10 March 2006

The Dance of Time

The link takes you to the Amazon page for the last book in the Belisarius Series.

I would normally have read a book like this in a couple of hours, perhaps a bit more, just a couple of short years ago. I do want to finish this book and this series... my attention wanders and I lose trains of thought far too easily...

I started today... got to page 3 before my attention went otherwhere. And mind you, page 1 started on the last third of the page...

And so I nibble... and will continue to do so... I *can* salami slice an opponent as long as there is an end to them... and a book is *finite*.

Strange that I can write at length and seemingly make sense. Until I try to *read* what I write. Then all goes out the window.

If you like Alt-History, enjoy engaging ideas, love military alternatives, want characters who are gritty and feel 'real', and want to experience what it might have been like to life in the era of the craftiest military mind on the planet, then this series is for you. History will get bent and twisted, but yet remain whole throughout although diverted. The world of Byzantium and Justinian will come forth, even as it is shattered. And you will see a joining of the Eastern Roman Empire and Axum and Persia... along with a unification of Christianity, which was most disorderly at that time. Just don't expect anything to turn out the way you think it will!

A man who thinks on a slant and around corners will always surprise you, as you see the deep method to his seeming madness. And as he turns out to be the most compassionate man around, even has he goes into battle again and again. Better some harshness now, than the boot forever on the neck of mankind.

I may update this as I go... let me just say that when one says that the rule of the Mongols is more merciful than that of your opponent... the tone is set very, very, very early on.

11 MAR 2006 - Update

About page 10... through the thumbnailchip summary opening and beginning with a lost cause holdout siege...

One of the most interesting parts of this entire story arc is that once given a chapter and verse of the next few thousand years, Belisarius quickly absorbs the reality of his situation. Work done in the earliest book point to the things that will forever mold this timeline...

Consider those that have positions of respect around him due to his judgement of their characters:

1) His wife - Leader of the first civilian part of his army using new weapons. These weapons require split second timing and uses husband and wife teams to do so. No commoner would trust anyone so well with that decision. They become Granadiers: those that fling lit grenades that explode. Cut the wick to short and both die as well as others, cut it too long and it can be flung back... cut it *just right*... They bring families on campaign and start to change the way armies are run, for no soldier starts strife against his comrade or his wife. Lest you find the lit fuse when you awaken... And his wife will do as he did in our world, and put down the revolt, save that she will be far, far more ruthless than Belisarius could ever be, and wield a bloody hatchet against those that think the wife of Belisarius is easy prey. Woe betide her enemies.

2) A religious man, but basically outcast - He has strange ideas about how things *work* and speaks up on them. Living in Rhodes he is given the work of figuring out gunpowder, explosives, propellants, ship design, greek fire... all needing large scale production from artisan's shops. He knows the tools and methods and means and availability of such, and it was that spirit of inquiry that got him sent away by the church. From him will come an array of things, based on the description of Belisarius and some basic formulaic outlines... from there he experiments, tinkers, invents... and makes ready new things as best he can, so the shops of Alexandria become the armory of the Empire.

3) Another holy man, well thought of by the commoner, but a bit of an anathema to the church as he preaches reformation... he catches a glimpse of the future under tyrrany and sees hellfire... and when Belisarius asks him if he can find followers willing to take up arms to bring some peace and reformation to the church... he agrees so long as swords are not used... and to that Belisarius smiles deeply... and so the Quarterstave armed Knights Hospitaler are formed and trained and taught to operate as a whole unit... and when set against the thieving, vagabond monks in Alexandria... the church will *indeed* be reformed.

4) The nation of Axum - Christian though of a different creed and more ancient lineage via their precious holdings (of which are not spoken but implied). A loyal and fierce and proud people slowly giving way to decreases in trade and commerce as Rome frays and Persia does not sustain. These two parts of Christianity will join with the newly reformed Alexandrian and start to become something more different than we have in our line of time. Diverse and proud, yet at the same time humble and forgiving... and this will spread through the deserts of Arabia and still the change of the next generation there.

5) Freed slaves captured in battle, who agree to fight for this crazy man and then be given their freedom as is the right of those captured thusly. And Belisarius does so, and when they seek to leave he re-arms them thoroughly, re-supplies them and gives them honor. They know this General and his trust in them to do what is right. Free their people from tyrrany and do what is right... and they suspect they are being pressed into service, but a much, much more agreeable sort, although they cannot figure out *how*...

We find valor and honor amongst all sorts of people: a baker's son, a nobleman given a dead-end job that suddenly shows talent in ways of logistics and manuever and supply, sons and daughters who join various new forces, and hardened veterans who *must* learn that a stirrup changes how a horse is used. With Justinian fallen, but not dead, the adopted son of Belisarius will rule and with the help of the Emporer and Empress to do so wisely. And She runs a spy network that would put the CIA to shame... while sightless Justinian is given a glimpse of his future and would cry in sorrow, save he has no tears. He will do something far greater than building a cathedral... he will give order and sense and reformulate Roman law so that it applies to *everyone* and is JUST. He seeks to earn his name... and be known as the giver of fair laws, and add his insights into a few things he thinks needs be done militarily, to the bemusement of Belisarius.

And through this it is one man who seeks to save the succeeding generations and lay the foundation of a free future.

When a young nobleman who leads the forlorn garrison realizes this, he says:

"He used us, you know. As cold blooded as a reptile."

And the veteran with him responds:

"Aye, lad. He did. The General will use anyone, if he feels it necessary."

The young man nods, not in anger, just in having his thoughts acknowledged. He is needed there, even if it be his death.

[13 MAR 2006] Up to about page 25. The things that Belisarius set about very early on are now bearing transformative fruit back in the Empire. Dispatches from the front, sent by telegraph, are not only read by the Emporer, but read to the Senate and then printed (such a slight reference way back when in the early books! lovely!) and distributed across the Empire and Persia and Axum. These little things have changed the way the soldiers view themselves and they realize they fight not only for the Empire, but for their families and to protect them.

In the Hindu Kush the first stiffening of that Kingdom is happening and slowly being transformed. It will take generations, but by introducing Buddhism and literacy amongst boys and girls, boys are being attracted to it... because the girls are there. And both are learning.... still, generation to a literate society, but it has *started*. And using techniques that Belisarius told about and that fit with the people, the new King with the spy mistress of Theodora will give rise to a mighty nation between India and Persia, but threatens neither and will extend into the heart of Asia itself in the future.

With the Malwa in retreat northwards from the South and under attack from the Romans, Persians and Axumites in the Indus, they are becoming hard pressed. And even a cyborg knows that the human will to fight amongst continual defeats goes only so far. And the skirmishes continue... and the nature of the war changes...

[16 MAR 2006] Up to page 70. Travel and setting language makes reading a bit easier, as there are no new areas coming up so far, the need to set the stage is already done. I would think that in a chapter or two when things are well and truly moving that will change.

A nice sub-plot on the high esteem of the blinded Calopodius, especially when his young wife that he left behind comes seeking him along the trail of what Belisarius has left behind for consolidation. The Empire and Persia and Axum are being knit together in very interesting ways.

Belisarius' wife was left the decision of the succession in Axum and will *finally* make a decision, lo after many months of thought. Maybe. With a little luck. But she has had it with waiting and will rejoin him no matter what... so the decision will be made.

Justinian, while a cruel and clever ruler is no strategist and rails at Belisarius for stalling the offensive. The man has not learned patience in his blindness, but has become one of the great describers of new craft for the Empire and is still setting the laws aright. Now if only he didn't feel he had to be at the front... but such is Justinian when he has realized the wrongs he would do in his life and is seeking to make amends for that life that will never be.

Narses the traitor is still playing a deep game and is designing further treachery against his new friends the Malwa. Of course they don't trust traitors overmuch and him even less. Such a lovely man, that eunuch. But no matter what he does there is a little voice that reminds him that Belisarius is using even *him*. He just cannot figure out how...

Anastasius and Valentinian still guard Lord Damodara's family, who were kidnapped via Narses. Of course that Lord has figured things out, but knows he is in a deadly position for any general that is too effective for the Malwa tends to end up dead. And so when he and Narses sit down to come to an arrangement, he finds he has been thoroughly arranged... he had thought to stage a rebellion against the Malwa, while Narses points out that he has had Damodara's lineage traced and such a thing would just be a *restoration* of the proper ruling line. He had thought to stage a provincial rebellion and work upwards... but the assassin guarding Narses points out that he must think like an assassin, not a torturer.

"If it twer be done, best be done quickly." As the Bard has said and so it is ever true. No one has ever criticized a fighter for fighting TOO quickly.

So, 10-12 pages a day, but taking out the overhead of scene settting for those poor, unfortunates just *now* getting a book in the series, that works pretty far downwards. Large print, double spaced and hardcover. Taken all in all about as I expected. But such a lovely, twisting story.

[UPDATE 22 MAR 2006] Some slower going as I have had to recall who plots what against whom and how. This is the Frank Herbert's: 'Wheels within wheels within wheels, until life and death be intertwined so that they can not be told apart.' I paraphrase from memory, but that is one of the grand things of this series, the intertwining of ideas and plots and characters... when the unpredictable is predicted and the predicted unpredictable.

These two authors give something that is rarely seen in SF, and that is the deep feeling of connection by the purely human goings on within the stories. A Young Prince in India kept in captivity or at least off the playing board, needing to learn combat by a Roman who had stood toe to toe with the best fighter in all of India for hours until being defeated. And he finally learns that he can *never* be his father nor any other, but must be the best that he can be so as to be different and, perhaps, better. A hard lesson to learn for a stripling Prince.

On the flip side is the lovely story of Anna, wife of Calapodius the Blind. He left her early after their marriage (an arrangement between her older socially elite family and his more wealthy and seeking better status family). So not of love but understanding between them, and he left to join Belisarius and seek glory. And now as chronicler of the Army his dispatches have moved his wife to come to him... for reasons she could not name. And as she traveled bringing along her knowledge from old books and the writings of Irene on the Talisman of God and its knowledge, she comes upon a city that had been taken by Belisarius and is now just a supply and transfer link. There she sees, in horror, how the hospital is run and has the knowledge that it should be done *better*. Well, her husband is now very rich and is widely known, and when she realizes both she puts knowledge to use after hiring some men who had served under Belisarius and who had left with his blessing as their time had been served. They realized that being her bodyguard would bring them back to the Army and the chance at the riches of a defeated Malwa Empire. Little did they know they would be the enforcers of hospital sanitary regulations! And as word of what she does rolls up to the front via telegraph Belisarius puts it all together immediately.

This woman will be changing the entire hospital service. He knows her family and fortunes therein and *any* wife with the determination to reach her husband at the very front of a war will also see to righting wrongs that are within her grasp to do so. Of course she is allowed to head towards the war... and the word of the Wife of the Blind Chronicler begins to spread outwards and further and farther. And she knows that her dreams of a secluded life were dashed when her husband went to war and now forever gone... as she has truly found her calling. And as she gets to a stop she TELLS her husband to get the Talisman texts translated into Persian and get their hospitals into shape.

The Belisarius response is simple: Do it. I will work out the nicities with the Emperor of Persia.

And as she gets to native hospitals and tells him to get the text translated to their language, he sends back that they have no written language nor alphabet and it cannot be done.


Belisarius looks out and muses: You had best get started on it, she will be arriving soon.

And his grim and practical second rejoins: Like a tidal bore.

Yes, finding one's calling, once known and accepted is a power and responsibility in and of itself. And that is the driving imperative of saving the race from perfect enslavement: giving each their chance to find their better natures, to make the world somewhat better for all.

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