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Keying off this post in haikujaguar's LJ - which turns out not to be about Hammer's Slammers or other SF mercenaries, except for a brief mention of using Mr. Drake's book as a palate cleanser. I want to talk a little bit about mercenaries in SF, particularly the two best known series while I was growing up: David Drake's Hammer's Slammers, and Gordon Dickson's Dorsai.

It seems more than a little strange to be comparing Dickson's Childe Cycle stories to Drake's tales of the Slammers; aside from the subject matter, the two series have very little in common. The Childe Cycle has an overarching story arc that was intended to reach from the 14th century into the the mid-24th, one that deals with the evolution of man into what Dickson referred to as Responsible Man, a fusion of the best traits of the Dorsai, the Exotics, and the Friendlies. In contrast, the Slammerverse is very much a Crapsack World, and nobody with any sense would regard the Slammers as being heroic archetypes in any sense. They're simply the best at what they do.

That having been said, given the conduct in combat of the Dorsai and the Slammers as described in the respective stories - do we really have any basis for regarding one group as being any better, morally speaking, than the other? We can leave the Slammers' Major Steuben out of this; it's made explicit from the beginning ("But Loyal to His Own") that he's a sociopath who enjoys killing. And pretty things. :)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 26th, 2009 04:29 am (UTC)
Not really - though Gordy certainly had a thing for the notion of the "Noble Warrior" (I'm thinking Brothers with that in mind) that Drake doesn't even try to support or convey.
Mar. 27th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
The closest thing to that kind of character in the Slammers is Major Pritchard, who winds up resigning his commission only to get his arm twisted by Alois Hammer into returning when Hammer becomes President of Friesland - because Hammer as a head of state needs a conscience that Colonel Hammer could afford to do without. Which is not to say that Pritchard himself doesn't have a fair amount of blood on his hands.
Mar. 26th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
Of course, the Noble Warrior figure is still tragically limited. One of the components of the personality is a strong sense of duty, and duty is frequently defined in terms of one's culture. In samurai fiction, this is best expressed by an exemplary samurai who is bound to an evil lord, and the character is more often than not used to posit the question, "Whose sense of duty is stronger, the warrior who serves a noble lord, or the warrior who serves an evil lord?"

I'd also consider the publication dates of the first works in each series to be possibly instructive about the differences in the character of each series. Dorsai began pre-Vietnam, and Hammer's Slammers was published in 1979. Ideas such as "Noble Warrior", "Just War", and some other romantic ideas about warfare and those who fight wars would be viewed through different lenses based on the culture that the author's mind was formed in.

I'm reasonably sure that in some bull session in the past I've said to wombat_socho that WWII was America's "Just War"; it was a war that clearly needed to be fought, and the enemy clearly (and not just through the eye of American culture) had to be stopped. Our dead were honored, and for the most part our wounded were cared for. Gordy's world-view at the time he began the Childe Cycle was based on an era which had passed when Drake began the Slammer stories.

I'm sure I don't need to belabor the point concerning America in the post-Vietnam era. It should suffice to say that Drake's viewpoint on war was influenced by the events of the 60's and 70's, and that it would have been surprising if he had represented Hammer's Slammers as somehow noble. As a result, I doubt that a straight-up comparison can be made between the Dorsai and the Slammers, unless one abandons the notion that the author's mindset when creating those groups matters in the discussion. That's a problem with fictional constructs - how do you determine the moral or ethical value of their behavior if it was dictated in part by storytelling needs, rather than actual real-life conditions?

Mar. 27th, 2009 01:41 am (UTC)
"That's a problem with fictional constructs - how do you determine the moral or ethical value of their behavior if it was dictated in part by storytelling needs, rather than actual real-life conditions?

I think you start by assuming that Dickson's stories are written with the intent of showing the Dorsai/Exotics/Friendlies (yes, even the Friendlies) in a positive light, since the combination of the three cultures will lead to the Responsible Man. Drake, on the other hand, was showing the ugly consequences of a universe where the tools of war are too expensive for conscript armies to afford, and likewise too expensive for nations/political factions not to have, along with the soldiers skilled in their use. Working from those bases, you can clearly establish that there really isn't much to choose from between Dorsai and the Slammers: in D&D terms, I would argue that both of them are Lawful Neutrals, not concerned in the least with which side of the wars they fight is in the right so long as the credits are flowing.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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