By Tom Kratman
What would be scandalous to say in normal public conversation, authors can weave subtly into stories and never be bothered with a public outcry. For those less worried about subtlety, science fiction offers a hammer that others might ignore because of the genre. See also: Classic Star Trek.
Kratman, however, uses science fiction’s canvas to tell a compelling story that I can’t help but feel would likely get him kicked out of many cocktail parties.
One hundred years in the future, Muslims have taken over Europe through demographics: Europeans stopped having babies; Muslims had them in spades. There were no wars, no battles in this invasion. The world changed as Europe ceased to be what it had been and instead grew into a new caliphate.
Oh, and the planet is now split roughly in half between the American Empire and several different Caliphates. And they’re generally always at war.
In this fiercely split world, Petra, a young Christian, is taken from her parents and sold into slavery to pay the tax they owe. On the other side of the world, American soldier John Hamilton fights to take back the Philippines and loses his lover in the battle. Over the next nine years, Petra will become a prostitute near a key Caliphate weapons-development site. John becomes an undercover CIA agent seeking to destroy said site. When they meet, they combine forces to strike a deadly blow against the Caliphate.
Kratman’s prose style is arresting. He draws the reader directly into the heart of the characters. He crafts each protagonist to be instantly relatable and likable. I feel he was a touch more explicit in sexual matters than he needed to be, but otherwise his writing style refused to let me stop reading. His plot arc, though, is unique and leaves me with mixed feelings.
Roughly the first half of the novel simply follows two very different characters as they live their lives in war-torn lands. We see Petra grow up in Germany, forced to serve her Muslim masters. We also see her brother taken and trained as a Janissary. Meanwhile, things in the American Empire aren’t rosy, but not nearly so bad. John finishes his mandatory service in the military and goes on to join the CIA as an undercover operative. The reader is treated to numerous daily scenes. Kratman introduces us to his world, obviously weaving plot, but most of that lies in the background while we simply get to know the setting.
Between parts one and two, Kratman has included an excursus. While through part one he presented the world as it is, he writes a history text in brief to explain how the world got from 2007 (the year of the novel’s publication) to the “current” year 2115. The author places his history text rather deftly; at this point, the reader wants to know how the world got the way it is presented, and rather than use exposition, Kratman simply presents a history text to infodump everything needed. It reminded me not a little of a similar tactic in 1984, and not in a bad way.
Part two shifts gears and becomes an action novel, complete with explosions and daring heroics. I wish that so much of the action had not been as cliché as it becomes. One valiant ally falls in glorious battle. Another is shot and presumed dead, but returns at a key moment. The two main characters are separated from a daring escape, only to find an unlikely second route to safety. The entire thing is well-written and grabs the reader, but the plot twists have all been used before. I wish the entire novel could have been written in the more personal style of part one.
After the conclusion of the fiction, Kratman adds a postscript: a personal essay, showing that what he intended to write was not so much science fiction but a political statement. The author is a US veteran and experienced fighting in the Middle East. He has strong opinions about the current trends in Europe. Anyone reading the novel could not escape his opinions, but here he actually lays out the evidence upon which his opinions are based. His views, shall we say, would not be welcome on network television except as an example to be mocked.
However. I find his arguments convincing and more than a little frightening. His predictions have been consistent with reality thus far. Now, I am not calling this man a prophet sent from God. I am saying he has a keen mind and notices patterns.
I pray his predictions don’t come true in the future. He presents a dystopia that’s every bit as frightening as 1984 and much more realistic given today’s circumstances.
One last note: Kratman deftly weaves into his narrative some basics of Islam and compares it with Christianity. I was impressed when a Muslim man, considering what the Bible says, says, “I can see now why it would take the Son of God dying to set us free.” Interesting, no?