Review of David Drake’s “Redliners”

Recently I had decided to pick up and read David Drake’s collection of military science fiction short stories called “Hammer’s Slammers.”  I was a bit surprised by just how evocative it was of many of the central concepts of BattleTech universe writ large.  We aren’t any better in the future than we are now.  We still have unethical wars.  We hold onto our religious and ethnic identities and use those to exclude and attack others.  We still have these “us versus them,” mentalities.   Technology has not led to morality.

Beleaguered Soldiers on a Far-Flung Colony

Beleaguered Soldiers on a Far-Flung Colony

There are a bunch of other similar things, like similar weapons, similar concepts of mercenaries, and more — and I was so taken aback by this pre-BattleTech story, that I wrote a review on it here.  Having read that, I decided to eventually take on another military science fiction book as well and review it for you.  Two weeks ago I was shopping at a Books-a-Million superstore when I came across “Redliners.”  It was recently re-released in this prestige format as part of the 20 year anniversary of the novel.  On the cover is David Drake talking about how this is his best work, to his mind, and the one that changed him the most after writing it.

Well that sounded compelling.  So I picked it up and started reading.

Now as I have mentioned before, I’m very comfortable with David Drake.  I’ve read a few short stories, and this is my 6th book by him.  He’s not an author I follow religiously, but he’s good at what he does and I respect him for it.  He was at a major school for studying Law when he was drafted in the 60s, and sent to work with tanks in Cambodia for two years, and then returned.  He always found it difficult to re-assimilate into life.  And this novel follows a similar track.

In a future war by a star-spanning human empire, a high reputation striker force does some bad stuff and loses a lot of people on the front line of a war against some aliens.  They have crossed the red line.  But instead of them being sent home to keep them quiet, the leader of the Empire decides to try something new.  They are sent to escort a group of colonists to a hostile but potentially wealthy colony world.  And they are pushed together and forged by fire.  (I’m trying to keep this relatively spoiler-free).

Now the book itself has a lot of the typical military science-fiction accoutrements.  Death.  Weapons.  Battles.  And the style of Drake is compelling.  It’s powerful and evocative.  And while it’s not my favorite book in the genre by any means, I get where Drake is coming from.  The book is worth the reading.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if David Drake wrote a BattleTech story.  Would it feel like a conventional one?  Would it be different?  Would he continue down that path or hew something else?  He has written in shared worlds before.  He is a big fan of the Cthulhu Mythos and has written stuff there.  So you never know.

Are you familiar with “Redliners?”  Have you read it?  What did you think?

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6 thoughts on “Review of David Drake’s “Redliners”

  1. CF

    I have read this book. I have even been to some of the places it describes, tho’ not by the same route — and I don’t mean the physical locations…. :P

    It is, by a wide margin, his most impressive book; however, unless one has actually been to the (psychological) places described, it is difficult to truly appreciate what-all is contained therein.

    As to Drake writing a _BT_ novel: Only if they dropped the entire existing backstory, and went back to the 1st-edition backdrop of “all the dead are dead, and all the living are dying”. (Which would not be a Bad Thing, necessarily.)

    1. Abe Sargent Post author

      So I haven’t been in the military, or the jungles or anything else that he regularly uses in his work. But I still like it. I like Redliners. I like some of his other works. I like him, you know?

      I think bringing in a major name for the genre might require finding the right setting and time in the universe to match him. Like the Jihad.

  2. Jeremy Ward

    Drake could easily write a Battletech novel. He has a much better grasp on conflict and how people react to it then many of the pre and post FASA era authors because he wouldn’t romanticize the conflicts like Stackpole and Gressmam did. Drake understands fighting for pay, fighting for the guy or gal next to you, and the absurdity of war based on simple disagreements (hence why so many of his books ring true because they are based on ancient or classic conflict). He also wouldn’t have the giant Mechs are da most awesome thing and all other arms suck routine that BT trumpets.

    That’s why Keith and Milan and Kubasik are my favorite BT writers. They weren’t Battletech novel regulars, and their style shows more three dimensional writing then I am the super cool Clan pilot or Prince Davion the ever cluleless. The Jihad era would be tailor made for Drake and Weber and writers of that ilk. Except for Tom Kratman and John Ringo. Those guys are so conservative we would have a new jingoistic BT America democracy build itself in two months if they wrote BT novels.

    1. Abe Sargent Post author

      Thanks for writing!

      So I’ve actually never read Weber. I suppose that makes me really annoying. :)

      I do think he has a sense of realism as well, that permeates the stuff he writes. Although there are still some gonzo plot lines out there, and Redliners has one that’s revealed later on.

      But I hear you!

      1. Jeremy Ward

        Weber is good, though his later books are better then his first two series. He does have a tendency towards info dumps and clueless villains, but the latter usually clears up after half a book or two. He wrote an awesome story set in Keith Laumer’s Bolo Universe.

  3. guest

    It’s years after the fact, but David Drake did, in fact, write a Car Wars tie-in novel or two, around thirty years back. The only one whose title I can recall is “The Square Deal.”

    For those unfamiliar, Car Wars is Steve Jackson Games’ early 1980s post-apocalyptic proto-cyberpunk game and setting that is basically about simulating the car vs. car fights in a certain Mel Gibson film, only with somewhat fewer crossbows and just a few more laser-guided antitank missiles. The setting SJG created is an exercise in over-the-top black humor that doesn’t take itself the faintest, tiniest bit seriously. David Drake, as I suspect you’re already guessing, discarded so much of the setting as to make it nearly unrecognizable and wrote something that is, to put it lightly, rather downbeat. He says on his web page that he didn’t enjoy writing it. It showed. Hoo boy, did it show.


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