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                                  Anniversary Cover An Allegory of Redemption

David Drake
Any veteran of Viet Nam (and i don't mean just combat vets like Drake, i mean REMFs like myself) ought to recognise what this story is about; it's about damnation and about people who don't deserve it who were sent to Hell, and about redemption.

It's about something we didn't get.
      "I think my country got a little off-track;
      Took 'em twenty-five years to welcome me back..."

(Johnny Cash, Drive On)
It's about the way that people who didn't understand what some of us had been through regarded us... and it's about the only way those people could possibly have been brought to understand that we weren't (quasi-quoting Drake) toxic waste that sometimes explodes without warning; a way that could never actually happen.

It's about letting the veteran prove his worth in his own eyes and in the eyes of others; letting him buy back his pride and his sense of himself as a man, and not as just a hunted/hunting animal/killer.

It's about admitting that we owe the people who fight our wars something... if only a little respect.
         "This is your lucky day -- you been back from 'Nam for only six weeks, and I am gonna do for you what it took someone six *months* to do for me when I came back."

"Really? Thanks, brother -- what is it?"

"Nothin'. Sign here, please."

(Robert Blake as an Arizona motorcycle cop, as he tickets a truck driver, in Electra Glide in Blue.)
The cover painting for this book Cover
                                    Painting is one of the most striking i have ever seen illustrating a war story, either "real" or sf war.

Simply, almost crudely, rendered, showing the cruelly stressed soldier trying to shield the child's body from the blast with his own; on his face the expression almost of a suffering Christ, his eyes fixed in the "thousand yard stare" of what earlier generations called "shell shock" or "combat fatigue" (and God damn George S. Patton to hell), still out there on the front, fighting for what he himself may have almost forgotten... Right there, on that anonymous grunt's face and in his actions, is the theme of sacrifice and damnation and redemption that Drake is playing on in his text. (One suspects that the artist himself may well have "seen the elephant".)
       "It don't mean nothin', snake."
        (David Drake, Rolling Hot
        [reprinted as part of The Tank Lords])
This book, at least as i read it, is an attempt to show that that the 'Nam grunts' catchphrase isn't true -- that it does mean something and that we are worth something.
          "You owe us, long and heavy is the score..."

          (Robert W. Service, The March of the Dead)
Society owes its soldiers and veterans support and gratitude and help.

Sometimes it pays off on those debts.

Sometimes it's easier to just ignore the redliners you create.
     "But it's 'Special train for Atkins!' when the troopship's on the tide..."

      (Kipling, Tommy)
Added note to this review for the Twentieth Anniversary Edition:  David Drake says in the forward to this edition that writing this book is what finally allowed him to exorcise the ghosts of his year in hell; that after he wrote it, he was finally able to stop fearing what he might do if something triggered the anger he had within him.

Back in the day, usually nothing was done to help veterans re-intgrate to society; one day Drake was in-country with his unit - seventy-two hours later he was begining his fourth semester of law school at Duke University.

The Twentieth Anniversary Edition ends with a selection of letters Drake has received from other veterans of Viet Nam and other actions, thanking him for the book.

Next time i run into him at an SF convention, i intend to do the same.