity, and there seems to be the potential for a message about personal redemption as the series develops. Kratman even gives Hillary Clinton a break. After making her the villain of A State of Disobedience her surrogate here is presented a lot more realistically.

I could conclude by suggesting that those of a progressive persuasion who don't like the military and just want to hug the terrorists until they come ot their senses should probably not read this book. But maybe they should give it a try. It will probably offend them in more ways than I can count, but it might also get through to them on some level. Kratman has humanized a lot of his message and made it approachable for a wider audience. Different readers may come away with different messages from it. One reviewer has already claimed the book is a condemnation of the Iraq War, largely missing the point that it's more of an argument for having fought that war and done it more competently. Other readers may find the characters and the problems which they face to be compelling. The subject matter is difficult but it's not treated in a cheap or opportunistic way.

In A Desert Called Peace Tom Kratman has crafted a complex novel with more than one message and whether you're predisposed to agree with him or have an open mind or just like a good story, it's worth a look. And keep an eye out for Carnifex, which is scheduled for a quick followup release in early November.

About Dave Nalle

  • Paul Howard

    Minor nit on your review, Caliphate is not a sequel to A Desert Called Peace. However, I have read Desert and its segual Carnifex (in an ARC) and agree with your review.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Where did you get hold of a copy of Carnifex?

    Quite right about Caliphate. I’m correcting the review. I’m used to books coming in trilogies so I mistakenly assumed that was the case here.

    Dave

  • Paul Howard

    Baen Books sells Electronic Advanced Reader Copies on http://www.webscription.net. I got it there and enjoyed it. Unfortunately, Caliphate isn’t available as an EARC yet but Tom Kratman has posted snippets in his conference on Baen’s Bar.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    In some discussion over at The Republic of Dave Tom Kratman informs me that there are indeed more planned sequels remaining unwritten, so perhaps my mistake was a psychic flash.

    I do think it’s a good setting, and as it gets farther removed from being so directly linked to current events I suspect that the series will evolve into something even more interesting.

    Dave

  • A Shocked Man

    What is this!?

    I don’t…

    The stupidity here and in this book, it burns. How can anyone defend TOM KRATMAN, SPACE MARINE