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With the Lightnings
David Drake
Baen Books, 336 pages

With the Lightnings
David Drake
David Drake is the author of Igniting the Reaches and Through the Breach (1995), The Dragon Lord (1979) and To Bring the Light (1996) as well as the North-World series. Best known for his science fiction classic, Hammer's Slammers, Drake is a veteran of the only independent armored regiment assigned to Vietnam. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: With the Lightnings
SF Site Review: Queen of Demons
SF Site Review: Patriots
SF Site Review: Lord of the Isles
David Drake Tribute Site
David Drake - Baen Books

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

David Drake has for years been one of the hottest selling authors of military mayhem SF, and I (gritting my teeth, as I don't usually like "guy books") decided to see if I could figure out his appeal.

For the first 120 eventless pages of With the Lightnings I was still wondering. No first time novelist would ever sell a book with this rambling, tedious set-up. Our hero, Lieutenant Daniel Leary, walks around the streets of Kostroma City, pausing to think about his entire life, remember every detail of the space navy's armaments, and contemplate the history and politics of the galaxy for the last five decades. Meanwhile, our heroine, librarian Adele Mundy, builds bookshelves and sorts old books while contemplating her own tragic past.

Consequently the reader has far too much time to pick away at the ridiculous technology which has been papered onto what is essentially a Hornblower or Viet Nam novel. The spaceships all land planet-side in the ocean and dock in harbours. As part of their space drives they have "masts" and consequently employ "riggers" in the crews. Although mention is made of electronic records, Adele spends her time sorting stacks of musty paper books, which include the paper logbooks from space ships. And so on and so on.

It isn't until things begin rolling with a political double-cross and civil uprising that the book becomes interesting. From that point on, Drake delivers lots of action performed by characters who are stereotypes, but competently drawn and entertaining nonetheless.

And by the end of the book, I certainly understood Drake's loyal following. He has caught precisely the qualities of the military that attract people -- the feeling of pride, competence and comradeship, being part of a team, solving problems, challenging your own physical and mental limits, defending a code of honour, and the sheer excitement of engaging in battle.

Moreover, Drake is a supremely good writer when it comes to giving his readers the emotional pay-off. Lieutenant Leary overcomes tremendous odds to win his battles, but after the events he waits with trepidation for the navy's decision whether to promote him or discipline him for his maverick conduct. Drake lets the tension build, then delivers good news in front of Leary's loyal crew to delighted cheers and celebration. Heck, I HATE military books and I had a tear in my eye.

I could list dozens of silly details in Drake's book, and there's no question he gets away with writing long swatches of lousy material because he's a big name. Nonetheless, I'd have to rate him as an excellent formula writer who gives his readers their money's worth.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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