Friday, May 22, 2015

Big Boys Don't Cry, by Tom Kratman

Castalia House, February 2014

Another Hugo nominee from the Puppies.

Magnolia, a.k.a. Maggie, is a Ratha, an armored war machine in the military forces of a starfaring and aggressive Earth culture. It is gradually revealed to us that pretty much everything about this Earth culture is bad. When first attacked by aggressive aliens, Earth takes a while to gear up to fight effectively because the government is so corrupt and bureaucratic. We meet Maggie when she's been irrecoverably damaged and will be dismantled for parts, and we learn her story, and Earth's, as she sorts through her memories. This includes memories that had been locked from her conscious awareness for security reasons, but which are somehow freed up by the damage to her machinery.

And Maggie is pretty much the only decent being in the story.

Maggie is brave, loyal, resourceful, and as far as she's able resists orders to kill civilians. While she carried human soldiers, she cared for them with affection. Other Rathas are implied to be decent also, but we don't really get to know them.

The humans around her that have authority are at best pathetic, and typically far worse. Corrupt, incompetent, cruel, indifferent not only to the welfare of the Ratha (who are enabled to feel both emotion, and pain), but other humans. On one planet, women and children without political connections are abandoned in favor of getting out the rich merchants and the high-ranking political officials. On another, a rebellion is caused by a woman governor who is clearly what the Puppies call an SJW: she's sure the only reason she hasn't had all the advancement she wants is because there's a wicked conspiracy to hold women back. When she takes up her new assignment as governor of a planet inhabited by people who settled there to peaceably practice their own religion, she causes totally unnecessary trouble and touches off a rebellion by deciding that it's a bad thing the women are kept in seclusion and required to cover their faces. Obviously, only an SJW fanatic feminazi could possibly hold such views!

We also have such odd features as the fact that a story written in 2014 consistently uses Man as the collective term for humans, apparently all the military are male, with women in only secretarial positions, and although it's implied the Rathas gender-identify about equally as male or female, Maggie is the only female one we encounter. It feels like it was written in the 1950s.

The many villains are cartoons.

And with all that, the writing itself is at best adequate.

Not recommended.