THE TULORIAD (ARC)
John Ringo & Tom Kratman
Tom Kratman’s greatest work.
I’ve partly given up reading and reviewing ARC (Advance Reader Copy) editions of books, even from my favourite authors. I had an embarrassing problem when I fairly hated a book produced by – well, I won’t mention the name, except that it wasn’t Kratman – because the politics were badly wrong, used more for political axe-grinding than any serious studies of the issues involved. I was surprised and relieved when I picked a copy up from the local library and discovered that most of the offending sections had been cut down. I therefore reserve the right to disown this review and swear blind that I never read it.
The Tuloriad focuses around an interesting question; do Posleen (the centaur-like aliens from John Ringo’s Legacy of the Aldenata series) have souls? It didn’t seem a question that could reasonably be answered in the original books; the Posleen were an enemy that had to be fought – and destroyed – to save the human race. Neither surrender nor co-existence was an option. The Posleen considered humans a food source and little more. Tom Kratman’s additions to the Posleen canon included slightly more humanized Posleen. Some Posleen, a handful of survivors from the final desperate battle of Hell’s Farie, are sent out on a quest by unknown aliens to explore their own past, discovering secrets that much of the rest of the galaxy would prefer to remain hidden.
In the meantime, a group of human religious representatives (including Christians, one Jew (a living starship), Jain, Buddhists and Muslims) sets out on a voyage of their own, to find and attempt to convert the Posleen to their respective religions. (I’d be expecting blood on the bulkheads pretty quickly, but…) Their flight leads them to encounter the searching Posleen, who have uncovered disturbing secrets about their own history, and to discover how swiftly religious faith becomes dogma and leads to holy war.
I called this Tom Kratman’s greatest work and I meant it. The Posleen come across as largely alien, but still creatures that can be understood. There are interesting digressions on how human religion could be applied to the Posleen (How could a Posleen have four wives? Aren’t they all, effectively speaking, homosexuals? One point that isn’t mentioned is that ‘eat of my body’ has a whole other meaning for aliens that think nothing of using other races, and themselves, as a food supply.)
And I was left with a feeling of pity. Not just for the Posleen, but the other playthings of the Aldenata, the Indowy and Darhel. The Indowy are condemned to eternal slavery because they cannot fight or defend themselves. The Darhel must mount the tiger and hold permanent control of every other known race, or they will be destroyed, either by their gene-engineered rage or by their outraged subject races. Tom makes the apt point that the Aldenata didn’t mean to cause such havoc, but their good intentions led their playthings right into hell. He draws the comparison between the Aldenata and the various western aid agencies in Africa – who have had their own series of blunders that cost thousands of lives – although I would add the thought that the Aldenata had powers no aid agency could match.
I suppose the argument could be had both ways. Does one interfere, knowing that it will disrupt development, or does one wash one’s hands of it and watch the blood flow? If I can interfere, should I? What right does a Saddam-like person have to bully his own people? If I can stop him, should I? Am I guilty if I do nothing?
There are two minor points worth mentioning about the post-war world. One Tom notes is that the Catholic Church now practices polygamy, with an Islam-style system of four wives for each man. It’s a practical solution to the problem faced by the world, but it may have long-term implications.
As a general rule, the ratio of male-female births is roughly equal. My own family is two-two. I know others who have a higher proportion of one sex, but the general rule still holds. The long-term implications of polygamy remains that at some point, unless something further happens to reduce the number of men, the balance of men and women will be roughly equal, again. How long will this take? It’s hard to make any predictions, as birth rates depend on a number of factors, but I’d say somewhere between thirty to fifty years.
When Muhammad allowed his Companions to take four wives, it was a reaction (as in the book) to the deaths of so many men and the number of widows left behind without means of support. I suspect he might have had it as a very temporary solution. It stayed around until today, with rich Muslims seeking to have four (or more, the madmen) wives, while poorer Muslims ended up with one, if that. One of the problems affecting the Middle East is that poorer men cannot come up with a dowry and therefore have to delay getting married, or never get married at all. This adds to their sexual frustration and may have a baleful impact on the whole area.
This is going to affect the book’s Europe as well in the coming years. Sexual frustration is not a force to take lightly. In this case, it will not be felt by men who are effectively powerless, but men who have military experience and the ability to obtain weapons (and, of course, free of the inshallah mentality that dominates the Middle East). If it is no longer possible for each man to have four wives, or even to get one wife, there will be violence. This situation, I believe, has actually occurred in Africa as old customs break down under the influx of well-meaning idiots from the West. This is an extreme situation, and perhaps unlikely, but it needs to be born in mind.
Tom also mentions that feminism plays little role in the post-war world. I’m not convinced that that is true. There are some interesting points that should be made regarding feminism. There are really two different brands of feminism. One can be termed the ‘equal opportunities’ brand, in which men and women have equal opportunities and may the best one win. The other can be termed the ‘superior sex’ model, in which women are superior to men and deserve better treatment, and/or deserve compensation for centuries of mistreatment by men. The former kind is likely to flourish in the post-Posleen world; the latter is likely to die out almost completely.
Why? Men make, on the whole, better soldiers than women. This means that the dictates of cold survival will push as many men as possible into the front lines (hence the ratio of four women per man) and push as many women as possible into roles that free up another man for fighting. This generally happened in the UK during the Second World War; women manned the factories, worked the desks, etc. There were exceptions, of course, with men in jobs that couldn’t spare them, but generally WW2 saw women entering the working sphere in unprecedented numbers. The Nazis, by contrast, worked to keep women at home and had to use conscript labour, which didn’t work out too well for them.
The same dynamic will affect the post-Posleen world. The ratio of women to men is so lopsided that women will dominate every section of life apart from the Church (which may find itself ordaining female priests anyway) and the military, although women may take on non-combatant roles. The idea that women are the superior sex will not hold up in a situation where women dominate and are seen to dominate. However, it is far more likely that genuine equal opportunities will spread throughout society – the outcome, as normal, being up to the person in question.
One counter-argument is that reactionaries (a politically-loaded word, but I can think of no better one) might try to keep women in their place. It’s not going to happen when it is self-evident that women are doing the vast majority of the producing work, along with having babies, raising them and so on. The Arab states that disenfranchise women (one of the more irritating aspects of feminism is that it seems to ignore the treatment of women in the Middle East) do so because women do not play a large role in public life and can therefore be treated like dirt without nasty repercussions. It should be noted that no Arab state is a really functional economy and if someone figured out how to produce oil without the Middle East, they would fold faster than a falling house of cards. Can they drink oil?
I generally have little quarrel with Tom’s afterwords, but it’s worth making a point about this one. It is quite correct that the Spanish Inquisition causes far less damage and killed far less people than the Communist Terror in Russia and China, or Fascism did in Europe. (I am inclined to believe that both communism and fascism are religions; they have gods, prophets and holy wars. What more do they want?) They also didn’t have the technology the latter states did have. The Soviets had access to technology that would have made the Inquisitors shit their pants. They could establish a people-control state that was beyond the dreams of the Spanish Inquisition. What would the inquisitors have done if they had access to such power? Somehow, I doubt that they would have just let it slip through their hands.
And, of course, neither Imperial Spain, nor Communist Russia, nor Fascist Germany, nor Islamic Saudi Arabia actually developed a sustainable system. They all rotted away from the inside out. (With the possible exception of Germany, which was at war with almost the entire important world.) Too much religion is bad for any society.
Overall, this is a great thought-provoking book. Read it.