Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ranks of Bronze

I read many of David Drake’s stories in my youth and they had an effect on me in the realm of gaming. They fired my imagination and made me want to play in one of his worlds. I would like to highlight a couple of these stories in a series of posts over the next several weeks.

First up: “Ranks of Bronze”

“Ranks of Bronze” is a serious contender for the top spot on my list of favorite short stories of all time. It is the story of the tribune Gaius Vibulenus and the other legionary survivors of Crassus’ disastrous war against Parthia. After the legions were destroyed the Parthians sold the survivors into slavery. The buyers, however, were not of this Earth. The galactic Federation has laws against using advanced technology against the indigenous people of the planets the merchants want to exploit. That’s where the legionaries come into it. They are the ones sent down to the surface and kick the locals’ butts so the merchants can make a buck.

“Ranks of Bronze” was first published in magazine form in 1975 and I first read it in a short story collection in the early ‘80s. It isn’t a very long story, only taking up about 14 pages in paperback form. And the story only covers the events of one battle. To top it off it isn’t a completely original idea. Andre Norton wrote Star Guard a considerable time before “Ranks of Bronze” saw print. And it is written in present tense, which I despise. The story so grips me and my imagination that it doesn’t matter.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who really like the story. Jim Baen eventually persuaded Drake to write a novel expanding the story of the legionaries. I read this in the mid-80s but I don’t remember being particularly impressed by it.

Fast forward another 15 years and the demand for stories set in the Ranks of Bronze universe continued. Baen kept pressing for a sequel to the novel but Drake kept resisting. As something of a compromise, Drake agreed to contribute a story to a collection of stories written by others. Thus was born Foreign Legions. It contains the original short story in addition to five new ones. This is a volume I also enjoy very much. The tales within don’t elicit the same wonder in me as the original story but they are very entertaining and in some ways wrap up the loose ends of the universe. Not only that but David Weber took his short story “Sir George and the Dragon” and expanded it into a novel called The Excalibur Alternative. This I haven’t read.

So, if nothing else I suggest you track down the original short story. It is a good read. I’ll continue dreaming of the day I can be a player in a game based in this universe.


  1. I happen to have a copy of Foreign Legions on my book shelf. I sounds like I need to bump it foward on the ol' "to be read" list.

  2. At least give "Ranks of Bronze" a read. It goes by quickly.