From the Heart of Darkness by David Drake
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I've always been a fan of David Drake's Hammer's Slammers, as he has a wonderful way of incorporating his real life experiences into the fantasy worlds of fiction. When I spotted this anthology resting in a lonely way on a bookshelf in northern Minnesota, I had to pick it up. I was intrigued by the idea of David Drake writing horror stories and the like.
Not surprisingly, the stories in here which revolve around battlefields (more) current and future work the best, even if they are not too surprising in the final outcome. "Something Had to Be Done" has an ending which does surprise, shocking but still within the rules of the story. "Than Curse the Darkness" is a very mean, very horrific story which wisely marries Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" with a more modern view of colonial work.
I was least fond of the Vettius stories. I can see the appeal, however, they combine his knowledge of men at war with a sword and sandal milieu with plenty of horror elements to keep things dark. "The Shortest Way" was the best, while the others felt too pulpy for my tastes. "The Dancer in the Flames" didn't work as well as it could have, but is a finely layered story which offers a bit more depth than the action pieces. "The Hunting Ground" works on the same level, presenting us with a few more fleshed out characters and a situation with less clear solutions. I think it is also the most honest, as it peels adventure away from violence and lets us see the aftermath.
I will read some of his later horror fiction to get an idea where this style is going for him. On the one hand I wonder if these stories were written to feed another market, but there is enough good work in here that I believe he takes this genre as seriously as military science fiction.
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