Paying the Piper

Paying the PiperI’ve always found it easier to use real settings and cultures than to invent my own. No matter how good a writer’s imagination, the six or seven millennia of available human history can do a better job of creating backgrounds.

More than ten years ago I finally took the advice my friends Jim Baen and Mark Van Name had been giving me and did an afterword, explaining where I got the details of the book I’d just completed. I’d resisted this, feeling that it was bad art–the book should explain itself–and anyway, it was unnecessary. It was obvious to any reader that I was using historical and mythological backgrounds, so why should I bother to tell them?

It still may be bad art, and I may have been correct about readers in general seeing what I was doing without me telling the explicitly, but reviewers suddenly discovered that my fiction utilizes literary, historical and mythological material.  I’ve kept up the practice, though generally not with straight Military SF  like the Hammer series–but in this case I thought it might be useful, because the background I’ve used is from a backwater of history.

The Eastern Mediterranean at the end of the 3rd century BC was a very complex region. The three empires founded by the successors of Alexander the Great were collapsing.  They were locally powerful, but none wa a superpower. Usurpers and secessionists complicated their politics.

Leagues of city states–the Achaeans and Aetolians in Greece proper, others in Asia Minor–had their own interests.  New kingdoms, particularly that of Pergamum, were growing at the expense of their neighbors, and barbarians–both Celtic and Illyrian–were becoming regional powers instead of merely raiding and moving on.

Rome was still in the wings but the violent morass would shortly draw her in, ending both the chaos and her own status as a republic. (The region’s enormous wealth and complexity, in my opinion, inexorably turned Rome into an empire.)

I adapted this setting for Paying the Piper. The general background is that of the war between Rhodes and Byzantium, ostensibly over freedom of navigation. It was about as stupid a conflict as you’re likely to find, during which the real principals licked their lips and chuckled while well-meaning idealists wrecked their own societies in pursuit of unobtainable goals by improper means.  Much of the military detail is drawn from the campaigns of Phillip the Fifth and his allies against the Aetolian League, particularly the campaign of 219 BC which culminated in Phillip’s capture of Psophis.

I guess it isn’t out of place to add one comment about the study of history. Knowing a good deal about how cultures interacted in the past allows one to predict how they will interact in the present, so I’m rarely surprised by the daily news. But I regret to say that this understanding doesn’t appear to make me happier.

–Dave Drake

Paying the Piper is a Hammer novel in the form of three self-standing novellas:

  • Choosing Sides
  • The Political Process
  • Neck or Nothing

Paying the Piper. 1st ed. Hammer’s Slammers Series. 2002, Riverdale, NY: Baen. 358 p. 0743435478. $24.00.
2003, Riverdale, NY: Baen. 445 p. 0743471725 (pb). $7.99.
————– The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, v.3. 2007, San Francisco, CA: Night Shade Books.
————– The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, v.3. 2010, Riverdale, NY: Baen.
————– (audiobook),, 2011

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