With Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath (hardcover, Kindle) former military man turned military sci-fi author Tom Kratman is presenting the eighth and latest installment in his Carrera series. In the following email interview, he provides a primer on this ongoing series, how this new novel fits into it, and how it was influenced by another military writer…just not in the way you might think.
For people who haven’t read any of them, what is your Carrera series about, and when and where are those books set?
Now that is a tougher question than you may imagine. There are a lot of different ways to read the series. One is as a straight science fiction novel — different planet, strange flora and fauna, spaceships, somewhat different technology in some areas, and more advanced tech in others, an Earth very politically different from the one we know today, that kind of thing — where revenge is a core component. Note that this only carries the reader through the first two volumes, A Desert Called Peace and Carnifex.
Another way to read it is as a roman a clef, a novel with a key, and as a kind of alternate history commentary on the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, or, more broadly, the war against Radical Fundamentalist Islam. That way can be read as a broad and fairly detailed critique of where we screwed up and what we should have done differently. As such, it is also a strong criticism of Neo-Con thinking, which is appallingly bad, arrogant, and ignorant.
Yet another way is as a romance because, after all, what could be more romantic than someone waging what amounts to a private world war to avenge the murder of his woman.
Then, too, a good deal of it is about putting some philosophical meat on the bare political bones given in Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
The reader can also look at it, if he or she is willing to twist their minds a bit, as us, today, fighting against the rather unpleasant future in store for our descendants if we do not get control of, and destroy, the Tranzi — Transnational Progressive — apparatus and dream. Yes, if you want to read it that way, the setting of ninety-nine percent of the story, the planet named — with deliberate lack of originality — Terra Nova, is us, today, while Earth, “Old Earth,” in the story, is them tomorrow.
Finally, I intended it to be a one stop shop for a course in Art Of War: Administration, Organization, Intelligence, Training, Tactics, Operations, Strategy, Logistics, Psychological Operations, use of the arts, etc., in several different forms of war, from low intensity to high.
That sounds like an ambitious program, no? Perhaps it is, but with eight volumes, three lengthy essays, an anthology, altogether weighing it at — oh, I suppose it must be close to 1.8 million words — I think that objective was at least mostly met.
As to where it’s set, that would be on the planet dubbed Terra Nova, Earth’s one and only extraterrestrial colony and one-time dumping ground for political undesirables
That probably deserves a few words of explanation. Science Fiction has, as a staple, the monocultural planet. Yes, there are exceptions, but that is the norm. Maybe it will even work out that way, if we ever get to further space. And yet I doubt it would ever work out that way completely. Why? Because before we find another hundred planets to divide and settle, we’d find one planet, which would have to do for all the peoples of Earth until more were found. That’s about forty percent of the reason the planet resembles Earth, another forty percent being that it was parceled out among the nations and supranationals of Earth because trying to send a very enlightened, highly educated initial colonization package failed miserably. The last twenty percent is that it physically resembles Earth.
Why does it physically resemble Earth? It’s an animal preserve and sanctuary set up by some aliens that are called Noahs, about whom we know near enough to nothing, though it is a preserve for animals long extinct on Earth. That’s how and why the “transitway,” which is just a wormhole, really, was set up. But a fan pointed out to me that the rise of the Isthmus of Panama had a great deal to do with our weather patterns, hence our animal life, here. The more I thought on that, the more I realized that, unless the weather is similar to Earth’s, the animals would not thrive there, and, unless the terrain were similar, the weather could not be. Those reasons are the why of the similarities in terrain and political subdivisions.
And then for people who have read the earlier books, what is Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous novel in the series, 2018’s A Pillar Of Fire By Night, and the short story collection released last year, Terra Nova: The Wars Of Liberation?
To take the last first, Terra Nova: The Wars Of Liberation takes place centuries before the main story that begins with A Desert Called Peace. It’s about the early days of colonization, with most of the settled parts of the planet groaning under UN tyranny and corruption, and the early fighting to get rid of the UN. There is only one significant character in Terra Nova who is in the main series, Belisario Carrera, the ancestor of Carrera’s murdered wife. I’d like to do two more to finish that “history,” but it’s not the number one priority for the moment.
A Pillar Of Fire By Night is concerned mainly with the preparations and actions to defeat the Tauran Union expeditionary forces in Carrera’s country, Balboa, and its neighbor, Santa Josefina, as well as the preparations to bring the war home to the Tauran Unions and the United Earth Peace Fleet in a very memorable way. Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath finishes that, at the same time finishing off a number of loose ends that were hinted at in earlier volumes, sometimes with hints going back about fifteen (real) years.
When in the process of writing the Carrera stories did you come up with the idea that became Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath, and how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this novel?
Oh, I knew where the story was going to go when I began this version of it, about 2006. There’s a brief scene in Carnifex where Carrera think to himself something to the effect of, “Oh, yes, that would work.” At that point, the operations plans were already fixed, as was the logistics, the Research and Development, the economic plan; all of it.
The previous books in the Carrera series were military sci-fi stories. Is Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath one as well?
Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath is probably the most science fictional volume in the series, at least insofar as it involved the United Earth Peace Fleet and their base on Terra Nova more…mmm…intimately than the preceding volumes do. And that’s probably all I can say about this without giving too much away and ruining it for readers.
That said, what is science fiction? I remember sitting a panel at a sci fi convention, Balticon, circa 2004 or 2005, I think, wherein one of the other panelist insisted that technology was the core, the heart, the soul of science fiction. I disagreed and I still disagree; the whole heart and soul of science fiction, as with all fiction, is people. The science merely gives the setting and the problem or issue.
So, are there any writers that had a big influence on Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath but not on anything else you’ve written?
Probably not the way you mean it, but Tom Clancy had an effect…of sorts. And that was not just on Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath but on the entire series. How so?
Did you ever read Clancy’s Patriot Games?
No, though I saw the movie.
It concerns the IRA operating here and, in the course of that, deliberately machine gunning his main character, Jack Ryan’s, wife and little girl. Clancy lost me with that book. Why? Because Jack Ryan had the opportunity to kill the man who did that and didn’t do it.
Now, unlike this fictional character, Jack Ryan, I really am East Coast Irish, despite my last name, and from South Boston, no less. Moreover, unlike Jack Ryan, I really did graduate from Boston College and really was an infantry officer. When Ryan failed to shoot the son of a bitch, when he could have, that was so completely inconsistent with East Coast Irish, Boston College, and being an infantry officer, that — speaking of accuracy and a good story — I could never read Clancy again.
But it had an effect on my writing this way: Whenever I had a moral dilemma for Carrera to face, I just asked myself, “What would that miserable fake goody two shoes, Jack Ryan, do here…” and then had Carrera do the opposite.
Interesting. I mentioned the movie version of Patriot Games. Was Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games?
I really don’t think so. When you know how an infantry attack is conducted, when you know how to plan and execute a massive artillery preparation, when you know how to plan and execute a raid, when you know people, when, in short, you know your subjects, there’s not a hell of a lot Hollywood and Silicon Valley have to teach.
And this is my last question about influences, no matter how nicely you ask: You served eighteen years in the U.S. Army. As a military sci-fi story, Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath is obviously influenced by your military experience. But in writing this novel, how often did you have to make a choice between being accurate and telling a good story, and what did you do when faced with this choice?
Oh, no, I had more than eighteen years in. Hmmm…let me think, I had about sixteen years Regular Army, two years with the Guard while I was in law school, about four with the Army Reserve, mostly as an Inspector General, and then about four more years as a reserve officer on active duty. There was also about six years in the IRR, which hardly counts, though I did what I could to keep my hand in by doing some higher level Marine correspondence courses while practicing law.
By the way, if any of your readers are military, I highly recommend the various military correspondence courses. There are some I took over forty years ago that still stick with me, Photo-imagery Interpretation, for example. I don’t think the program is as well known as it used to be, and that’s a shame.
But for the meat of your question, if it isn’t accurate, then it isn’t a good story. If you’ve got a spaceship that gains artificial gravity by spinning, and you haven’t accounted for Coriolis forces when say, firing a shotgun inside it, on the outer deck…well, that, if not done accurately, would just throw me out of the story. And it doesn’t cost anything to have the firer miss because he forgot, then fire and hit on the second or third round, either.
Conversely, there’s a writer — he’s a good writer, too — who once demonstrated in a book that he didn’t understand the difference between organization of the US Army and the Marine Corps. Threw me out of the story and I could never finish it.
I think I owe it to my readers to be as accurate as humanly possible. That doesn’t mean I’ve never made a mistake; I am sure I have — and ammonia was not one of them — but to the extent I can, I insist on being as accurate as I know how to be.
It’s not unknown for me to be completely idiotic about it, too, as a matter of fact. For example, I tend to believe the troops should have an alcohol ration in the field or at war, nothing extravagant, just enough to calm them so they can eat their rations, when they’re overstressed. So I wanted to talk about it in the series and…I spent seventeen days doing nothing but designing a field feeding system, canned, that was calorically sufficient, micronutrient sufficient, had sufficient menus — forty-five of them — to avoid menu fatigue, and had a cigarette and alcohol ration as part of the system. It shows up in a couple of places, but I really only originally intended to mention it in maybe two or three paragraphs in one volume.
It is, in any case, to my mind quite easy to be accurate and write a good story, provided you know what you’re being accurate about.
I asked a moment ago if Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting it, or the Carrera series as a whole, into a movie, show, or game?
A couple of guys in the business asked me if they could do up and try to sell a script of one of the volumes, The Amazon Legion. I said sure, while explaining that Baen still has the rights. I have a partial draft on my computer for that that I still have to finish reading. Frankly, Amazon Legion and Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath are the only volumes of the eight that have few enough characters and settings that it would even be economically possible to turn them into films.
But a movie would be too short a format; if I had my druthers — unlikely as this is — I’d prefer to see it as a lengthy mini-series. I admit, though, that it has a serious dearth of rapes to it, so it would likely be a hard sell.
If that happened, who would you want them to cast as the major characters?
Who should play Carrera? Hell, I don’t know. If Carrera were black, Denzel Washington [Fences] could do it well, but he can do pretty much anything. Most other actors strike me as pretty boys, without much talent. Some would be too tall or two short. Many just don’t seem bright enough, really, or, in any case, do not give the impression of formidable intelligence.
And if someone wanted to make it into a video game?
I don’t really see it or the main series as game material, though if a developer thought it could be turned into a game I’d be willing to listen. But it’s not first-person shooter, even though there is some first person shooting. It’s not role-playing. It doesn’t fit neatly into any game category — and I am a fairly avid wargamer — I can think of. It’s not civilization building, even though there’s a strong element of R&D and social and physical engineering to it. I think it would be really hard to mesh everything that’s in there, or even more than a small fragment of it, into a cohesive game.
Finally, if someone enjoys Days Of Burning, Days Of Wrath, they’ll probably read the rest of the Carrera saga, if they haven’t already. Once they have, which of your non-Carrera novels would you suggest they read next?
The Countdown series: The Liberators, M Day, and H Hour, plus the one currently being worked on, Criminal Enterprise. They’re much less ambitious in scope and, frankly, more fun. They’re still not first-person shooter stories, but they are, at least, small unit and team, with the largest action being battalion-sized, and not that much of that. That series, however, isn’t remotely science fiction. It’s all straight near future as the world starts to descend into barbarism and a group of men decide to try to save what they can.