R.I.P., David Drake (1945-2013), a Baen Books favorite and pioneer of realistic military sci-fi

David Drake, a prolific sf/fantasy author and Prometheus nominee, has died.

Sf/fantasy author David Drake (Creative Commons license)

Drake, who died Dec. 10 at 78 from cognitive health problems, is being remembered as a leader and pioneer in military science fiction.

Drake, drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam and Cambodia in the early 1970s, later brought a new level of granular realism to the subgenre based on his own experiences as a soldier.

Perhaps because Drake’s more than 80 books were focused on military sf, an action-oriented subgenre that tends to focus more on battles and military sf than ideas, few of his novels fit the distinctive focus of the Prometheus Awards exploring libertarian and/or anti-authoritarian themes.

Yet, Drake was nominated for the Prometheus Award for Best Novel in 2003 for The Tyrant, a Baen Book co-written with Eric Flint.

The Tyrant, part of the Raj Whitehall series, is set on a distant planet where civilization, undermined by empire and dictatorships after the collapse of the Galactic Federation, must rediscover progress or collapse.

At the center of the narrative is Raj Whitehall, a heroic young officer who has brought steam power and gunpowder to his kingdom with the help of a sentient computer. Yet, his efforts to bring freedom and its fruits of progress and prosperity to his world are threatened on all sides – by his suspicious king, a vengeful brother and the barbarians he must recruit.

Drake also co-authored books with other authors – most notably, Eric Flint, who separately was nominated for a Prometheus award for The Alexander Inheritance.

Baen Books, the frequent publisher of Drake’s books, and Mike Glyer’s File 770 blog covering sf-fandom, have posted lengthy tributes to Drake.

Here’s an excerpt from the File 770 report:

“David Drake, the science fiction and fantasy writer often referred to as “the Dean of Military Science Fiction,” … is best known for helping to establish the military science fiction subgenre.

“Drake’s writing after his Vietnam war experiences is credited with bringing a “grunt’s eye view” to the writing of military science fiction, centering the experience of the soldiers on the ground. His works made an indelible mark on the fields of science fiction and fantasy, and influenced the lives of many veterans and first responders for the better.

“His first book was the influential Hammer’s Slammers (1979), the first in a series of ten books, drawn largely from his own military experience. In addition to launching Drake’s literary career, the book also marked the beginning of Drake’s association with Jim Baen, which would continue until Baen’s death in 2006.

“Three of the stories in Hammer’s Slammers were bought by Baen as editor of Galaxy Magazine, and when Baen took over as science fiction editor at Ace Books, he contacted Drake’s agent, asking for additional stories to complete a collection. Drake would follow Baen to Tor and would become one of the first authors to sign with Baen Books when Jim Baen started the company in 1983. Drake’s relationship with Baen Books continued after the death of Jim Baen, with many more works including Drake’s final published novels, the Time of Heroes series.”

Baen Books Publisher Toni Weisskopf also has posted an affectionate and eloquent personal tribute to Drake, not only a colleague but also an old friend, on the Baen Books news page.

“I enjoyed everything Dave wrote, from his chatty reports on foreign travels, to his thoughtful Christmas cards. Still, I had my favorites among his literary works,” Weisskopf writes.

“The standalone novel Starliner was one of them, pure adventure science fiction and as light and carefree as Dave ever got.

“Redliners, another; the quintessential volume of military SF, and Dave in a very different mode. If you want to read one book to get a feel for his work, this is it.

“I loved the RCN series, buddy stories loosely inspired by Jim Baen’s favorite Napoleonic naval novels by Patrick O’Brien, written after Redliners, and thus after some demons had been, if not laid to rest, at least come to terms with.

“His Old Nathan fantasy stories, so evocative of the place he’d come to live, and inspired by his friend Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories. The Lord of the Isles series with the great brother and sister team of Cashel and Ilna. His two Belisarius-inspired series with both S.M. Stirling and Eric Flint (and later Tony Daniel). The Lacey SF stories. The Vettius Roman fantasy stories.

“From his start writing horror and dark fantasy short stories, to the last far-future Arthurian novels of The Spark, The Storm and The Serpent, he remained a fascinating storyteller.

“He was a man of honor, and sometimes that made him prickly. But he was also decent and kind down to his bones, and you will see many, many examples of this in the testimonies pouring forth on social media. But I am very glad that his good friend Mark Van Name made sure that he understood he was appreciated before he died when he put together the festschrift Onward, Drake!”

Weisskopf promised that Baen Books authors and editors will do a roundtable retrospective of his career and fiction in January.

Meanwhile, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading Drake’s fiction, several of his works are available for free download in the Baen Books’ digital Free Library.


* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to all published essay-reviews in our Appreciation series of more than 100 past winners since 1979.

Watch videos of past Prometheus Awards ceremonies (including the recent 2023 ceremony with inspiring and amusing speeches by Prometheus-winning authors Dave Freer and Sarah Hoyt),Libertarian Futurist Society panel discussions with noted sf authors and leading libertarian writers, and other LFS programs on the Prometheus Blog’s Video page.

Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards and support a cultural and literary strategy to appreciate and honor freedom-loving fiction, jointhe Libertarian Futurist Society, a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.

Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights, individuality and human dignity.


Published by

Michael Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been an arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Michael has won Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio and Best Arts Reporting (seven times). He's written for Reason, Libertarian Review and Backstage weekly; helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades; and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword for J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among books he recommends from a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist & How Innovation Works, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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