Book: The Hammer by S. M. Stirling and David Drake

Excellent second book in a science-fictional retelling of the Belisarius story

April 7, 2011

S. M. Stirling and David Drake

The Hammer

Baen, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-72105-4

290 pages (main text)

Out of print; as of this writing inexpensive used copies are readily available

The Hammer is the second novel in the series of novels by S. M. Stirling and David Drake called “The General” but probably more often referred to by the name of the main character, Raj Whitehall. (Here is my review of the first of the series; minor spoilers for it follow.) The setting is science-fictional but the series is inspired by the career of the great Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) general Belisarius. It’s worth noting that Mr Drake also wrote a series of novels based somewhat more closely on Belisarius in collaboration with Eric Flint.  (Reviews of them are at: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.)

The book is set on the planet Bellevue. The planet was originally colonized by space-faring people, but nuclear war reduced everyone to barbarism. By the time the series begins, a few of the civilizations on the planet have re-attained about nineteenth-century technology. The main character, Raj Whitehall, is a soldier in the army of the civilization called the Civil Government and is from a family of minor rural gentry. In the beginning of the first book, he and a friend were exploring the ruined catacombs under the capital city, East Residence. There, a still-functioning artificially intelligent computer chose to reveal itself to them. It did so because it thinks that its guiding Raj’s battles and career is the best chance of restoring civilization to the planet, and perhaps beyond. The religion generally practiced by people in Civil Government areas reveres computers as angels and, while Raj is a practical rather than spiritual sort, he pretty much believes that he is the instrument that an angel has chosen to work through.

In the first book, Raj successfully led a fairly small military operation against a neighboring civilization called the Colony. In this one, he aims to re-take an entire province, the Southern Territories, that was invaded by a barbarian civilization called the Squadron two hundred years earlier.

There’s plenty of excitement, battles, palace intrigue, and there are more than a few memorable characters here. You wouldn’t start the series here, but if you liked the first book, you’ll like this one as well.