Bang Bang, My Baby Shot Me Down
By David Drake
1979’s Hammer’s Slammers was the first collection of David Drake’s long-running Hammer’s Slammers stories. The Slammers are a mercenary company formed by Alois Hammer.
Introduction: Mercenaries and Military Virtue • essay by Jerry Pournelle
In this essay, Pournelle uses the term “military science fiction.” This could be confusing, because what we mean when we use that term now is not quite what Pournelle meant then. (At least in my opinion; argue this out in comments.)
It is also notable that Pournelle (who was once a card-carrying Communist) praises the Soviet Union. Pournelle is upset because other Americans don’t love soldiers as much as he does; he is convinced that wealthy republics are inherently doomed.
But Loyal to His Own • (1975) • novelette
Alois Hammer recruited a crack unit of mercenaries by promising them citizenship and residence on Friesland, one of the galaxy’s few wealthy worlds. Friesland was happy to back Hammer’s pledge … but now that they no longer need the mercs, will they honour the bargain?
The Frieslanders are for the most part terrible soldiers. If they were any good, they would not have needed the Slammers.
The representatives from Friesland seem to have poor diplomatic and people skills. For example, Secretary Tromp makes the grave error of explaining to Hammer that the Frieslanders are planning to massacre the company now that they are surplus to needs. This is not only a profound affront to Hammer’s professionalism, it also raises the possibility that further betrayals may be in the offing.
Ironically, Tromp’s fear that the Slammers will destabilize the galactic (or at least Frieslandian) order proves to be entirely correct …but it was his ham-handed attempt to avert that very outcome that made it happen.
Unusually for the 1970s, the Slammers featured a recurring gay character, a homicidal sociopath named Joachim Steuben. He’s a problematic character, but not because he’s gay.
Supertanks • essay
Drake wrote essays just for this collection, explaining various details of the setting. Lots of disco-era authors loved them their hovercraft, but the basis of the appeal has always been unclear to me. They’re loud, not particularly fuel efficient (not that that matters in a universe of 400 kg fusion generators), and my impression is they are difficult to steer or brake. Drake does his best to make a case for hovertanks, but I am not convinced.
(I know I am not consistent; I know that FTL is also nonsensical, but I am willing to accept that if it’s needed for a story.)
The Butcher’s Bill • (1974) • novelette
Civilians on the planet Thrush hire the Slammers to protect them from their fanatical co-religionists. The employers did not sufficiently consider the implications of certain clauses in their contract with the Slammers. They should have.
I remember a reviewer going ballistic over the Hammer’s Slammers stories in the 1970s. I think it might have been this tale of excessive diligence that upset the reviewer. Unless it was the revelation that Hammer gases civilian populations in But Loyal to His Own. Anyway, story not recommended for archaeologists.
The Church of the Lord’s Universe • essay
It’s clear that other religions still exist, but the one that dominates the region of the galaxy in which these stories are set is a syncretist Protestant cult.
Under the Hammer • (1974) • short story
New recruit Rob Jenne gets a pointed lesson in the realities of warfare in his first foray into the field.
Drake is very keen on foreshadowing, so when a veteran Slammer talks about the implications of the Slammers’ ongoing recruitment efforts, it is likely to prove significant later on.
This would be the story in which we learn that the Slammers buy coffles of surgically altered, conditioned aliens to use as sex slaves.
Powerguns • essay
An essay on the Slammers’ answer to Doc Smith’s DeLameters.
Cultural Conflict • (1979) • short story
Steadfast loyalty to the mission and a complete disinterest in the local ecology fuel a brief genocidal conflict.
Accidentally genocidal. It’s not that the mercs in question meant to commit a crime against intelligent beings. It’s just that they never bothered to ask the questions that would have allowed them to avoid doing so.
Backdrop to Chaos • essay
Drake sketches out the assumptions behind the Slammerverse, a good chunk of which depends on an abundance of habitable worlds. These worlds are settled not for solid economic reasons, but for purposes of national glory. The result: too many impoverished hellholes whose populations refuse to get along with anyone even slightly different. (Race, religion, language, table manners, Big-Endian vs. Little-Endian…) Conditions that are good for the Slammers are bad for pretty much everyone else.
Until I read this, I had not appreciated how much Drake was influenced by Piper. The Slammerverse resembles the Federation in that local development means a drop in off-world trade.
“Caught in the Crossfire” • (1978) • short story
A bold trio of mercenaries take a page out of Alois Hammer’s playbook: use civilians as meatshields, hoping that the Slammers will pause on on seeing women in the field of fire. This plan depends on victim cooperation; the women have to believe that they might survive or at least that their kids will. As it turns out, one of the meatshields decides to kick the table over.
Other stories make it clear the Slammers would have cut the hostages down without a second thought, so this plan was never going to work. Points for effort, though.
The Bonding Authority • essay
The means by which the mercenaries ensure their clients actually pay. In the Slammerverse, even small reductions in interstellar trade have terrible effects on planetary economies. It makes me wonder how they weather recessions and depressions.
Hangman • novella
The Slammers are trying to enforce a peace agreement. But they aren’t the only ones. Another mercenary company is involved, and that company is supporting a faction that is blatantly violating the terms of the accord, What to do?
This would be the story in which Stueben shoots off a little girl’s leg to make a rhetorical point.
Table of Organization and Equipment, Hammer’s Regiment • essay
What it says on the tin. Interesting to see how much of the organization is not front line troops, and that brothels are specifically listed in the TOE.
Standing Down • novelette
Hired to support a coup on Friesland, the death of their employer leaves Hammer with no choice but assume control of the planet.
I don’t foresee a prosperous future for Friesland, given that the Slammer’s solution for pretty much every problem is to shoot it. Or gas it. Or nuke it. Including civilians, especially civilians who get between a Slammer and something they were attacking. Slammers are experimenting with forced labour camps, but I expect that this will limit civilian lifespans and thus planetary productivity.
Maybe a generation or two down the road, Friesland will get its own Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas.
Thanks to the way my memory is crosswired, this collection is inextricably associated with this album
which I bought on the same shopping trip (None of the lyrics seem Hammer-appropriate, sadly.). This location
is where I read the book.
Basically, the Slammers know how to do one thing really well, and each mercenary does it until they die or burn out. The exception is Alois Hammer, who becomes a global dictator and marries Tromp’s daughter, who may or may not be aware it was Hammer’s right hand lunatic Steuben who murdered her father. This may not end happily either.
Good arguments for not becoming a mercenary,
This particular edition is out of print, but Nightshade Books has published a series that collects all of the Slammer stories. You can find it here (Amazon). Chapters-Indigo does not appear to offer the Nightshade edition.