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An Introduction By Barry N. Malzberg

“Hammers Slammers” no misnomer, that is what war accomplishes, combat demands, training forces: it hammers, it slams, it breaks you down, reduces to nullity. They’ll tell you that training first breaks you down “only to rebuild you” but that is snare and delusion, brochure hype, a sell because what training breaks it never replaces, cannot replenish, you become something else if you are restored at all, some foggy mountain breakdown self. War guts, eviscerates, makes all of us the same living and dead, in so doing blurs—as is training’s purpose—the line between living and dead to indistinguishability. The only difference in these extreme conditions is that the living perceive themselves as dead while the dead perceive nothing at all.

Believe this: it is not only the outcome of assessment, it is taken from the pulp of experience. I settled for Basic Training at Fort Dix in the last months of Eisenhower’s sleepy post-Korean Army; Drake was in the flames of Johnson’s Vietnam. We appear to have reached the same conclusions however and our work is much closer than one might think. The shuffling, burnt-away assassins of my FINAL WAR are Slammer dropouts, not rejects.

Extreme conditions flatten, make us all the same, combat is among the most extreme conditions and Drake’s Slammers, dead-gone mercenaries fighting in squalor for their own squalor inherit Remarque, Mailer, Heller. Only sentimentalists believe that there is a difference between mercenaries and “ideological” warriors and there are no sentimentalists in foxholes, no foxholes in sentimentalists. They grieve and gravitate these warriors and they leave ideology to the landlocked, protected homefront. Their ideology is their etiology: survival.

To live through Hammer’s Slammers is to pay the piper, to understand that these blown-out functionaries are our own idealized selves no longer idealized. David Drake has through furious refusal to compromise, from refusal to special plead, taken us into the bowels and apparatus of wartime as has no science fiction writer; he is the inheritor of the cold flare of military fiction’s history and his rifle sight, his shot pattern is exact. Exact and exacting; a freezing, burning, incontestable body of work.

Barry N. Malzberg

New Jersey: 2005


To our architect and builder Derwood Schrotberger.

Writing a novel and moving to a new house are both stressful

occupations. The fact that I was able to combine them is a

comment on Derwood’s consummate skill, which reminds me

that architect originally meant Master Builder.


Those of you who notice the echoes of The Glass Key and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett in this book are correct. Those of you who don’t should go off and read Hammett’s splendid novels at your earliest convenience.

When I’m at the crux of my plotting, I tend to talk at those around me. When I did this time on the way to the state fair with friends, my wife, Jo, and Mark Van Name made suggestions which were precisely on point. I adopted both.

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