Jan 29 2012 11:00am

David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers Stories

Today’s Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Pick is The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, Volume 1 by David Drake. In appreciation, enjoy this introduction to the second volume of The Complete Hammer’s Slammers by Tor Books editor David Hartwell (this originally appeared on the Baen Book website):

Any fiction that portrays war in SF, since the 1960s, has generally been eliminated from the leading ranks unless it is entirely dedicated to the proposition that war is, in Isaac Asimov’s phrase, the last refuge of the incompetent. All military SF became suspect in the 1970s, and most of it was rejected by major portions of the serious readers of literate SF, as advocating war. This was evident at Robert A. Heinlein’s famous guest of honor speech at MidAmericon in Kansas City in 1976, at which he was publicly booed for stating that war was a constant in world history, and that there was every indication that there would continue to be war in the future. At least since that time, much of the literary SF community has unfortunately failed to distinguish portrayal of war from advocacy of war, or to be interested in examining military SF. The literary community even tends to avoid the authors at convention parties. The only leading writer to overcome this has been Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War, and a majority of his fiction since has not been military SF. And so those authors hang out with their own crew, usually the Baen crew, mostly at conventions in the midwestern and southeastern US, where they are not so easily marginalized.

David Drake was a well-known young horror writer and fan, who published both fantasy and SF in the magazines in the mid-1970s. I knew David fairly well then. He was a young attorney who had served in Vietnam. He was most prominent in horror circles. He was on the editorial board of Stuart David Schiff’s distinguished small press horror magazine, Whispers, and co-proprietor, with Karl Edward Wagner and Jim Groce, of Carcosa, a leading small press founded to publish the works of Manly Wade Wellman, who was a mentor to both Wagner and Drake. He was on the first Young Writers panel at the first World Fantasy Convention in 1975. He got a great literary agent, Kirby McCauley, who gathered all the best in the horror field in the 1970s under his aegis. And he soon had a contract to write his first novel, The Dragon Lord, a gritty, realistic Arthurian fantasy.

Jim Baen was editing Galaxy in those days, struggling heroically to keep it alive, and one of the writers whose SF he was publishing was David Drake. But no matter how nobly Baen strove to keep it alive—and he was widely admired throughout the SF community for his efforts—the magazine was failing and, just before it died, Baen moved to Ace Books, under publisher Tom Doherty. Baen was and is a smart editor, and was used to making bricks without straw, and silk purses out of a variety of materials on a low budget.

I was the SF editor for Berkley Books and bought the Drake novel. But my superiors at Berkley couldn’t imagine doing a short story collection by a not-yet-published first novelist, so I was not allowed to offer to buy Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers. Jim Baen bought it immediately, and published it quickly and successfully. The rest, as they say, is history. The Hammer’s Slammers stories became Drake’s trademark, for better or worse. And when Jim Baen moved to Tor and then founded Baen Books, David Drake became one of his trademark writers, so much so that in 1984 when Bruce Sterling, in the course of founding the cyberpunk movement in his fanzine Cheap Truth, attacked Baen Books, he named David Drake, Jerry Pournelle, and Vernor Vinge as symbols of Baen, and of the military/militarist right wing. At that point Drake’s fiction fell out of the serious discourse in the SF and fantasy field, with very little questioning of the accuracy or merits of Sterling’s attacks, or the virtues of Drake’s writing. It was military and that was enough.

A loyal friend, Drake has remained a mainstay of Baen Books to this day,and stayed with Kirby McCauley, his agent through thick and thin. I am fortunate to be the editor of his fantasy series, Lord of the Isles, and doubly so because since I have a doctorate in medieval literature, and since David reads classical Latin writers for pleasure, I can enjoy many of the references and allusions to classical sources. Not all, I hasten to add, but it keeps me on my toes and I like that.

But this is an introduction to a volume of Hammer’s Slammers stories, and so I’d like to mention a few things that might not be immediately obvious. Certainly Drake uses both his detailed knowledge of military history and his own experiences and observation from his service in Vietnam to construct what is probably the most authentic military SF fiction of this era. But it appears to me that he is often doing a great deal more and that his fiction can yield up some surprising additional benefits.

For instance, his early story,“Ranks of Bronze,”and the later novel of that title, adapts a real historical event (a lost legion of Roman soldiers, Crassus’ mercenaries—see Drake’s afterword to the novel) and translates it into SF. A Roman legion is snatched from Earth into space to be used as mercenaries owned and operated by superior aliens out for profit, to fight relatively low-cost, low-technology wars on alien planets against alien races, with whom they have no personal quarrel, and perhaps only dimly comprehend. No one in the legion has any choice in this. The soldiers behave in a convincingly plausible way, the way Roman soldiers would. They are a very effective fighting force and can most often win. They are moved without notice from one planet to another, fight (sometimes die). They are wretched.

This is military SF with the contemporary politics stripped off, and removed from the level of policy decisions. The soldiers go to a place. They are told who to fight. They win or die. They go to the next place. This is, it seems to me, the true experience of the ordinary fighting man or woman in a military organization throughout history, who has very limited choice. Various individuals manifest good or bad behavior, sanity or craziness, cleverness or stupidity. And luck matters. No one has the big picture, which may be known when the fighting is over and may not. The ones who do the job best tend to survive and perhaps rise in the ranks. Some of them are bad and or crazy, but not stupid, which leads to death. There is very little moral choice possible, but the characters we tend to admire are those who are sane, careful, and make moral choices as they can. And try to live with them afterward. There is no access to those who make policy in Drake’s military fiction. All in all it is a fairly dark vision of human life.

By using SF as a distancing device, and by further using classical mercenaries as soldier characters, Drake constructs a fictional space in which he can investigate and portray certain kinds of human behavior, heroism, loyalty, cowardice, the strategic working out of detailed military actions and the impact on them of individuals behaving well or not, of high and low technology for killing functioning properly or not. And he can do this with something analogous to clinical detachment as the killing commences, without advocating policy.

No one who reads Drake properly can imagine him advocating war.War exists and Drake chooses or is compelled to portray it as it is, and has been, and might be close up. This military SF is not military pornography but rather a form of horror fiction (see “The Interrogation Team,” for instance). It is not intended to deaden the sensibilities to the horrors of war, but to awaken them. Like Ambrose Bierce’s “Chickamauga.” Like Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” Or sometimes like Tolstoy’s descriptions of the advance of Napoleon’s armies on Moscow in War and Peace. Historical parallels abound in Drake’s stories, but distanced into space and the future. This is the same David Drake as the horror writer, not a different person.

There is immense sympathy for the character who has done repulsive things in battle to win, and finds it difficult to live with himself afterward. There is much evidence in Drake’s personal afterwords to his books that he identifies with that position and that it relates to his own military experience (see, for instance, his essay “How They Got That A Way”).That is how we most often return to experience the horror, through personal connection with character,after our detachment has been required by all the distancing devices. If you remain detached, you are not getting it, or rather by saying to yourself, in effect undisturbed, “yes, this is the way war is,” you are denying any broader literary meaning. This is the paradox of Drake’s military fictions.

All of the above is evident in his early stories and in Ranks of Bronze, and many other novels. It is the essence of the Hammer’s Slammers stories. I’d like to talk about a particular story now to extend the point about broader literary meaning.

Drake’s novella, “The Warrior,” is superficially about tank warfare,and about the contrast between the attitudes and behaviors of two commanders of tanks in the Slammers, Sergeant Samuel “Slick” Des Grieux and Sergeant Lucas Broglie, during two military operations nearly ten years apart. Reduced perhaps to oversimplification, Des Grieux is a warrior and Broglie is a soldier; Broglie is sane and Slick is not. They hate each other immediately. Slick Des Grieux is the central character, and his battles are observed in close detail. His tanks are both vehicles and war machines, intelligently extrapolated from the impressive and powerful tanks of today. They are big, fascinating machines, like spaceships are, and are central to the SF appeal. The story is set on two distant planets, the battles are against two different enemies, who are relatively faceless and unimportant. But the enemies have hired competent mercenary armies to defend them against the Slammers, and for the climax, Broglie is hired by a company that ends up opposed to the Slammers. And so in the end it is Broglie against Des Grieux.

This is the story of the madness of Achilles, which is horrific. It is David Drake’s Iliad (particularly books XIX-XXIV). It is also Drake’s criticism of The Iliad, achieved by removing the control of the gods, and the behavior to a different, and psychologically realistic, situation. While literature, as Matthew Arnold said, is the criticism of life, it is also sometimes quite acutely the criticism of other literature, in dialogue with other works. This is one of the central traditions of genre literature, a conversation among texts, but it is somewhat rarer in genre to find that conversation extending to the classics (by which I mean classical literature, not genre classics). There is probably a good master’s degree essay, if not a doctoral dissertation, to be done on the classical influences on the Hammer’s Slammers stories.

I think I will stop now. This is an introduction intended to compliment Drake fans and to give access to readers who are not already Drake readers, perhaps even to readers who have previously decided, without reading any, that there are no Drake stories worth their attention. Think again. Consider some of the things I have said, and go read, or reread, some stories.


David G. Hartwell
Pleasantville, NY
April 2005

David Hartwell is an editor for Tor Books.

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1. AlBrown
Mr. Drake has lalways had much more depth than his detractors give him credit for. I never explicitly made the link, but his war stories are clearly tales of horror. Like a map for policy makers, they warn, "Here there be monsters..."
john mullen
2. johntheirishmongol
I enjoy a lot of Drake's stories, though there are a lot with rather depressing endings. I did not realize that the MilSF authors were segregated from the rest at cons, but then again, I very seldom attend cons. I am sorry to hear it as much of the best writing out there is from that perspective. I also suspect that if you took and broke down sales, MilSF would probably be the largest portion of SF. I have heard history described as a listing of wars, and to a certain extent it is true.

I enjoy the Hammer's Slammers stories with or without the historical references.
p l
3. p-l
I haven't read David Drake, so I can't comment on his particular merits, but I think the premise of this essay ...
Any fiction that portrays war in SF, since the 1960s, has generally been eliminated from the leading ranks unless it is entirely dedicated to the proposition that war is, in Isaac Asimov’s phrase, the last refuge of the incompetent. All military SF became suspect in the 1970s, and most of it was rejected by major portions of the serious readers of literate SF, as advocating war.
... is way overstated. There have been plenty of serious and even approving portrayals of wars in the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's in literate/literary, critically lauded SF. Just off the top of my head:

- Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson: Martian revolution against Earth.
- Triton by Samuel Delany: Outer-system colonies go to war against Earth, killing 90% of its population. Portrayed as morally justified.
- Ender's Game, of course.
- The continually award-winning Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
- The Durdane series by Jack Vance: The third book is a war for survival against invading aliens.
- The Cassini Division by Ken MacLeod (and others in that series): Space war against post-humans
- The Quiet War by Paul MacAuley: War for the solar system, again between Earth and the outer colonies.

... and so on into the present. It's true that a lot of this is not the traditional style of military SF, but that doesn't mean that the field is confusing portrayal of war with advocacy. It could also mean that the field is still very interested in writing and thinking about war, but has largely rejected traditional military SF as the best way to do that.
Wesley Parish
4. Aladdin_Sane
If I may be permitted a word, I haven't read much of David Drake's stories, but I was very impressed with his Lord of the Isles series - or at least, with the books of it that I've read.

As far as war in fiction goes, fiction is the portrayal of conflict, after all. Conflict between the actual and the desired, at the very least; conflict for resources in its most normal form. And war is the ultimate form of conflict. So we cluster around it like flies around a pile of dung.

Perhaps one should factor Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream into any future discussion of military SF? It presents war and conquest as a cost-free ecstacy, after all, and that is one of the things people find repulsive about pro-military propaganda. Especially if you've got, or had, family in the Services. (Part of the reason why I love the WWI poets and novelists, All Quiet on the Western Front, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen are necessary antidotes to a diet of propaganda about the Heroes in Service. They're just ordinary blokes.)

If someone writes a story about war that manages to avoid the Scylla of absorption in dreams (day or wet?) of glory, and the Charybdis of revulsion aimed at the battered humanity of the combatants, be they regular or irregular, then I will give that writer my praise and respect.

I haven't read Hammer's Slammers - I think I'll go looking, now.
5. DavidDrake
Dear People,

First, this is a good place to publicly thank David Hartwell (as I did personally years ago when I first read the essay reprinted here) for the enormous effort he put into writing it. I have written enough essays myself to appreciate what a good one costs the writer, and this is a very good one.

Second, however, I think I should discuss comment 3 (by P-1) that the field rejected traditional Military SF as a way of discussing war. Well, no: Hammer's Slammers (in the original Ace edition) sold about the same (300,000 copies) as Gene Wolfe's contemporary--highly touted and rightly highly praised--Shadow of the Torturer.

These are good numbers. (I could put that more strongly.)

The rejection David described was by the field's self-styled Opinion Makers. (My shorthand for the group is The Locus Crowd, but it included Academe and much of the Northeast, including Analog under Dr Schmidt.)

I can't speak to the question of how much SF the Opinion Makers actually read, but I will point out that it isn't enough to affect sales. Of the books in P-1's list, Ender's Game has a contemporary presence equalled only by Fahrenheit 451. It's far more significant to modern readers than either Dune or Stranger in a Strange Land.

With the exception of Ender's Game, which of P-1's list are in print from a major publisher at this moment? (My guess is one or two.)

I suggest that the SF field is a much larger entity than the Opinion Makers tell one another that it is.

Dave Drake
6. a1ay
Of the books in P-1's list, Ender's Game has a contemporary presence equalled only by Fahrenheit 451. It's far more significant to modern readers than either Dune or Stranger in a Strange Land.

And Dune is also, of course, a story about a war. Is it military SF in the same way as the Hammer's Slammers books? Depends on your definition of military SF.
Brian R
7. Mayhem
I think David Hartwell is partly right - SF fiction based in and around the military was definitely marginalised during the 70s and early 80s, but it has equally definitely benefitted from an increase in popularity during the late 90s and 00s.
That being said, SF in general suffered from a significant drop in popularity as a whole during the 80s, with the explosion of heroic fantasy and the retreat of SF to the harder science books of Brin and Bear. But I don't think that military fiction has particularly declined - Moon's Paksennarrion or Gemmell's Drenai series both showed the demand for that kind of story was still there - rather I think that SF handed that particular baton to Fantasy to carry for a while, and only really reclaimed much of it post 2000/2001 when the market started to move back from the glut of simpler fantasy tales to more speculative SF stories.
There is also the idea that the kind of military fiction as depicted in the Slammers books is coming back into fashion nowadays, that the reading world has been exposed to ongoing conflict for long enough that the shiny edges have been worn off and there is a market for more (cynical?/edgier?) takes again. See the Erikson/Abercrombie/Morgan books in fantasy for example.
I would also expect to see a corresponding decline in overly patriotic near future SF books, like those that erupted in the US market post 9/11.

Nevertheless as Drake himself successfully shows, the same stories get told and retold no matter what clothing they are wrapped in - there will always be a demand to hear of stirring tales of heroism.
The Anabasis is a wonderful tale whether it be the original with Greeks or futuristic with Redliners, cynical a-la Drake or triumphant a-la Ringo & Weber.
p l
8. p-l

Thanks for responding, Dave. All of the books I mentioned (except maybe the Jack Vance series) have been reissued multiple times and are easy enough to get from libraries, Amazon, AbeBooks, and e-book publishers that they're effectively in print. From the reader's perspective, I'm not sure "in print" is even a meaningful term in a world where Amazon holds vast warehouses of billions of books, let alone in world of e-books. My own experience is that if I hear about a book (from one of my friends or through retrospective articles like Jo Walton's), then I can easily get it. Full stop.

Most of the books I've listed are ones that people still read and recommend, and there are more Opinion-Maker-approved portrayals of war that could be added to them. It may be that critical attention turned away from classically styled military SF, but it's still wrong that:
Any fiction that portrays war in SF, since the 1960s, has generally been eliminated from the leading ranks unless it is entirely dedicated to the proposition that war is, in Isaac Asimov’s phrase, the last refuge of the incompetent.
And as for the second part:
All military SF became suspect in the 1970s, and most of it was rejected by major portions of the serious readers of literate SF, as advocating war.
Either he's wrong about the readership (because we know from your numbers that sales were strong), or he was implying that the many people who continued to read military SF were not "serious readers of literate SF." That seems overstated to me.
Brian R
9. Mayhem
In terms of being in print in Britain, its not looking good.
The Vorkosigan books have been very recently reprinted by Baen, though were hard to get hold of for a long while.
The Vance and the Delany are out of print where I am, the McLeod, and MacAuley are new enough they may still be found in second hand shops, though at least the Robinson was reprinted reasonably recently so can be found in the bigger stores.
I wouldn't have put the Mars series under the same umbrella as the others, but I guess it does cover some of the same ground.
Enders Game as mentioned is in a class of its own, it even gets set as required reading in schools every so often.

While all may be available overseas on Amazon or Abe, I prefer to go through my local bookshop first and they rely on the publishers for stock.

But in the context of tanks and guns a-blazing Military fiction, (Pournelle, Drake et al), there was a significant decline in visibility on my side of the pond for a long time, with either British authors taking up the slack (Iain M Banks for example) or a definite drift towards cloaking it in fantasy (eg David Gemmell).

When Hartwell refers to Serious Readers of Literate SF, he pretty much has to be referring to those involved with the major zines of the time - remember the web didn't exist, so the alleged opinion formers were in Locus, Analog and so on and active at the various conventions.
Which of course meant nothing to anyone outside the US who didn't read those magazines, but that's a side issue.

Much the same as Serious Readers of Literature vote carefully for all the awards, but for some reason those dumb members of the public keep buying this cheap genre rubbish. Sigh. No accounting for taste, eh? Popular? Since when has popular had anything to do with Literature! How dare you say Shakespeare wrote popular trashy fiction!
10. AlBrown
Mr. Hartwell is referring to the critics of the time who thought very highly of themselves and their work, looked down their noses at the 'pulp' adventure fiction that had been science fiction's bread and butter for so many years, had a particular distaste for 'warmongering' fiction, and wanted to move the field in the direction of serious literature. Also, unless you lived in the years after the Vietnam War, it is hard to understand the general dislike that was directed toward the military, and military matters in general, back in those days. These days, even those who oppose wars go out of their way to profess support for the troops, which was far from the case in the 70's.
What Hartwell is saying is not rooted in sales figures, instead it describes attitudes of a certain circle of publishers and critics who had a lot of influence in those days--in fact, critics that were infuriated when sales figures did not match their own attitudes. I saw the attitudes and hostility myself back at the first Cons I attended in the 80's--some of my favorite authors were scorned and belittled behind their backs.
It is interesting to see how things have changed over the years. We went from blind mistrust of the military after Vietnam, to blind faith in the military during the invasion of Iraq. Hopefully, the future will find people's attitudes toward military issues in a healthy middle ground. Not wanting to see wars, but recognizing that sometimes military action is required to prevent a greater evil from occurring.
David Drake
11. DavidDrake
Dear P-1, (#8)

I thought about this before replying. (As usual.) I think the Locus Crowd would have agreed with your second formulation: that no one who read traditional Military SF was a serious, literate SF reader. David did not and does not subscribe to that statement, but the people who considered themselves serious and literate SF readers did believe that.

Unless you were the target, I don't think you can imagine the venom that was unleashed on people like Jerry Pournelle (who appeared to relish it) and me (who most certainly did not like to be abused). Among other things, I remember calling Bruce Sterling on a flat untruth. He responded, "I don't care about facts. People can get facts anywhere. I'm creating opinion."

I am intelligent and educated; I think it would be fair to describe me as cultured, at least on the basis of my translating Latin verse in my spare time. But it was all right to lie about me because I wrote what looked like traditional Military SF.

I think David's essay accurately described the attitude of the Locus Crowd. They may not remember now what they said then--but I remember.

Dave Drake
Cait Glasson
12. CaitieCat
Dave Drake - I remember discovering Hammer's Slammers just before I deployed to NATO Europe (CFB Baden-Soellingen OK!), when I was serving as a signaller with the Canadian Forces, and remember that even after I left the service, I continued to seek out your books, always happy when a new cover showed up on the "coming soon" board at my local sf bookshop.

There were too few MilSF works that were clearly written by someone who'd served - whether in cold war or hot - and too many focused only on dulce et decorum est, which tended to be those who'd never worn a uniform. That's not undue criticism of them: it's hard to write perfectly from outside something completely.

I have to say, these look like fine editions, I may need to splurge at some point, and replace some of my long-worn-out paperbacks. Thanks for your fascinating and, yes, cultured work.
TW Grace
13. TWGrace
I think the Locus Crowd would have agreed with your second formulation: that no one who read traditional Military SF was a serious, literate SF reader. David did not and does not subscribe to that statement, but the people who considered themselves serious and literate SF readers did believe that.
I think that attitude of the SF Intelligentsia is alive and well...

Personally, and in my not so humble opinion, I think that attitude is one of the reasons why "SF" has supposedly fallen off over the years. You keep telling a good chunk of your readership that they are semi-intelligent morons and they will decide to spend their money in other places. Sure they may stick with old tried and true "friends", but why try some unknown author in a genre where those that insult you are pushed by the the critics and by most of the publishers?

Heck I have started reading some authors simply based on the hate I see coming between the lines of the "Locus Crowd".
David Drake
14. DavidDrake
Dear CaitieCat,

I agree about ignorance not being a sin; but when I'm depressed (well, when I'm _unusually_ depressed) I wonder why the heck people write about things they're ignorant of. But I made a point of not writing an essay on the history of the sub-genre, so I'll shut up about that.

The Night Shade hcs are truly lovely books. The contents (including the art) is the same in the Baen tps (actually omnitrades) and they're cheaper; but I really appreciate Jason and Jeremy doing their editions.

Oh, and one further note to P-1: to a reader, all that matters is that a book is available in some form. To a writer, it matters a great deal whether the book is in print and the writer will be paid for the book the reader buys. The reason I mentioned being in print is that it's an accurate predictor of the book's lasting popularity.

Dave Drake
15. Doug M.
Hugo award nominees, category novel, last few years.

2011: Blackout, set in the middle of WWII
2010: Julian Comstock, story of a young conqueror in post-electricity North America.
2009: Zoe's Tale
2008: The Last Colony
2007: His Majesty's Dragon
2006: Old Man's War, and also A Feast For Crows.
2005: Iron Sunrise
2004: Ilium, and also Singularity Sky

Skimming quickly through the previous decade, I see at least a dozen more, including Storm of Swords, Deepness in the Sky, Cryptonomicon, Forever Peace, Jack Faust, Brightness Reef, The Time Ships, Red Mars, Green Mars, Moving Mars, and A Fire Upon The Deep.

I'm not even bringing up borderline cases like Iron Council (a revolution and several set-piece battles), Blindsight (undeclared but deadly war with aliens) and Anathem (last 200 pages includes one of the best space battle sequences ever).

Even if you nitpick hell out of that list (the Novik and the Martin are fantasy! Zoe's Tale isn't /really/ a war story!) the plain fact is that SF/fantasy about war has been doing just fine for a long time now. Every one of these books is still in print, and many of them had six- figure sales -- seven-figure for the Martins.

As for "the position that war is the last refuge of the incompetent"... does Iron Sunrise fit that description? His Majesty's Dragon? Blackout? Going back a few years, does this work for A Deepness in the Sky? Red Mars? The Time Ships? Because all of those are books where war is central to the plot, and all of them were in print in 2004. (I note in passing that Simmons' Ilium -- probably the most aggressively pro-war book on that list, a book that pretty explicitly says that humanity's options are war or extinction -- was already in print and selling like hotcakes when Hartwell wrote his essay.)

I could maybe see this essay being relevant in 1985. But in 2004? Or, for goodness' sakes, 2012? It's like reading Gore Vidal on how the 1980 election spelled the end of America.

Doug M.
Clark Myers
16. ClarkEMyers
Mike Resnick has a nice article: Military Science Fiction: A Brief History not written as special pleading for this thread. And as another reviewer has posted:
I remember conversations about authors’ politics – laughing at rumours that David Drake wore a belt with a swastika buckle, for example. But it didn’t seem to have any bearing on the fiction I read (not that I read Drake anyway).
It's said that Old Man's War was in some part written to the market because a lot of somewhat military themed speculative fiction was displayed in the stores when that book was conceived and writing started. There are well liked authors whose books include warriors with war in the background - series like Small Change it should only sell as well as WOT.

And there are sites and places with pretensions to polite society that have long tolerated and encouraged ad hominum attacks on Dr. Pournelle and Mr. David Drake (JD Duke but I gather doesn't claim the degree as a doctorate? maybe LLB is the better degree?)

The essay supra and the book it introduces are as likely as Francois Arouet's comment that:
Dans ce pays-ci il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres
to be relevant so long as we have wars and warriors.
17. Doug M.
1) In the Anglo-American academic tradition, a J.D. degree does not entitle you to be called "Dr.", even though the full Latin version has "doctor" in it. (Otherwise, every lawyer would be a "Dr.", which would be just silly.)

A J.D. does entitle you to put "Esq." after your name. And if you are a J.D. who is also admitted to practice before a court, the court may choose to address you as "The Honorable ". But for "Dr.", in America, you need a Ph.D. or an M.D.

2) "I remember a conversation where someone said something really stupid" is not exactly hard evidence of a deep critical movement within the field.

3) Pournelle would be a middling controversial character if he'd never written a word of MilSF. He didn't get kicked off ARPANET (to give one example) because of his writing career. I mean, it's a bit like saying some people have trouble with Harlan Ellison because he writes horror.

4) David Drake comes across as a decent and reasonable guy, and his fiction is hardly a celebration of war. In retrospect, Sterling's attack on him looks at best wrongheaded and at worst mean-spirited and stupid.

That said, I'm still baffled as to why in 2012 we're discussing a 2004 essay that describes a situation that may have been true and relevant in the 1970s and 1980s, but was certainly neither by the 1990s. The parts of Hartwell's essay that we're discussing were already long obsolete at the time it was written.

I mean, what next? A 1995 piece about how the Old Guard robbed Gene Wolfe of that Hugo back in 1971?

Doug M.
18. The other Will
I doubt whether "telling a good chunk of your readership that they are semi-intelligent morons" is a signficant factor in "why "SF" has supposedly fallen off over the years". 1st, 1 wonders how readers suffered the same disrepect that authors did. 2nd, people will gravitate toward works & recommendations that parallel their own tastes. It would make more sense if, for example, the error was that publishers deliberately chose to disregard works based on their biases rather than their best judgement. 3rd, is there any real doubt that fantasy outsells SF?
All SF works about war aren't military SF. There are military SF books set in the far future with thinly disguised commentaries about contemporary politics. They wouldn't get printed if they didn't sell, but that's no more a sub-genre for me than Harlequin romances. My experiences with the military SF of Mr. Drake & Mr. Pournelle have been much more positive than that, but not enough to buy either Slammers collection.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
19. tnh
Congratulations on the omnibus editions. They're very handsome.

I'll register a mild objection to "the Locus crowd" as a critical term, but only on the grounds that anyone who doesn't already have some idea of who you're referring to is unlikely to be led to a correct notion of what you mean by the use of it -- which is, I'll admit, a finely split hair.

I'd be depressed too if I were constantly assumed to be arguing for the same positions, and at the same volume, as Wreel Cbhearyyr or the younger Fgrir Fgreyvat. My idea of an interesting convention panel about the military would be more like Joe Haldeman, Gene Wolfe, David Drake, Jim Macdonald, Elizabeth Moon, and maybe Graydon Sanders.

I think the field's mild allergy to military SF wasn't a reaction to the better work like Hammer's Slammers. It's not an unusual situation. People who say they hate New Wave, or elfy-welfy fantasy, or who rail against space opera, are generally reacting to the dumber specimens of the form. It's unfortunate that one or two bad reading experiences can keep them from reading the good stuff. Sometimes you can get them to come in through a side door, for instance via Patrick O'Brian to The Killer Angels to McPherson or Catton or Foote, and onward from there.

Another reason for people's hesitancy was an extra-literary influence: That raucous guy in the consuite who won't stop talking about weapon systems and kill rates. It sometimes wasn't a guy, and it wasn't always the consuite, and it wasn't always that specific subject; but I'll bet you know what I'm talking about, just the same.

Being civilians, they didn't know that the real military doesn't talk like that. What they did know was that there was something unpleasant and slightly prurient about his conversation. In their confusion, they thought it was the subject matter.


Since the question's been kicked around in various comments: SF sells just as well as it ever did. It hasn't gone through a decline.

When people get that impression, it's usually because they've seen a snapshot where SF was standing next to genre fantasy. Any literary category would look a little puny in that company.


AlBrown @10:
...a certain circle of publishers and critics who had a lot of influence in those days--in fact, critics that were infuriated when sales figures did not match their own attitudes.
I think you're imaginatively mistaken about that part. I've never heard critics object to sales figures. Critics mostly don't know sales figures. It's not their line of work.

Doug M. @17:
Pournelle would be a middling controversial character if he'd never written a word of MilSF. He didn't get kicked off ARPANET (to give one example) because of his writing career.
Ye flipping ghods, that takes me back.

You could get kicked off ARPANET? How did I miss knowing that?
I'm still baffled as to why in 2012 we're discussing a 2004 essay that describes a situation that may have been true and relevant in the 1970s and 1980s, but was certainly neither by the 1990s.
Because so many of us are still around, and we know more than we knew then? You can't have escaped acquaintance with fandom's infinitely long (if ADHD-tinged) collective memory.
Clark Myers
20. ClarkEMyers
Folks with an interest in the Slammers may be interested in Blackhorse Riders forthcoming from St. Martins (one of the Flatiron Building publishers) But maybe it don't mean nothing.

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