Vintage Treasures: Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake

Vintage Treasures: Hammer’s Slammers by David Drake

Hammer’s Slammers (Ace Books, April 1979). Cover by Paul Alexander

David Drake passed away on December 10, 2023, and his death was a major loss to the field. In addition to his considerable accomplishments as a writer — with dozens of novels and collections to his credit — he made significant contributions as an editor and publisher.  He edited dozen of volumes for Ace, including the Space Anthologies with Marty Greenberg and Charles Waugh, and The Fleet and Battlestation shared universe series with Bill Fawcett. For Baen he edited three volumes of Men Hunting Things, Armageddon, and much more. He founded the Carcosa small press with Karl Edward Wagner — and in fact every time David stopped by the Black Gate booth at conventions over the years, the two of us invariably ended up talking about Karl.

But without question David’s most significant creation was Hammer’s Slammers, a long-running SF series that followed the adventures of the mercenary Colonel Alois Hammer and the tank regiment that bore his name. Alongside David Weber’s Honorverse, Hammer’s Slammers was the most popular military science fiction series of the late 20th Century. Including spin-offs and related volumes, the series ran to over a dozen volumes between 1979 and 2002.

[Click the images to be hammered with bigger versions.]

Galaxy magazine, October 1974, edited by Jim Baen and containing the first Hammer’s Slammers
story “Under the Hammer” (UPD Publishing Corporation). Cover by Jack Gaughan

Hammer’s Slammers began with a series of stories published in Galaxy magazine during Jim Baen’s tenure, starting with “Under the Hammer,” published in the October 1974 issue. They were first collected in Hammer’s Slammers, an Ace paperback, in April 1979. Wikipedia has a fine summary.

Each of the stories [in the collection] follows various members of the Slammers, starting with the regiment’s creation by the government of the planet Friesland to put down a revolt on the Friesland colony world of Melpomene, in which Colonel Hammer is the focal character, and who transforms the unit into an independent mercenary organization. The reader is also introduced to recurring characters such as Joachim Steuben, Hammer’s bodyguard and later commander of the Slammers’ military police, a gay sociopath and master marksman devoted to his colonel; Sergeant (later Major) Danny Pritchard; recruit (later Sergeant-Commander) Rob Jenne; Margritte DiManzio, whose husband is killed by mercenaries from a different regiment and signs on with the Slammers; and Sergeant “Ripper Jack” Scratchard, who shows how the Slammers infantry ties in with the regiment’s combat cars and hovertanks. The book concludes with the story “Standing Down,” in which Friesland revolutionaries hire the Slammers to overthrow the government of Friesland… Drake based the Slammers on his service with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. The plots of his works are often inspired by historical or mythological sources. For example, he retells the story of Jason and the Argonauts in The Voyage, and part of the Odyssey in Cross the Stars.

David’s Hammer’s Slammers tales were famously informed by his own experiences during the Vietnam War, his love of Ancient History, and even the novels of Dashiell Hammett.

The Baen Hammer’s Slammers: At Any Price (collection, September 1985), Counting the Cost

(November 1987), Rolling Hot (September 1989), The Warrior (May 1991), The Sharp End
(November 1993), Paying the Piper (collection, July 2002). Covers:  Paul Alexander, Larry Elmore

There are seven core volumes in the series. Only the first was published by Ace; after Jim Baen left Ace to help found Tor Books and then his own publishing house Baen Books in 1983, David brought the series over to Baen, where it remained. They were published between 1979-2002. Here’s the handy one-sentence summaries from Wikipedia.

Hammer’s Slammers (Collection, 1979): The initial collection of stories. Includes the creation of the Slammers as a mercenary unit, shows several of its campaigns, and the end of its independent existence when Colonel Hammer becomes the ruler of his native world, Friesland.

At Any Price (Collection, 1985): A study in command and cultural conflict. The Slammers must aid a human community in a fight with aliens who can teleport.

Counting the Cost (Novel, 1987): The Slammers become involved in an internal dispute among their employers. Based on the Nika riots, with Slammers Captain Tyl Koopman in the role of Belisarius.

Rolling Hot (Novel, 1989): A pick-up Slammers unit, Task Force Ranson, must make a rapid combat march to relieve the capital city which is under threat. Based loosely on the events of the Tet offensive, according to Drake’s comments.

The Warrior (Novel, 1991): A rivalry between two of the Slammers, who have very different ideas of what it means to be a warrior. One of them, Slick Des Grieux, is based on the classical character of Achilles.

The Sharp End (Novel, 1993): A survey team from the Slammers is looking for work for the regiment. This book is set after Colonel Hammer has become President Hammer; Hammer’s Regiment the 1st Friesian Defense Forces Regiment; and is based on Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest.

Paying the Piper (Collection, 2002): Three novellas that follow a Slammers unit commander during a war between rival city states. The political situation is based on the war between Rhodes and Byzantium in the 3rd century BC

After the series wrapped up with Paying the Piper, Night Shade Books published a three-volume hardcover set of omnibus volumes. The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, containing a rich assortment of additional material, including essays and new stories by David, and introductions by Gene Wolfe, David G Hartwell, and Barry N. Malzberg.

The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, Volume One (Night Shade, March 2006). Cover by John Berkey

While Hammer’s Slammers officially wrapped up with Paying the Piper in 2002, David continued to revise and expand the setting, including with a pair of related volumes:

Cross the Stars (Novel, 1984): A retelling of The Odyssey, with Slammers Captain Don “Mad Dog” Slade in the role of Odysseus.

The Voyage (Novel, 1993): A retelling of the Voyage of the Argonauts, with Lissa Doorman running a suicide mission for the rulers of Telaria.

David eventually repackaged the first five books with additional stories. He made it clear the new volumes (The Tank Lords, the omnibus Caught In The Crossfire, and The Butcher’s Bill) were his preferred editions. With that in mind, here’s a handy reading list.

1 Hammer’s Slammers (1979) — Collection
2 At Any Price (1985) — Collection
3 Counting the Cost (1987)
4 Rolling Hot (1989)
5 The Warrior (1991)
6 The Sharp End (1993)
7 Paying the Piper (2002) — Collection
8 Cross the Stars (1984)
9 At Any Price (1985)
10 The Voyage (1994)
11 The Tank Lords (1997) — Collection
12 Caught In The Crossfire (1998) — Omnibus with two novels (The Warrior and Counting the Cost) and three stories
13 The Butcher’s Bill (1998) — Omnibus with At Any Price and seven stories

Bean reissued the Night Shade editions in trade paperback in 2006-07. They contain virtually the entire series, including many of the essays David wrote for the Night Shade volumes.

The Complete Hammer’s Slammers, Volumes 1-3 (Baen, October 6, 2009,
February 2010, and November 2010). Covers by Kurt Miller

The Complete Hammer’s Slammers is the best way for modern readers to get their hands on the series in compact and affordable editions.

1 The Complete Hammer’s Slammers Volume 1 (2006)
2 The Complete Hammer’s Slammers Volume 2 (2007)
3 The Complete Hammer’s Slammers Volume 3 (2007)

All three volumes are still in print.

The Hammerverse has been a particularly irresistible setting for science fiction gamers, and over the years it has been adapted several times. Most notably as a popular board game by Mayfair Games in 1984, and as a Traveller setting from Mongoose Publishing in 2009.

Hammer’s Slammers board game (Mayfair Games, 1984) and Traveller supplement (Moongoose, 2009)

What do modern readers make of Hammer’s Slammers?

The series is still widely read and enjoyed today, as the Baen volumes — still in print after nearly 20 years — will attest. They are still subjects of lively discussion online; here’s my favorite Goodreads review, from Edward.

Reprinted short stories from one of the old hands of military sci-fi. Extremely gritty, extremely violent, unglamorous depiction of warfare.

I’d never read any of David Drake, although he has been writing with commercial and critical success for longer than I have been alive. Figuring to remedy that oversight, I picked this up. It’s extremely grim material. Drake served in Vietnam, as an interrogator in the US Army’s 11th Armored Cavalry, and his experiences directly colored what he presents in his fiction. The afterword directly addresses this; Drake basically wrote this material as a way of working through his experiences in Vietnam.

Rather than set his fiction in Vietnam, Drake opted to move it to a far-future setting. But the sense of chaos and nihilism that inhabits motion pictures like Full Metal Jacket and Platoon is fully present here, as well… Drake’s depiction of soldiers who have shut down their higher emotional faculties as a matter of survival in the face of atrocious suffering is very much in keeping with memoirs and biographies that I have read on the experience. The stories are about war, but they don’t glamorize it in the least.

These stories are of excellent literary quality, and Drake has been published in such prestigious magazines as Analog and Galaxy. But they are not for everyone. If you, for example, can’t handle Game of Thrones, then pass these up. As one character remarks, it’s hard to pick out clear good guys in war, although sometimes you can clearly distinguish a particularly bad guy.

Hammer’s Slammers was published by Ace Books in April 1979. It is 282 pages, priced at $1.95. The cover was by Paul Alexander, who did the covers for the first five books in the series.

Space Gladiators-small Space Infantry-small Space Dreadnoughts-medium

The Space Anthologies from Ace Books: Space Gladiators (April 1989), Space Infantry
(November 1989), and Space Dreadnoughts (January 1990). Covers by Walter Velez

Our previous coverage of David Drake includes:

The Space Anthologies, edited by David Drake with Charles G. Waugh and Martin Harry Greenberg (2019)
How I Discovered David Drake by Accident: Confusion, Redliners, and Why I’m Glad I Made a Mistake by Nick Ozment (2015)
David Drake on E. Hoffmann Price (2015)
For Want of a Dragon… The Dragon Lord by David Drake by Fletcher Vredenburgh (2014)
How David Drake Helped Me Write My First Novel by Ryan Harvey (2010)

See all our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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Thomas Parker

What a coincidence – not an hour ago I pulled volume one of the Nightshade Complete Hammer’s Slammers off my shelf, as I thought about what to read when I finish my current book.

Last edited 1 month ago by Thomas Parker
Thomas Parker

You never quit, do you?


One of my all time favourite authors, and one who was willing to exchange emails with a nobody fan. RIP.

K. Jespersen

We lost Drake?! Oh no! He’d been making fun progress on the Lt. Leary/RCN series, and it felt like he’d wanted to go somewhere specific with it.

His poor family. They must feel the loss keenly, if he was anything at home like he was in public. I hope that there is some comfort for them.

Sad news. 🙁

K. Jespersen

Thank you for the link. And that does sound like Mr. Drake: an unpretentiously noble soul. You’re right, there is a lot to unpack in that obituary. I’m going to have to read it again, more slowly; it fills in some blanks.

Rich Horton

That October 1974 Galaxy was the third issue of that magazine I ever bought, and I definitely remember “Under the Hammer”. (That said, the RCN series was my favorite among Drake’s works.)

K. Jespersen

Ditto, re: RCN. Adele Mundy has always been a favorite, and Hogg and Tovera made excellent half-foils.

Rich Horton

I started at the beginning, with With the Lightnings., and that worked just fine. If you’ve read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books — and if you haven’t, you should! — Drake acknowledges that the RCN books are an SF version of them, though with some details borrowed from Roman history too.

K. Jespersen

Agreed with Rich: if you don’t mind getting into a series, start with “With the Lightnings.”

If you can’t afford to spend the time on a whole series right now, the last two are stand-alone and don’t much involve the main series characters, though they do develop some of the long-running series subplots. These two are “Though Hell Should Bar the Way” and “To Clear Away the Shadows.” They would each give you a general taste of the series’ overall voice.

Joe H.

I remember hearing about Hammer’s Slammers back in the day, but I think it’s another one of those series that I never got around to reading because it wasn’t on the shelves at the library. Someday.

(And then I can start work on my epic Hammer’s Slammers/Berserker/Bolo crossover fanfic.)

Tony Den

Very sad to hear of Mr Drakes passing. I have been gradually buying the Hammers Slammers books with plans to do a deep dive / binge read of the lot.

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