by Dan Simmons
Colonel Fedmahn Kassad (The Soldier)
Modern Warfare: Simulated Combat
The word soldier conjures up images of violence and honor. Where Kassad is concerned, he definitely has the violence part down—but we might have to search a bit to find the honor. When we see Kassad through the eyes of the Consul, he's described as the "Butcher of South Bressia" (1.22); brown, fit, and lean, with a face "carved from cold stone" (1.23). Kassad's "intense, slow movements reminded the Consul of an Earth-bred jaguar" (1.24).
That tells us a lot about him right off the bat, but we really get to know him during the course of The Soldier's Tale.
The Soldier's Tale begins with a young Fedmahn Kassad, twenty-three and not yet a Colonel, in the middle of a battle between France and England in 1415. No, Kassad isn't over a millennium old; he's entrenched in a battle simulation as realistic as a real war. PlayStation games in 3D have nothing on the immersion value of these things—but we'll stick with our video games. At least they can't kill us like Kassad's simulations can.
Kassad enjoys the thrill of battle. Really enjoys it: "Kassad's adrenaline was flowing and the bloodlust had him in its grip" (2.208). During the Battle of Agincourt, Kassad gets separated from his battalion and engages in a brutal hand-to-hand fight with a French soldier. It's not going too well: Kassad is overpowered and preparing to meet certain (simulated) death when someone shows up to help out. After a few well-placed hammer blows, the French foe is weakened enough for Kassad to stab him in the face. Yeah, we'll stick with Little Big Planet.
Love is a Battlefield
What could be more sexy than a knife to the forehead? Are you turned on right now? We're not, we swear. But Kassad is. He starts to put the lust in bloodlust when his savior reveals herself (and we do mean reveals herself) to be a beautiful young woman, who never reveals her name. Kassad calls her Moneta, because why not?
Moneta and Kassad make love right there on the battlefield. Afterward, "they lay next to each other. The dead man's armor was cold against Kassad's left arm, [Moneta's] thigh warm against his right leg" (2.229).
Kassad's like a virgin, touched for the very first time, when he's with Moneta. He becomes addicted to her, and, by extension, to warfare and killing. Both sex and violence are adrenaline-pumping acts. For someone whose life is one, it's easy to see how he might get it intertwined with the other. Where characters like Sol and Martin represent the brains of the operation—scholar and poet—characters like Kassad and Brawne clue us into the violent, and sexy, parts of human nature. And it's looking like the Shrike wants both.
Jihad Us at Hello
After a few more encounters, Moneta stops appearing to Kassad. Could war no longer have the same appeal to him? As he rises through the ranks, we learn a little more about him. He was born on planet Tharsis, and considers himself Palestinian. It seems his people fled for other planets after the Nuclear Jihad of 2038. He also lives by something call the New Bushido Code. Kassad never goes into detail about this, but we imagine it's pretty similar to the old Bushido Code, except with lasers.
The biggest moment of Kassad's early career occurs on the planet Qom-Riyadh, when Kassad intervenes in a Shi'ite/Sunni conflict. (Apparently that's going to continue for a while.) Kassad is supposed to neutralize the New Prophet without resorting to nuclear warfare. This episode shows us that Kassad was raised a Muslim and he believes that "the God of Islam would neither condone nor allow the slaughter of the innocent" (2.264).
Remember that honor we were talking about earlier? We finally get a glimpse of that, along with Kassad's religious affiliation, something that's important to all the characters and the novel as a whole.
Unfortunately, the New Prophet continues with his jihad, so Kassad assassinates him with the aid of some nefarious satellite beams. Well, he didn't use nuclear weapons. He may have followed orders, but we don't think this was the exact outcome his superior officers had in mind. Still, Kassad ends up benefiting from this recklessness: that night, Moneta visits Kassad for the first time in years. The lesson? Honor gets you laid. Apparently.
Saving Kassad's Privates
We're going to skip over the Battle of Bressia (you already know that Kassad has been called the Butcher of Bressia, so use your imagination. Or read it. It's intense) and get straight to the money shot, so to speak, of the Soldier's Tale.
After the Bressian conflict, an injured Kassad is on a medical spacecraft above Hyperion. It's shot down by the Ousters and crash lands on the planet. There, Kassad is nursed back to health by Moneta, who also prepares him for battle. (It's the first time she's ever put clothes on him.) She also enlists the help of the mythical Shrike to help them slaughter their enemies. Now, we haven't seen the Shrike too much at this point, but even so, "teammate" isn't a word we'd ever use to describe it.
In the conflict that ensues, Kassad throws away his honor in order to exact revenge, since "The essence of honor lay in the moment of combat between equals" (2.462). After the Ousters have been laid to waste, it's sexy-time with Moneta (of course). This time, it ends a little differently. During the act, Moneta transforms into the Shrike. We're not quite sure how to put it delicately, but Kassad almost loses some bits he probably considers very important.
That's a wake-up call. Sleeping with a mass-murdering monster is the only thing to get Kassad to realize just how dangerous his addiction to violence is. Kassad practically worshiped warfare, and since people also worship the Shrike, well, that's appropriate, isn't it? A religion doesn't get much more violent than the Shrike.
Kassad retires from military life, remaining reclusive until now, the Shrike pilgrimage. We're told "for a while he was active in antiwar movements" (2.499). Anti-war? He must have been celibate too, then. Anyway, his attitude isn't all peace and doves now, as illustrated by his proclamation: "When I meet [the Shrike] this time, I will kill them" (2.531).
Kassad shows up both the glory and the, well, negative side of war. But here's our slightly uncomfortable question: Could Simmons be equating Shrike worship with Islam?Colonel Fedmahn Kassad's Timeline