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The Tuloriad by John Ringo and Tom Kratman

Cover art by Kurt Miller

Published by Baen Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

When John Ringo originally started writing the Legacy of the Aldenata, he was trying to create a somewhat more realistic interstellar warfare scenario than the typical space opera. He wanted a race of aliens that would be able to seize Earth, but not necessarily be able to hold it, so that he would be able to write both space battles and ground-pounding action involving familiar locales.

However, as many other authors have discovered before him, it was a tale that grew in the telling. Part of it was simply its success -- the first two books of what was originally planned as a trilogy were selling so well that Ringo was rapidly becoming one of Baen's leading authors, which meant that Baen was going to want a lot more material to keep the trend going. But part of it came from the wider world -- while Ringo was closing in on the ending of the third volume, the 9/11 attacks happened.

Needless to say, the author was left so infuriated that he was literally unable to write fiction. Quite honestly, it's something I can understand and sympathize with, because I remember feeling right after both the beginning of Operation Desert Storm and the 9/11 attacks that fiction was somehow too trivial for such a momentous time, and that to write fiction of imaginary battles amidst such terrible events was to shower disrespect upon the real people fighting and dying for real causes. In both cases it eventually passed, but until it did, I literally could not bring myself to write fiction.

Similarly, Ringo's ability to write fiction eventually returned as things settled down and it became increasingly clear that we were in for the long haul against a vaguely defined group of people whose central identifying characteristic was their firm belief that their religion not only permitted, but actively demanded, that they use deadly force against those who do not share their beliefs. But by this time, the deadline for turning in When the Devil Dances had come and gone. There had been no choice but to print it with its cliffhanger ending and write a fourth volume that would provide a proper conclusion.

During this hiatus period, there was also discussion of creating a volume of stories about other aspects of the Posleen War, written by people who had the necessary expertise with the regions in question. Although a number of people wrote and submitted stories, it turned out that they couldn't get an editor of sufficient skill and stature to actually put together the volume. However, both John Ringo and Jim Baen were sufficiently impressed with Col. Tom Kratman's stories of the war effort in Germany and Panama to decide that they should be expanded into full novels. The resultant collaborations, Watch on the Rhine, and Yellow Eyes, proved to be beneficial to both authors. They simultaneously gave the Posleen Wars a lot more depth and gave Col. Kratman much needed training in the mechanics of writing, such that his subsequent original-universe novels have shown considerable improvement over his very first novel, the disappointing A State of Disobedience.

The partnership also injected a strong vein of present-day political commentary into the Legacy of the Aldenata. In the earliest volumes, the Aldenata were just another mysterious and vanished Elder Race, but in these volumes they have become increasingly a satire upon Transnational Progressivism and the harm done by its well-meaning but misguided proponents.

This volume is in many ways a continuation of the storyline of those volumes, although it is equally the direct sequel to the scene in the ending of Hell's Faire in which the Indowy clan chief Aelool bought passage offworld for a remnant of the Posleen, led by Tulo'stenaloor, perhaps the most brilliant Posleen God King ever hatched. In The Hero, set a thousand years later, it was suggested that the Tular Posleenar had developed a somewhat civilized culture on the fringes of human space, but was still regarded with considerable hostility by humanity, who had not forgotten the genocidal horrors of the Posleen invasion of Earth.

However, when Ringo was contracted to write a new trilogy of novels about Mike O'Neil and needed a new villain race to threaten humanity and the Galactic Federation, he decided to throw The Hero out of the Legacy of the Aldenata continuity. Whether The Tuloriad was already in the works at that time, I can't say for certain, but I do know that having read Eye of the Storm first, I had a different perspective on The Tuloriad because I could see how it dovetailed with the events in that novel, and particularly the extraordinary revelations about the nature of the Himmit.

On the surface, the story seems to be nothing more than a simple quest. Having been utterly and hopelessly defeated, Tulo and his surviving liegemen set forth on a journey across the light-years to find the history of the Posleen, a history that has been only clumsily recalled by the Rememberers, the Posleen priestly caste. As they visit one after another ruined world, they see steadily accumulating evidence that the intervention of the Aldenata in their history was not for the good.

But it's not just from the point of view of Tulo and his followers that we get to see the archeological evidence of the tragic history of the Posleen, for they are being followed in their journey by a human ship, the remade USS Salem, transformed into a starship. Within are representatives of humanity's various religions, all hoping that perhaps at the end of their journey the Posleen will rediscover their soul as a race and become able to take their place among the civilized races of the galaxy, and that one or another human religion will prove key to that transformation.

I have mixed feelings about this novel. On one hand, I found absolutely fascinating the element of deep time, the glimpses of even more ancient races that existed before the appearance of the Aldenata, races who were all destroyed in some cataclysmic event, perhaps a war, that left whole regions of space barren of life right down to the bacterial level. On the other hand, I was extremely uncomfortable about having Tulo order his followers to convert to one particular human religion. Of course much of my reservation is based upon humanity's bad experience with religious tests and qualifications, which have often produced people who went through the motions of a religion without any faith behind it, or even as outright hypocritical sham, rather than being able to command true changes of heart and mind. However, part of the problem lies in our evolutionary biology -- like our evolutionary next-of-kin the chimpanzee, our society is at its most fundamental an ever-shifting network of Machiavellian alliances, which means that the ability to dissimulate and tell the head honcho what he wants to hear is of strong social advantage. The Posleen are not simply humans in funny suits -- they really have an alien social structure and neuropsychology -- so it's quite possible that their bonds to their superiors would produce genuine obedience rather than merely surface compliance.

Like the other books John Ringo and Tom Kratman have co-written in the Legacy of the Aldenata universe, The Tuloriad closes with an essay that makes explicit the political commentary embedded in the novel. If you don't like being lectured at, you'll probably want to skip it. I've got my own reservations about it, mostly related to the human use of religion for the purpose of manipulating people, which often devolves into reimagining the Deity in our own image, as the worst pointy-haired boss you ever wanted to imagine, with all the pettiness, thin-skinnedness, etc., but with infinite power and Right By Definition. And that's quite another matter altogether.

Review posted February 20, 2011.

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