Saturday, May 15, 2021

Books Make Good Miniseries: S.M. Stirling's DRAKA

Once upon a time at DragonCon, author S.M. Stirling said that books typically make good miniseries and short stories make good movies. I'm an administrator of a Facebook group dedicated to his works and recently the possibility of films or TV series based on his notorious Draka series from the late 1980s and early 1990s came up. This set the wheels spinning--I'm inclined to think that each of the three main books would make for a good three-hour TV miniseries.

Marching Through Georgia-This would be based on the first novel and depict the Draka's entrance into this timeline's World War II. While the Draka armies surge into the southern entrances of the Caucasus mountain passes, paratroopers under the command of young officer Eric von Shrakenberg land in the northern entrances to trap the German defenders, accompanied by American reporter William Dreiser. Although Dreiser doesn't like the Draka's practice of large-scale slavery, he is intent on convincing his American audiences to cooperate with them to stop Germany, which has conquered European Russia and is currently enslaving and killing Jews, Russians, and Poles by the millions. Here we can see all the consequences of Generalplan Ost in their horror. 

However, throw in enough about the Draka as the story goes along that we get the creeping realization their winning might be even worse. Through Eric's memories and Dreiser's heavily-regulated visit we see just how horrible life in the Domination is. On leave Eric has to stop two Janissaries (soldiers drawn from the slave population) from raping his driver, millions of slaves are worked to exhaustion in military factories to prepare for the coming war, Dreiser is threatened by a Security Directorate minder who thinks he's going to try to spread sedition among the slaves, and Eric's father Karl tells Dreiser it's in the US's interest to help the Draka stop Germany and Japan from becoming great powers because the alternative to their dividing the world between them (and the Draka enslaving everybody under their control) is Germany, Japan, and the Domination allying against the United States. Draka small-talk reveals even more horrors. For example, Eric's fighter-pilot sister thinks buying a female Russian guerrilla as essentially a concubine would be doing her a favor (the master-slave sexual dynamic encourages a lot of situational lesbianism among Citizen women), other soldiers talk about how "it's a long way to the Atlantic" as though they've planned to conquer their ostensible French allies from the get-go, Dreiser thinks that the Draka view the rump Soviet state in Siberia as a "caretaker" before they take over themselves, and even the "distressingly liberal" Eric advocates the Domination merely "regulate and tax" occupied Europe rather than enslave the entire population and casually discusses sterilizing alcoholics and "retards." 

Ultimately, even though the Nazis are defeated, the Security Directorate assassins sent after Eric for his liberal-minded ways are dealt with, and Dreiser makes arrangements for Russian guerrillas who helped the Draka to be evacuated to the United States, we have a more ominous ending than a happy one. It's been a long time since I've read this book, but the first half could be the everything leading up to a large-scale last-ditch Nazi attack that threatens to destroy Eric and company and relieve the trapped Germans and the second half could be the Nazi attack itself and the aftermath.

Under The Yoke-This one is based on the second book and would be a straight-up horror show, albeit with a slightly happy ending. All the stuff the Germans were doing in Russia and Poland? The victorious Draka are doing it on a somewhat more subtle level from the English Channel to the Pacific Ocean. American secret agent Frederick Kustaa, pretending to be a brain-damaged Draka veteran (i.e. so he doesn't have to imitate their very distinctive accent, spar, dance, etc), is sent in to facilitate the defection of a European nuclear scientist who'd been given Citizenship but soon found he could no longer bear working for the absolutely worst people ever. However, while trying to smuggle the scientist out of Draka-occupied France, he gets involved in the internal politics of a newly-established Draka plantation, including rebellious young Communist Chantal LeFarge who has attracted the attentions (ahem) of both the master and the mistress and Polish nun Marya Sokolowska, a Resistance agent. 

The first half would be everything leading up to Frederick's arrival at the plantation. Frederick's insertion into Finland and helping Finnish rebels fight Draka occupation forces while bachelor Draka officer Andrew von Shrakenberg is unknowingly hunting for him would be a big part; meanwhile you have Marya and Chantal arriving at the plantation and becoming part of the household staff. The second half would be everything that happens after Frederick arrives. The ending features a pregnant Chantal escaping with the American extraction team while Frederick, Marya, and Andrew give their lives to stop a dirty bomb from detonating--for Chantal at least it ends somewhat happily and the other three essentially become martyrs saving thousands of people from death by radiation poisoning.

The Stone Dogs-This one, based on the third book, would be a generational saga like something out of James Mitchener. To tighten it up, I'd start right before the 1970s secession of India from the anti-Draka Alliance for Democracy and the consequent Draka invasion to keep the focus on Frederick and Marya LeFarge (the twin children of Chantal, fathered by a Draka rapist but born free in America who become secret agents), the young Draka officer Yolande Ingolfsson, and the returning Eric as a reformist Draka politician. To tighten it still further, the miniseries could focus on the race for a stalemate-breaking superweapon. The Draka have the titular "Stone Dogs," a bioengineered virus intended to drive the Alliance military insane, while the Alliance has a computer virus that causes Draka military assets to self-destruct when the Domination goes to war footing (and an almost-afterthought sleeper ship The New America in the event of a Draka victory). The first half of the miniseries can end with the cornered Eric forced to launch a nuclear attack on the Alliance when the spiteful Yolande engineers the escape of the enslaved Marya, whom she'd deliberately told about the Stone Dogs. The second half can cover the resulting nuclear war and the peace treaty in which the Draka grant Citizenship to the Alliance survivors on the Moon and beyond (but not on Earth, for more horror) and allow the New America to leave the solar system and establish a colony at Alpha Centauri. It'd be a combination of 2001 (or 2010 since that involves a US-Soviet confrontation) and The Day After.

Drakon-Per Stirling himself, this fourth book would be the one that would work best as an actual movie--I think he compared it to Predator. Only the very beginning and a couple minor scenes take place in the world of the victorious Domination and most of it in modern-day New York City. Basically an accident with wormholes deposits female Homo drakensis (the Draka genetically-engineered themselves into a superhuman master race) Gwendolyn Ingolfsson in our world and she begins building a personal empire with the ultimate goal of bringing in a conquering Draka army. A naval vessel from Samothrace (the colony established by the Alliance exiles) sends cyborg secret agent Kenneth LeFarge through a wormhole after her and the battle is on. Given how the book was written in the late 1990s, maybe make it a 1990s period piece? In an age of smart phones and online videos, concealing the events of the climax would be very difficult, but in the Domination frame-story, it seems only a few people are aware of what really went down.

Hmm...make a Drakon movie first, with the victory of the Domination depicted in flashbacks or something Gwen or Kenneth tell their respective servants/allies? If it does well enough, then go whole-hog on the original trilogy.


  1. The Books have the US with a lot of Gun Control. He even compares it with the Draka who have none for the Draka.
    It would have been better to take the US as still having the Gun Laws as they were when this was written.

    1. I do remember Fred and Marya LeFarge talking about guns, with Marya wondering why any civilian would need the kind of weapons the Draka Citizens carry and Fred (I think) commenting on Reservists keeping their gear at home.

      Given the events of the story "The Last Word," it seems like there were plenty of small arms available to fight the Draka invaders during the Final a point.

      (A German Janissary remarks on how a farmer shot and killed another Janissary, and in retaliation the Draka leveled the town with artillery and aerial bombardment.)

  2. Up until about halfway through the Emberverse, you could have called me a diehard SMS fan. I've read and reread the Drama books along with the original three Nantucket books. My 10th wedding anniversary was on the island, visiting the spots mentioned in the book.

    That being said, I think it would be phenomenally difficult to bring the Drama to even the small screen. Just off the top of my head, I can easily see the twitteratti exclaiming that the serfs are just an attempt to somehow appropriate the victimhood cache of slavery to whites. Av great deal of the serf characters in that trilogy and certainly in Dragon, were white. I disagree wholeheartedly with this take, but it's extremely simple to imagine that being just one of the reactions.

    A much better series universe would be the original Nantucket trilogy. It has a more epic feel to it and, unlike the Drama stories, doesn't require the viewer to know the history of the alternate timeline. Plus, is a much bigger written universe and while I didn't enjoy where the Emberverse went after the rest with the PPA, at all, others did and there's as much or more to work with there than GRRM's unfinished opus.

    1. You'll have to talk with the man himself, but I think there's been some movement about an Emberverse TV series. I vaguely remember something about Island in the Sea of Time as well, but that was awhile ago.

      Quibble--I think your autocorrect is changing "Draka" to "Drama."

    2. And given how people went nuts about the young-adult BLOOD HEIR and how the book supposedly trivialized slavery in the Americas when the author herself (who is Chinese) said it was really about labor trafficking in Asia, I could easily imagine someone saying something like that.

  3. There was a nibble on the DIES THE FIRE series, but that was before the pandemic really hit. Haven't heard from them since.

  4. I thought the REVOLUTION short lived series took a lot from Dies the Fire. Would love to see Conquistador as an HBO series, it's got all the ingredients, think it'd be better than WESTWORLD

    1. On the SM Stirling fan group, a number of people thought REVOLUTION ripped DTF off. And since the show didn't succeed, that makes whether DTF will be adapted anytime soon questionable.

      Haven't read CONQUISTADOR, but that could be interesting.

    2. I think Conquistador would make a great miniseries, probably much less expensive than the Westworld on HBO was, and you could get a true ending, maybe expand the groups that emigrate through the Gate,...Northern Irish Unionists, Newfoundlanders,Middle Eastern Druze,Mancheans,Yazidis,Chritians, maybe Argentine and Brazilian and Venezuelan skilled workers