Thursday, May 3, 2012

Guest Post: Military Writers Humanize Soliders (Part Three)

David Drake
Welcome to Part Three of April's guest post! Part One is available here. Part Four will be posted tomorrow at 9:00 AM PST. Enjoy!

Author David Drake understands the internal workings of the military mind better than most would at first glance realize. He is a graduate of Duke University and its law school, an accomplished lawyer and prolific, well-published writer in the science fiction community.

He is also a veteran of the Vietnam war, having seen service in Laos and Cambodia as an interrogator with the Blackhorse Cavalry. He was drafted, he served, and at the end of his enlistment, he returned to the civilian life he'd left behind.

But the war, the men he lived and fought alongside, those remained. Eventually, he quit practicing law and drove a bus part-time till writing began to pay, and pay enough that it became his stand-alone income.

I first read his work as a freshman in high school. It was unlike anything I had read up to that time, even all the Star Wars novels. His characters were both loved and hated all at once. Danny Pritchard, who spared a village when none would have blamed him for leveling it with the engines of war under his command, turning and blasting a similar village off the face of the earth so efficiently that it its death throes barely amount to a page in the story, Alois Hammer, who spares his men and condemns priceless artifacts, Joachim the giddy yet deadly serious killer.

They are revolting, wonderful, and what is more: believable. For Mr. Drake has not cut the man to fit the cloth, as storytellers so often do nowadays; rather, he has cut the cloth to fit the man, and laid bare his secrets, his soul is presented to us like the bared neck of the vampire's next feast.

Liberal writers tend toward the image that fighting men are simply vicious attack dogs, myrmidons capable only of death and nothing more. To Mr. Drake, those so-called "myrmidons" are the men whom he shared a foxhole, a canteen, a guard post, a plate of hot chow in the red clay of Vietnam.

They had names and personality and hopes and dreams. We are presented with them, not as larger-than-life sensationalized supermen, but normal men (and women) caught in extra-normal circumstances. His writing started as a hobby, yet it was through this medium that he found the greatest way to explain his military service and the pressure cooker which he had survived.

It was books such as Hammer's Slammers which paved the way for what we know call "military science fiction". Unlike space opera, it centers more on the martial aspects of a society and how they embrace or reject that facet of their identity.

Jim Baen, founder of Baen Books, could be considered the father of this genre. He, more than any other publisher, pushed for such stories and such authors. Through his encouragement, David Drake wrote Cross The Stars, a brilliant re-telling of the Odyssey in his Slammers' universe.

After Drake came John Ringo, a former paratrooper, who took as inspiration Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers (the book, not the garbage Hollywood insist are movies). He started with Legacy of the Aldenata, a series which has garnered him much success and spawned 9 books of its own, and then moved on to write 4 more series and over a dozen more novels.

They are as much a story as a criticism of modern political and military leadership. Again, the characters are believable, the thinking, rational (that term is used somewhat loosely here) and true-to-life. The scenarios in which he places them are drawn from his own experience serving in the military.

After spending 19 years a virtual prisoner in the People's Republic of California, Jonathan LaForce escaped, spending two blissful years serving as a missionary for his church in Dallas Texas. Upon completion of this assignment though, he returned to California and found himself once again impoverished, despite working as a security guard at the Six Flags Theme Park.

Refusing to remain in this state and having nothing to tie him down, he enlisted in the Marines. Three years later, with deployments to the Orient and Afghanistan as an artilleryman in the 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, he spends his time running riot in his truck all over the island of Hawaii while destroying what little hearing he has left with bagpipes and classic 80s rock.

A Guide to The Modern Military Writer

No comments:

Post a Comment