‘Ranks Of Bronze’ by David Drake
Can you set a space opera entirely within a sword and sandal Roman legion battle? No, obviously not. In an inversion of the previous story, here we have a story that is the genesis of a space opera novel but not itself space opera. For some reason, science fiction writers love Rome (although they have little interest in Italy) and here Drake provides a conclusion for Horace’s ‘Roman Odes’ in which Crassus’s lost legion turn out to have been press-ganged by aliens to serve as inter-galactic mercenaries.
H&C make much of the fact that this all occurs in a vacuum. “This is military SF with the contemporary politics stripped off, and removed from the level of policy decisions… There is no access to those who make policy in Drake’s military fiction. All in all it is a fairly dark vision of human life.” This is completely wrong. ‘Ranks Of Bronze’ isn’t dark at all, a band of noble, decent Romans put the anonymously massed Johnny Otherworlder to the blade for their contemptible alien commander. Jettisoning “policy” means jettisoning any context or nuance; war is turned to sport.