- Big Boys Don’t Cry by Tom Kratman (Castalia House)
The biggest surprise of the Puppy dominated Hugo novella nominees is that Tom Kratman, the writer of the execrable 'A Desert Called Peace' could produce such a searing anti-war, anti-militarism polemic as he achieves with 'Big Boys Don't Cry'.
The reader is introduced to 'Maggie' a sentient tank, fighting never-ending meaningless, cruel and barbaric battles on behalf of her corrupt human masters. Kratman is masterful in his use of paragraph upon paragraph of dull and jargon laden weapons porn to signify the banality of evil perpetrated in these futile and destructive battle interludes. In a nod to 'Born on the Fourth of July', after her final battle, 'Maggie' is reduced to a pile of rubble, fit only to be sold for scrap, not worthy of repair despite her loyal servitude. Her fate though, unlocks repressed memories, meant to be locked away for ever. We see how the killer was moulded.
Assembled as a blank slate, 'newbie' Maggie is thrust through a vile 'Boot Camp' experience, which manipulates and transforms her from an innocent lover of flowers, to a pitiless, immoral killer, always following orders, no matter how reprehensible her actions may be. The sequence recalls the Paris Island Act of 'Full Metal Jacket', as Kratman tells how soldiers are broken as humans and remoulded into unquestioning killers and followers of orders in that age old practice of brutalisation, intended to strip away the sense of self, and replace it with the sense of the machine. The final 'Full Metal Jacket' reference is saved for the final act, where the scrap metal dealer, the general and the politician (deliberately generic, one-dimensional characters, in contrast to the betrayed heroine) receive, like the brutal drill sergeant, their just reward. Bravo Sir.