This is not going to be any kind of fair, professional review of Tom Kratman’s A Desert Called Peace. I’m warning people up front of this, because (a) I don’t think I like the genre, (b) it’s a man’s book written by a man for manly men, and (c) I wouldn’t have read any of it if it hadn’t been one of those free Amazon Kindle deals.
When Vox Day originally promoted Kratman as an excellent author, I was already primed to like him – but I’ve never really gotten into reading milfic. David Weber’s Honorverse doesn’t count – it’s Space Opera with a side of milfic. Well, when I read the sample on Amazon, I decided that I was going to give it a pass entirely because it didn’t look all that interesting, but when it was free, I was willing to give it another chance.
So here’s how it went. The first 10% of the book was awful. Really, really, really bad. Like “how can you stand to read this without your eyes bleeding,” bad. And here’s why.
Mortal Storytelling Sin #1: The main character is first introduced with this wickedly awesome scene in the desert where he’s just whooped some serious ass. You’re all “Right on, man! Let’s have some ACTION!!!” and then Kratman pulls this bait-and-switch in which you will now have to suffer through mostly-irrelevant detail about the decadent evil old-Earthers and their decadent evil slave-owning, woman-objectifying ways. BORING. Like, seriously, if you’re going to do in medias res as your opening, actually, you know, do it.
Mortal Storytelling Sin #2: excessive non-plot-related worldbuilding detail. When reading the beginning, you really get the feeling that Tom is having far too much ego-boosting loves-the-look-of-his-own-writing fun describing in loving and TOTALLY USELESS DETAIL little tidbits of the pseudo-Panamanian ecosystem. You know what makes this really eye-gouging? Throughout the main storyline, there’s a second story-thread about the discovery of this new world. So all that useless worldbuilding detail? COULD HAVE GONE THERE. Instead of cluttering up the character introductions. Supremely bored out of my mind now. But I really want to like this book, and I got it for free, and it’s a series so maybe his writing gets better, so I keep reading.
Mortal Storytelling Sin #3: badass main character has a totally random, utterly useless, omgwtfbbq emo moment about how his hands are too girly for a soldier. I got nasty Twilight flashbacks from this scene, it was so emo. Seriously. It’s not an important detail. This is a manly book about war written by a man for men. What the *bleep* is some girly metrosexual body-image freakout doing in this character introduction. Give me the blue-eyed demon back, pronto. If you really, really, really wanted to paint this little TOTALLY IRRELEVANT DETAIL about a character I have nearly ceased to care about at all now, at least do it in some kind of manly torture scene in which the bad guy is taunting him about his girly hands before breaking his fingers or something.
Very Serious Storytelling Sin #4: Use of internal character monologue in order to introduce extraneous worldbuilding facts. I see this a lot in mediocre fanfiction. I don’t walk around my house thinking to myself about all the little everyday details as if I were introducing this plane of existence to a new voice in my head, so I’d prefer fictional characters to refrain from doing this themselves, unless the story actually gives them a new voice in their head as a character. And re: sin #2, there was a perfectly good structure set up that would have been an excellent vehicle for worldbuilding detail.
Thing That Bored Me: this is not really a sci-fi book at all. I mean, there’s a few sci-fi details tacked on, and there’s a sort of sci-fi-ish superstructure/backstory going on, but Colony World just so happens to look freakishly similar to our world. It’s so blatant that it can’t even be called an allegory. Allegories have more subtlety than this. There is, however, a very reasonable and logical explanation for why this is so, which is why I don’t count it as a storytelling sin.
What? Moment: Since this is a manly book about men written by a man for men, the female characters are pretty much cardboard-cutout sex objects. The Noble Martyr Wife in the first part is an exception: I liked her a lot. Mistress Secretary also gets a pass, even though she is a sex object, because she’s pretty central to the “and now we build an army” storyline as one of the mostly-offpage support staff. What gets me is the part, somewhere around 25-30%, I think, when the army is about to deploy, In Which The Soldiers Get Laid. Actually, they get blow jobs. If Mistress Secretary was the only mildly-detailed blowjob in the section, that would be fine. What makes it weird is that there’s this secondary viewpoint character who’s a lowly peon with a girl back home, and Kratman decides to basically clone the blowjob scene in a different setting for him. Seriously, if you’re going to write sex, at least make it vary. This part reads like a really badly done insertion from a romance fic. Not that I, uh, have, um, a lot of experience reading things like that. *cough* (And if you believe that, have I got a deal for you…) On a scale of “tasteful scene cut” to “so detailed you could roleplay this for a porno” the sex in A Desert Called Peace falls mostly somewhere in the middle, but the interactions between the male and female characters are pretty realistic (for cardboard cutouts) so I’m not inclined to ding it too much.
And then there’s some fighting! Which is cool. But then there’s The Occupation, which is so soul-suckingly boring that I stopped reading at 88%, and I’m writing this review now because I have no intention of finishing this book, ever, or reading any of the sequels. Ever. But if you’re (a) male and (b) you like military fiction, I encourage you to give it a try, or at least read the real reviewers for one of the sequels to this book, Come and Take Them: Review One, Review Two, Review Three. There are probably reviews for Desert as well, but I’m not gonna bother looking in the archives at the moment.
*The reason this is not a real review is that I don’t have enough experience with the genre to be able to tell how it compares with the rest of its niche. Certain aspects of the art of storytelling, I am obviously willing to criticize, but that’s all technique, and it might be that the parts I find most galling are actually expected of milfic. I wouldn’t know.