|Baen Books has a very bad habit of repackaging previously-published material in different editions and not clearly warning the reader of the fact. This is a Naughty.
On the other hand, this edition keeps Drake's novel, Rolling Hot, the single best of the "Hammer's Slammers" stories, in print, and for that alone it'd be almost worth its cover price. Add in "The Tank Lords", which i had not read before, and i bought it quite happily to replace a copy or Rolling Hot gone AWOL.
Since the most important part of this book (as far as i'm concerned) is Rolling Hot, i'm reviewing mainly that story:
This is, in many ways, the best that David Drake has given us yet.
In a war not unlike the one in which Drake and i both found ourselves involved a while back, an ad-hoc unit of odds and sods finds itself rolling hot to try to relieve their employer's provincial capital.
While these are members of Hammer's Slammers, the deadliest mercenary unit going, they are hardly the Slammers' finest, ranging from maintenance personnel pressed into service as the crew of a patched-up tank to their CO, Capt. Peggie Ranson, who is just this side of a Section 8, and a civilian reporter, who accidentally winds up along for the ride, who furnishes a viewpoint for the reader.
It is this viewpoint (the main one of several from which Drake tells the story) that makes this book, in my opinion, about Drake's best -- by giving us someone a lot like ourselves, putting us inside his head then and putting him through an accelerated version of the hardening process that produces a professional soldier from a raw replacement, Drake shows us even more starkly than usual, that war is, indeed hell. And why.
Drake is not going to let us get away from war without rubbing our noses in it; he wants the reader to see soldiers as people, not fungibles, like bullets. (When Colonel Hammer gives Peggy Ranson the initial orders, he says that, in order to move fast, she is authorised to "combat loss" [abandon in place without survey] damaged vehicles. She replies sardonically [and presciently] that she's probably going to be combat lossing crews.) He wants to show people who haven't Seen The Elephant what war is, and to -- just maybe -- convince a few of us that War Is Not A Good Thing.
Reading this book can be harrowing, as you watch men and women who are at least recogniseable and often sympathetic characters kill and die. If you can read it and watch those characters fighting and dying, and not find yourself in some sort of emotional state as you read Chapter 13, which is a slightly-less-formal version of a military arrival report of Task Force Ranson's arrival in the capital, listing the few remaining of the vehicles and personnel that they rolled with, then you have Not Been Listening or you Just Don't Get it.
"...still i wonder why -- the worst of men must fight and the best of men must die..." -- that was the question when Woodie wrote "Reuben James"; it's still the question.
One of the absolutely most revealing looks at the military mind and what the military actually DOES that i have ever read.
[For musical accompaniment to this book, may i suggest
"Drive On", by Johnny Cash, on his "American Recordings" CD, "Johnny Come Lately" by Steve Earle on "Copperhead Road", "Bad Moon Risin'" (and "Fortunate Son") by Creedence Clearwater and "Sam Stone", by John Prine...]
"The Tank Lords", the story of a misfit in a Rather Odd society who watches as the Slammer demonstrate why it is better to deal honestly with people like them, is also excellent.