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Coming Home by the Long Way

A few years ago I collected my humorous stories in All the Way to the Gallows. In my introduction I admitted that I wasn't best known for writing humor.

This is what I'm best known for writing.

The impetus for this book was a fan suggestion that with surveillance cameras becoming increasingly prevalent all over the world, it would be a good time to get the Lacey stories back in print. I thought about the notion.

I only did three stories in the series, in the late '70s. Lacey is a man with all the ordinary human feelings—which he suppresses ruthlessly, as he suppresses everything else that might prevent him from accomplishing his task. He has no goals, no dreams, no friends; but he's very, very good at his job.

A friend once suggested that the Lacey stories were even clearer descriptions of how I felt about Viet Nam and what I'd become there than the Hammer stories I was writing at the same time. She may have been right.

I don't want to get back into that mindset, but neither did I want to turn the setting into a shared universe. Lacey is, if you'll forgive me, a more personal Hell than that.

The original collection, Lacey and His Friends (with an absolutely wonderful Steve Hickman cover, by the way), bound in a couple novellas which showed the kinder, gentler, David Drake. There is a kinder, gentler David Drake; but I'm not as defensive as I used to be about the other parts of me, and they're real too.

The remaining pieces in the present collection are close in tone to the Lacey stories. They're military SF of one sort or another, though "or another" covers a pretty wide range.

Three are odd-balls. Billie Sue Mosiman and I edited an original anthology titled (and about) Armageddon. I wrote "With the Sword He Must Be Slain" for that volume.

Steve Stirling's Draka series is set in an alternate universe in which Evil wins. Steve turned the setting into a shared universe with the volume Drakas! and asked me to contribute.

Evil doesn't win in my books (well, I'll admit it's sometimes hard to pick the good guys) and I was a little uncomfortable with the assignment, but Steve's a friend and has written stories for me. If I'd known he wasn't going to do a story for his own collection, I might have begged off; but I didn't, and "The Tradesmen"resulted. It has a very dense structure, so much so that my outline amounted to 60% of the wordage of the finished story. As a piece of craftsmanship, I'm proud of it.

"Coming Up Against It"had a very strange genesis. Bill Fawcett got a deal for the two of us to consult on backgrounds for a computer game, for which we'd be paid an absurdly large amount of money. Part of the deal was that I would write a story in the game universe for binding in with the game. I wrote the story.

We did commentary on the initial background and sent it in. The new version came back to us, not a refinement but a totally new scenario. We did more commentary. The response was yet again a totally new scenario. I don't recall how many iterations we went through on this, but I do remember that I was getting steamed. (I later heard the rumor that somebody in the company was keeping the meter running as a favor to the outside contractor doing the scenarios, a buddy who'd fallen on hard times.)

My story, "Coming Up Against It," was based on a situation that was edited out of the game early in the process. I didn't even think I had a copy of the story (I'd tried to put the whole business out of my head; I was really angry about being dicked around), but it showed up while I was searching for other things. It appears here for the first time.

And by the way, this is a prime example of a deal that was too good to be true turning out to be too good to be true.

Bill Fawcett sold the Battlestation shared universe with me as co-editor. I'd been doing a lot of work in shared universes by that time, and I decided that the two volumes of the original contract would be my last for a while. I wrote my two stories, "Facing the Enemy" and "Failure Mode," so that they'd give closure to the series. You don't ordinarily get that with life, but it's something I strive for in fiction.

And that brings me very directly to the six stories which open this volume. They come from a slightly earlier shared universe that Bill developed and I co-edited: The Fleet. They follow a special operations company in a future war against aliens. (Parenthetically, most of my Military SF doesn't involve aliens; possibly because I don't recall ever being shot at by an alien when I was in Viet Nam or Cambodia.) Each story is self-standing but they have a cumulative effect and are, I believe, some of the best Military SF I've written.

What the Fleet stories don't have is closure; that too, I think, has something to do with me and Southeast Asia. The series ended and I thought I'd walked away from it, just as I thought I'd walked away from a lot of other things back in 1971.

Then, years later, I wrote Redliners, a novel about a special operations company fighting aliens until things went badly wrong . . . except that in Redliners they got a second chance. They and their society got a second chance. They got closure, and in a funny way so did I. Since Redliners I've been able to write adventure fiction that's a little less cynical, a little less bleak, than what I'd invariably done in the past when I wrote action stories.

I don't think I'd have been able to write Redliners if I hadn't previously written the Fleet stories. I'm awfully glad I did write them.

Dave Drake


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