the room is full of ghosts (yamamanama) wrote,
the room is full of ghosts

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The future isn't Caliphate, it's Chronopolis

Le sigh. It's inevitable, isn't it. I'm going to have to read this thing eventually, there's no use putting it off until bin Laden has completely rotted to dust. Caliphate by Tom Kratman is one of those near future (around a century from now) thrillers in which Europe is dominated by Muslims. It's on its way towards becoming a discredited trope with the rise of far-right populist parties in Europe and the Arab Spring. Well, it should be, anyway. Flashback's coming out in July, for fuck's sake. Except that's more about the eeeeeevil Japanese and that horse was picked clean before I was born. Just once, I'd like someone to write a novel where what few Muslims there are in Western Europe are forced into ghettoes by a fascist EU superstate.

Someone described it as the crazy Dan Simmons rant given flesh. It even uses the term "demography is destiny," a phrase Simmons is quite fond of.

Tom Kratman claims to be from the People's Republic of Massachusetts, and I'm really quite embarrassed by that fact.

I'm not going to dwell on the cover. It's Baen, and I daresay Baen Books has put out much worse. In fact, I dare say some see it as part of the charm. It's obviously CGI and it looks like it was done in photoshop, but at least it's not aesthetically embarrassing, just ideologically.

Caliphate is 20 chapters plus the prologue and an afterword in which Kratman insults liberals. That means three chapters per session.

I'm only at the dedication and this thing's pissing me off, much like Olympos did, except less smarmy. It's for Oriana Fascisti and Bat Yeor.

What the fuck kind of name is Bat, anyway? It has nothing to do with bats or Batman or even Turkey, so fuck it. It's worse than Yael and that name is forever stained with blood.

It opens with a rabbit hiding in the grass from a raptor (bird of prey, not dinosaur, unfortunately. God fucking damn it, even fucking Ilium had dinosaurs and robots!), instinct, blah blah fucking blah, get to the fucking point. The entire fucking prologue is this. Don't tell me how to write an opening sentence if you think this shit is good, seriously.

I guess it's supposed to be a metaphor for something. Like the rabbit is my life and the golden eagle is this dreck taking that from me.

Nothing else happens. That's the entire prologue: a rabbit being chased by an eagle.

Apparently it was written in half a season as well, so no use purging the story of the chaff.

Someone on Amazon's UK site (why they don't mix up the reviews is beyond me; the reviews on both sides of the pond seem equally useless for the most part, though there's a few gems in there) critiques the prologue, and in the comments, this guy compares the prose in the intro to Shakespeare. That's just insulting. At least I've learned something: Amazon's comment section is as bad there as it is here.

Chapter 1

After the most useless prologue in the history of useless prologues, we get to the story. And each chapter begins with a topical epigraph. And a date. I checked the Gregorian to Hijri Dates Converter and it said the conversion result is * and there's a small probability of one day error. What the fuck is that? The future isn't Caliphate, it's Chronopolis! Leaving aside that grievous error regarding Europe being a caliphate instead of Chronopolis, Kratman actually gets something right. I'm going to praise him for this only because I read a blog novel that's sadly? no longer up in which the author couldn't be arsed to check the phase of the moon, and it was only 2012.

It's in the province of Affrankon, in the city of Grolanhei. I'm not even sure what either of those places are supposed to be, nor am I sure if Grolanhei is even trying to be Arabic. Mohammed applauds by saying "wonderful strike!" instead of by, you know, applauding. I thought applause was clapping, not just generic praise. I'm sure the line would be just as bad if it was "Wonderful strike!" praised the man on horseback.
For those of you who are reading this after 2019, I have learned that Affrankon is faux-Arabic for Franconia and that Kratman does not understand how sun letters and moon letters work.

Here's the thing: I don't mind "he muttered" or "she gasped" as long as it's not redundant. "Sorry," he apologized is unacceptable, Vox Day take note.

Nasrani isn't a specifically Muslim term for Christians, it's just the Arabic word, and it most definitely doesn't mean Europeans. The Arabic words in this are probably misused, but at least it's not the horrible attempts at Arabic seen in place names.

Everyone rides horses in the future. Well, the Muslims do, anyway.

Rashid resembles a hawk both outside (has bright eyes) and inside (all bloodlust and drive to dominate). He's a combination of a libertarian stereotype of a tax collector and a libertarian stereotype of an Arab. I'd say to throw in a little Lifetime Movie Network stereotype of a male, but that's just redundant if you know anything about the first two. That's really all you need to know about him.

The hare is Petra and the hawk is Rashid! Fuck you, Kratman. This is the first of many perspective jumps we get, so get used to them. Sometimes they're preceded by a change of date and location, other times they just appear out of nowhere.

Petra and Hans are both blond-haired, blue-eyed. Gee. They live in a Lifetime Movie Network dystopia, where she's forbidden from reading because. Because that's why. Most of the stuff in the first chapter is devoted to saying how much of a dystopia this is. Petra dresses in a potato sack. No, really, not because the Caliphate makes her, but because the Caliphate will sell her into prostitution because they're evil.

We move to the Imperial Military Academy in West Point, NY. Canada's been annexed and absorbed into the US, there are no Canadians, only rebels in northern Ontario, Americans, Imperial subjects, allies, and enemies. There's also, as the French say, Simmonsesque "look at me! I looked up West Point on Wikipedia!"

And exposition regarding how to take down what I think is powered armor. Get used to that too.

And back to Eurabia™, with a more than healthy heaping of exposition. Blah blah blah blah jizya dhimmi blah fucking blah-de-blah-de-blah. Rashid's a tax gatherer, since he's an evil Muslim, this is unacceptable. In the US, taxes to support the war effort in the Philippines and even the occasional purge are all right. Thatcher, conservative hero, for example, levied a poll tax. Kratman seems to think the Jizya is a huge thing, in reality, it was about 2.5% of an able-bodied man's income. At the time, this was amazingly tolerant, and even Christians of sects the Hapsburgs weren't longed to join the Ottoman Empire instead.

The dialogue here is bad. Painfully bad. Super Dictionary bad. "That without it, the pact, the dhimma, we are in a state of war, of holy war, of jihad with you and yours." And that's terrible. There's more of it, and the quotation marks are sometimes misused. Baen doesn't believe in editing, after all.

The Jewish stance towards becoming dhimmis was as followed: No more fucking Byzantine Empire, yeah!

India was ruled by Muslims for 600 years and it's still 85% Hindu.

The descriptions of everything is, well, minimal. Rashid is described as being European looking aside from his nose. What other religious group was it that was characterized as having distinctive noses? The prose is lifeless, like Niven and Pournelle stripped even more bare. I get the feeling this novel sold copies because of its politically incorrect premise. How sad that is.

And then we flash back to a war protest in 2003 Germany where they're quite infuriated Bush gallivanting into Iraq didn't result in total failure. Oh, gee, I bet that won't bite them in the ass soon enough. This, friends, is the third major plotline, detailing how things came to be.

On one hand, this third plotline is utterly pointless and redundant, on the other hand, it's probably the most unintentionally hilarious of the three.

Kratman, wanting to be different, writes Moslem.

Gabrielle's openly anti-American, like all people who protested the Iraq War in the conservative mindset, although the tries to rationalize it by saying she just hates the government. In other words, she's a stereotype like everyone else. She meets Mahmoud who, the narration tells us, comes to Germany to escape Islam.

Chapter 2.

This chapter as a whole schizophrenically jumps back and forth between the two plotlines. I'm not really going to go after anyone for a stylistic choice, but I will say that perhaps each plotline should have had a chapter devoted to it, especially now when the plot threads aren't intertwined.

And I learn the quote that slavery is part of Islam is by one of the House of Saud's puppets trying to justify oppressing his own people. It's the Demography Is Destiny of the middle east.

Um, Petra's sold into slavery and they don't feed their slaves, apparently, even though they wouldn't last very long.

Besma means smile. That's surprisingly accurate, although the standard spelling I found on Behind The Name is Basma. Besma's a genus of moth. Unfortunately, it's theme naming, because she smiles. Bah.

With more expo-speak, we learn that cars are only in use by the elites of the US. Kratman also has the urge to explain the government-issued Mark XVII tactical handheld. It's 7 mm thick and 20 cm by 20 cm with a holographic screen and virtual keyboard. Shouldn't everyone in their world know what a handheld is?

The buildings all seem to have arbitrary names and numbers. Takes me back to when I had classes in the library before it was renovated, except I wrote far better descriptions of it.

Ishmael's from Mauritania, spelled differently here too.

The slave dealer and Rashid have a conversation that requires mustache twirling and lots of it. Out of the three of them, I hate this plotline the most. It may start intersecting with the rest of the plot soon enough, but right now, it's just an excuse for the people in the American plotline to justify everything they're doing.

The slave dealer calls out Rashid on overtaxing the Europeans. For some reason, that strikes me as very libertarian. Slavery: States rights. Taxation: evil.

A three paragraph jump back to Fort Benning, where Laurie Hodge and John Hamilton have sex. I'd imagine they have IKEA sex, rather than overwrought sex with throbbing manhoods and Mills and Boon prose. It's cut out by the literary equivalent of a discretion shot.

Another interlude back in Germany, around the time Tikrit falls. Al Beshay, damn, Kratman's attempts at Arabic make me cringe. And I don't even speak the language.

Mahmoud says the Arab world is beyond redemption. This is Kratman's attempt at cultural sensitivity, by the way, a mouthpiece for his views who isn't a white Christian. See, this is what I love about this section: The Arab Spring has rendered this dated.

Gabrielle and Petra are related. Except Von isn't a patronymic like bint, she'd either use a parent's name or al-Minden, unless there was a mistranslation or misunderstanding on their end. And I'm putting way too much thought into it. No point in dwelling on this; this wouldn't even exist if Kratman did research outside of blogs and City Data's forums.

Chapter 3.

Sepoys smell bad according to Kratman's worldview. Amazingly, that's what one of the quotes that's proof that Arabs shouldn't be allowed to be here says. What hypocrites. Speaking of curry, I want some curry right fucking now.

Besma's the one character who isn't a stereotype far, and she reeks of a different filth: tokenism.

At least someone admits there's nothing in the Koran about women being forbidden to read. It's just about power. Even a fool like Kratman can see that. But then they say pictures of animals are forbidden, despite all the calligraphy of animals.

Back to America and a tech-wankery couple of paragraphs about the power armor. I had one of those in my project but decided to ditch it. And that's it. There's some bad prose in that description. "even managed to reinflate her breasts"

We go back to Eurabia where they use the Latin alphabet for Cardinal Frollo's Alphabet Book for some reason. For that matter, I think they speak English. In Germany. In an Islamic caliphate that no doubt speaks Arabic. In an Arabic-speaking Islamic caliphate that no doubt has no diplomatic relations with the US, the UK, and Australia. Because Ungläubige most definitely starts with I. Geez, they could subtitle Sesame Street in Avane'e and it would make more sense than this.

Oh, that's fucking great… Petra asks herself (I think she's supposed to be asking Besma - this is a genus of moths, by the way) why are the Americans devils?

War makes Hodge aroused. Some hero.

Would it have been too inconvenient to not switch between viewpoints every page? Well, they compare power armor to burkas. Whatever.

Ishmael witnesses an execution.

I'm thinking every chapter ends with a segue in 2000s Germany. Mahmoud (Saleh or Qadaffi would be a more appropriate name) justifies the French banning headscarves from schools by saying any concession you make shows weakness and they'll demand even greater concessions. Gabrielle says it's ridiculous to think that ten percent of a population will overthrow the country. But Gabrielle's an only child as Mahmoud knows and two cousins. Mahmoud says they'll be demographically overwhelmed. Mahmoud would make a great Arab world autocrat if they weren't getting overthrown.
Foreshadowing! These interludes are so awesomely terrible. So much that I regret having to read the Lifetime Movie of the Week plot line and the mil sf plot line.

Mahmoud takes Gabrielle to a mosque to see what they have to say there, but that's not until the next chapter.

A few other things
Actually, just one.
Burning Question: What's the worst post you've seen on Amazon's forums or review discussions?

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