Monday, 19 July 2010

The Lotus Eaters (Tom Kratman)

The Lotus Eaters
(Tom Kratman)

Sometimes (actually, quite often) controversial, Tom Kratman’s series of books featuring Patrick Hennessy/Cararra have always worked on two levels, first as adventure fiction and then as a primer to the rules and realities of modern war. The Lotus Eaters, the third book in the series changes gear; rather than fighting terrorists, the LdC is preparing for war against internal and external enemies. The corrupt regime that used to run Balboa and the Tauran Union (a parody of the EU.)

The background to the story is simple. Earth discovered, quite by accident, a rift in space that led to a world called Terra Nova. Earth started to ship colonists from the entire world to the new world, with the result that Terra Nova is effectively a mirror of our own world. (The Federated States of Columbia is America; Balboa is Panama; Volga is Russia; Gaul is France; etc.) To add to the confusion, United Earth, taken over by a regime that makes the USSR look sweet and kind, has dispatched a ‘Peace Fleet’ to Terra Nova, with the intent of preventing Terra Nova from ever becoming a threat to crumbling Earth. I’m not sure that this works as well as it should – it’s probably better to look at it as our own world, seen through a dark mirror – but that doesn’t matter. The ideas are well worth study.

Cararra – the prime mover of the series – lost his wife and family during a terrorist strike. As heir to a massive fortune, he moved to Balboa/Panama and created an army to wage merciless war against the terrorists who threatened his world. His strict adherence to the laws of war, including reprisals and shooting terrorists without mercy, horrified the sensibilities of the world, but he didn’t care. Throughout books one and two, Cararra grew darker and darker, eventually committing acts so horrifying that he collapsed just after winning his war. Unfortunately for him, history keeps moving on…

As the story opens, Balboa is partitioned between Cararra’s regime and territory controlled by the remains of the former government, backed up by French-controlled soldiers from Europe (sorry; Gaul and the Tauran Union; Tom missed out on a chance to make an Asterix joke). The former government is making a bid to regain control, using proxy forces against the Legion, while the outsiders are plotting to bring in an army to destroy the Legion. In the midst of this cold war, Cararra wages war against the drug lords who are threatening his country and Columbia, unaware that a coup plot is underway....

Or, for that matter, that his semi-ally from the Peace Fleet has returned to Earth and been granted a new commission by the UN, command of the Peace Fleet with a mandate to terminate the threat from Terra Nova once and for all.

But that isn’t all. Throughout the book, there are snippets from a History and Moral Philosophy course and explorations of political theory, particularly as relates to Balboa’s new system of ‘Government by Virtue’ (effectively Heinlein’s Federal Service concept from Starship Troopers.) It adds an extra layer to the book.

[It’s worth noting the irony that Cararra created a limited socialist workers paradise, even though probably not intentionally.]

One thing I should note, right from the start, is that the Lotus Eaters is mainly geared around the run-up to the coming war, rather than the war itself. The actual war is laid down for the next book in the series. It actually makes a welcome change in some places as we get to explore some of the developments in Balboa and how the world as a whole is responding to the Legion and its effects. If you hate cliffhangers, you probably won’t be pleased when you come to the end of the story.

A point I should make, right from the start, is that this is the book where Terra Nova effectively divorces itself from present-day Earth. On our Earth, the concept of the European Union effectively holding half of Panama under its thumb would be unthinkable. The EU is not, and never will be, a European version of the US. It was not, some modern claims to the contrary not withstanding, designed to provide a counter-balance to the US. The idea of Britain, France, Germany and Spain collaborating to launch such a mission is…unlikely…and, even if it were possible, the US would react strongly against it. America’s geopolitical imperatives demand that it maintains military supremacy in North America; a European base, no matter how benevolent, would threaten that supremacy. No US President since Buchanan has significantly undermined the fundamental basis of US power. (No, not even Carter or Clinton.)

Although the story is generally quieter than the previous two books, it does feature a considerable amount of character development. Most importantly of all, the story features something that the first two books lacked – a creditable and competent threat to Balboa, in the form of the Peace Fleet’s new commander and her immediate subordinate. (The ‘French’ commander of the TU force in Balboa makes General Melchett of Blackadder Goes Forth look sane and competent; the moron in charge of the coup plot was an idiot, admittedly one who almost pulled it off.) His son – Hannibal – is growing up into his role. Cararra is also growing up and becoming more mature – insofar as such a term can be used – as he recognises that he might have gone too far in earlier books.

(There is a certain irony here. Cararra collapses over what I would consider a legitimate act of war, but not over a far viler and disgusting act.)

To give Tom full credit, the book includes considerable discussion of the cold realities of war and human nature. Tom doesn’t ignore the hypocrisy inherent at the heart of the war on drugs. The drug gangs are so powerful because they have something that US citizens want and their government doesn’t allow them to have. The US’s attempt to blame Latin American Governments for this is, at best, silly. The price that US citizens are prepared to pay for drugs ensures that the drug lords are too powerful to be rooted out and destroyed, as the US would wish. The vast amounts of American money they have at their disposal corrupts and undermines local governments. It is, in essence, a counter-insurgency campaign against insurgents who are literally funded by their enemies. The simplest way to win the war on drugs would be to legalise drugs and tax them – basically, treat them as alcohol.

As always, Tom asks uncomfortable questions and challenges our ideas about how the world works. Roll on the next one.

No comments:

Post a Comment