Military science fiction is an acquired taste, perhaps an addiction, and generally catered to overgrown boys like this reviewer who love the clash of good versus bad, the smart versus the outsmarted, the rewards of the protagonist with whom the reader identifies, and the utter destruction of the dirty villains. Blood gushes, limbs are dismembered, bodies disemboweled, but the surrendered are allowed to live and the virtuous eventually granted the responsibility of rule. Beautiful women reward the victors. Thank goodness Freud is discredited these days, or all of us fans would be tagged with some soul-destroying, early “repression” that marred us for life.
Drake should be considered the five-star general in this niche of the science
fiction genre. He has published maybe fifty novels either by himself or with
others—and, when collaborating, he has usually done the plotting. A Vietnam
veteran and lawyer, he majored in history and uses arcane, ancient campaigns as models for future battles that he clothes with extrapolations of present weapons. He writes fluidly and well. One action scene follows another so closely that trips for beer and peanuts are minimized. Paying the Piper is no exception to Drake’s norm.
This novel is Drake’s latest in the "Hammer's Slammers" series. The populated galaxy is a lawless, Darwinian space. Colonel Hammer has organized a mercenary regiment with advanced tanks and other combat vehicles that he hires out to factions in various worlds. The soldiers are professionals, loyal only to each other and in danger from everyone, including their employers.
Paying the Piper, as always with Drake, starts with a bang that hooks you. Enemy mercenaries attack the landed space ship that attempts to disembark young Lieutenant Arne Huber’s platoon of combat cars on Ptattner’s World, a globe wracked by civil war. We meet the “El Tee’s” scarred car crew and fight a technical glitch while “buzzbombs,” shoulder-launched missiles, fly into the freighter’s hold. Our hero must remove the remaining pieces of his driver’s body before he can engage the enemy, which by pluck and daring he finally does. Victoriously, of course.
See? Right and the initially abused prevail!
Huber leads other fire-fights, repels scheming politicians, and takes his command over half the planet to surprise the enemy faction, finally joining the complete regiment in attacking an interloping planetary force that tries to take advantage of the collapsing competitive governments. In the process he loses a girlfriend to enemy action, repels another too ruthless for his sensitive soul, and only indulges in suspected hanky panky in the fade out after victory.
He regrets the deaths he causes, but “this is war.” Paying the Piper.
Drake avoids reader disgust by not communicating the “feelings” of the victims, although we do see injuries and hear screams. We don’t identify with anyone but the hero and his close associates. Not a great novel, of course. Not even a serious one, but recommended for those who want to relieve aggression.