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David Drake
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David Drake   David Drake is the best-selling author of the Hammer's Slammers series. He’s well known as one of the premier authors of military science fiction, but he also writes fantasy, including a nine-volume series called Lord of the Isles and an alternate history series co-written with Eric Flint called Belisarius.

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This episode originally aired on 01/07/2009 with the following authors:
Note: The following interview has been transcribed from The Author Hour radio show. Please excuse any typos, spelling and gramatical errors.

Interview with David Drake

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Bonus Question(s) that Didn't Air on the Live Radio Show

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Matthew Peterson: I want to ask you the bonus question. And this actually will go with kind of what you were just saying.

David Drake: Okay.

Matthew Peterson: So the bonus question: Not getting too deep into politics, but what’s something we could do as a country that would improve our safety?

David Drake: Ahh. Alright. Stop messing in other countries’ politics. Now, may I amplify that?

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yes.

David Drake: Okay, I believe the Afghan government, you know, 2001, was giving aid and succor to people who flew planes into our buildings. We had every reason and necessity to remove the Afghan government as it was then. Absolutely. No question. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay there, and it sure doesn’t mean that we have to go into other countries who for one reason or another we don’t like the government of. And I’m not saying I do either. Believe me. I don’t. But simply trying to be the world’s policeman, trying to impose our version of civilization by guns, trust me on this, you do not increase civilization by putting armed men in other people’s living rooms.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I think that’s really good advice. I think a lot of Americans are with you with that.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: I’ll tell you a funny story if you don’t already know it.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

David Drake: Back in 1973, I said I could not sell the Hammer stuff?

Matthew Peterson: Uh, huh.

David Drake: Ben Bova was editor of Analog at the time.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

David Drake: And he rejected the Hammer stories saying, “Well, Joe Haldeman and Jerry Pournelle are already writing the same thing. So I don’t need three of them.”

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. The Forever War, you’re referring to?

David Drake: The Forever War and The Mercenary.

Matthew Peterson: The Mercenary..

David Drake: Which is what Jerry was doing.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

David Drake: And at the time, to Ben, who’d bought other stuff from me and who’s definitely a positive, intelligent, competent editor, what Joe was doing, what Jerry was doing, what I was doing, we were all the same because we were all combat veterans writing about war.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: That’s the only similarity we had that made us different from everybody who’d gone before. Jerry’s a Korean War veteran

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

David Drake: I don’t know if Joe remembers . . .

Matthew Peterson: Ben.

David Drake: . . . Ben remembers that now. But it sure did [laughs] . . . .

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Now, Ben, I heard that . . . you turned down David Drake’s . . .

David Drake: [laughs] Yep.

Matthew Peterson: That’s funny.

David Drake: Yeah. But it shows how different things are in 35 years. I mean, that’s how much change there’s been.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. And now it’s... [sigh] You know, back when you wrote the books, there was war and I wasn’t even alive. I mean I was born in ‘75, so I mean I wasn’t even a twinkle in my mom’s eye, in my mom and dad’s eye yet. But growing up in school, I remember hearing about Jane Fonda and all the, just the backlash that happened. I mean, they didn’t even want to call it a war. I can’t even remember what they called it when I was in school, but, yeah. But things are a little different now. I don’t know. I don’t think people are as fanatical about, you know, the soldiers are evil, you know, not like they were back . . .

David Drake: No, that’s changed completely. But . . .

Matthew Peterson: We don’t like the war, but we still like the soldiers, it seems like.

David Drake: Yeah. And I mean look, I didn’t like the war either. I mean, I got drafted out of Duke Law School, put on a tank in Cambodia. Believe me, this was not where I wanted to be spending 1970.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] Yeah.

David Drake: But a buddy of mine who was getting his PhD in Zoology at the University of Chicago, he came back and walked into the cafeteria, and one of the guys he knew from two years before shouts at him across the cafeteria, “Hey Burnhouse, how does it feel to be a baby killer?”

Matthew Peterson: Ohhh.

David Drake: And, you know, that’s what it was then.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Well, that’s crazy. You know, my dad was drafted too, but he went in to the training, the basic training... first day they sent him home. He broke out in . . . he had allergies all over his body, a rash. His nose was just running and they’re like, “Sorry, you’re going home.” [laughs]

David Drake: [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: And so he’s like, “I was drafted for about a day.” [laughs]

David Drake: Well, there was a guy in my unit in language school who was allergic to wool.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

David Drake: And they kept him in.

Matthew Peterson: Did they?

David Drake: He couldn’t wear his winter uniform. But in the middle of winter they had him in his summer uniform.

Matthew Peterson: Oh!

David Drake: That was polyester.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: They needed people really badly when we were there.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. I guess they... with my dad, I guess they figured, you know, “This guy’s going to be sneezing and . . .cause people to die.”

David Drake: Oh, yeah. The guy in my unit wasn’t much use either, but they weren’t letting anybody go from my unit. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: From yours. Oh, man.

Extra Material That was Cut from the Show Because of Time Constraints

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Matthew Peterson: Yep. Just take a word here and a word there and piece them together and . . .

David Drake: Well, you know, when a friend of mine got a digital answering machine, he joked that now he could make people say anything he wanted. And I looked at him and, you know, a group of our friends and I said, “Mark, can you imagine anything you could make me say that would be as bad as some of the things I already have said?”

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

David Drake: And everybody thought about it and, “No, no.” [laughs] I am not politically correct.

Matthew Peterson: I read something online, wikipedia, it said something: there was like a quote in a book that said, “Well, David will say whatever he wants to say.” [laughs] Pretty much he’ll say anything he wants to say.

David Drake: Uh, yeah. [laughs] Actually, that’s pretty much the truth.

Matthew Peterson: So I thought that was interesting.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: And those stories, they haven’t been out of print since they finally got published, but it took me a year and a half to sell those early Hammer stories. And I’d been selling stuff. I mean, you know, I had sold half a dozen stories, including to major magazines in the field. So it was very frustrating for that year and a half that I was doing something that I was convinced was really better than what I’d been doing before. And nobody’d buy it. And I kept writing it. And I’ve had people ask me, “Well, why were you writing them if you couldn’t sell them?” And it was years before I realized I was writing them because I had to put this stuff down on paper. ‘Cause otherwise it was going to come out in other ways that were not socially acceptable.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. Like self-therapy.

David Drake: Yeah.

Matthew Peterson: I know that the whole Hammer Slammer series, I think, was just released: volumes 1 and 2, the complete Hammer Slammer series.

David Drake: Yes, a third volume is out as well.

Matthew Peterson: Is out?

David Drake: Yes.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: I had gotten drafted out of the middle of Duke Law School.

Matthew Peterson: Oh, yeah.

David Drake: I came back to Duke Law School and finished.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: I got my law degree at Duke. And Duke, you know, it wasn’t a hotbed of protest. People in Duke Law School were there to make money. And they didn’t much care what I’d been doing.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: I had a year and a half and then I was drafted. And I came back. And three days after, I was sitting, ready to be carried back to the States. I was sitting in the lounge at Duke University Law School, waiting to start my fourth semester. That was my transition. And you know, [laughs] our caring government. I mean, I say I graduated in the top third of my class, but I don’t remember anything about that. I just did what was in front of me.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: Yeah. I could have been killed any number of ways, but I wasn’t. And I knew people who were.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: Well, I already knew a fair amount . . . [laughs] I’d read the contemporary histories of the period. Procopius was actually Belisarius’ secretary, and I’d read his histories of the war.

Matthew Peterson: Mm. Okay.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: And the little heart gave Belisarius as the best example of this, and so Jim got interested in Belisarius.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: This was actually a follow-on to the general series, which used the Belisarius character as just the model for an early modern, say early 19th Century military thing. But I started thinking about the plot . . .

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: And Eric expanded my outlines. Didn’t change anything, but greatly expanded them. So what I had done is three novels, were actually published as six.

Matthew Peterson: Okay.

David Drake: You know, as they came out from Baen. But you know, we’re both historians, and we both knew the available material, and we both knew how to do research. And he had his take on politics, and I had my take on the military, and we meshed . . . as I say, we became good friends.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: Quite a lot of years.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: It was quite a while before the last book of that series came out and we kept getting told about that too. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: I make a distinction between space opera and military SF. And my military SF, and I’ve written a lot of it, the Hammer series being the best example. But you know, other books that I’ve written are military SF; they are about the military and my view of the military and my view of war. Now, the Lieutenant Leary series is superficially very similar, but it’s a totally different mentality, if I can say that. Well, I can, but it may not make any sense.

* * * * * * * * * *

David Drake: I wanted to write space opera. I wanted to write adventure science fiction, and stuff kept coming out really bleak and grim. Maybe I shouldn’t say that about my own work, but it’s the truth.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: I mean, my view of war is a very bleak, grim look. And I finally, after literally 25 years, after I got back to the world, I wrote Redliners, which is military SF, in which a military unit is basically given a chance to redeem . . . .characters are given their souls back.

Matthew Peterson: Mmm.

David Drake: And I wrote that. And as soon as I did, it was like a weight had come off me. And since then, and it’s, you know, nearly 15 years I’ve been able to write. Nobody’s going to say my stuff is light or frothy, but I’ve been able to write things that are at least not so bleak.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: Where there is hope. And lots of the military stuff that I wrote, because it was realistic to my view, it is bleak. There is no hope. The best you can do is survive. And the chances are that nothing important will survive except yourself. And that is my view of war. I’m sorry. And I’m not a pacifist, and I’m not saying, “Oh, we ought to disband the army.” We shouldn’t. But I wish that people who send soldiers out, had some faint conception of what it costs to be there and to do the things that soldiers will do in a combat zone. You know, everything costs, and I understand that. But you need to know what it costs before you can say, “Oh, let’s impose democracy on this place which has five thousand years of recorded history, and by the way, it’s never had a democracy before.”

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: We’re gonna send people in with guns, they’re gonna stick the guns in people’s faces and we’re gonna have democracy.

Matthew Peterson: [laughs] “You’re going to be free . . . if it kills you.”

David Drake: Uh, huh! And as soon as we, with the guns, are gone, you know, they will be free, and they’ll go back to killing others the way they always have done. But so long as we’re there, they’re going to try killing us.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

David Drake: And we’re going to respond. And the people on the ground with automatic rifles are going to respond, and they should. But, you know, I’m not saying don’t do it. I am saying, I really wish people knew what they were doing, because I know what they’re doing. And I didn’t like it at all.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah. You know, it’s been many years, it’s been decades now since the war and since you have been able to, like we said, this self-therapy... I mean, there’s a great price; it’s a long-term price, not just financially but emotionally.

David Drake: No, hey, you know, financially, I’m fine. Mentally, I’m not so great. [laughs]

Matthew Peterson: [laughs]

David Drake: But I’m a lot better than I was 15 years ago. And a LOT better than I was 40 years ago.

Matthew Peterson: Yeah.

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