Like his earlier novels A State of Disobedience and A Desert Called Peace, Tom Kratman didn't write his new novel Caliphate merely to provide diverting science fiction entertainment. Once again he has offered readers a book with a message, in this case delivered as part of an action-filled story of a dystopian near future, reminiscent of some of the work of fellow Baen author John Ringo.
The political themes which the book explores are similar to those which dominate his other novels: the conflict between Islam and western civilization, the degeneracy and hypocrisy of international socialism, and the struggle to preserve liberty in a hostile environment. His vision of the future is clearly informed by his experiences in the military and in the middle east, and in this case augmented with what appears to be some substantial research on demographic trends and recent events.
This is his fourth novel, and shows the benefits of experience. The story and characters are stronger and better defined than in his earlier novels and the background is more believable and better integrated into the story. More than in his other novels, in Caliphate Kratman presents a world which is believable as a logical outgrowth of current trends and events.
Caliphate is set about 100 years in the future, in a world where Islam has come to dominate Europe as well as much of Asia and Africa. It basically focuses on three characters, an American soldier (Hamilton) and a brother (Hans) and sister (Petra) living in Muslim-dominated Europe. The emphasis on story and character is stronger than in Kratman's earlier books, and the plot does boil down at its most basic level to the classic combination of romance and action where the hero saves the girl from the forces of evil.
This basic story structure is used to explore the setting and express Kratman's underlying theme of the inhumane character of Islam as the basis for a society and a government, as well as touching on some of the compromises which Americans would have to make in a world where the choice was made to disengage and allow the rest of the world to proceed along the course which is already being charted towards disaster. Petra ends up being sold into slavery, while her brother becomes a Janissari serving the European caliphate. Hamilton, the US soldier who is basically our hero, goes through various trials and ends up as an embittered covert operative who finds himself in a position to save them – and of course he falls in love with Petra – during a mission inside Islamic Europe.
That's all that really need be said about the plot and characters, except to note that Kratman also employs excerpts from the diary of Petra's great-grandmother to show the process which Germany went through leading to eventually becoming an Islamic state. He also includes contemporary quotes from news articles and speeches to show how the process towards that outcome is already well on its way.
It's a good story, but it's much better as an exploration of a social and demographic scenario for the future. Kratman lays out the basis for the world he explores in the book in an afterword, and his conclusions are difficult to argue with. The relative growth rates of the Muslim immigrant population versus the native population of Europe, the inability of socialist governments to deal with hostile minorities effectively, and the flight of skilled Europeans to more hospitable countries are already well-established trends. All Kratman does is follow them down three generations to their inevitable conclusion. Even the unpleasant picture he paints of Islamic society and the status of Dhimmis under Muslim rule is accurate and not even an extrapolation. It can be seen already in many parts of the world, where abuse of women, slavery, fanaticism, and brutality are commonplace under Muslim rule.
Kratman's background in the Middle East and foreign affairs serves him well here, and he's done the research to back up his impressions. You can't read Caliphate without reluctantly admitting that Kratman may be practicing an empircal form of prophecy. He doesn't present a future fantasy. He paints an image of a future which is dismayingly likely to actually become reality. In some ways it is like the political flip-side of the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson or Bruce Sterling. Their books extend existing technological trends to their logical outcomes in the near future. Kratman does the same with politics and society.
What Kratman does not present here are answers, and by making that choice he avoids some of the preachiness which weakened his earlier books. He doesn't spend a lot of time exploring the history of America in the next hundred years, but does make it clear that ultimately it took the route of isolationism, militarization, and the creation of an imperial America protecting part of the world and largely withdrawn from the hostile remainder. He avoids endorsing or condemning that strategy while pointing out clearly that it still leads to an inevitable conflict with Islam.
Caliphate is Kratman's most complete and readable novel to date, and also the most approachable for a general audience. It may offend some and it is going to leave any reader with something to think about, but it's also an enjoyable read and ultimately a book which I think ought to be read, so go out and read it.Powered by Sidelines