The Tragedy of Marius Drake

23 Nov

(I wrote this in response to a review. YMMV)

Fair Warning – there are MASSIVE spoilers in this post. If you haven’t read The Shadow of Cincinnatus, you may want to skip the rest.

One of the most important issues in writing space opera – or having movies/TV shows that are effectively space opera – is that it’s all about the people. Great special effects are fun, but the people are truly important. This is far more important when handling an arc-based show like Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined). A show like Star Trek: The Next Generation is far more forgiving of characters that basically stay the same throughout seven seasons.

Babylon 5 showcases an excellent way to have characters grow and develop – or fall – over four seasons. (I tend to ignore the fifth.) Battlestar Galactica is far weaker in this respect; of all the major characters, only Baltar and Gaeta show any real character development, particularly after midway through season three (when, IMHO, the entire show lurched off the rails.) Gaeta, in particular, is worth observing. He starts as an enthusiastic young officer, bonding in particular with Baltar (on whom I think it’s clear he has a crush), but is rapidly betrayed by his father figures. Colonel Tigh tries to rig the election, Adama lets Starbuck get away with shooting Gaeta in the leg, Baltar betrays all of humanity when the Cylons invade New Caprica and (to add insult to injury) Gaeta is nearly killed for suspected collaboration, by people who don’t know he spied on the collaborators for the resistance.

In the end, it isn’t really surprising that he goes bad. When he sets out to do something good (calling foul on the rigged election) it results in humanity trapped at the mercy of their enemies. Life took a highly-idealistic young man and turned him into a butt-monkey. The mutiny against the fleet’s leadership – the only episodes of season four worth watching, was largely inevitable.

In many ways, Marius Drake has a similar problem.

Drake is a career military officer. He was a midshipman during the Blue Star War (70 years prior to BATG) and spent that time working his way up the chain of command. He doesn’t have any real experience of life outside the military, nor does he have any real sympathy for civilians. How can he?

Drake is a strong believer in the ideals of the Federation. He knows that individuals can be corrupt, but puts a great deal of faith in the Federation itself. Unlike politicians, Drake’s seen enough of life at the sharp end to know that relaxing and granting rights to aliens (there is a strong streak of xeno-racism in his makeup) is likely to end in disaster. To Drake, Justinian and his fellow warlords are traitors, because they cannot help, but weaken the Federation. Drake would not have considered overthrowing the government himself because it would have weakened the Federation. He took that oath seriously!

Drake, finally, is a believer in the ideals of the military. He might not expect people to obey orders unquestioningly, but he does expect them to obey orders. The military is a hierarchical organisation and Drake, as of BATG, is very near the top. Drake believes in being loyal to his subordinates and expects loyalty from them in return.

By the end of BATG, several things have gone wrong.

Drake was nearly killed by Blake, his aide, at the orders of the Grand Senate. This was an absolute betrayal, all the more so as Drake’s best friend was killed saving his life. (This had the unfortunate side effect of removing one of the few people who could argue with Drake as a friend, as well as a comrade.) Drake’s faith in the civilian government, already weakened by the discovery that his surrender terms had been repudiated, snapped. He led his fleet back to Earth, overthrew the Grand Senate and took power. (And executed most of the Grand Senators personally.)

Personally, I wrote that scene as the moment where Drake loses his own moral compass.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t end the story. Drake finds himself inheriting a mess, a mess he cannot solve with the tools at his disposal. He’s used to thinking in terms of military operations, not fixing a badly-weakened economy. (This is why most military governments, no matter how popular at Day One, tend to develop problems with remarkable speed.) The idea of weakening the Federation, of loosening control, is inconceivable to him. Drake has no illusions about the Federation’s (lack of) popularity. To surrender control, to let the economy breathe, would start a chain of events that would eventually tear the Federation apart.

And then the Outsiders attack.

Drake finds himself in the same position as Stalin, 1941. He needs to organise the Federation for war against treacherous rebels, despite the Federation’s economic weakness. Surrender is not an option. This is a man raised to believe that aliens are ready to stab the human race in the back at the first sign of weakness, facing a human faction that – horror of horrors – has allied itself with a pair of alien races. He views the Outsiders with as much enthusiasm as Stalin would view a Ukrainian Freedom Fighter who allied himself with Nazi Germany, complete with planned Final Solution for Russia’s teeming masses. (This might not, of course, be a logical view. But emotions are rarely logical.) By the time TSOC reaches its climax, he’s prepared to do anything to hammer the Outsiders so hard they never recover.

Now, if you don’t think someone would snap under that kind of pressure, I have a lovely white house in the centre of Washington to sell you <grin>.

This happens quite a bit, if you start out with strong moral principles. You compromise them, slightly. And then you compromise them again, slightly more. And again, and again, and again, until you can no longer tell right from wrong, or reach the point where you can justify anything to yourself, and keep telling yourself you’re doing the right thing when you jumped off the slippery slope a long time ago.

Drake’s real tragedy is this – the problems facing the Federation, the problems caused by over a century of mismanagement, are largely impossible to solve with the tools he is willing to use. Unfortunately, this is true of far too many military officers who take power by force.

Why didn’t this happen to Cincinnatus? His problem was much – much – smaller.

YMMV, of course.

17 Responses to “The Tragedy of Marius Drake”

  1. johntae71 November 24, 2014 at 3:40 am #

    Diocletian may have been a better example

    • Barb Caffrey November 24, 2014 at 8:36 am #

      I was thinking about Diocletian, also. Diocletian did so well at re-establishing power, and then after that he kind of lost his way. I’ve always wondered what would’ve happened if Diocletian had been able to stay with his initial impulses…

      As for Marius Drake, the only mitigating factor he now has as I understand it is his wife. She is the humanizing factor he needs. But she lacks some life experiences that his best friend had, plus she can’t speak to him in plain language because that’s not how she, herself, communicates.

      I’ll be interested to see what you do with Book 3.

      • Barb Caffrey November 24, 2014 at 8:40 am #

        BTW, what I was referring to about Diocletian in particular was the whole idea of the “Rule of Four.” If he had stayed with that rather than tried to micromanage everything, he would’ve been better off. (And really, he needed not to interfere in Christianity. He should’ve said “each to his/her own god” and left it alone. I think he probably listened to some church elders he shouldn’t have, and his own sympathies were with the Gods/Goddesses he knew, but research is conflicting in that regard IIRC.)

      • chrishanger November 24, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

        I don’t think any of the Roman Emperors could have set up a stable state .


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      • Barb Caffrey November 26, 2014 at 8:09 am #

        I don’t think so either. But it was a noble effort in the best senses of the word…I think egos would have to be exactly balanced to make a four-fold ruling enterprise work in any country, and I can’t imagine how such a thing would be done. (Maybe that’s a story you can tell down the line, if you can figure out how?)

      • chrishanger November 27, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

        I can’t see it working at all, to be honest. You’d need a very compelling reason to stop them from plotting against one another, either through a lust for supreme power or a (probably justified) fear that the others are plotting too. Short of magic oaths, I can’t see it working. Chris Date: Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:10:01 +0000 To:

      • Barb Caffrey November 28, 2014 at 4:02 am #

        True. Historians, even the best of them, don’t truly understand why Diocletian set up that particular system. I think he had good motives, but as you said, it would be impossible to keep all of them from plotting — especially considering the nature of the times.

        He’s an interesting person to study, Diocletian…did many things right, and many things that seem completely incomprehensible.

      • chrishanger November 28, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

        I think – obviously, I don’t know – that the Emperor wanted to have an ‘emperor’ near any potential trouble spots. After Nero, the Court tended to be where the Emperor was at any given moment (even Augustus had to move around a lot) and trouble in one part of the empire could lead to trouble in another, when the Emperor’s back was turned. Four Emperors, two junior to the others, was a recipe for disaster, though. Like most balancing acts, it relied upon all four keeping the balance.

        A triumvite might have worked. Two could have crushed a third if he got out of hand. Perhaps, if Lepidus had been more of a personality, Augustus and Mark Antony wouldn’t have fallen out so badly.


        Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2014 04:02:36 +0000 To:

      • chrishanger November 24, 2014 at 8:49 pm #

        That’s true.

        That said, Marius has much more in common with Mark Antony or Sulla than Augustus.


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      • Barb Caffrey November 26, 2014 at 8:08 am #

        Yeah, I don’t see Augustus in him at all. Sulla — perhaps. Marc Antony — in the tragic elements? Absolutely.

  2. G Cheal November 24, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    I don’t know if I am entitled to post on this topic as I have not read this novel yet, it’s my next book to read and I have not read your full response as I don’t want to have spoilers mess it up … I have read the review however. Rather harsh I feel.
    Unless you have had a major malfunction, I don’t see how you could have messed up with character depth and evolvement as this is certainly a strong point of yours. I note the critic slates the lack of explanation or depth to the battle scenes…I actually like that sometimes as some authors concentrate so much on techno babble and science bulls#’t that the story suffers.
    I am incensed on your behalf at her accusation of racism and lack of knowledge of Islam. There is absolutely no racism in your novels, as a person who professionally investigates such claims I despise when such things are bandied round with no basis in truth. Your novels are not based in near future and as such the way religions are portrayed can be what the hell you want. Look how Christianity has changed over the last few hundred years and all the different interpretations of that. With Islam, there are also such diverse groups in our world. You write FICTION. I think all your readers need to remember this. Maybe you should write a disclaimer at the start telling people it’s fiction so balls to anyone trying to draw comparisons to anything 😉

  3. David P. Graf November 24, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    I was appalled to read the one star reviews on Amazon. In my opinion, they missed the boat and so I posted the following review instead.

    Nuttall goes beyond the stereotypes of military science fiction (MSF) in this book and as you can tell from the reviews that has turned off some people. That’s unfortunate because Nuttall gives us a far more believable portrayal of how people act in difficult circumstances. Lord Acton was right when he wrote about how power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. There’s an interesting contrast with Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium series in which he ends it with the naming of an Imperator. You never read what happened afterwards and how Lysander turned out. I think there’s a reason for that and it’s the same reason that a number of reviewers gave this book a single star. Simply put, it would be a bummer as you saw Lysander and his allies turn into despots and grind down the hopes of their people.

    There is a certain naivety among many MSF fans about how a strong leader can turn everything around. Perhaps, some identify with characters like that in books. However, that’s not how life works in the real world. An empire can exist for centuries if it retains sufficient military force but an empire has never been friendly to freedom. If you like books that just give you more of the same, then skip this book. You aren’t going to enjoy it. If you like books that go beyond stereotypes and get you to think and give you something worth reading, then by all means buy this book.

  4. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard November 24, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    Chris, I read “that” review and posted a review myself in response.

    By the way, have you considered putting Doubledealer up in the Amazon store?

    I wonder what that reviewer would think about your portrayal of Muslims after reading that story.

    After all, your hero in that book was Muslim. [Very Big Grin]

  5. terry November 26, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Not to worry, Chris…it was an excellent, thought provoking book as all your books usually are. SF fans are not used to seeing a “good guy” go bad…we all want happy endings. But as in life, that’s not the way it always works.

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