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Nothing says "I Love You, Dear" like screaming lower back pain!

Sometimes Wrong but rarely in doubt!

18 January 2010

The Lotus Eaters

Tom Kratman
ISBN: 1439133468
Rating:  Buy, Hardcover, New

Mrs. Bugbear and I have a love/hate relationship with Tom Kratman's books.  Mrs. Bugbear doesn't actually read his books but she does mutter darkly about the blood stains on the bookshelf where they reside.  I generally think they're quite good.  In the case of The Lotus Eaters I read the eARC and it only left a small stain on the USB drive where it resides (the hardcover should be arriving some time in April).  I like Col. Kratman's science fiction although in his own words:

"...I write social commentary with a thin patina of science fiction..." -- Tom Kratman, Blackfive Interview
But then a lot of science fiction is social commentary with a thin patina of science fiction.  Hell, most Hollywood films seem to be social commentary with a thin patina of entertainment so people can hardly damn Kratman's books for indulging in the same vice.

The Lotus Eaters is the third entry in the series that began with A Desert Called Peace.  As an aside, the author seems to have real talent with respect to coming up with titles.  I wasn't familiar with the quote (from the Agricola by Tacitus) or with Tom Kratman's works but I bought A Desert Called Peace just because of the title, the cover art  of ADCP has a bigger impact after you've read the book.  John Ringo seems to have the same talent, e.g. A Hymn Before Action Battle.  Perhaps it's someone at Baen but I'll assume Kratman and Ringo share the same talent until presented with contrary evidence. 

The Lotus Eaters seems to be a transition book as the series switches from the initial protagonist (the Salafi Ikhwan) to a new overt protagonist, the Tauran Union.  The consequence of this transition is that unlike the two prior books almost the whole book is spent building up to the first overt confrontation between the protagonist and the new antagonist.  Although the lack of action compared to the previous books may be a bit disappointing the author is to be commended for obviously planning well in advance where he's going with the series. The foreshadowing varies from heavy handed and obvious to subtle demonstrating overall that a great deal of planning and forethought has gone into this series.

Kratman also seems to have improved as an author.  Some of the author's prior books seem a bit choppy and disjointed to me by virtue of the author using interludes and excursuses to provide background and perhaps a wee tiny bit of polemic.  The Lotus Eaters sails quite a bit more smoothly although the chapter quotes could have been a bit shorter or relabeled as Excursuses.

I suppose I can't really call it polemic when I don't find very much of it controversial, but that may also be why I categorize it as a wee tiny bit of polemic.

In one respect I feel a bit cheated by The Lotus Eaters.  In the eARC I purchased there is no author's afterword, which in any book with Tom Kratman's name attached I look forward to.  In the author's defense in The Lotus Eaters, the chapter quotes fulfill much of the same purpose but lack the warm welcoming feel of the Afterword of A Desert Called Peace.  The Chapter quotes do deliver the one thing that I've come to expect..nay demand... of a book with Tom Kratman's name on it.  The Chapter quotes make me think.

In my final year of high school my English teacher (and coincidentally my football coach) called science fiction escapist fiction.  I call bulls#!t and a offer Tom Kratman's books as evidence.  Even if you don't agree with his politics or social commentary you should take the time to read A Desert Called Peace, Carnifex and The Lotus Eaters, just so that they make you think.


  1. Yep, that's precisely why there was no afterword; after the epigraphs, an afterword struck me as overkill.



  2. I'm reading Yellow Eyes right now. Find it interesting that there is a shout out to Canada's pre-rejuvination military (in a disparaging sense) and to attacks on the Trent Severn and other canal systems (at least in a Sim).

    I recall reading a book that I thought was a bit harsh. I forget the name because I've blotted it from my memory. The book was harsh, but nothing compared with the author's afterward. If I recall the gist of it, he more or less thought we should have exterminated every communist/russian mercilessly and that they were the most morally bankrupt and evil empire ever to grace the earth.

    The message that came through most clearly was the book was mostly preaching a POV in the guise of fiction and that point of view was genocidal.

    I trained to fight Russians during the cold war (we didn't call them our enemy directly, but the red star on the rifle target's helmet was a good clue...). But the degree of venom in this piece made me wish I'd never read the book or at least there had never been an author's afterward.

    It bothers me more because I paid to be preached at. Not only did I expend my time, but my money as well, to have someone dish me a viewpoint and social commentary.

    These are things I know you enjoy about these sorts of books Bugbear, but they are one of the main reasons I dislike these sorts of works intensely. Probably why some of your favourite authors, no slur on them for those that enjoy what they write, are not on my 'rush to buy' list.

    I actually get rather tired of people taking a particular historical case, dressing it up differently, and feeding it to me again to either reinforce the existing outcome or to rewrite history.

    I enjoyed the Harrington series far more before someone clued me in that it was a Nelson/Napoleonic period mock up. I enjoyed some of Drake's work before I realized it was a rehash of Vietnam with rayguns. And so on.

    Somehow, when I find out the author is intentionally serving up a disguised version of real history, it just isn't as interesting. It's like if I figure this out, I know where his series is going and that takes a lot of the anticipation out of it for me.

    Your mileage may and inevitably will vary.

  3. I'm tempted to wonder if you're talking about Watch on the Rhine, since I'm very nearly the only writer who puts politically motivated afterwords in the backs of my books. (Pournelle does something similar, but he tends to put them into epigraphs and such.) But, probably you are not, since I just went and looked over the afterword in Watch and couldn't find a mention of communism, the 'evil empire,' or exterminating same.



  4. Col. Kratman:

    Since you seem to be following the comments, I found the Excursus on Balboan Law quite interesting. Your constitution (US) IIRC states that man has inherent rights and that the people allow the government to infringe on certain of those rights to have a functioning society.

    In your excursus, "...within the legislative history, is the value judgment that man has no natural rights, but rather only those rights which arise within the social compact."

    I get the impression from this excursus that you're almost but not quite treating rights granted to citizens as a contract. By engaging in a criminal act the criminal has broken the contract and thus his rights are not guaranteed. Under that paradigm for a trivial but criminal offense the criminal could be killed by the person offended.

    It's not a paradigm I'm opposed to, but I was wondering if I had the gist of the excursus correct?


  5. Not exactly. You've got to draw a distinction between malum in se offenses, things "bad in themselves," and malum prohibidum, "bad things prohibited." Nobody's going to lose their civil rights over a parking offense, or J-walking, or insulting language, other such trivia. Basically, it's common law felonies - robbery, rape, arson, murder, conterfeiting, treason, burglary, that sort of thing - that are so bad they amount to a voluntary renunciation of the social contract on the part of the perp. Hey, that's his democratic right; to choose not to be a citizen or legal residence. When he does one of those things, however, since they are renunciations of the social contract, why should the rest of us recognize any rights in him? Because he looks a little like us? That makes no more sense than the racist notion that we should hate people who look a little different.

  6. I expressed my point poorly, in referring to criminal act I was implying (poorly) exclusion of misdemeanors. What I meant by a trivial criminal act was a twenty-something downloading pirated music, technically a criminal act but pragmatically it should be a misdemeanor(or summary offense).

    In spite of my lack of clarity you still answered my question, ya gotta draw the line somewhere.

    Personally, I like treating a constitution as a contract. Break the contract and you aren't protected by the rights enshrined therein. The contract/constitution would have to be framed in such away that amendments could happen but not at the sole discretion of the government and some mechanism to prevent judge made law.

    Thanks for your comments and I'm looking forward to your next book.


  7. Sorry to be late answering. I was at a conference sponsored by the Army until yesterday afternoon.

    Balboa, which is based in good part on Panama, has some peculiar problems if one wants to set up a government there. Federalism, for example, is problematic because the country itself started as a province of another country. Its own provinces have essentially no independent existence. Thus, it cannot be set up as a federalist, mixed/shared sovereignty union. I realized this problem when I was first drafting it, circa 1995-1997. That's what led to the seven layer regimental grid. If you don't have states, and you want a fairly free society, you must distribute sovereignty and power somehow. Note, therefore, some of the odd provisos (which I am not sure are in this book or in Amazon Legion), such as the centuriate assembly's power to overturn anything done by the Senate. (No, it's not particularly easy to exercise that power, but it is there.)




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