Caliphate

Caliphate
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!

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?

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57 thoughts on “Caliphate

  1. Thanks! I purchased The Tuloriad recently at a buying binge at a dying Borders — the same binge where I happened to get Caliphate. I had understood that to be a third book in a trilogy, though… was I wrong in that? (Of the seventy books purchased in the binge, Caliphate was the first I read. My wife snagged pretty much every other book that was on the top of my list!)

  2. It’s actually something like the 12th book in an XYZlogy. Hmmm…lemme think: There are the first four books, entirely by Ringo, A Hymn Before Battle, Gust Front, When the Devil Dances, and Hell’s Faire. Then there’s Hero, Ringo and Mike Williamson, but that’s not canon anymore for reasons I am not entirely certain of. Then the three I (notionally) did with Ringo (but were actually me playing in his universe, Watch on the Rhine, Yellow Eyes, and The Tuloriad. And then there are three or four Ringo did with Julie Cochrane. And Ringo’s Eye of the Storm. There are more planned, and I’m on the hook for three of them, but I don’t know when they’ll be out.

    1. “Watch on the Rhine, Yellow Eyes, and The Tuloriad” — I probably saw these three on the “also by” page at the beginning of Caliphate and thought that they were a trilogy. So, that clears that up!

      If you’re willing to share — given the subject matter of Caliphate, did you get any pushback either from Baen or from readers? I imagine Baen would be fairly accommodating to an author they’ve worked with before, but I know readers can, at times, be fickle.

      I also see you added an afterward to the Tuloriad. Is that a common practice for you?

      1. I put an afterword in about half of them.

        Define “pushback.” Most of my fans understood exactly what I was doing in Caliphate, to include with the graphic sex (namely, pushing the “defend the women and children” button).

  3. Hey Sir Author! I ❤ talking to authors…don't usually get to talk to them that much, you know? BTW, Luke, you did an excellent job on that review…

  4. I didn’t realize this platform only allows so many “replies” under a single thread, so I’ll have to continue down here. Sorry about that!

    In “pushback” I meant either caution or even outright hostility to your choice of villains in the novel. It’s not exactly a politically correct concept, and while Baen seems to be pretty open to publishing more “two-fisted” tales, the general public is another matter entirely. There are a few “good Muslims” in your piece, but the most prominent among them — Mahmoud and Hans — convert or return to Christianity by the end. Or is it simply that the nature of the publication led to “preaching to the choir” when it came to the subject matter?

  5. Ah. Well, of course I added to the increment of hatred the left feels for me. But that was already so over the top that a bit more hardly mattered. And I’ve got it on pretty good authority that I’m more or less blacklisted by the New York Times, in that no matter how many copies of a book I might sell, they will never put me on a bestseller list. But I think that preceeded Caliphate by quite a bit.

    There are, if memory serves, six good Muslims, Besma, her father, her father’s slave, Hans, and Mahmoud. Also, IIRC, none of the janissaries are shown in any particular bad light; they’re simple soldiers doing soldiers’ jobs. There are also a few rotten, Latif, for example, and the tax farmer, but they’re are also wretches even in Muslim terms.

    The system is, of course, shown as rotten. But that’s just the truth.

    In any case, it doesn’t matter. The left for the most part doesn’t reason. To paraphrase somebody or other, “like animals, they’re driven forward by fanaticism and hysteria.”

  6. My word, Tom, but you sound like my kind of man! I believe I may have to seek out some of your books.

    Thanks for gracing our little blog with your presence in these comments!

  7. Ah — so, you’ve already developed a thicker skin to such attacks previous to this novel. To my knowledge, this is the first of your work I’ve read, so I have no experience with your earlier work.

    “The left for the most part doesn’t reason.” It’s refreshing to read this from a published author; I know there’s quite a variety of viewpoints in the publishing world, but it does seem to lean toward the left where I spend most of my time.

    And, as Brandon said, many thanks for hanging around and talking with us!

  8. Oh. I found the prose leaden and the characters cardboard. And it had all the subtlety of a Lifetime movie after Mark Steyn seized A&E.

    I slogged my way through it; I only have the recap to write.

    1. I enjoyed the characters, particularly Petra, but to each his own. What in particular didn’t work for you? I thought that Petra, as she developed through the story, showed logical change that fit within the world. I enjoyed seeing her grow from a little girl into a heroine who was still very human. Her reactions to pain also struck me as realistic. As I said, though, different opinions on the same writing are welcome!

  9. Petra certainly did illustrate how bad the world was and gave us a sympathetic character from that end of the globe. Couldn’t you argue that the entire reason Eponine (or pretty much any of the characters) exists in Les Miserables is to “illustrate how bad the world is,” though? Now, this certainly isn’t nearly as good as Les Miserables and I doubt it will ever be regarded as a classic, but just using the example as an illustration: just because a character shows how bad a world is, I guess I have no reason to say that it’s a cardboard character.

    Of course, she also was inept in the action scenes, which made the trained heroes more useful — but it would have been far out of character for her to be able to use the weapons with any proficiency.

      1. You’re right. Eponine, at least in the musical retelling of Les Mis, has some more depth than simply showing how bad things are: She’s the child of two of the antagonists who falls in love with the hero of the story. In the novel, she’s much less interesting, yet this is a classic book of great magnitude. In contrast, Petra fights for herself, illustrates how bad things are, is an identification character, and also shows how some of the supposedly antagonistic group of people aren’t that bad (for instance, Besma and *most* of her family).

      2. If it wasn’t for the afterword, I’d wonder if that was his intent. The Caliphate doesn’t do anything that South Africa or America doesn’t do, and America does it worse. The hero of the story engages in ethnic cleansing and kidnaps children to be used as soldiers.

        In fact, the Americans started a nuclear war that kills 800 million, forcing the Muslims to move to an untainted Europe.

        I daresay they’re worse than the dwarves in Chrono Cross.

      3. The hero does engage in ethnic cleansing, but I don’t recall kidnapping children to be used as soldiers — unless you’re referring to his cover as a slave trader, and a big plot point is his wrestling over that and making sure to save the children in the end. Kratman also shows that the “takeover” of Europe had started well before America’s bombings, as well as the fact that America was totally in the wrong in their bombing, so I had no problem with those matter as portrayed — America wasn’t the good guy in those cases, and all the characters repeatedly mention that it was a terrible world; it was just the least of the evils.

        Though I’m clueless as to Chrono Cross! Now, if you want to compare to FFVIII, then we have some common ground. 🙂

      4. 5% Muslim is not a takeover, despite what Kratman says.

        And they’ve been kidnapping Moro children to serve in the Imperial army. It’s early on.

        And I don’t know, if it’s such a bad world, I’d at least want to be on the side that didn’t engage in ethnic cleansing, even if Kratman has the need to make them look like the greater evil.

      5. I’m fairly certain he was more looking forward, using birthrates, but I’ll admit I could be wrong there. I also don’t recall the kidnapping of Moro children, but at this point I finished reading the book a little bit ago, and the intervening time has been mondo busy for me.

        As far as which side is better… I was greatly disturbed by the loss of freedoms exhibited in the Empire. Neither side is great, in my opinion. Neither side has religious freedom. The Empire has better rights for women, which is good, but as you state, they also engage in ethnic cleansing. Alas, dystopia.

  10. Pretty much everyone in Les Mis does get more character — but then again, there’s a reason it’s regarded as a classic! What struck you as cardboard? Maybe we’re speaking past each other.

      1. I will admit that the three biologists were at best laughable in their over-the-top villainness; they were *bad men*! The entire way of life turned into the villain, much like Big Brother in 1984. I don’t recall there being many individual antagonists; most were simply personifications of the system.

        I’ve read some of your recap; you mention you’re reading another book now as well. Do you usually read in parallel or are you simply “behind” in posting compared to your reading? I mention this because some of what I’ve used to support my opinion of the book (and yes, I fully admit it’s opinion!) comes later than what you’ve read. Lest you fear, it does become mostly action in Part II and less overt commentary.

      2. Alas, I think we’ll simply have to disagree on the book. I enjoyed it for what I took it to be — a dystopian action story. Thanks for sticking around and continuing to discuss, though!

    1. Don’t sweat it, Luke. I came to the conclusion some years ago that, if a book is highly political / politico-philosphical, writing style barely matters. Those who hate the politics will see the writing one way: evilwickednaughtybadbadbad. Those who like the politics will see it quite another. They’re not even being dishonest, necessarily; the appeal or offensiveness of the politics pretty much forces them to see things in particular ways. It is, after all, a lot easier to do that than to question assumptions that are effectively a part of us.

      Add in the split between literary fiction – with its emphasis (I would say excess emphasis) on style and characterization, generally at the expense of plot and clarity – and a presumption (unmerited, I think)that literary fiction is somehow intrinsically good…well, read this: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/07/a-reader-apos-s-manifesto/2270/

      I looked over Will’s Livejournal entries, not without some amusement. One particularly amusing passage concerned the Imperial Stormtrooper school of marksmanship. Indeed? Gassing X people while they sleep and shooting one who’s stumbling to the latrine, none of whom really get a chance to get a fair shot off, compares with other fictional characters who couldn’t hit unless they deliberately misaimed. But, you see, Will _has_ to see it that way. The book offends him so much that everything about it has to be, again, evilwickednaughtybadbadbad. Oh, and incompetent, too, because nobody who offends his world view so badly could possibly have two brain cells to rub together.

  11. Evidence? They weren’t shooting before the gas was used.

    Page 382, Hans gasses the first – sleeping – group. No one is shooting yet.

    Page 383, Hamilton gasses the second – sleeping group. No shots have been fired yet.

    Later, page 383, Hamilton shoots a man stumbling to the latrine. He gets off a single scream before expiring. The weapon is suppressed; no one hears a shot. They do hear a scream but that, absent a shot, would not generally be enough to cause anyone else to shoot, especially not if they’re still behind a stone wall asleep or just then awakened. Nor is anyone in position to, because they’re either inside asleep or dying of the gas or trying to arm themselves.

    Hamilton gasses the second barracks room. A total of six janisseries escape the room, none of them having any idea of what’s going on outside. None fire, hence none miss.

    “As far as you could tell”? Oddly enough, the word aim never appears in relation to the Janissaries. “Marksmanship” appears once, when they’re just boys newly gathered and then only in the first minutes they have rifles in their hands.

    Just ‘fess up; you’re seeing what you want to see – what your sense of moral outrage demands you see – and nothing more.

  12. A) Right. Now stop being ridiculous. They miss because they’re 13 year old boys who’ve never had a rifle in their hands before. How many people do you think are natural shots, able to hit a small moving target the very first time they touch a weapon?

    B) Yes they do hit the airship, which is why it ends up crashing in Switzerland. Did you even bother to read the freaking book, or did you decide to mentally write some other book in your head and attach my name to it?

  13. Geez, I leave for a few days for a conference and suddenly the conversation picks up!

    Will, they do aim for the airship and even cause it to crash — which is a fairly major plot point for the climax, as you’ve already noted. I understand how reading two books can get details fuzzy, particularly a fair distance after you’re finished reading at least one, as you’ve said. Is it fair to review a book when details like that get fuzzy?

    And I actually do ask as an honest question; the review I’ll be putting up for this Friday (Catch Me If You Can) will be of a book I’ve been done reading for well over a week, and I’m nearly done with the second book since then. Perhaps I should forgo such a review, as it wouldn’t be fair?

  14. I put more blame on getting burnt out towards the end and less of it on the Dream Archipelago. If The Dream Archipelago was responsible, I’d be saying things about how the sex scenes were well written and how the US government and the Saudis agreed to prolong the Israel-Palestine conflict for as long as possible so that various corporations and arms dealers would profit, provided it didn’t get out of hand and cause damage to either the US and Saudi Arabia.

    I guess someone did shoot the airship down. My mistake.

    Another thing: Where does all this disdain for literary sf/fantasy come from, anyway?

      1. I could be mistaken on the fate of Israel, but there wasn’t any mention of it.

        I’m sure the real and the fictional Pat Buchanans would both consider the Israelis acceptable sacrifices if it meant the utter annihilation of Palestine and everything in it.

        But otherwise, I think I summed up the plot and backstory pretty accurately and calling a line like “he quivers like the product of a jello mold” up there with “having a witness was an ancient tradition, a tradition so old it was archaic,” is apt.

  15. Then stick with literary fiction. Wallow in gems like: “Partridge black, small, a restless traveler across the slope of life, an all-night talker; Mercalia, second wife of Partridge and the color of a brown feather on dark water, a hot intelligence; Quoyle large, white, stumbling along, going nowhere. ”

    And I wish you all the joy in the world with them.

    But, to me, they’re, by and large, pretentious nonsense, smoke from a garbage fire, authorship that has nothing to say, and covers up that emptiness with incomprehensible amalgamations of meaningless clauses.

  16. “But otherwise, I think I summed up the plot and backstory pretty accurately and calling a line like “he quivers like the product of a jello mold””

    Just out of curiosity, where does that line occur? The word “jello” isn’t in the book at all, so one again I’m left to wonder if you wrote some book in your head and attached my name to it.

    Speaking of words that aren’t there, the Quran (have you read it?) doesn’t forbid or require arranged marriages. It has a little guidance on when one can or should take place, and when one would be forbidden (one or the other of the prospective spouses refuse). Oddly enough, they’re pretty much routine in most (perhaps not all) of the Islamic world and not particularly uncommon among Moslems in the West. You knew this, right? Hmmm…no, apparently not.

    This shouldn’t be particularly surprising, since the circumstances under which most people fall in love and marry are almost impossible to recreate under Islam. I’m sure it must happen, “almost” not being quite the same as “absolutely,” but it would appear to be quite rare. So, why should arranged marriages under the Caliphate surprise you?

    By the way, why do you consider a verbatim quote from an Imam in Germany to be a strawman? You know, the one in the chapter before Gabi goes to the mosque?

    1. Jello does not appear in the book at all but jell-O does. End of chapter 16, right before the interlude.

      The thing on arranged marriages comes from Jewish law, I do believe. As do many things in Islamic law.

      The one about how Europeans smell bad? I’m not accusing him of being a strawman or anything, I’m just saying the quote was put there as your proof that Muslims hate white Christians, and earlier, Hamilton complains about Indians smelling like curry or whatever a stereotypical Indian smells like.

      1. Ah, editors having fun.

        There’s nothing wrong the sentence you know. Jello quivers; the product of a jello mold quivers but retains a more definite shape.

        Yes, but the Jews by and large don’t do it anymore. The Muslims do. Overhwhelmingly, most places. They don’t really have a choice if people are going to get married at all.

        Could have sworn you referenced it as a strawman. Check again, why don’t you.

  17. Out of curiosity.
    Why do Muslims always colonize desert planets or deserts on Earthlike planets in science fiction novels? Why do we never see them in lush rainforest or savannah or montane forests?

  18. I don’t know if they always do _colonize_ desert planets. I do know that they tend to make a desert wherever they settle down. There’s a fatalism in Islam: God will take care of it, or not, as he sees fit, and nothing we do makes any difference to the final result. Hence they overgraze, over cut trees, institute really awful systems of agriculture, etc. They’re not, you see, the sons of the desert; they’re the fathers of the desert.

  19. “Gabrielle refuses to believe that the Muslims hate them so much, even after listening to a strawman imam speak.”

    I should think it would be obvious from the epigraph given – recorded by German police, IIRC – that that imam is _not_ a strawman – any more than the quoted passage comes from a strawman.

    1. I’ve noticed the traffic from that particular site and went to go look earlier today — thanks for the refer, and yeah, same old tricks!

  20. It seems as if, like with anything in popular culture, as soon as a large segment of the populace latches onto it, it is going to be a target of subversion by the left to position themselves into the elite, and then rule it. And then their toadies, who are too afraid to be free (you might say they are “meant to be ruled” eh? eh?) must toe the line and recite the mantras, lest they risk being put on the cross. Much safer as one of the scoffers.

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