David Drake (born September 24, 1945) is the author of several sci-fi series, including RCN and Hammer's Slammers, and has a major fantasy series, The Lord of the Isles.
One of the current gods of Military SF, along with Jerry Pournelle, S. M. Stirling, and David Weber — in spite of not regularly writing any military SF anymore. (Unless you count Naval Space Opera.) Known for his explicit and graphic depictions of the effects of warfare on both human bodies and human societies.
Drake is, as described in the book jacket for The Dance of Time:
"Vietnam veteran, former lawyer, former bus driver, and now best-selling author..."
"Drake graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Iowa, majoring in history (with honors) and Latin."
"His stint at Duke University Law School was interrupted for two years by the U. S. Army, where he served as an enlisted interrogator with the 11th Armored Cavalry in Vietnam and Cambodia."
Drake currently lives in North Carolina; as of 2023, he has announced on his website that due to unspecified health issues, he will no longer be writing novels.
- The RCN series is loosely based off the 18th century British navy, complete with spaceships that travel through hyperspace using sails. However, the sails are handled fairly realistically: stripping a ship's sails with a plasma cannon is a quick and easy way to keep it from escaping into hyperspace, the sails need to be furled and stowed before entering an atmosphere, and when deployed, interfere with the ship's realspace maneuvering and combat. In the same way that Honor Harrington is Hornblower/Nelson IN SPACE!, the RCN books are Patrick O'Brian IN SPACE!, with Daniel O'Leary in the role of Jack Aubrey and Adele Mundy as Stephen Maturin (only with her being the ship's comms officer rather than its surgeon). And a right deadly comms officer she is, too.
- The Lord of the Isles: Heroic fantasy series.
- Hammer's Slammers - short stories about futuristic mercenaries under Colonel Alois Hammer. The toughest mercs who ever killed for a dollar. Partly based on the French Foreign Legion in the 1950s, when that service had a large proportion of former SS in its ranks, but also loosely based on the Vietnam-Era 11th Armored Cavalry regiment, with fusion-powered hovercraft "panzers" replacing tanks and smaller combat cars replacing M113 cavalry vehicles.
- The General series with S. M. Stirling. A retelling of the life of the Byzantine General Belisarius in a sci-fi setting on a world after the fall of civilization. (Not to be confused with the Belisarius Series, described below.) The world, Bellevue, has rebuilt itself to approximately 1900 technology.
- The Belisarius Series with Eric Flint. The life of the Byzantine General Belisarius as an alternate history, where the two great powers from the far future have each sent an emissary to alter the past in Belisarius' lifetime.
- Northworld series. Retelling of selected Norse myth as sci fi using powered armor. The name's a pun. North for a cold world like the frozen north of Norse myth. "Norse" itself probably ultimately derived from Middle Dutch nort for, what else, "north." Also for "North's World" for the expy of Odin, who in the books is named North and commanded a team sent to explore the planet.
- The Reaches: Igniting the Reaches, Through the Breach, and Fireships. Set a thousand years after the collapse of an interstellar government, and based on the period when Spanish and British exploration and exploitation were colliding in the New World, with particular inspiration from the exploits of Sir Francis Drake (no relation). The planet Venus fills the role of Britain (ruled by Governor Halys), while Spain is played by the Canada-based government of North America.
Selected Other Works:
- Ranks of Bronze: The campaigns of an ancient Roman Legion captured by aliens who survive as a mercenary army used on low-tech planets.
- Patriots: Sci-fi retelling of Ethan Allen's capture of the British Fort Ticonderoga during the American Revolutionary War. In the book the Ethan Allen character was described as the type of person who could charge into machine gun fire and survive. This made him dangerous to be around, because the people around him would still get slaughtered."I've met his type before."
"Type? He's a type?"
"Like the Mars Diamond is a type. It's just that all the others aren't flawless and weigh 32 pounds."
- The Books of the Elements: Ancient Rome With Magic!
- Redliners: Science fiction story of a burnt out elite unit assigned to guard involuntary colonists on a Death World. It takes War Is Hell to its logical conclusion—what do you do with, and how can you help, the Shell-Shocked Veteran, when the war is over?
- Forlorn Hope - Sci-fi foreign mercenaries fight their way out of encirclement and then fight their way off-world when their employers betray them.
- All the Way to the Gallows - Gallows Humor short stories. Includes
- Mom and the Kids, with Larry Niven.
- The Noble Savages: a sci-fi sendup of special ops force operating under Political Overcorrectness.
- A Very Offensive Weapon: Novella in which Fantasy Quest tropes are mercilessly slaughtered.
- Vettius and Friends: Short stories of gritty fantasy around the time of Ancient Rome.
- Killer: Alien-like aliens come up against retired veteran of the Roman Gladiatorial games. Veteran trained killer vs natural born killers. Think Predator vs Aliens without the sci-fi equipment.
- The Dragon Lord - Gritty retelling of Arthurian Legend; Drake described the personality of King Arthur as a cross between Alexander the Great and Adolf Hitler. This novel was originally intended as a pastiche novel of Robert E. Howard's historical adventure character Cormac Mac Art, but Drake re-wrote it when the pastiche was declined.
- The March Up Country: Xenophon Recycled IN SPACE!.
- The Citizen Series, with John Lambshead. It's George Washington IN SPACE!
Full Bibliography at David Drake's website.
Works by David Drake (solo or in collaboration) with their own pages:<!—index—>
- Belisarius Series
- The Citizen Series
- The General Series
- Hammer's Slammers
- The Lord of the Isles
- Ranks of Bronze
Other works by David Drake provide examples of:
- Author Appeal: Drake really, really likes to show how War Is Hell. Many of his characters are combat veterans and/or trauma victims of some sort who have some form of PTSD. Redliners is an entire book full of them. It's probably not a coincidence that he's a Vietnam vet. He explicitly drew that connection for Redliners.
- Author Catchphrase: Bigoted protagonist characters may refer to foreigners as "wogs", perhaps most prominently in The General series and the RCN novels. Both series are heavily based on Rome, so the word is probably supposed to be the equivalent of "barbarians". The "wogs" are often just as bigoted right back.
- Ballroom Blitz: In Cluster Command, the second book of the Crisis of Empire trilogy, protagonist General Merikur and his wife Beth find themselves in the middle of such a blitz at the welcome ball for the new system governor.
- Burn the Witch!: "The Dancer in the Flames" involves a witch who reaches through time while being executed in this way and contacts an officer in the Vietnam War via his pyromania. It ends badly for him.
- Creator Recovery: David Drake is a good example: his fiction after Redliners is less harsh and more optimistic, with a little more faith in humanity. Author's comments.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: In "A Very Offensive Weapon", a take-off of heroic fantasy, the hired retainers are Genre Savvy and know there's no chance of surviving the heroic quest they're on. So they strive to die heroically, regaling each other with tales of legendary deaths."Say, did you notice the way the Old Man threw his arms and legs wide as he fell forward? He was making sure that he'd be smashed absolutely flat. Now, that's craftsmanship if I ever saw it."
- Death World:
- In Seas of Venus, the plants and animals of Venus are all varying degrees of dangerous ranging from "inclement" to "you just got killed so thoroughly, your parents are retroactively dead."
- The Jungle has an attack by vampire honeysuckle, and a scene where men die in their sleep because fast-growing plants grew into their bodies.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Killer, set in the Roman Empire, says: "That the strange Egyptian was wealthy enough to occupy an entire suite of rooms by himself did not excite half as much curiosity as did the scandal that N'Sumu lived there without a single slave to serve him."
- Dramatic Necklace Removal: The Forlorn Hope takes place during a civil war in which one side is controlled by a particularly intolerant breed of Protestants. This is demonstrated when a "chaplain" threatens the life of a foreign neutral for the "crime" of being Roman Catholic; he pulls the foreigner's crucifix necklace until the chain breaks, drops the crucifix on the floor and steps on it, and says, "On Cecach we no longer worship a dead god, Captain. We worship the One Who is Risen. This will be your only warning."
- He-Man Woman Hater: Jed Lacey, the detective hero from Lacey and His Friends, is a convicted rapist whose punishment included such severe aversion therapy that he finds it difficult to talk to or even remain in the same room as a woman, let alone touch them. Then they made him a police officer, since it's a Crapsack World.
- Humans Are Warriors: Target features an alien diplomat from a pacifist civilization who arrives on a Lunar Base fleeing more violent aliens. After the humans defeat several of the alien soldiers, the pacifist alien decides to present humans as "their" warriors in order to negotiate a peace treaty.
- Hungry Jungle: "The Jungle", set on a terraformed Venus which has become a Death World.
- Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: In Starliner, ships travel through what's officially called "sponge space". Sponge space took a toll on the mind—it seems mostly a case of sensory deprivation—at least of those maintaining the drive systems out on the ship's hull. Informally, it's referred to as "the Cold", and Cold Crews get a bit warped from spending so much time out there. They're also hard to discipline: what can their officers do to punish them that's worse than their normal working environment?
- Improbable Aiming Skills:
- Hussein ben Mehdi from The Forlorn Hope.
- Stephen Gregg from The Reaches.
- Man-Eating Plant: The vampire honeysuckle in "The Jungle".
- The Münchausen: In Starliner, Richard Wade sponges off a group of passengers, alleging that he always forgets to carry enough cash to pay for drinks and such. His tall tales are so entertaining, though, that his listeners end up feeling it was worth it. A subversion: the reader sees evidence that at least some of Wade's accounts are true ... and at the end, he arranges for the people he borrowed from to spend several days in the best suites of their destination planet's best hotel, so the part about him actually being wealthy and influential appears to be true as well.
- Nuclear Mutant: In "Men Like Us", a post-apocalyptic wanderer tells the people of a town that most of the stories about mutants were exaggerated. Babies with extra limbs or heads existed even before the bombs and even if there are more born now the wasteland has not been kind to them. Sure, there were dog-sized rats but they've mostly been wiped out. And Changelings? Men made immortal by the blasts despite being skeletonized in some cases? Don't be ridiculous. Later they attempt to behead him, and his neck knits back together as they're pulling out the axe. And then his more conspicuous friends show up.
- Phlebotinum Killed the Dinosaurs: Time Safari. Human beings travel back in time to hunt dinosaurs, and of course most of these trips go back to the Late Cretaceous because everybody wants to bag a Tyrannosaurus rex. What does in the dinosaurs is not the obvious, but a captive Tyrannosaurus that was re-released into the Cretaceous wild. Seems it was carrying a bird infection that it picked up while it was in the 20th century...
- Private Military Contractors: Hammer's Slammers, as well as the foreword he wrote for a Short Story anthology in The Four Horsemen Universe, ruminate on the nature of the professional soldier, noting there isn't a whole lot of difference between a soldier in a standing army and one who works for a private military company.
- Recycled IN SPACE!: Drake makes no bones about the fact that many of his writings are based on translating historical events and circumstances into futuristic stories, and in the afterwords of full novels will even discuss the source of the basic storyline for the novel in question.
- Into the Hinterlands is essentially a retelling of George Washington's early career in space.
- The Reaches novels are Hakluyt's Voyages crossed with the adventures of Sir Francis Drake during the wars with Spain. It's 16th century exploration & piracy IN SPACE.
- The Hammer's Slammers series, the Belisarius series, and the General series all include scenes suppressing the Nika Riots in alternative settings.
- Sand In My Eyes: In Patriots, the Woodsrunners go to punish a magistrate appointed by their enemies. When the Woodsrunners start a fire, meaning to burn the fellow's home and all his possessions, he insists that the tears on his face are from the smoke. After a minute or two, their leader puts out the fire, giving the magistrate a reprieve, and explains later that "There ain't so many brave men that I want to chase one off Greenwood unless I have to."
- Secret Police: The Crisis of Empire series has the Kona Tatsu, whose authority includes rearranging a marriage — as in, "You're now divorced so we can have your wife make a political marriage to someone else" — to support their agenda. Also a partial subversion/aversion, in that the KT are not, as a whole, as horribly bad as they pretend to be. They're certainly ruthless and sometimes sociopathic, but they are one of the few forces keeping civilization intact, and they know it, and some of their people try to behave decently when they can keep it from being obvious to their victims.
- Speak of the Devil: In the fantasy novel The Sea Hag, the hero is able to defeat the villain by tricking him into naming Serdic, his old (dead) master, who then promptly appears and drags the villain away to a Nightmare Fuel fate, since he had promised the hero earlier this would happen the next time he was named.
- Take That, Critics!: Hammer's Slammers was reviewed unfavorably early in his career by reviewer Charles Platt, who said that if Drake had ever seen war he wouldn't have written "such queasy voyeurism". As previously mentioned, Drake is a US Army Vietnam veteran. In response, many of Drake's works feature a reprehensible character named "Platt" who typically dies violently. About the best any "Platt" can hope for is to be stupid.
- Trapped in the Past: In To Bring the Light, a woman gets sent back to the founding of Rome and must use her future knowledge to help found it — with the twist on the trope that the future she's from is the 5th century AD.