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Introduction:
WELL, IT HAPPENED THIS WAY. . .

 

In 1975 I was finally able to write a story that had been knocking about in my mind for ten years. It began with an undergraduate class in Horace which started me reading (and repeatedly rereading) the whole of that wonderful poet's work. I found particularly evocative the lament which I quote in my original story:

"And Crassus's wretched soldier takes a barbarian wife from his captors and grows old waging war for them."  

In a course in Chinese history a year or two later, the professor mentioned in passing a unit of troops armed like Romans which was destroyed in Central Asia in 36 b.c. at the height of Chinese westward expansion. He speculated that these were the men Horace refers to, captured by the Parthians at Carrhae in 53 b.c. and sold as mercenaries to kingdoms east of Mesopotamia.

I was trying to write sf back then, so it immediately occurred to me that there was a story there if only I could get to it. What if the folks who bought the Romans weren't Huns but rather interstellar aliens who wanted low-tech soldiers for commercial expansion (I got that notion from Andre Norton; one of many things I got from that fine writer)? And what if the alien wives were really alien?

The difference between an idea and a story is the difference between a wannabe and a writer; it was a long time before I was writer enough to tell that deceptively simple story. When I did I cast it in the historical present, copying the style of a passage in Sallust's Jugurthine Wars. This was a silly thing to do; but apart from that, I'm still pleased with the result.

The story, "Ranks of Bronze," went off to Galaxy magazine, edited by a fellow named Jim Baen who'd bought three other stories of mine. I was paid for the story before the magazine came out (unique in my experience of Galaxy at the time). As a result I was a lot less angry than I'd otherwise have been to see that the editor had added a couple hundred words to the conclusion without telling me.

I'm glad I didn't get angry, because if I had I'd also have had to apologize to Jim later, since he was absolutely correct in adding the exposition there. The story in Galaxy (and in every reprint) is a collaboration between Drake and Baen. (Jim and I continue to mesh well together, but we do so with fewer sparks nowadays.)

Jim really liked "Ranks of Bronze"; so much so that when he started his own publishing house, Baen Books, the first thing he asked me to write for him was a novelization of that story. I agreed, though at the time I didn't know how I was going to do it.

The writing turned out to be easier than I'd expected (not least because I'd done an enormous amount of research for the short story, including reading the whole of Vegetius in Latin). I had things to learn about my craft (and still do today), but a lot of the bits came together right on this one.

The novel, also Ranks of Bronze, was a Novel of Education—a Bildungsroman, to use the normal German term for such a work. I started out with a young boy and ended with him having grown to manhood. Both Jim and I were very pleased with the book.

That's where the trouble started: Jim wanted a sequel. I was flabbergasted—you can't have a sequel to a Bildungsroman. What was I supposed to do? Take my character from adulthood to senility in the second volume?

Jim kept asking. I kept saying no. (I'm not good at saying no to friends, but on this one I was adamant.) Finally he got sneaky and suggested that I let three writers (whom he picked) do novellas in the Ranks of Bronze universe, and that these novellas be bound in with the original novel. I agreed, since I wasn't going to have to do any work myself and the project would get Jim off my back about doing a sequel.

Hope springs eternal. Or, alternatively, there's a sucker born every minute. . . .

What you see is a self-standing volume with some excellent new stories built around my original (well, Andre's original) concept, but with no other criteria. I told the writers they could do what they pleased. Eric wrote the sequel Jim was begging for, while Steve used the characters from my novel in a campaign I hadn't described. Dave and Mark did something completely different within the basic parameters. And I used Crassus's legion but not any of the characters I'd written about in the original novel.

So . . . it's been a long road but an interesting one. And after all, the road for the original survivors of Crassus's legions was longer yet.

 

Dave Drake
david-drake.com

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