If you’re in the target market for Tom Kratman’s The Rods and the Axe (Baen) you probably already know you’re going to like it. Though nominally SF, this is in reality pretty straight-up military fiction. Bimpty-bumpth in his continuing series on the wars of Patrick Carrera on the colony world of Nova Terra, it delivers Kratman’s usual goods.
The usual goods are detailed, gritty war-nerd porn laced with conservative political satire – the latter rather heavy-handed, but sometimes wickedly funny anyway. I call it “war-nerd porn” rather than “war porn” because Kratman is less focused on thalamic narratives of carnage and courage than he is on the mechanics, tactics, logistics, and strategy of war. This is military fiction aimed more at wargamers and history buffs than anyone else; it’s easy to imagine the author and a handful of ex-military buddies roughing out the plot over maps and sand tables.
Stylish writing this is not, but Kratman is competent enough to do what he intends. This wargamer and history buff gives it a thumbs-up, while noting some problems. Kratman has never been great at characterization and the effort he puts into it here is pretty perfunctory compared even to the previous volume (Come and Take Them). If he doesn’t budget more attention to this going forward, the human-interest aspect of the series is likely to evaporate, leaving only the elaborate wargaming and the forward ratcheting of his series uberplot to attract readers.
For Kratman’s target market, that might be enough. Still, I hope for a bit more psychological life in the next one. Finally, fair notice that the book finishes with a pause in the action rather than any actual ending.