Wednesday, April 06, 2022

17. Hammer's Slammers by David Drake

I'd heard about this book at the edge of radar for a while now and stumbled upon it at the Renaissance on Bernard so thought I should probably add it to my reading list.  I believe it is considered somewhat of a classic of military science fiction.  It's a very odd book and I went through a range of reactions as I was reading it.  Unfortunately, I believe the introduction by Jerry Pournelle coloured some of my thinking and I wished I had read it at the end.  He put forth the simplistic, nerdy faux-tough argument that somehow our. soft liberal society has lost the recognition for the professional soldier.  I have always hated the conservative position that by being selfish assholes they are somehow harder and more "realistic" than the progressive position.  I especially hate it when it comes out of the nerd world and it rings gross as fuck right now as we read about atrocities committed by Putin in Ukraine.  That followed by several quite brutal stories that had a similar subtext (war is hell and wimpy civilians and ecosystems need to accept that) made me think Drake was taking a pro-war position.  By the end, though, it gets more nuanced and I also read that Drake himself served in Vietnam (as an interrogator!) and that this book was partly his way of working through his own reaction to his involvement in that war.

This is tough reading and I am still not sure about how I feel about its politics.  The first few stories are not super well-written.  The battle descriptions (not my strong point as a reader, I admit, so combat nerds may have a better informed opinion) confused me and didn't do a lot to move the plot or characterization forward.  There is a lot of cyan and a lot of bodies getting splattered (which was kind of grimly entertaining).  As the stories move forward, though, they get better and better written, with some interesting situations. It is not a novel per se, but a series of situations that happens to this intergalactic squad of super tank mercenaries with little informative essays in between. It does build a picture of a galaxy at constant war and the hierarchical social structures that push poor planetary settlers to join Hammer's crew.  Ultimately, from what I could gather, the main argument here is that humans are going to go to war all the time and that war is hell and the only good thing is the camaraderie and loyalty generated by being part of a politically neutral, highly skilled and powerful military team.  The glee of Pournelle's essay is not here, though.  Rather it is all just grim with genocide, rape and environmental destruction (including wiping out a complete ecosystem).  The only bright spots are brief moments of individuals distinguishing themselves by showing a toughness and inhumanity that means they can be a part of the Slammers.  

Despite the cynicism, the situations are quite clever and the various worlds have interesting geography, flora and fauna and civilizations, all presented with just enough info to get the context to make the story work.  The final story, The Tank Lords, which was added to this later addition, is much richer and enjoyable and I think probably demonstrates an evolution in Drake's writing.  I get why young military nerds would enjoy this stuff.  I am curious enough to want to check out one of the full length novels that take place in the "Hammerverse".

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