A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman. (Cerrera)
I've let this one sit in my kindle for quite a while before I finally decided to read it. Obviously one reason for downloading it was that it's free. It's also long. I enjoyed it and there are a few friends I have to whom I would recommend it because they love these kinds of novels. This is science fiction mostly because it takes place on another planet known as Terra Nova. The bulk of the story could well have taken place on Earth in some strange dystopia or parallel universe.
A Desert Called Peace (ADCP) is similar to Robert Heinlein's Starships Troopers (ST) minus the bug war. Some people might take that poorly, those who don't like ST, I mean it as a sort of complement but mostly just a simple comparison and my own reaction to what ADCP reminded me of. The book is like a recruitment poster and or propaganda campaign much as ST was. I will admit as far as readability ADCP seemed better. But for myself there were large portions of the narrative I could have done without to the tune that I had to watch myself every time I was tempted to scan past those places where the author described the weaponry and munitions and the alternatives and viability of each specific tool of warfare. As I mentioned I have some friends who really eat that stuff up, not so much myself.
The author has the credentials and seems to know his stuff and wants to let the reader know. Once again I'm not a fan of five hundred pages of deadly boot-camp to be followed by 50 pages of real combat. The thing is that the book, although heavy in the description of the armament and gear and the trials and tribulations of training, is about how the main character starting out in a simple life of retirement from service and building to become almost a mirror of his enemies. This aspect reminded me of some of the suspense thrillers (Shibumi by Trevanian) I've read where the secret agent or mercenary is trying to retire and gets thrust back into the game by someone attacking his loved ones.(The single weakness they have.) This story is no different in that respect, because Cerrera,Patrico Hennessey de Cerrera known as Patrick Hennessey and later as the Blue Jinn, loses his wife to the actions of some terrorist whose act almost parallels the twin towers destruction.
(There also is a sub plot in inter-rum chapters that runs parallel describing a past Cerrera who also was drawn into war despite himself)
Cerrera grieves a short time and then decides on revenging his family. One irony built into this story is that to become like his enemy and better understand his enemy he has to understand that the enemy is motivated highly by family, protecting the family and revenging the family. For some reason he doesn't understand that for a long time and he fails to see it even when many of his new found allies have the same value system. Basically he is blind to the fact that right from the start he has had a jump-start at becoming like his enemy. Needless it is this revenge that fuels him that makes him more dangerous than he would be normally. Cerrera is dangerous in his own right because he is a student of war. At the time of the atrocity he is collecting data from former enemies about the final battle, in which he'd conquered them while he was working for the FSC.
Now he will use those contacts to create a school for his army of revenge.
This is where we have a slight questionable wrinkle in the continuum. The story is confusing with a lot of jumping back and forth between timelines because we do need some history and world building to take place. Roughly we're about 450 years in the future and women are still treated mostly the same as they are today and are not allowed into combat. This is the world as Tom Kratman builds it so it stands as is and it's just curious to me that they might have even gone backwards by that point in time. Although to be fair the people who colonized the planet contained enough elements to support that possibility.
At some point along the way the story seems to do an insidious turn on the reader. Perhaps it's amid all the gleaming armor and new toys that are so eloquently placed as distractions. Up to that point Patrico Cerrera is the protagonist we sympathize with, who has just cause to seek his revenge. But he begins to cross the hazy line that pushes back any sympathy or empathy and the remainder of the book seems to have few if any redeeming characters for the reader to latch onto and even those few are minor characters at best.
Perhaps this is planned to show a part of the horror of war or perhaps the Desert Called Peace(ADCP) is more similar to The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslev Hasek(TGSS) than anything else. TGSS is a dark comedy about the first world war. The only real difference between these two is that in TGSS everyone was incompetent whereas in ADCP Cerrera's forces at the least are portrayed as competent. It would seem in ADCP the incompetent might have been removed by attrition where in TGSS it appeared the competent are the ones eliminated by attrition. Also Cerrera's philosophy seemed unique to this book in that he expected every man of any rank to come back from maneuvers with dirty hands and sweaty brow or they'd answer to him .
When we reach the point of real battle the reader is introduced to the law of war concept. Basically the civil code that combatants should follow during war. This is introduced for a dual effect of giving the protagonist back and edge of humanity in trying to abide by these rules and showing how the enemy abuses them and uses them to their advantage. It also shows the supposed cunning intellect of Cerrera as he stays within the law most of the time and continues to hold control of the situation. The LoW that we see are a somewhat abbreviated edition if my feeble attempts to research were entirely fruitful. I'm sure that the author has a much better grasp of the entirety of the law to justify the brevity he has handed the reader. Trying to keep up with it can be quite complex and probably does lend to some bit of variety in interpretation.
I'm not all that certain how torturing prisoners while interrogating them actually falls in all of the laws of war. I take it from the context of the book that it must be frowned upon. The torture is only one of several different elements that show up in the book that might cause some readers to leave their comfort zone. There are atrocities preformed against women and children most often designed to make the bad guys look worse. There is at least one questionable spot, where someone is killing women who have been allowing themselves to be used by the bad guys to be kidnapped to obtain ransom, that might implicate the good guys in murder as a reprisal. But by that time the good guys and the bad guys just aren't that far away from each other.
This is a book I could easily love/hate with so many elements I don't agree with. But with good writing it is often the emotional response that tells me if the piece is good. I don't have to agree with it or like the characters or even feel comfortable with the plot for it to be well written. If it evokes a strong emotion, even if it might not be the emotion that the author expects, it can still stand as a good work.
This is a good book for people who like War stories with lots of descriptive elements about the styles of weapons and combat. Even those enthusiastic about war strategy might find this of interest. The Science Fiction is incidental.
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