What I now think was going on in the early ’70s is this. Jerry, Joe, and I were similar in one important fashion: we’d all been at the sharp end of war (Korea in Jerry’s case, Viet Nam for Joe and me). Our work therefore shared a sort of realism which Kuttner, Dickson, and Heinlein lacked (for all their enormous strength as writers).
At that point we diverged. Jerry was writing something not greatly different in theme from the Military SF of past decades. His soldiers were saving civilization from the barbarians, despite the scorn and disgust with which they were regarded by many of the civilians whom they preserved. At the time (remember, the Vietnam War was still going on), the conservative
Joe’s stories focused on confusion, hopelessness, and mutual distrust at every level of society, particularly within the military itself. They were a reflection of what he saw in Viet Nam and during the ’60s more generally. In the context of this essay it’s important to note that Joe is one of the finest prose writers of his (our) generation. His choice to write for
In my case,
That’s exactly what the 11th ACR had done to Snuol, Cambodia, in April of 1970. The only fiction in the background is that Snuol was a pretty ordinary market town rather than a unique ancient site; but if the NVA’d had their headquarters in Angkor Wat, our tanks would’ve gone through the same way they did at Snuol.
Clearly Hammer’s Slammers weren’t saving civilization. Neither were they hopeless, alienated people: they were individually good at their jobs, and they trusted the other members of their unit implicitly. It’s also important that I do not and certainly did not deserve the critical respect that’s rightly accorded to Joe. I fell between two stools, and I wasn’t a polished enough craftsman to build a place for myself.