Newsletter #49

Dear People,

Well, I haven’t completed the rough draft of THE LEGIONS OF FIRE, the start of my new fantasy series for Tor, but I’m close. And I’m darned consistent: two months ago I had about 60K; now I’ve got a bit over 125K, so I’m averaging a hair over a thousand words a day regardless of holidays, crises (the water line froze; on the other hand, about this time last year a drunk in a pickup crossed the road and hit us, so I’m not complaining), birthdays, colds and flu. 

I’m in the ‘colds’ part of that catalog at present. I blow my nose a lot and feel as though I’d been dragged by a horse, but I continue to beaver away, following my outline. I’m well into the climax now. Unless the asteroid strikes very soon, I should have a completed rough draft.

This plot keeps a lot of balls in the air. The book (at core) is very different from anything I’ve written in the past. And as usual I’m convinced that I’ve blown it: that nobody will notice the things that I consider to be particularly neat, and that most of it will strike even me as silly and boring when I read the completed manuscript. Part of me is pretty depressed.

But Sunday morning I was sitting outside reading the paper and about to start work. The temperature hadn’t gotten up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit yet, but it was already a pretty day.

A wren landed on my right calf and worked her way up my legs in short hops. Eventually she came around my back, paused on my right hip, and hopped down to continue her search for bugs on the deck.

Very few people have jobs in which that happens to them. Therefore you can think of me as depressed in idyllic circumstances, which is really the truth.

I mentioned a few months ago that Audible had released audio streaming versions of the first six RCN (Leary/Mundy) space operas. [Go to and search David Drake.] To my great delight, sales have been good enough that they’re taking the new one, IN THE STORMY RED SKY, which is due out in hardcover from Baen in May, 2009. I’ve already written and recorded a 2-minute audio introduction for SKY, thanks to the good offices of Mur Lafferty.

When I mentioned SKY, I realized that I should have seen dustjackets by now. The lovely Steve Hickman art is up. The designer–my friend–Jennie Faries tells me that it will have another swatch of neat Holotrans foiling, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

To mention something that’s already on the stands–the Baen paperback of Mark Geston’s trilogy, THE BOOKS OF THE WARS, is out. I didn’t write these novels (though I contributed an introduction), but they were formative for me and for a lot of writers of my generation. I won’t pretend that you’ll get fuzzy good feelings from them, even in comparison with (say) my own REACHES TRILOGY, but they’re enormously powerful books. Try them; I guarantee that you’ll be impressed.

According to Amazon, the pb of BALEFIRES, my Night Shade horror/fantasy collection will be out at the end of this month. According to Amazon last month, it was going to be out in January. According to the nice people at Night Shade a year and a half ago, it would be out in January, 2008.

This reminds me powerfully of WORSE THINGS WAITING, the first book we (Carcosa) published. It came out something over a year later than we’d planned (and announced). When I chatted with Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade at WFC, he assured me that they really would bring out the paperback, and I believe him. (Toni Weisskopf, bless her heart, had already promised me that Baen would do it if Night Shade couldn’t.)

I guess I can wait; I’ve been waiting a long while already. BALEFIRES is what would probably have been my first (and perhaps only) book some thirty years ago if Mr Derleth hadn’t died in 1971. The included stories and the 12K of introductions I wrote to them are the beginning of my writing life and my career (as it became).

I’ve seen the trade paperback of STORM AT NOONTIDE, the second Belisarius compilation (DESTINY’S SHIELD and FORTUNE’S STROKE, novels written by Eric Flint from my outline and bound together with an intro by me). Jennie says there’s supposed to be a hardcover edition also, but I don’t swear to that. They should be in stores in March, 2009, or a little before.

Gosh, I remember working on the plots for this series (specifically, polishing the first outline and drafting the second one–this volume) while I was at Kipling’s house in Brattleboro, Vermont, with friends and family for my fifty-first birthday back in 1996. All the people with me that week are still in my life, certainly including Jim Baen (though he’s been dead for a couple years). I could use the Belisarius series as a poster of why I’m incredibly fortunate.

And after a long delay, I finally polished the Pyramus and Thisbe section of Ovid’s METAMORPHOSES so that Karen, my webmaster, could put it up. It will show you where Shakespere got some of his ideas–and if you’re a fan of THE FANTASTICKS, as I have been for an awful lot of years, you’ll catch one of the references that wonderful little play makes also.

While I was at it, I translated the next of Ovid’s lyrics also. This is an apparently simple piece on a standard theme–the dangers of sea travel–which at the end gets very tricky indeed. I wound up comparing my translation with several others and found a wide variety of responses. There are several lines whose vocabulary is completely standard but whose meaning is not. The answers I came up with are here on record, so feel free to second guess me.

Finally, here’s a story which you can view as autobiography, or history, or just possibly a cautionary tale of sorts. I’ve been musing about Mark Geston’s trilogy, but I don’t’ need external reasons to think about the Viet Nam War.

In early 1970 my 30-man unit completed Vietnamese language school in Ft Bliss, Texas, and was assigned to Ft Meade, Maryland, for two months of interrogation training. We were all college graduates and all draftees. When we ‘graduated’ from language school, we were promoted to Spec 4–the equivalent of an army corporal.

One of the exercises involved breaking us into groups of five or so and giving each group a real map sheet of War Zone C in Viet Nam. The terrain on these sheets was not only rural but almost entirely jungle. We were told what we, as the American commanders, had in the way of material assets (basically helicopters, bombers and artillery), and what material assets the enemy would oppose us with (basically small arms). Our task was to devise a plan for defeating the enemy and clearing the map area.

Our groups all came to the conclusion that our objective was unattainable. The instructors, senior NCOs, were taken aback. They insisted that artillery fire and bombing would smash enemy concentrations, and our helicopter-borne infantry would encircle and destroy the enemy in lesser numbers.

We pointed out that triple canopy jungle, as covered most of the area, made it next to impossible to locate the enemy from the air, and that the canopies also greatly reduced the effectiveness of shells and bombs. Helicopters could land troops most places, granted; but that the enemy could disengage at will through the jungle, which made a really tight encirclement impossible. In other words, that the NVA would fight only when they considered themselves to be strong enough to win.

The only way we could succeed was for the enemy to give up. Given that they had been fighting since 1945 already, it was unrealistic to expect them to give up now.

The instructors kept repeating the official line: that we could win through technology… but we Spec 4s were right and they were wrong. Everything I saw In Country and everything I’ve read in the memoirs of other veterans reinforces what my class knew at the time.

Now: we were smart people or we wouldn’t have been in that program–but we weren’t smarter than, say, McGeorge Bundy and Robert S McNamara, two of the major architects of the war. We were looking at the facts before us without a filter of ideology, however.

So that’s one aspect of the situation. The other aspect is this: all thirty of us, knowing the utter futility of the war we were being thrown into, went where our country sent us. For twenty-nine of the thirty that meant Viet Nam, where we served to the best of our ability.

I wish that the leaders of our country would generally be less callously arrogant than the Bundys and McNamaras and their ilk–‘the Best and the Brightest’–who gave us the Viet Nam War. Recent history doesn’t give me much hope on that point.

But I have more confidence that our country will continue to raise people like my interrogation school class: citizens who will do their duty even though they know their leaders have betrayed them.

–Dave Drake

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