"The Draka will conquer the world for two reasons; because we must and because we can. And yet of the two forces the second is the greater; we do this because we choose to do it."
Gather 'round lads and lasses and we shall tell ye a story of a good republic and an evil empire where the bad guys are vanquished and truth, justice, and the American Way prevail.Science Fiction author S.M. Stirling said "Screw that". Apparently tired of seeing the same cliches being used again, and again; he created the Domination of the Draka, an Evil Empire that doesn't intend to lose...ever.The Draka timeline diverges from our own during the American Revolution, where American Crown Loyalists, due to the Dutch intervening in the war, are shipped to the new British Crown Colony of Drakia-named after Sir Francis Drake-on the southern coast of Africa. They are joined shortly by French Royalists, defeated Confederate troops, and generally the other losers of history. Burning with a desire for revenge, they founded the Domination of Draka: an Empire forged on conquest and slavery. Their goal is nothing less than world domination. Standing in their way is the United States of America and the Alliance for Democracy. And you just know this is going to be bloody.The main trilogy consists of:
Marching Through Georgia (set in the opening hours of the Drakan entry into the Eurasian War, the alternate equivalent of our World War II)
Under the Yoke (covering Europe's incorporation into the Domination after the Eurasian War)
The Stone Dogs (covering the "Protracted Struggle" between the Domination of Draka and the remaining democratic nations, now joined into the "Alliance for Democracy")
There are also:
Drakon (a Draka from the 25th century is hurled back to 1990s Earth by a space-warp experiment)
Drakas! (a collection of short stories set in the Draka timeline, edited by S. M. Stirling but written by other authors)
The Domination is an abridged omnibus of the main trilogy, not a separate book.
The series contains examples of:
Affably Evil: A lot of Draka characters, when you get past the slavery and the warmongering and the rampant amorality, are actually surprisingly pleasant people. However, it only really serves to make them even more unsettling.
Alien Space Bats: The only decent explanation why no one else stopped them before they became too powerful. Knowing the Draka, they have them as slaves.
It needs them to explain how and why a sparsely-populated colony of farmers of the late 1700s could industrialize quicker than all European nations together and conquer a continent which no less than three Real Life superpowers (British, French and German Empires) could barely do, even with several other Great Powers' help.
Alternate Universe: The Draka were experimenting with wormholes for FTL travel and instead opened a gateway to another Earth.
Ancient Grome: Not LITERALLY, but the Draka love for the ancient classics leads to a lot of Greek, Roman, and Indian (!) themes in the names of their cities, architecture, and even military ranks.
Author Appeal: S.M. Stirling seems to like lesbian or bisexual female characters. Johanna, Rahksan, Yolande, Myfwanwy, Gwendolyn... you can't throw a rock in any of the books without hitting at least two.
He does try to handwave it a couple of ways — primary education is sex-segregated, and prior to the development of the drakenses the Race Purity Laws create a variation on Really Gets Around in that it's acceptable for male Draka to have sex with any serf woman they like, but for a female Draka to have sex with a male serf is a capital offense (diluting the Race, presumably), with a side of Family Versus Career for female Draka, who are required by law to produce a minimum number of offspring (the actual pregnancy eventually being off-loaded to host mothers) — but it still feels heavy-handed at times.
Stirling also seems to have a thing for Afrikaner villains—they show up in The Peshawar Lancers and Conquistador.
How bad of an idea is it? In a flashback, Eric's father scolds him for crying over a dead serf, and sending the girl away—which caused a scandal for the family. When he goes to whip Eric, the latter snatches the switch out of his father's hand and calmly tells him that if he ever hits him again, he's a dead man.
Brutal Honesty: Marching Through Georgia has a scene where Karl von Shrakenberg (the father of the book's Draka protagonist, Eric) tells an American journalist that any partnership of between the Domination and the USA will be "a temporary alliance of convenience". He then adds that it's only to keep the United States out of the Domination's hair while they conquer and enslave Europe...in pretty much those exact words. All in a gentlemanly, conversational tone. The American is understandably shaken by how brazen Karl is, and outright terrified that his country is already being sized up for conquest.
Butterfly of Doom: Tremendously averted and one of the major criticisms of the timeline. Despite radical alterations to history starting in 1783, we still get a US Civil War over slavery in 1860, a Great War in 1914 (which the US joins on the exact same date in 1917), and both Hitler and FDR still rise to power in 1932. Word of God says that these are different people, but they aren't given different names. Of course, the Draka is more of a thought experiment than an attempt at a plausible Alternate History.
Crapsack World: The raison d'etre of the series. Before the stories even begin, the Draka enslave the entire native population of Africa and much of Asia's. The Drakaverse version of World War 2, made worse by the radical nature of Drakan tactics, including arbitrary starvation of resisting cities, unflinchingly brutal punishment of partisan activity, and much more liberal use of atomic weapons, kills off approximately one-tenth of humanity, and ends in a majority of survivors going into slavery. Out of self-defense, the United States and her allies become massive armed camps. Eventually, a nuclear holocaust ensues in which The Bad Guy Wins, and most Americans who aren't killed or enslaved are treated as hunting game for the Draka. Then, of course, the Draka create two posthuman species, and the Serfs are engineered into a pliant, non-resistant slave race which happily serves the Draka masters. The Draka then develop interstellar and interdimensional travel, attempting to enslave sentient alien races and alternate timelines. So far their first attempt is stopped by a human cyborg.For now.
Easy Logistics: One of the complaints that gets brought up is that the Draka are seemingly completely unaffected early on by the logistics of waging war in what was historically, for Europeans, a medical nightmare, on a continent that, for anyone, lacked the necessary fundamental infrastructure to create or maintain a continent-spanning empire.
Everyone Is Bi: The genetically-engineered New Race — "Homo drakensis" — portrayed in Drakon, is all bisexual.
Evil Counterpart: The Draka can be seen as an evil counterpart of the United States of America. Both are world powers that started as colonies. Both expanded by taking over other colonies and native lands. Both originally had very slavery-dependent economies. But whereas the USA ultimately rejected slavery, the Domination embraced it.
Both also took over their home continents (North America and Africa) at ludicrously fast speeds with ludicrously little resistance. If the USA didn't exist in real life, but was written about in an Alternate History story, people would probably think its tremendous success was just as Alien Space Bats based as the Drakas' and voice the objection that France, Spain, and England would have stopped them before they took over the entire center of North America. On the other hand, the USA's rapid expansion is probably a little more realistic than the Draka's, since it would be a lot easier for someone who wanted to stop the Draka to send armies and supplies across the Mediterranean than it would be for someone who wanted to stop the USA from sending armies and supplies across the Atlantic.
The characters themselves reference this as early as Marching Through Georgia by noting that North America had a much lower indigenous population density, and most Native Americans were killed by European diseases (in many cases long before the colonists themselves showed up). The conquest of North America was therefore much faster and less resource-intensive than what the Draka had to do. Africa being much more heavily populated (and with the disease situation reversed), the ancestors of the Draka were forced to militarize very early on.
Happiness in Slavery: Quite a few of the Draka Serfs suffer from this. And after the Draka master human genetic engineering, they all suffer from it.
By the Great War, most of Africa had been Draka land for decades and knew no other way of life. The Draka had a hundred years to "perfect" their dark art and everybody was genre savvy in regards to the consequences of a successful slave uprising. Even worse, at the turn of the 20th Century, they knew the outside world would not tolerate them beyond necessity. The Domination is a Super North Korea which has an exacting knowledge of keeping the masses in-line and a extreme amount of incentive to keep doing so. And, unlike North Korea, the Draka have the resources to back up their threats.
Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: By the 20th century, the timeline has changed so much that almost no real-world historical figures show up. Guess who is one of the few exceptions.
Humans Are Bastards: The unflinching loyalty and the extent of the rapine the Janissaries inflict on the civilized world; or their casual laughter and enjoyment when 13 year old Finnish kids get impaled. Slavery or not, there is no excuse.
Hope Spot: Archona gets targeted by 3 submarines' worth payloads of nukes near the end of the war. All of them get intercepted.
Karma Houdini: An entire nation of them. In the end, homo drakensis even stop aging, ensuring they can enjoy the fruits of slavery forever.
La Résistance: The Finns are the only nation presented as waging anything like a determined resistance in the face of Drakan occupation. Under the Yoke seems to suggest that the free Finns will eventually simply die from attrition or lack of supply, never posing a serious threat to Drakan strategic interests.
According to the chronology given for the series, Switzerland apparently is considered a hotbed of resistance into the 1970's. And the French Resistance at the beginning of Under The Yoke is featured, but only as a shadow of its former self, its members forced into cannibalism to survive and generally considered little more than an annoyance by not only the Draka but also the serf population.
The Finns are the only ones we actually get to see in action. In addition to Switzerland and France, Russia is also said to have pockets of holdouts, Barcelona was nuked to stop an uprising, and as late as the 1960s some serfs in former Italy are trying (unsuccessfully) to resist the Draka (seen at the beginning of The Stone Dogs). Most of the rest of Europe has been so battered by war that the Draka are mostly picking up the pieces and rebuilding—many civilians are so worn-out and beleaguered that they're actually lining up for their serf tattoos just to get food and medical care.
Les Collaborateurs: The 'chain-dog' serfs who serve as the muscle for the Security Directorate qualify. They are resented by the Citizens and utterly detested by their fellow serfs (particularly those who are highly-placed, or attached to powerful Citizen families).
Master Race: The Draka consciously craft themselves into a master race by living The Spartan Way. The books contrast the Draka with the Nazis, who believed they were a master race because of an inherently superior genetic lineage. It is mentioned that the average Draka footsoldier could crush the skull of an SS trooper with his (or her) bare hands. Later, genetic tinkering accentuates this to the point that the Draka literally are a Superior Species.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: after the Final War nearly destroys the ecosystem, the Draka respond by invoking strict environmental standards to ensure stability. Nature preserves are created from entire continents and the population levels are kept low.
Justified in that they originally did this as a loophole exploitation so they could have slaves while still paying lip service to the British Empire's ban on chattel slavery.
Although one of the less plausible plots points is the idea that the British Empire in general, and the abolitionist movement in particular would have been fooled by this for five minutes.
They weren't necessarily fooled for long, if at all — according to the Custer story in Drakas! Drakia paid only lip-service to being British even in the late 1870s; one officer is considered eccentric/politically extreme for taking loyalty to Queen Victoria seriously.
Nuke 'em: The inviolable law is that no serf is to raise a hand in anger to any of the Draka, on pain of death. The crowning example was when a serf rebellion in Barcelona managed to overwhelm the local garrison, which made the Draka decide to suppress the riot by nuking the entire city.
It was probably a better death than the fate that would have awaited the rebels if the Draka had used conventional methods.
You Bet! The Draka "conventional method" was to impale the rebels on a wooden stake up the rectum. A very slow, painful, and degrading way to die! Give me a nuke anytime!
For those who are puzzled and trying to remember where the hell that ever happened in the plot, the answer is that it's given a brief mention as backstory in The Stone Dogs.
Oh My Gods!: Draka characters frequently swear by Norse deities. Subverted in that they don't seem to be actively worshiped (there's mention of a move to "revive the Old Faith", but it apparently failed), so this may more of an In-Universe pop-cultural quirk.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Played straight in that, while a Draka citizen is technically allowed to practice a religion, it is considered at the very least tacky and, in general, politically suspect. Averted in that the Draka have absolutely no qualms about using (modified) religions as a means of control over their serfs. It appears, however, that by the time of Drakon, 400 years into the Final Society, both the servus and drakensis are uniformly materialist atheists.
Pragmatic Villainy: The Draka are horrified at the Holocaust...because it was a tremendous waste of slave labor.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Humanity at the fourth book, Drakon, finally manages to settle Alpha Centauri, escaping the Draka yoke, and survive for 400 years and develop superior fleets to stymie Draka expansion, and even manage to open wormholes in Earth orbit to send a huge fleet that is "stopped barely".
Schizo Tech: Until the last few years of World War Two the Eurasian War, this happened a lot because of the Draka tendency to be one or two generations ahead of everybody else. Somehow. At the end of the 18th century, the Draka had lever-operated multi-shot rifles.
At the end of the 18th century, they had single-shot breechloaders based on the Ferguson, an actual weapon of the time which didn't see mass usage not only because it didn't match tactics of the era, but because the cottage industry of the era couldn't mass produce it and because the wooden lock broke down too easily.
They were indeed based off the Ferguson, but they were explicitly not single-shot.
In the mid-1800s, they had smokeless powder and bolt-actions. In World War One the Great War, they had semi-automatic rifles and squad automatic weapons. In the Eurasian War, they have assault rifles with 75-round drum mags, integrated bipods, and optical sights. And none of this is getting into their vehicles...
The technological prowess of that world in general ran faster than our own, once you were into the 20th century. Both sides had orbital space industry in the 1960s, for example.
The problem isn't that part of the story. Rather it seems to be time before that when everyone else has regular technology, but the Draka are at least a generation ahead.
This trope reaches its apex in The Stone Dogs. At the end of the novel, the Alliance for Democracy launches a sublight starship powered and propelled by matter-antimatter reactions to Alpha Centauri. The starship contains 100,000 cryogenically-frozen Alliance citizens, enough to start a colony and continue the fight against the Draka. In what year does this happen? 1997.
This sort of makes sense. Stirling admitted that his goal with this Alternate History was to populate the globe with massive, hi-tech superstates. In the appendices, there are descriptions of major scientific and technological advances taking place in nations which were, in real life, undeveloped poverty-stricken third world shitholes (much of Africa, South and Central America, Central and Southeast Asia). When you basically double or triple the number of people working on coming up with clever solutions to problems and not merely focused on sheer survival, you'll get results.
Their computer tech is described as very security-oriented with programs residing on ROMs and such, but there's no way the Domination could have cracked human DNA, for example, without some impressive number-crunching ability.
Memory media and processing speed aren't necessarily related. Massive amounts of parallel processing combined with a complete lack of ethical boundaries with regard to research subjects could get the job done.
Stirling goes into some detail about this in the afterword to the story, at least in some editions. He envisioned a world where the constant warfare forced all sides into taking the "Manhattan Project" approach—throw lots of money and resources at the problem right now, build something usable on the battlefield right now, expenses be damned, risks be damned, refinement or subtlety or elegance be damned. It gets results quickly, if you don't mind the results being big and crude and clunky and maybe a bit unreliable. It produces crude atomic bombs that weigh many tons, to be delivered by Mach 2+ ramjet bombers that are more dangerous to their own crews than any enemy air defense. He observes that a "Manhattan Project" approach to polio would have been far more likely to produce a "magnificently advanced iron lung" than a vaccine to prevent the disease in the first place. In one of the novels there is an in-universe book excerpt in which a scientist complains that an experiment using superconductive materials is producing anomalous results that were not predicted either by quantum theory or by Relativity—but no one knows what it means because no one will fund any large-scale research on anything that doesn't have an immediate obvious utility for blowing people up.
Secret Police: The Draka version monitors the serfs for any hint of uprising, and the Draka civilians for any hint of sedition.
Shout-Out: Recurring references to 1984, most notably when a Draka characterizes their economic system as "oligarchical collectivism" as a reference to Emmanuel Goldstein's treatise The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.
In The Stone Dogs, Doctor Harry Snappdove of the Strategic Planning Board is described as a balding man with a hooked nose and a brush of dark-brown beard, a description of Harry Turtledove, another well-known author of alternate-history fiction.
Smart People Play Chess: The Draka play chess; unfortunately, owing to the author's Critical Research Failure, the only moves quoted are complete nonsense ("Knight to King's Pawn Four" is syntactically invalid, never mind whether it would be a good move or not).
Space Opera: The series becomes more and more Space Opera-ish as it goes on. The Draka rulers in Drakon dream of The Race eventually conquering the entire galaxy. It is wisely pointed out that there may be powerful species in space that could destroy the Draka if they are not cautious.
The Spartan Way: The Draka train their children in military boarding schools from the age of 5. This program is called the Agoge, which fits with the Drakan obsession with Classical society.
Super Soldier: Homo drakensis, for one, but even as far back as Marching Through Georgia, the Draka citizen-soldiers were effectively these compared to everyone else. 400 years later, the Draka Archon(leader) wears a nanosuit with firepower reported to be able to destroy entire cities.
Those Wacky Nazis: It's actually possible to feel sorry for those bastards when reading Marching Through Georgia.
Note that the Nazi soldiers in Marching Through Georgia aren't even "good German" Wehrmacht — they're a regiment of the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, the lead division of the Waffen-SS. And you actually feel tempted to pity them.
Pity, nothing. You're actually rooting for them to win. They don't.
We Are Struggling Together: Eventually, the remaining countries not under Drakan control have little choice other than to band together under the American-led Alliance for Democracy.
We Have Reserves: The entire point of the Janissaries. It's a measure of how much life as a Draka serf sucks that they still get millions of volunteers for human wave cannon fodder duty, as while Janissaries are still serfs they're at least allowed to work off some of their mad by oppressing other serfs.
Put to diabolically good use with Jewish concentration camp survivors. Note that Zionism seems to have been averted when the Draka took control of the Holy Land after their universe's equivalent of World War I.
Furthermore, as genetic sequencing becomes easier, the Draka breed Ghouloons, gene-spliced Baboons with human and wolf genes, to provide massive numbers of obedient, cheap, and expendable shock troopers that can handle levers, buttons, rifles and simple tools. And like to eat shrimp.