Hugo Interviews! — Catching Up With Tom Kratman

Today’s interview is part of our ongoing efforts, here at Superversive SF, to bring you more about the Hugo nominated stories and their authors.

big boys

Today’s guest is Colonel Tom Kratman. His Hugo nominated story is the novella Big Boys Don’t Cry. Without further ado:

What kind of stories do you write normally write?

I write military fiction and military science fiction, for the most part. That said, there’s a heavy element of political and social philosophy interwoven in there, and more subtlety than most of my critics (and some of my fans) quite grasp. Case in point, who are the real conservatives, in an old fashioned, Tory sense, in the Desert Called Peace series, and who are the revolutionaries in the mold of Lenin, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh? Closely related to that is a perverse taste on my part for corrupting memes and meanings, largely to confuse and annoy the left.

Is your nominated story in that tradition? Or is it a departure for you?

On the face of it, one would think Big Boys Don’t Cry is just that. At some level it is, but it’s also a much more downbeat version of mil sci fi, much more depressing, and much more cynical than I usually write…or ever write, come to think of it.

When did you start writing?

For publication? Non-fiction in 84. Fiction around the time I started law school, 92.

What led you to start? For publication? With a series of articles I put in Infantry Magazine in the mid 80s. They can found on line. What happened there was that every time some instructor said something that annoyed me and with which I disagreed, I turned it into an article. Except for one which was a little different.

That one? Well…there was a test, the defense exam, in what was then called the “Infantry Officer Advanced Course,” at Ft. Benning. I remember one question especially well: “Light infantry gains depth in the defense by a) Initial Positions, b) Maneuver, c) Initial Positioning and Maneuver, d) None of the above. The answer they wanted was a). I answered c), which was correct both historically and by doctrine. When they marked it wrong I wrote a 17 page reclama. The Defense Committee told me to pound sand. I appealed. The appeal authority told me to pound sand. I appealed to higher….need I say it? “Pound sand, Captain.” I challenged the Defense Committee to wargame it, me against their best captain. “Pound sand.”

Note, here, that a substantial number of questions depended on the answer to that one.

So I said, and this is exactly what I said, “Fine. I’m going to fix it so you F***ers never get to use that test again.” That was turned into an article in Infantry Magazine, which was published, openly, plainly, and with malice aforethought compromising the test in a way they couldn’t do a damned thing about. Mine was the last IOAC class to take that test; they had to rewrite the whole damned thing.

For fiction I really started with the Desert Called Peace series, which began with an unfortunate incident involving a Panamanian woman and her 18 or so month old baby, when she got confused by the assault on Rio Hato, Panama, in December 89, and drove into the fighting rather than away from it. Neither she nor the baby survived.

What do you do in life other than write?

I used to soldier. I was a lawyer for about a decade, if you count time when I was sortakinda in house counsel for the PKSOI at the War College. Now….now my health has gotten iffy so I don’t do much.   Sad, is it not?

How did you become to be loved by the right and hated by the left?

I attack the left. A lot. Sometimes with no subtlety whatsoever. I find that everything they believe is a fraud, even when the person holding the belief is admirable. I am not a lot more enamoured of the far right, but they’re not as dominant, so they get short shrift.

How did you come up with the idea for your current nominated story?

There’s something in Keith Laumer’s Boloverse – well, two related things – that suddenly struck me as making no sense whatsoever. These were the pain and pleasure circuits. He rarely described them or how they acted, and never in any real detail, but sort of brushed by them with the notion that they were necessary for proper battlefield performance.

This was, I realized, horse manure. They would be nothing but a distraction in a sentient fighting machine, in action. They would, however, I also realized, be very useful if the machines couldn’t be simply programmed, but had to be trained.

Once that hit me, I started thinking about the why’s of the thing. That led to the training program the Ratha’s are put through. From that, the sheer rottenness of much of mankind – think here of former Virginia Tech Football Players and pitt bulls – just suggested itself.

Do you have any thoughts on why readers love it so much?

It’s highly moral and highly emotional. That’s the best I can say, I think.

Can you share with us any glimpses of your writing plans for the futures?

Next up, presupposing I live long enough, will be volume seven in the Carrera-verse, A Pillar of Fire by Night. After that, again presupposing, I think I want to do another COUNTDOWN book and then an alternate history or three.   Somewhere in there I want to do the second installment in the Ratha universe, of which Big Boys Don’t Cry is the first. That one would be The Court-Martial of Ratha Flower Wood. If you read BBDC you’ll understand where TCMORFW is coming from.

One last question: What do you do in life other than write?

Fight on line. 😉 Help the wife garden.   I’ve been having trouble concentrating on complex things for a while, so I haven’t gotten a lot of writing in.   Thank you, Colonel Kratman, and best wishes in August.