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Literature / Hammer's Slammers

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Hammer's Slammers is a series of Military Science Fiction short stories and novellas written by David Drake, based loosely off of various historical models and his time in the 11th Armored Cavalry during the Vietnam War.

The Slammers are a futuristic mercenary group under the command of Colonel Alois Hammer, who leads the toughest mercs who ever killed for a dollar. According to Word of God, 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 whom Drake served in Vietnam and Cambodia), with fusion-powered hovercraft "panzers" replacing 20th century tanks and smaller combat cars replacing M113 cavalry vehicles.

     The Slammer Stories 
The series consists of the following works:
  • Hammer's Slammers - A series of short stories describing the core characters of the Slammers and the beginning and end of the tank regiment.
  • At Any Price - Another collection of short stories. The titular story describes the Slammers fighting an unconventional war with aliens who can teleport.
  • Counting the Cost - Based on the suppression of the Nika riots, with a Slammers officer taking the place of Narses (Belisarius' role is played by an officer from another mercenary unit working with the Slammers).
  • Rolling Hot - The Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War retold in the Slammerverse.
  • The Warrior - Another short story collection. The titular story recounts the one-sided rivalry between Slick Des Grieux and Luke Broglie, two Slammers tank aces.
  • The Sharp End - Rewrite of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest on a Crapsack World in the Slammerverse, except that the hero is leading one of Colonel Hammer's contract teams.
  • Paying the Piper - The Macedonians against the Aetolian League IN SPACE!! Okay, on a planetary surface. (Happy now?) Available free here.
Two more novels are set in the same universe but not directly involving the regiment:
  • Cross the Stars: a retelling of the Odyssey IN SPACE! with former Slammer Major Donald 'Mad Dog' Slade as the Odysseus character. Colonel Hammer plays Zeus off-screen. Available free here.
  • The Voyage: Re-write of the Jason and the Argonauts myth in the Slammerverse. The nephew of 'Mad Dog' Slade from Cross the Stars is the viewpoint character. Colonel Hammer again is cast as Zeus, but with only a brief message as an appearance.

     Repackaged Collections 
The first five stories were repackaged in a three book set:
  • The Tank Lords
  • Caught in the Crossfire
  • The Butcher's Bill

The entire series (excepting Cross the Stars and The Voyage) were repackaged (again!) by Nightshade Books (and again by Baen Books) as The Complete Hammer's Slammers, in three volumes. This included several novellas not included in the previous collections.

There is also a Traveller-compatible world guide, available here.

Provides examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: Slick Des Grieux and Luke Broglie from The Warrior definitely qualify. Broglie is also The Ace, while Des Grieux is is not. Word of God says that their rivalry is based on Hector and Achilles.
  • Agent Peacock: Major Steuben is almost Camp Gay in regards to his attention to personal appearance and behavior most of the time, but woe betide anyone who crosses him or Alois Hammer.
    • Appropriate considering the same description applies to Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, the badass Prussian drillmaster of the Continental Army during the American Revolution who is thought to have been gay.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • Drake provides several essays on the technology and setting of the Slammerverse, most of which tend to get included in the first volumes of most collections.
    • The Hammers Slammer's Handbook by By John Lambshead provides additional background material approved by Drake.
  • Altar Diplomacy: In Standing Down, Hammer marries into one of the Great Houses of Friesland, thus gaining the support of the aristocracy and solidifying his position as the legitimate President. Ironically, his new wife is Anneke Tromp, daughter of the former Secretary to the Council responsible for the Slammers' exile in the first place. Nobody is particularly amused when, just before the wedding, Steuben mentions that he killed her father.
  • Anachronic Order: The first Hammer's Slammers anthology is in chronological order, with the first and last stories detailing the origins of the Slammers and their eventual end when Hammer executes a Military Coup against the government of his home planet and becomes its ruler, reintegrating the Slammers into its army. The other stories are set in between.
  • Beam Spam: One of the staple weapons in the novels is the vehicle-mounted tribarrel, a weapon with three rotating barrels that shoots energy blasts (called "bolts") so fast that the bolts leaving the weapon appear to be a solid line - not individual bolts. The weapons scale up, too - his tanks in the series have both a tribarrel and a 20cm "main gun" that can literally cook mountainsides with one shot. The tribarrel is based on the GAU-19, a three-barreled Gatling-type weapon firing .50 BMG rounds, an evolution of the weapons used during Drake's service in Vietnam.
  • BFG: The main gun of a tank is said to be powerful enough to flash-fry a mountainside, and has even been used to shoot down satellites.
  • Burying a Substitute: In one of the stories it's mentioned that the next-of-kin of many Slammers receive a sealed coffin filled with 70 kilos of sand.
  • Central Theme: Anyone Can Die and War Is Hell, especially the morally murky bits.
  • Comm Links: Each soldier is fitted out with a tiny communicator that's implanted in the jawbone. It's activated by clenching the teeth and can even pick up subvocal speech. Handy things.
  • Common Tongue: Spaceways English (Spanglish), though the company mostly speaks Dutch among themselves (being from Friesland) and they use Sleep Learning to pick up their clients' languages.
  • The Conscience: Danny Pritchard ends up as Colonel Hammer's conscience, as Hammer's been too hardened by war to recognize when he's gone over the line.
  • Covers Always Lie: A minor case, but the Slammers' Hover Tanks are depicted as having only four drive fans when in reality they have roughly a dozen (partially for redundancy in case some are disabled by battle damage). And the plasma from their power guns is usually some shade of red or orange instead of the cyan frequently stated in the description.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Slammers usually try to be ready for anything, but in Paying the Piper Col. Hammer is especially crafty. note 
  • Credit Chip: In "A Death in Peacetime" the mysterious stranger who hires some former Slammers as assassins pays them with a bag full of credit chips holding between three and five thousand New Friesland Thalers a pop, as a total of one hundred thousand would be suspicious for one chip.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Played with in the short story Cultural Conflict. A Slammers soldier shoots what he thinks is a dumb animal. It isn't. The primitive natives and Slammers begin to skirmish with each other in an escalating cycle of violence, ending with the decimated Slammers nerve-gassing their nests and wiping out almost all the breeders. The remaining natives prepare for one final Zerg Rush just as the Slammers landing craft arrives.
  • Extended Disarming: A variant occurs near the end of the story At Any Price, when a Slammer genuinely forgets to remove the small knife he keeps up one sleeve. He actually blushes when reminded that he hasn't disarmed completely.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Mostly in the background, but no one who hires the Slammers ever profits by it. The Slammers achieve their military objectives, but outside of that, everyone involved always loses.
  • Faking the Dead: While not stated outright, the character of Johann Vierziger from ''The Sharp End" is strongly hinted to be Joachim Steuben despite taking place over 7 years after his supposed death. He has the same mannerisms and personality, same build and "pretty" appearance, same tastes in both sexual partners and weapons(the description of his custom pistol and holster and Steuben's are identical) same incredible skill at quick draw and marksmanship, and multiple times appears to know more about the unit and Hammer himself than a relatively new recruit would be expected to know. More than one character notes that Vierziger reminds them of what they knew about Steuben, with one character even questioning if he might be related. Addressed in "A Death in Peacetime", the last story in the first book in the anthology release, showing Joachim Steuben's death in ways that leave no doubt as to his actual, unfaked, death. Spoiler spoiler: Joachim Steuben secretly paid an assassin to kill Joachim Steuben, and set up the the situation to make it possible.
  • Fantastic Racism: An interesting inversion: racism in the Slammerverse has actually gone backwards from skin color (20th century racism) to national origin (19th century racism), making white-on-white racism as likely as the other kinds. The Slammers, for example, are of Dutch descent, and in one of the early stories they get involved in a civil war between Dutch and French colonists.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: What kind used is never explained, but it's mentioned to be migraine-inducing.
  • Fictional Geneva Conventions: In addition to its escrow duties, the Terran Bonding Authority enforces the Laws of War.
  • Fighting for a Homeland: The Slammers are from many worlds, but the goal is to eventually have a place of their own. They were originally formed as a unit similar to the French Foreign Legion but their client reneged on his end of the bargain and they ended up freelance mercenaries. Eventually, they come back and pull off a coup.
  • FTL Travel Sickness: FTL travel is done by a system called the Transit drive, which makes several small jumps but whose mechanics are never fully explained. Since the human body wasn't intended to travel faster than light, starship crews experience fatigue and disorientation during a jump, and suffer cluster headaches afterwards.
  • General Failure/ The Neidermeyer: The upper echelons of most militaries who need to hire the Slammers.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Averted. Weapons and tactics are (usually) intelligently used by both sides, to the point that an intelligence operative recommends nuking a rebel stronghold rather than trying to dig them out. The use of chemical weapons is also liberally noted.
  • Hover Tank: The main equipment for the Slammers is their fusion-powered air-cushion tanks. Each lift fan has its own armored nacelle to protect it from anything that damages another fan; "while a single broken track block would deadline a tracked vehicle, a wrecked fan only made a blower a little more sluggish."
  • The Gunslinger: Joachim. Despite his delicate appearance, he's an insanely quick draw and accurate marksman.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Joachim Steuben.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: The Church of the Way, one of the most common religions off Earth, formed as an alliance between Protestant churches opposed to the rise of Fundamentalism in the 20th century and incorporated some themes from Eastern religions as well.
  • It Will Never Catch On: In But Loyal To His Own, Hammer suggests hiring out the Frisian Defense Forces as mercenaries, but Secretary Tromp dismisses the idea. Later on, Hammer takes over Friesland and carries out his original plan.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Averted, mostly. Powerguns (a form of energy beam weapon) are by far the most common high tech weapons, even if they do have some substantial shortcomings.note  Some armies use railgun rifles instead of powerguns because they have better armor-piercing capabilities. However, railguns don't scale up like powerguns do, are no cheaper since, while their workings are much simpler, their barrels have to be made from diamond, and are energy-intensive. Portable lasers are a no-go because they require a 400-lbs. fusion reactor to reach killing power, and explosive bullets, while effective, must contend with the generally high level of armor used by vehicles and infantry alike. (Slammer armor is shown on more than one occasion to defeat high caliber and explosive projectiles, and even indirect EFP damage.)
  • The Metric System Is Here to Stay: Powergun calibers are measured in centimeters, as are most other measurements.
  • Mind Probe: Played with, particularly the story called "The Interrogation Team". Here the mind probe is semi-painless and takes the form of a directed hallucination. BOTH the interrogator and the person being interrogated are given the drug, and a second interrogator asks questions while the first, in rapport with the victim, experiences his/her memories as the questions are asked. The drug in question is a combination truth serum and hallucinogen, and is described by the first interrogator as akin to a drug high.

    In this particular story, the interrogated person comes from a heavily defended town, a "red-pill target". When the authorization to nuke the town is given, the interrogator shares one last vision with the interrogated person - as he envisions his baby girl's eyeballs melted by the nuclear blast. Both the interrogator and the interrogated individual were disconnected from the machine when it happened. David Drake does not write nice stories - perhaps because he WAS a interrogator assigned to the 11th Cavalry during Vietnam.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Don "Mad Dog" Slade. One does not acquire a nickname like that in the Slammers for being kind and cuddly.
  • Nuclear Nullifier: Nuclear suppression fields prevent nuclear bombs from detonating. However, when an enemy can't afford suppressors, as is often the case, Colonel Hammer doesn't have any qualms about nuking them.
  • Oh, Crap!: Happens to one Slammer's unit who through miscommunication, accidentally end up in the center of an enemy firebase.
    • In another story happens to a mixed tank and combat car (IFV) unit moving to support their employer's besieged capitol. The unit is made up of people mostly on light duty for medical or admin reasons, and supported by a firebase of the same. This leads to the unit getting hit by smart munitions from their own side killing off a protagonist. The unit is given enough warning for this reaction.
  • Only in It for the Money: One story demonstrates Maxim 49note  when the Slammers unceremoniously pull out in mid-campaign because the client ran out of money.
  • Plasma Cannon: Powerguns use precisely arranged copper atoms stored in a plastic matrix. The atoms are pulled down the mirror-smooth barrel of the weapon by electromagnets. The barrels are cooled by liquid nitrogen and air, as most use a rotary assembly. The result is something that performs similar to lasers, rather than the short-range plasma cannon typical of other military SciFi.
  • Private Military Contractors: While Drake mostly uses them to tell stories based on historical events, their mercenary nature plays an important role in their characterization. In the series background, war has become so very expensive that mercenaries are common, and usually the most competent soldiers. The Slammers interact with other mercenary companies and are sometimes shortchanged by their employers. At other times, they play both sides off against each other. The mercenaries and their employers are kept in line by the Terran Bonding Authority, which forces both sides to stick to their agreed contracts. Mercenaries which break their contracts are declared outlaw and hunted down. The Slammers' political maneuvering usually consists of sticking to the letter of the contract while violating the spirit.
  • Psycho Sidekick: Major Joachim Steuben is in love with Colonel Hammer — and there's nothing so awful he wouldn't do it if he feels it'd benefit the colonel. Including having himself assassinated to give Hammer the chance for a "once and for all" crackdown on the opposition and because he recognizes that his continued existence would be bad for Hammer, and Nieuw Friesland
    "And sometimes a fellow who does one job well can see where his job has to be done, even though a better man has overlooked it. Anyhow, Secretary, there always was one thing you and I could agree on — lives are cheap."
  • Ramming Always Works: In the story "Rolling Hot" (based on the campaign to recapture Hue after the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War), at one point a single Panzer and six combat cars are facing a force of nearly 2 dozen hostile, albeit far less advanced, tanks. The combat car of the Point Of View characters gets a hit that kills one of the gunners and stuns the commanding officer. As a hostile tank takes aim to finish them off, the Panzer, driven by a newly transferred truck driver, smashes the enemy tank into pulp.
  • Read the Fine Print: This point is lampshaded several times. Mercenary contracts are organized and guaranteed by the Terran Bonding Authority, to ensure that both parties live up to their end of the deal. Mercs who go rogue can expect to be hunted down and killed (SEE: the short story Hangman); clients who don't pay will be lucky if they are "only" abandoned (and not targeted) by their former employees (SEE: Paying the Piper).
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Being mercenaries, the Slammers have absolutely no problem pulling out and leaving a war half-finished if their client's check bounces.
  • Shoot the Dog: Oh, so very much. It is war, after all.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the story "Cultural Conflict", the position initially set up by the Slammers contingent is named Firebase Bolo.
    • In The Sharp End, a ship from the Marvelan Confederacy was known as the Argent Server.
    • Also in The Sharp End, there is a character named Esteban Rojo.
  • Shur Fine Guns: When powerguns work, they work great. However, when they jam, it's usually because the copper-containing plastic matrix they use has melted into the workings so they need to be replaced or are otherwise unavailable. This is particularly a problem for pistol handguns, which can't cool the firing mechanisms fast enough for more than a few shots at a time.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Army: With fusion-powered hovertanks and hovercars armed with directed energy weapons, Hammer's forces are state of the art.
  • State Sec: The Iron Guard is hinted to be this trope. Personally loyal to President-For–Life Van Vorn, the Guard were "political bullies" rather than actual soldiers.
    • After Colonel Hammer's coup of Friesland he has Steuben turn the White Mice from military police to a State Sec.
  • Suicide by Assassin: It's heavily implied that Joachim Steuben hired the sniper that killed him in "A Death In Peacetime."
  • Tank Goodness: Most of the Slammers stories revolve around their panzers and combat cars. Other mercenaries also use blower tanks, though Hammer's are cited as the best even by other mercenaries. Wheeled and tracked vehicles are common for low-end units.
  • Technobabble: The explanation of how powerguns work in the first book involves a lot of this.
  • Teleportation Sickness: Invoked. FTL induces cluster headaches because the human mind cannot fathom going so fast.
  • The Unfettered: Joachim Steuben, whose Unfetteredness is dedicated to Alois Hammer's use; and Don "Mad Dog" Slade of the Hammer's Slammers books and Cross the Stars.
    • Also Johann Vierziger. If he is somehow a continuation of Joachim Steuben, Johann is far beyond a loose cannon, to the point of being a broken arrow (term used to describe a unaccounted-for nuclear weapon) save for his previously under-utilized conscience and sense of duty.
  • Unreliable Narrator: In Cross the Stars, Don "Mad Dog" Slade was traveling back to his homeworld of Tethis. During the journey, he amused his fellow travelers by telling some old war stories. He thought he was telling them a watered-down version of events. However, without his knowledge (or permission), his audience was reading his mind and getting the uncut version.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Slammers are themselves strictly amoral rather than evil, but a large number of their clients (going all the way back to Friesland in the Slammers' first operation) are oppressive governments and/or corporate interests who cause the rebellions they face through ethnic/religious bigotry or simple greed. The mercs themselves also commit their share of brutal acts.
  • War Crime Subverts Heroism: Usually by way of doing whatever victory required.
    • In one of the stories, Colonel Hammer catches some flak from rear-echelon types for dealing with an insurgency by having family members of known insurgents ridding on Slammers' vehicles while moving through hostile territory; ambushes of Slammers armor columns dropped, and several attempted ambushes failed because, "somebody noticed their wife or kid on the lead vehicle." Also, gassing a village being used as a heavily fortified base by those insurgents, using gas rather than a nuke only because a gas attack could be done without drawing the attention of reporters. Hammer's actions are about par for the course in the setting.
    • Obviously, frequent use of Overkill and WMDs (nuclear and chemical) on civilian populations, too. And a specific story about destruction of a historical shrine due to it being abused as a shield for military forces by one side.
  • Warfare Regression: Technological developments have altered somewhat the face of combat:
    • Powerguns, when tied into a computer, are extremely accurate. This, and the sheer destructive power, range, and speed of the weapon, renders ordinary aircraft obsolete. Artillery can also be interdicted, but remain effective. In one novel, recon and communications satellites are considered viable targets so long as the tank's main gun can elevate to the proper angle necessary for line of sight to them.
    • Thanks to "nuclear suppression fields", nuclear weapons are rarely deployed.
    • Tanks almost disappear from the battlefield, but make a comeback thanks to practical fusion power and improved weapons.
    • WMDs are shown as rare, but definitely used, particularly chemical weapons.
    • However, tactics are almost identical to late 20th-century mobile armored combat, with both panzer (tank) formations and mechanized infantry supported by long-range indirect artillery being the dominant force.
    • Recon and intelligence gathering closely resemble that of 21st century warfare, dominated by satellites and stealth recon drones with heavy computerized support for intel processing and communications.
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Downplayed with the Slammers. Despite having to blast their way through Friesland forces to escape probable extinction, the Slammers eventually reconcile enough with their former homeworld. This allows the Slammers to get access to Friesland officers (to get combat experience) and military academies (to train professional officers). However, Slammer himself doesn't go back to Friesland until hired to fight a civil war there and eventually become President of the planet.