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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation, ed. Tom Kratman

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Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation

 

 

Edited

by

Tom Kratman

 

 

(Baen, August 2019, pb, 493 pp.)

 

The Long, Dark Goodnight” by Vivienne Raper
The Raiders” by Mike Massa
Sacrifice” by Peter Grant
Doing Well by Doing Good” by Chris Nuttall
No Hypocritical Oath” by Rob Hampson
Bellona’s Gift” by Monalisa Foster
The Panther Men” by Justin Watson
Desertion” by Kacey Ezell
Blood, Sweat, and Tears” by Chris Smith
Wellington” by Alexander Macris
Huánuco” by Lawrence Railey
The Redeemer” by Tom Kratman

Reviewed by Tara Grímravn

Set in a future when humans have begun to colonize other planets, Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation, edited by Tom Kratman, recounts the experiences of those colonists and the growing pains that inevitably come with such things, whether born of innovation or corruption. Part of Kratman’s Carrera series, the stories are preceded by interludes from Kratman’s History of the Wars of Liberation and Primer Grito: The Memoirs of the Liberator, Belisario Carrera. As someone who’s never read Kratman’s work before, I found those excerpts to be helpful. Not only do they serve as an introduction to each tale, they provide a framework narrative that ties all of the pieces together and helps to orient the reader in the universe of Terra Nova. That being said, there are some bits of information in these interludes that would have helped me understand a few of the tales if they had been presented earlier. Either way, this introduction to the planet before it won its freedom from the oppressive rule of the United Nations is certainly entertaining, despite being filled to the brim with two-dimensional, uninteresting villains. But what is genuinely fascinating about Terra Nova as a whole is that each story provides small glimpses into the choices that shaped the birth of a new world and the futures of those who call it home, whether willingly or otherwise.

The Long, Dark Goodnight” by Vivienne Raper

Thousands of miles from Earth, Tony works as a security officer aboard the colonization ship Cheng Ho, destined for the colony planet, Terra Nova. After a teenage couple is found dead, Tony and his co-worker Jamal believe it’s a case of murder. But who is the guilty party? The grieving father, Muslim chemist Dr. Akbar al Damer who objected to the budding romance, or someone with a darker agenda in mind?

If Raper’s story proves one thing, there’s no escaping human nature. The Earth that Tony and his shipmates leave behind doesn’t sound too different from the one we know today, and new readers will be able to quickly orient themselves within this universe. Present are the same cultural misunderstandings and religious prejudices, even aboard the Cheng Ho, whose inhabitants have been carefully screened to weed out such individuals. The build-up of the tension throughout the story is great; it ramps up, incident by incident, until it reaches a boiling point and all hell breaks loose aboard the ship. This story is well worth a read.

The Raiders” by Mike Massa

Acting Lieutenant Wilsyn Champlain is one of very few to survive a critical military operation to extract a hostage from behind enemy lines. As such, he has been called to give testimony in front of a panel of officers. Facing a potential death sentence, Champlain launches into an explanation of what transpired on this less-than-routine mission.

Massa’s story is not without its share of issues. To start, it’s not particularly engaging. I found myself skipping ahead over parts that felt as though there was too much exposition. Also, the way the dialect is written for a few characters, such as Bowie, is distracting. It’s clear that the Quebecois soldiers are French speakers, but the way his dialect is written seems out of place with the rest and it’s unclear how it is intended to be read. There’s no indication of where Bowie is from to explain it, either.

Then there’s the interrogation team. The interrogation serves as a framing device for the main story and breaks up the read nicely without distracting from the narrative. Unfortunately, DeGrasse and Bin Ra’ad play a modified good-cop-bad-cop routine for most of the narrative and they’re a little stereotypical as villains. Not to mention, unless one is familiar with Kratman’s universe, there will be some confusion in readers’ minds on which side the two men happen to be. Champlain is Quebecois and he’s being interrogated in the forward base Neuf Quebecois. Several pages into the story, however, DeGrasse is referred to as a Secordian intelligence officer, which is the same allegiance as the base that Champlain and his men attack on their mission. Later, he’s once again referred to as a Quebecois major. The fact that Secordia is the Terra Nova version of Canada, making Quebecois soldiers Secordian in terms of nationality, would have been helpful to know before this story begins, but it isn’t mentioned until the interlude following the next story. And even with that clarified, I still have some confusion as to why the Quebecois soldiers (therefore also Canadian or Secordian) would have been okay with attacking their own people or why they cared about this hostage if they weren’t in on the villainous plot to begin with. While it doesn’t affect the ending (which does, by the way, play a small role in clarifying the events), it pulls the reader out of the story as they try to figure out what’s going on, which is unfortunate.

Sacrifice” by Peter Grant

The villagers of Pescara are fishermen, not soldiers. Unfortunately, the recent declaration of jihad by radical Islamists called the Ikhwan in a neighboring village has them a little concerned for their safety. Led by Catholic priest, Father Francisco, the villagers have to find a way to defend themselves from an inevitable attack.

Overall, I enjoyed Grant’s story. I liked the characters, the plot was good, and, while it may have lost its grip on my imagination a few times, it was a good read. Unfortunately, though, it falls victim to one of the problems that the previous story had. Simply put, the one thing a writer does not want to force a reader to do is leave the story for any reason. The goal is to capture the audience’s attention and hold it to the very end. Grant’s story violates that guideline in a few areas.

When I began reading, I was immediately stymied by the joke shared between Ramon and Father Francisco on the first page. After reading it over a few times trying to figure out where I missed the punchline, I opted to do some research before continuing and discovered that it’s a reference to Catholicism and the jurisdiction of the Church. Unfortunately, I am not Catholic and am therefore unfamiliar with the terminology so the joke flew right past me, eliciting mild confusion instead of a chuckle. It certainly didn’t do what I believe it was intended to do, which was to communicate the friendship between the two men. While I’m a firm believer in keeping things simple for the reader’s sake in order to maintain their engagement, this breaks the illusion of the story and that’s not something you want to happen as a writer. Aside from this, though, the story was great with a bittersweet ending.

Doing Well by Doing Good” by Chris Nuttall

In a letter recovered from United Nations archives and addressed to Lady Marchioness of Amnesty, the Political Commissioner of New Manitoba, Roger Lamprey, recounts the events that led him to betray the UN in favor of the Manitoban settlers. Lamprey, aware that he’s facing execution, doesn’t beg for his life. Instead, he lays out the events that led to the Manitoban-Apache Conflict, which resulted in the massacre of Apache settlers who were attacking other groups at the edge of the Badlands on Terra Nova.

Nuttall’s story is quite an interesting read. Lamprey is a fascinating character, in part due to his role as something of an unreliable narrator. It’s hard to say whether he is sincere in his accounting of events or simply trying to downplay his actions to sway his superior’s opinion in his favor, even if he’s not outright asking for amnesty. After all, he is addressing his letter to the Marchioness of Amnesty herself and, as a politician, it’s safe to say that he’s still hoping to lessen the repercussions. The interjections by what I assume to be a post-war UN historian (this is never stated) help to put his account into perspective, though, shedding additional light on the events and political climate both during and after the Manitoban-Apache Conflict, information that Lamprey either ignores or of which he isn’t aware.

No Hypocritical Oath” by Rob Hampson

After unintentionally humiliating a classmate from a powerful family, doctor-in-training Anthony Nuné had been sent to Terra Nova under a new name—George Noonan—to save his career and his life. Fourteen years later, he’s a practicing doctor in the city of Balboa working for the Terra Nova Health Organization (TNHO), an off-world version of the UN’s World Health Order. When “duck fever” rears its head in Balboa and the surrounding communities, George suspects that it might be a ploy by the UN to force anyone trying to resist their rule out of hiding and that they are tracking anyone given the vaccine. With his friends and loved ones at risk, he has to figure out how to treat the afflicted without exposing them to the UN’s wrath.

One of the things that made this story intriguing was that it is the first to mention flora and fauna. Previous entries in this anthology have focused solely on the socio-political aspects of Terra Nova and, while that still plays a role here, it’s fascinating to get a glimpse at what else lives on the planet aside from the settlers, even if it’s just a tiny peek. Hampson’s story is also unique thus far in that its tension comes from the search for the illness’s identity and the need to treat both the sick civilians and resistance fighters without tipping off UN operatives and mercenaries, who are only a looming threat throughout the narrative, instead of a direct threat. It was a very good read.

Bellona’s Gift” by Monalisa Foster

A group of renegades loyal to Belisario Carrera and comprised mostly of women, children, and the elderly receives a visit from a few young men sent over from a nearby settlement called Desperation Bay. The boys bring much-needed weapons and ammunition and insist on delivering them to Carrera himself, believing that they can help fight against the UN soldiers and mercenaries that are murdering and raping settlers, often dragging a few off to be sold as slaves on Earth. Carrera’s daughter, Mitzi, is tasked with leading the boys and their weapons to Carrera himself but it’s not going to be an easy journey.

Unfortunately, this story is just not very good. To start, the point of view switches with each scene in this story, and sometimes it changes mid-scene. Normally, changing with each scene isn’t an issue (although this is typically saved for longer works) but the manner in which it’s done here makes it difficult at times to determine whose viewpoint is being used. For example, after the group is on the road to find Carrera, there’s one scene where it’s hard to tell whether the tale is being told from Juan or Joe’s perspective until several paragraphs in. Even though the narrative bounces between Mitzi and Juan’s perspectives up to this point, the way it is written makes it read as though it could be either of the men. Frequent head-hopping, or changing point-of-view many times within the same scene, further complicates the problem, and this happens throughout the narrative. Again, this could potentially be permissible if there was some indication given to let the reader know that this change in perspective was about to take place (such as spacing the paragraphs as if it were a scene break), but this is very much lacking due in large part to the fact that it’s often jumping from sentence to sentence. This is very jarring and off-putting for the reader because we aren’t given the chance at all to settle into a character’s head before suddenly being shunted into another.

The characters are also lackluster. Mitzi is a stereotypical tough-girl-façade-hiding-a-soft-heart sort while Juan, her love interest, is inexperienced and soft. When done well, this trope pairing of Defrosting Ice Queen/Action Girl with Non-Action Guy can make for an interesting combination but that’s just not the case here. Mitzi does not come across as a strong female character with believable insecurities; she’s childish, annoying, and predictable while Juan is simply boring.

The Panther Men” by Justin Watson

Prince Alexander nDlamini leads a group of mercenary Zulu warriors contracted to fight on the side of the UN under the command of General Arcand. Under the General, he’s been ordered to perform many atrocities while fighting insurgents, many of which he views as stains on his honor. Still, he’s contractually bound to follow Arcand’s orders regardless of his personal feelings, continuing to fight even though he disagrees. When he and his men are sent into a skirmish that was an obvious ambush, however, Alexander begins to question whether or not he can trust his employer.

I found Watson’s story to be very tedious to read and somewhat confusing in its intent. I found myself wondering rather frequently exactly what the point of the narrative was and, unfortunately, I had to wait until the very end to get an answer. At 44 pages in length and nearly 27,000 words, it feels far too long and drawn out for the climax to arrive on the last two pages. I understand some of this was necessary to set the stage but, unlike the brief bursts of political intrigue and the Machiavellian machinations of Arcand and Schwartzengrosse, the long, detailed battle scenes do very little towards building the tension or moving the story forward. Instead, it makes the story feel like it’s uncertain of whether it wants to be a tale about the gritty reality of the battlefield or the behind-the-scenes drama between puppet and master, the latter of which was far more intriguing in this case. The ending is also disappointing, as Alexander’s conclusion is simply baffling given the circumstances, and the rationale behind his decision didn’t make much sense.

Desertion” by Kacey Ezell

Lele is an American pilot on loan to the UN for peacekeeping missions on Terra Nova, often throwing herself into her assignments to distract herself from grief after several miscarriages and a failed marriage. When Major Alcasar briefs her unit on their next mission to take out an unnamed hostile, Lele knows something isn’t quite right but neither she nor her co-pilot Jack has any choice in the matter. Once they reach their target, though, her fears are confirmed.

Although one of the shorter works in the anthology, Ezell’s story was a very good read. Much like Hampson’s story, “No Hypocritical Oath,” it provided a nice break from the battlefield-heavy stories that make up the majority of the pieces in Terra Nova while still providing a glimpse into the complex political landscape of the planet.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears” by Chris Smith

Marko Saavedra’s skills as a builder are legendary; so much so that the Shah has commissioned the creation of a very important fountain on an incredibly tight schedule. Word travels fast on Terra Nova, however, and his work on the project soon catches the attention of a mysterious group. It’s not long before Marko finds himself faced with an offer he can’t refuse and may not survive.

Smith’s story about domestic terrorism on Terra Nova was quite good. There’s not much I can say that won’t give away the ending but it’s definitely worth a read.

Wellington” by Alexander Macris

New Bend doesn’t get many visitors. As such, Sheriff Roy Wyatt arrived at the old sheep farmer’s ranch expecting to investigate a simple case of trespassing. Inside the barn, however, he finds Jim Geary bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to the thigh. Not long after taking the wounded man to the station, a couple of UN thugs show up demanding Wyatt hand Geary over to them. He refuses, quickly finding himself on the run and firmly embroiled in the resistance.

Another of the shorter stories in the book, the characters are what make this one so appealing. The plot itself, while entertaining, isn’t necessarily novel in and of itself. It’s a premise seen many times over in any number of American westerns, albeit with an added bit of modern tech. It’s honestly quite fitting that Macris chose to tell his story using such timeless historical epic archetypes and themes, considering that, similar to American westerns, Terra Nova as a whole is about a frontier-type world trying to find its identity as it fights for freedom from tyrannical oppression.

Huánuco” by Lawrence Railey

After a night of drunken fun in Mexico, Tom and his roommate David find themselves being deported to Terra Nova. After finding work on a tobacco plantation owned by a drug lord named Carlos, the two are summoned to the boss’s main house. After months of slaving away in the fields under the planet’s three hot suns, the deal that Carlos offers, one that leads them into fighting against the UN, is just too good to pass up.

Railey hit the mark with this particular tale. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down until I was done. And despite all the fighting and death, this story has an unexpected and very humorous ending that gave me a good chuckle. It’s also the first story in the book in which the villains aren’t evil for the sake of being evil. In the previous stories, the antagonists don’t seem to have any redeemable traits and the UN itself essentially remains a faceless, virtually mindless organization of seething corruption that acts without much thought for anything other than spreading or maintaining its power and control over both Old Earth and Terra Nova. Those who act on its behalf, like the UN agents in Macris’s story or the Terra Nova Health Organization in Hampson’s tale, only reflect the negative face of their employer.

Railey’s Captain Pamela Andego, however, is different. She’s not a cookie-cutter villain or a remorseless force of destruction like the others. The rest, from Watson’s Arcand to Massa’s DeGrasse and Bin Ra’ad are motivated solely by their own lust for power, without a thought spared for how those used as pawns in their power plays might suffer as a result. Even the warring ethnic groups on Raper’s doomed colonization ship are motivated only by hate and fear of each other. Despite Andego’s job with the UN, though, she acknowledges that her actions are wrong while at the same time rationalizing them because of her own experience of abuse at the hands of her superiors. Andego hates the UN almost as much as the insurgents and expresses genuine remorse for the effects that her schemes have on others. That makes her the only well-rounded, three-dimensional, and sympathetic antagonist in the book.

The Redeemer” by Tom Kratman

Titus Ford was recently appointed to the position of UN Inspector General, tasked with quelling the insurgencies on Terra Nova. Arriving on-world, he begins by imprisoning previous UN officers, replacing them with men he’s handpicked himself before beginning the implementation of various ruthless and dastardly plans to root out the resistance movements hidden among the colonies.

The final story, written by Kratman, ties all of the previous stories together, opening as it does with Inspector General Ford reading through the various reports dealing with those particular events as he makes plans on how to deal with them. As a villain, Ford is not particularly innovative or interesting. He’s another run-of-the-mill “evil for the sake of evil” type characters, serving no other purpose than as a force of destruction. Still, I found myself hating the man, which goes to show that Kratman’s characterization of him is nonetheless effective.

And, too, I have to admit that, not having read any of Kratman’s previous work, I’m genuinely intrigued. The book, of course, leaves the reader on something of a cliff-hanger, and the postscript dangles the tantalizing carrot of promise that Ford and the UN will get their comeuppance, something that I would honestly like to see.