Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: Tom Kratman's "Come And Take Them"

Tom Kratman is one of today's premier practitioners of military-oriented fiction. His "CarreraVerse" SF series and his "Countdown" just-barely-future series both display his talents in that genre. Come And Take Them is the latest entry in the "CarreraVerse" line, wherein retired soldier Patrick Hennesey di Carrera returns to the colors in service to his adopted home of Balboa on Terra Nova, against all enemies foreign and domestic, and in so doing reshapes the politics of his world.

Terra Nova is a designed world. The hypothesized race that designed it, conventionally called the Noahs, appear to have intended it for eventual human occupancy. Whether they knew that Man would bring his legacy of strife along with him, no one can say. In any case, the inter-religious and international animosities that gave rise to so much warfare on Old Earth have found their way to the new world, and Carrera has been in the thick of them for five volumes with more to come.

The Timocratic Republic of Balboa owes its current political structure and much else to Carrera and President Raul Parilla. That structure depends heavily on the Legion del Cid, created by Carrera and Parilla to provide Balboa with a military of high quality. It has also been an instrument for the transformation of their nation, as readers of the first three books -- A Desert Called Peace, Carnifex, and The Lotus Eaters -- will already be aware. The other nations of Terra Nova are not happy about Balboa's acquisition of such a powerful, politically dominant fighting force. To Balboa's west, the Tauran Union, a multinational alliance in the style of today's European Union but with many more soldiers and guns, seeks to impose its will on the small republic. It's an effort in which the Taurans have the support of the orbiting "Peace Fleet" from Old Earth. Nominally there only to suppress warfare below, the Peace Fleet has the additional mission of preventing Terra Nova or any of its nations from becoming capable of threatening the corrupt hereditary oligarchy that bestrides the mother world. To that end, its masters would dearly love to see the threat of Balboa put down for good.

Come And Take Them concerns itself with events before and during the Tauran Union's attempt to evict the Carrera-designed government of Balboa, and to install a puppet regime biddable by the TU's masters. Its timespan is roughly coextensive with that from the end of The Lotus Eaters through the events of The Amazon Legion. As one might expect of a novel from a specialist in military fiction, much of the book is concerned with war and the preparations for it. However, Kratman has another mission alongside that one: to depict the swelling of regret within Carrera himself over having militarized his nation, thus exposing it to the enmity of the Taurans and others.

Carrera has sickened of bloodshed, and is particularly contrite about the all but certain high price his nation will pay when it faces off against the Taurans, as he believes, correctly, it must. However, he's a soldier, bound to his profession as much by its ethic as by his aptitudes and experience. Despite the certainty of mass death, he contrives a plan by which his tiny republic can defeat the far larger Tauran Union, and in so doing create a continent-sized political upheaval that might result in a new birth of freedom for millions beyond Balboa's borders.

Come And Take Them is a big book, replete with plot subthreads and secondary adventures in which Supporting Cast characters rise to local prominence, whether they live and triumph or fail and die. There are splashes of highly colored drama throughout the action. The reader is advised to give it his full attention, perhaps with the aid of a large map of Balboa and a lot of little counters to represent the units fighting over it. A dramatis personae annotated with character sketches and timelines might also be advisable. Though it must be read slowly and with concentration to get the maximum enjoyment from its richness, the effort is amply repaid.

There will be more segments in the "CarreraVerse" series. The best way to prepare for them is to absorb this one in all its bright and gory spectacle, and to reflect on the questions that forever hang over all tests of arms: How high a price ought one to be willing to pay for one's objectives? At what point must a man, a commander, or a nation say, "Enough," and act accordingly?

The thrust of the question may change according to whether the lead is or is not already flying, but its urgency does not.

Come And Take Them is the latest segment in the saga of an army and a nation a-borning, led by a man who holds not just that nation but his whole world in his hands. However badly he wishes he could set them down, Carrera is fated to turn them still further. From the vengeance and bloodshed of A Desert Called Peace and the steady army and nation-building of Carnifex and The Lotus Eaters, Come And Take Them continues the completion of a portrait of patriotism, heroism, and the ultimate price that must be paid in their service. Highly recommended.

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