The past 30 years have seen a proliferation of fantasy based on Celtic myths, legends, society and history crowding the shelves of science fiction bookshops. As a quondam classicist, I wondered if there was similar fiction using Ancient Rome and its history, legends and society.
What follows is based on chiefly on my own collection. There are no bibliographies, as far as I know, to guide one in this area. What I have found is by pure serendipity - scanning shelves of new and secondhand SF or fantasy books in shops and bookfairs. Thus it is doubtless very incomplete. All additions and suggestions would be most welcome. Email me at email@example.com. . For those who want to know where to get these, try Amazon (either http://www.amazon.com/gp/homepage.html or www.amazon.co.uk for new and secondhand), Alibris (www.alibris.com for secondhand books) or Books and Collectibles (www.booksandcollectibles.com.au another portal to secondhand bookshops like Alibris)
The bibliography is also rather idiosyncratic in that I don't review all books in a series or set I have found to be lacking. Life is too short to waste on bad books. However, I have listed the titles even if I haven't reviewed them.
To be eligible for inclusion, a work should be about Ancient Rome or Romans involved in some fantastic element, either of the SF genres of time travel, alternate history, parallel worlds; or the fantasy of faeries, ghosts, vampires or magical lands.
"Ancient Rome", for the most part, refers here to the period of roughly 200 BC to 300 AD when Rome was recognisably Rome, and not to the late Empire/Dark Ages. There are exceptions, of course, such as the inclusion of L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall (set in the 6th century). A bibliography such as this would not be complete without this classic, perhaps the grand-daddy of such stories.
The bibliography is divided into four parts.
This includes critical commentary, usually to note the Roman element, and some evaluation of historicity and readability.
Only the plot summary is given as critical commentary seems a little redundant here. The name of the anthology in which the story is found follows the title in italics. A surname in brackets indicates the editor of that anthology. If no name follows, it means the anthology is a collection of the author’s own works.
This means I have found references to likely books but have not actually seen them.
Here are listed novels I consider to be out of scope for this bibliography. They fall mainly into two types. The first is what I call the "proto-Arthurian". This includes stories set at the very end of the Roman occupation of Britain, usually when the legions have departed, and involves characters who will become Arthur’s parents, teachers, swordmakers, etc. The point is that such stories are set very late and not in the high Roman period and that they are more concerned with the Arthurian mythos than the Romans.
The second type is a curious hybrid, the "Romans-in-modern-dress". Tom Holland’s Attis is an example, wherein he retells the story of Catullus, Clodia and their circle but it is very plain that his Rome is post-Thatcher London with his characters driving about in cars and living a modern lifestyle, yet with no explanation as to why this is so. Similar is Kel Richard’s series involving private investigator, Ben Bartholomew, set in Palestine of the 1st Century AD where Romans drive Fiats and eat pizza. Stuart Jackman’s Death Wish is another of this type. Since there are no SF trappings such as alternate worlds attached to this type, it is excluded. For the similar reasons I have excluded Stephen Baxter's Emperor. Although his Time's Tapestry trilogy is touted as alternative history, it isn't really until the third book, and then only slightly. This first book is, to all and intents and purposes, a straight historical novel set across various time periods during the Roman Empire.
A third type has recently appeared. This is a sort is more usually met with in historical Japanese novels in that it is set in a kind of analogue of a particular historical period where the events follow roughly those of that period but feature completely original characters as the movers and shakers of the era who may or may not have a passing resemblance to actual historical characters. Examples of such Japanese historicals include Robert Shea's Shike series, Liam Hearn's Tales of the Otori, Ruth Manley's Plum Rain Scroll/Dragon Stone/Peone Lantern trilogy, James Clavell's Shogun and Jessica Amanda Salmonson's Tomoe Gozen series. The first such Roman I've come across is Jack Ludlow's Republic series (Pillars of Rome, Sword of Revenge and Gods of War).
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Alexander, Lloyd, The Time Cat. New York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1963.
A young boy, Jason, has a magical cat called Gareth, or rather Gareth reveals to him that all cats have the ability to travel back to earlier times and offers to take him with him. Each chapter deals with one life/time period beginning with Egypt in 2700 BC and ending with America in 1775. Along the way the pair visit Rome in 55 BC where they encounter two soldiers about to embark for Gaul who take them along as they want Gareth as their company mascot. However, the pair are separated from their new friends during Caesar’s first invasion of Britain. They are captured by a Celtic family but with Gareth’s skills as a mouser soon improve their lot.
Like Alexander’s other books, this is lively and well written with humour. And like his other books, it depicts the lessons needed to be learnt in order to grow up.
Asprin, Robert & Evans, Linda, Time Scout. New York, Baen, 1995.
A disaster, referred to as the Accident, has ripped apart much of Earth and created a series of gates which enable travel into the past. Those people who explore these, see where they go and if they are stable, are called Time Scouts. On Time Terminal 86, a young girl arrives, desperately wanting famous Time Scout, "Kit" Carson to train her as the first woman Time Scout, and all within six months. An ex-scout now freelance tour guide specialising in Ancient Rome takes her to Rome of 47 AD (two chapters out of twenty). Another character on TT86 is a former Roman slave named Marcus.
The Rome segment has some colourful street scenes, e.g. a procession of Attis, a trip to Ostia and a chariot race and for once the gladiatorial games are given short shrift. However, there are some eyebrow-raising statements such as that the firefighters were privately controlled and intended to make a profit (by 47 AD such groups had long been replaced by the vigiles); and that women often appeared as barristers (while some did in the 1st Century BC, they had been banned from the courts by this time). Apart from these glitches, it is an entertaining book with a heroine who grows and develops plus some lively characters.
Asprin, Robert & Evans, Linda, Wagers of Sin. New York, Baen, 1996.
Set a few months after Time Scout, this book takes up the story of conman, Skeeter Jackson, who had appeared briefly in the earlier novel. It also tells us more about Marcus, the former slave who is now a major character while "Kit" Carson and co. move into the background. After a trip to Ancient Rome in which he fleeces a gladiator, Skeeter makes a wager with another con artist as to who can make the most money, the loser to be kicked off TT86. Meantime, the gladiator has come through the gate after Skeeter’s blood and Marcus’s last master turns up, a non-Roman involved in art theft. All this involves Skeeter in a return trip to Rome to try to save Marcus and a chance to show what lies beneath his glib conman exterior.
A good escapist read, if a trifle adolescent at times (the male reaction to Margo - as if the sex is driven at all times by its hormones - is rather schoolboyish and has worn thin this second time around). The segments in Rome are well handled, even the obligatory gladiatorial sequence.
Barnes, John, Caesar’s Bicycle. New York, HarperPrism, 1997. (Timeline Wars #3)
There are many parallel universes with as many Earths, each slightly different. Travel between them is possible but dangerous as crossing attracts the rapacious Closers (technologically advanced people descended from Carthaginians) to invade, conquer and enforce conformity. ATN, headed by futuristic Athenians, send their agents across time and dimensions to aid such worlds. In this novel, agent Mark Strang, his wife Chrysamen and ward, Porter, are rescued from a Closer attack by an airship from a Rome where the Republic never fell and which is technologically far in advance of ATN. Strang, it seems, was the one who assassinated Julius Caesar in their past and thus saved the Republic. Strang is naturally reluctant to do this but he and his companions are sent back to 49 BC where they find an earlier ATN agent has been at work – Caesar’s and Pompey’s legions ride bicycles, use muskets, rockets, cannon, airships while retaining traditional dress and lifestyle. Caesar has a Closer agent working with him until he decides Strang is more use and arranges a fight to the death between the two (Obligatory Gladiator Scene). He also shows a keen interest in ATN and the Closer wars, offering to make his timeline advance as rapidly as possible to be of assistance, once Pompey and Crassus (who is still alive) surrender to him and reform the triumvirate.
This is part of a series but enough background is given to enable one to follow it if one hasn’t read the earlier novels. Written in a sort of hard-boiled adolescent style where all the women are stunners (the constant reminding of the reader how beautiful Chrysamen is gets wearing after a while) it moves at a good pace and provides some fun images (a whole legion moving forward on bicycles, for example) and an interesting ‘what might have happened’ if some modern technology had been introduced at this point in Rome’s history, given the Roman character. Caesar is portrayed rather unsympathetically but probably pretty realistically – the sharp intelligence, the ego, the arbitrary cruelty, the magnanimity, the charm. Pompey comes off as somewhat more pleasant but in his afterword Barnes makes it quite clear he thinks that when the Republic fell the Romans merely exchanged one set of masters for another, that those who came after were no better than the short-sighted, greedy, power-grabbing senatorial families. There are a couple of glitches – the Aurelian Wall wasn’t built until several hundred years after Caesar’s time while a century had 60 men, not 100.
Bauer, Sabine C., Trial By Fire. Surbiton, Fandemonium, 2004 (Stargate SG-1 #1)
Daniel Jackson discovers a tomb in New Mexico which looks Carthaginian and contains a the 'Earth' glyph among the carvings. Further research leads him to Tunisia, Professor Kelly and a dig with more glyphs which make up an unknown Stargate address. SG-1 plus Kelly (who is an expert on Punic culture) use it to gate to a city, Tyros, populated by descendants of the Phoenicians. The Tyreans want SG-1's help in their war with the ruthless Phrygians, after their leader is killed on a mission of peace to their enemies. The team is offered hospitality by one of the Tyreans but Kelly and Jack O'Neill separately go and check out the temple of Meleq where a number of the city's children were taken in ceremonial procession. There they are captured by a group of 'Phrygians' who turn out to be Romans, identified as such by Kelly because they speak Latin and their sword is the gladius. They deny killing the priest and slaughtering everyone on a Tyrean ship, in fact come across a reasonable not bloodthirsty. It is apparent that more is going on with the Tyreans than was first apparent and the Romans do not approve of their practice of human sacrifice.
This is a swift moving adventure with plenty of humour in Professor Kelly's tart reactions to just about everyone and Jack's culture shock with the Romans and being initiated into the cult of Mithras. The Romans are well drawn, even if they wear Phrygian dress as much as they wear togas.
Borchardt, Alice, Night of the Wolf. New York, Ballantine, 1999
Maeniel is a wolf in 1st century BC Gaul who has the ability to transform into a human. In human form he meets and loves a Gaulish woman, Imona, who is killed in a Celtic ritual after losing her family in a Roman massacre. Maeniel decides to take vengeance on those responsible which leads the Druid Mir to engage a British warrior woman, Dryas, to destroy him. Dryas attracts the attention of visiting Roman woman, Fulvia (NB not the wife of P. Clodius Pulcher and later Mark Antony) who wants her as a novelty in the arena, a female gladiator. Dryas isn’t interested in that but does intend going to Rome to kill Julius Caesar who was responsible for the death of her son in Britain years before the events of the novel. Meantime, back in Rome Fulvia’s brother, wounded in the attack on Imora’s family, becomes involved in a plot on Caesar’s life while Fulvia schemes to advance herself and take control of the family fortune.
Frankly, I found this novel pretty indigestible and managed to read about 300 pages of its 434 before giving up. There were two main problems: the style and the complete lack of feeling and understanding of the ancient Romans. There is no sense of pace, structure or dramatic tension. Where you’d expect a cat-and-mouse game between Maeniel and Dryas as she stalks him, there is none. Dryas goes out declaring she’ll kill Maeniel as required and, apart from some vague mystic mumbo-jumbo in the forest, she disappears from the action for several chapters. Some of the language is awkward, employing anachronistic expressions (how could a wolf, a contemporary of Julius Caesar’s, look on a landscape and liken it to corduroy?) . This sort of thing destroys the mood and feel of another time and place. Borchardt seems to think you can aspire to literary heights by piling on the descriptions of fruit and vegetation in gorgeous language. Effective at first, it soon becomes wearisome especially as some of the fruits were not even grown in southern Europe at that time, and when there is little else to support such flights of rhetoric. Clark Ashton Smith she is not.
The characters are flat and uninvolving. Maeniel is probably the most interesting but the others are one dimensional and, in the case of some historical characters, overdrawn. Julius Caesar is a caricature and it is obvious Borchardt knows little about him (I doubt he’d have been very pleased to be given his own private arena when we know gladiatorial combats bored him sockless). Cleopatra is a silly Hollywood bimbo and neither Mark Antony or the others ring true. Fulvia is just too bad and her brother Lucius is colourless. You know you are in trouble when you finally work out their family name is ‘Basilion’. What sort of a Roman name is that? If she is Fulvia, you’d expect (in the Republic at least) her brother would be Lucius Fulvius.
It would be tedious to list all the anachronisms and booboos: Romans with lace handkerchiefs and velvet drapes on their walls, a garden in front of the Curia are some of the most egregious. As noted above, they all combine to destroy any sense of time or place.
In amongst all the verbiage there is a potentially interesting story struggling to get out. This would be about the aftermath of the conquest of Gaul (a subject not often tackled unlike the actual conquest) with Maeniel as the focus and his loss of his ‘wolf-hood’ being echoed by the Celts’ loss of their independence and lifestyle.
Bulis, Christopher, State of Change. London, Virgin, 1994.
One of Virgin’s Dr. Who Missing Adventures series, this one involves the Sixth Doctor and Peri who find themselves in a Rome where Anthony and Cleopatra won the Battle of Actium and the empire is divided between her children. What is really odd is that the Romans have technology they should not have - steamships, radio, electricity and telescopes, to name a few. Cleopatra is dead and her three children are plotting against each other: Cleopatra Selene in Egypt, Ptolemy Caesarion and Alexander Helios in Rome. The Doctor suspects alien intervention but even more surprises are in store as the true nature of this world is revealed.
An interesting and well worked out ‘what-if’ with a nice lot of detail and an unexpected twist. Some of the lines are pricelessly apt. "Egypt might have larger airships but Selene would learn that Rome had the louder public address system." But of course.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice, Tarzan and the Lost Empire. New York, Ballantine, 1963.(Originally published 1928-1929).
Erich von Hahn, the son of an old friend of Tarzan’s has disappeared in a mysterious valley. There Tarzan discovers two surviving outposts of Ancient Rome who are at war with each other and refuse to believe he comes from the outside. He is captured and taken to one, Castra Sanguinarius while von Hahn has been taken to the other, Castrum Mare. Castra Sanguinarius was founded by one Sanguinarius and his cohort who had left Egypt in 98 AD to avoid his enemy, the Emperor Nerva. Castrum Mare was founded by a rebel a century later. Since then, the two have had no contact with the outside world. Time has stood still for them. They still dress and arm as they did 2000 years previously though there are native and Eastern elements in their decorations. A clan of white nobles dominate a large number of Afro-Romans in each city as well as the Africans of the valley. Tarzan, in rescuing von Hahn, helps the cities free themselves from their tyrannical emperors and place a fair-minded man on the throne instead.
This is a swift-moving adventure that yet gives enough thought to imagining what such lost outposts would be like and how they would survive. Also, at the end, the outposts are not destroyed and forced to join the 20th century which would be too simplistic.
Christian, Claudia and Morgan Grant Buchanan, Wolf's Empire: Gladiator. New York, TOR, 2016 ISBN 9780765337740
Cotton, Donald, Dr. Who and the Romans. London, Target, 1987.
Novelised from Denis Spooner’s 1965 script involving the First Doctor and his companions, this is told in the form of diaries and letters - in itself a parody of a number of well-known serious historical novels set in Ancient Rome (for example, Thornton Wilder’s Ides of March or John Hersey’s The Conspiracy). The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki are resting in a villa outside Rome in 64 AD. While Vicki and the Doctor set off for Rome for a history lesson, Barbara and Ian fall into the hands of slave-traders. Barbara is sold as a handmaiden to Poppaea, Nero’s empress, where she soon attracts the attention of Nero himself, with amusing results.
The story is told in a broad, humorous style with many puns, plays on words and deliberate anachronisms. A jolly romp.
Cross, Ronald, The Fourth Guardian. New York, Tor, 1994. ("Book One of The Eternal Guardians")
This series concerns a stone of great power handed down from time immemorial (it caused the fall of Troy among other events) until some time in 4th century Rome. There four people decide to divide it up among themselves. These are the wealthy, beautiful and aristocratic Drusilla, the gladiator Corbo, Germanicus a German soldier in the Roman army and Popillius, a wealthy organiser of parties for the rich and jaded. The four parts of the stone of power can open and close gates to other dimensions. This same power has kept these four "guardians" alive and relatively youthful until the 20th century where one of them wants all the stone’s parts and starts pitting Guardian against Guardian.
This first novel begins in Rome with a young man, Marcus Tibullus, whom the Guardians try to get to join them, then moves forward to the present but every now and again there are flashbacks to Rome, sometimes overlaid with images of present day Los Angeles as one 20th century character realises he is a reincarnation of Marcus. There are also references to Roman culture and character sprinkled throughout the book.
As can be seen, the narrative does not proceed in a linear fashion and moreover, it moves about between half a dozen people and places, not all immediately connected. It isn’t until midway there is an explanation of the stone and amulets and how it all began. It is also quite violent and lots of people die including many of the main characters. It also crams everything in - apart from flashbacks and reincarnation, there are monsters from transdimensional worlds, ninja and the notion in a throwaway line that the Guardians have been influencing history to shape it to their own ends (in one case, in the hope of reviving Rome).
Followed by The Lost Guardian (Tor, 1996) and The White Guardian (Tor, 1998) which don't have any Roman elements.
Cutler, Antony, The Accursed. London, Piatkus, 2014 ISBN 9780749959227
Despite the blurb which proclaims it "For fans of Lindsay Davis and R.S. Downie" this is no conventional historical Ancient Roman detective series. Set in AD 64, in the aftermath of the great fire of Nero's reign, it concerns Quintus Julius Marcellus , a legate and special investigator of the Special VIII Cohort and his attempts to find out who - or what -is killing wealthy businessmen (and women) by sucking out their innards, leaving empty husks. Nero expects answers and the Tigellinus, the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, is only too keen to see him fail. The murders continue with ever growing ferocity and audacity including the slaughter of guests at a private banquet given by Poppaea in the palace. Even when Marcellus works out who is responsible, he is up against beings who are almost unstoppable.
This is not for the faint-hearted with some very gruesome murder scenes and quite graphic sex scenes (which segue into murder scenes). The creatures are interesting - sort of vampires on steroids and the whole storyline is different. What lets it down is a somewhat flat writing style with some clumsy contrivances and fairly unmemorable characters. You have little idea of what Nero is like, even physically, never mind Marcellus. This is not surprising to me, really as "Antony Cutler" is Anton Gill and I found the same problem with his trilogy of mysteries set in Ancient Egypt. I even reread them and they still wouldn't stick in my mind. That would not be a problem with this novel, though, given the nature of the Big Bad. The other problem is that it is set an a weird version of Ancient Rome where you can get chocolate dipped dormice, oranges, have swathes of silk drapery and satin and plush hangings, big glass windows, upstairs flats with attached baths and a police force considered the finest in the world plus a secret police. Seriously?
De Camp, L. Sprague, Lest Darkness Fall. New York, Holt, 1941. (Originally published in an abridged form in Unknown, Dec. 1939 and reprinted in various editions since)
Archaeologist Martin Padway is struck by lightning while walking in 1930s Rome and wakes up to find himself in the 6th century AD. He uses his knowledge not only of history but 20th century technology to try to ensure his survival against the coming Dark Ages. This entails careful juggling of Goths, Vandals, Byzantines and Persians and along the way the telegraph, the printing press and other things come along ahead of time.
This classic is entertainingly written. It is fascinating to watch Martin work with such materials as he has to get a result whether it is keeping various churches off his back or teaching modern book-keeping methods (including the use of the zero) as a method of earning a living. There’s a wealth of historic detail without being boring - including the sights and smells of the humbler parts of Rome.
Dibben, Damian, The History Keepers: Circus Maximus. London, Doubleday, 2012
When young Jakes Djones, a new recruit to the History Keepers (a group who make sure history stays on course and isn't knobbled by the likes of Agata Zeldt) fumbles a mission to collect some atomium, the liquid which enables time-travel, he and his fellow agents are sent to Rome of 27 AD to find Zeldt and what she is up to.
This is another in the sub-genre of time-agent stories, written for children or early teens I would say. It is the second one in the series. Though it is 470 pages long, the print is large. The plot is well enough and starts with a bang in 1790s Stockholm at the opera but soon gets bogged down once they go back to Point Zero, the Time Keepers' headquarters on Mont St Michel mainly because of the proliferation of of characters with odd names and stranger backgrounds, some of whom seem to serve no useful purpose. However, once they embark on their mission to Rome, things pick up. I did like the idea of a time agency whose origin and headquarters is in the past (1820) and uses rather steampunk contraptions such as a liquid. It gives a curious idea of "up-time" being our present rather than some far future as in other time agent stories.
On the other hand, there was an awful lot of padding and too much "tell" not "show". The characters never really came alive, they were ciphers with a list of attributes we were told about, not shown. Agata Zeldt was always referred to as the "most evil woman in the world" but we know nothing much else about her or her motivations. Her very appearance is something of a caricature. We never find out why she had her Roman minions learn English (so in the reign of Tiberius there are not only a bunch of English-speaking Romans, but no doubt also traces of gunpowder in and around the spina of the Circus Maximus). We are also treated to tropical gardens on the Palatine, and ballrooms in villas (even a masked ball was mooted). Despite some good things, such as the author's admiration for Rome and the Romans, it became a bit of a slog with such cardboard characters and some improbable descriptions. Another thing that doesn't help is that the young hero is a bit of an idiot, the sort of wilful, immature person who rushes into things despite his colleagues trying to restrain him and doesn't seem to learn from his mistakes, so you just want to smack him..
Drake, David & Morris, Janet, ARC Riders: The Fourth Rome. New York, Warner Books, 1996.
A novel in another ‘time patrol’ type series, this one concerns a team of men and women from roughly the same era used by beings from further up-time to prevent people from meddling with the timelines. Unlike in the "Time Scout" series, history can be changed.
Someone from the crumbling Soviet Union of 1992 has gone back to 9 AD to stop the massacre of three Roman legions under Varus by Arminius and his German tribesmen in the Teutoberg Forest which effectively froze Rome’s further eastward expansion. These revisionists want Rome to continue in to Russia and so to change history. Half the ARC team remain in 9 AD Germany to track down the revisionists and see that Varus and his legions meet their fate while the other half goes to Moscow in 1992 to find out how it is that 20th century operatives use such advanced technology.
The story is balanced between the two eras about equally and makes for gripping reading, especially in the Roman segments. The authors create characters to care about like the soldier, Flaccus, and realistically depict legionary life in camp and on the move. There are no real villains here the Roman general might be stupid and corrupt but the German leaders are treacherous and cruel and as usual the poor sods on the ground wear it.
(For another non-fantasy treatment of the same events, there is the historical novel by Gregory Solon, The Three Legions, Constable, 1957, reprinted in Tandem paperback in 1972).
Drake, David, Birds of Prey. New York, Tor, 1984.
Set in 262 AD, during the reign of Gallienus, this story concerns Perennius, imperial agent, who is ordered to assist one Lucius Cloelius Calvus, a rather strange looking person, to destroy an evil sect. He soon finds himself caught up in a conflict from the far future wherein one group has gone back into the past and an agent, Calvus, has been sent to destroy them. Nothing is quite as it seems and there are revelations about Calvus in the course of the adventure. Perennius and his party become embroiled with wayward Christian sects, German pirates and even prehistoric monsters loosed as a result of Calvus’s time transfer.
Though there is a lot of action, the characters are well drawn, particularly Calvus whose nature changes gradually. Perennius is somewhat cynical and world-weary but he cares about the Empire and its survival (if not about individual emperors). His reward is an extension of its life for a few centuries and the warning its day is done.
Drake, David & Wagner, Karl Edward, Killer. New York, Baen, 1985.
(Chapters 1 and 2 originally published in a different form in the novelette of the same name in Midnight Sun #1 (1974) and parts of chapter 19 were published in a slightly different form as a novelette, Dragons Teeth by David Drake in Midnight Sun #2 (1975))
In the reign of Domitian (81~96 AD), Lycon, a hunter who supplies the arenas with animals, is called on to track down a singularly ferocious and unusual beast named a sauropithicus (lizard-ape) by those who first found it. This is actually a semi-intelligent and unstoppable creature called a ‘phile’ from a particularly savage planet. Philes are illegally smuggled for blood sports among planets of a star-spanning Federation. The ship carrying this one had crashed and an agent, disguised as a human, is despatched to retrieve it as a female phile can reproduce almost at will and overrun and destroy any world. However, this agent, RyRehee, has his own agenda regarding the phile. He presents himself to Domitian promising to capture the fabulous beast for the arena - alive.
What follows is a three-way battle of wits between Lycon, who must destroy the phile and its offspring, and RyRehee who wants to preserve it while pretending to aid Lycon - and against them both the cunning of the phile. Needless to say, this story is quite gruesome in places but is well written with touches of grim humour and Drake’s usual thorough historical research.
Drake, David, Ranks of Bronze. New York, Baen, 1986.(Originally published in a slightly different form as a short story in 1975.)
What happened to the men who survived Crassus’s disastrous defeat by the Parthians at Carrhae in 53 BC? In this novel Drake postulates they were sold by the Parthians to aliens who use them to fight wars on low-tech planets where advanced weaponry is strictly forbidden. On each planet they fight as usual with javelin, sword, shield and standard Roman siege machinery but aboard the alien vessel they are subject to their masters’ high technology which keeps them from aging - in the body - repairs grievous wounds and even restores the dead provided the central nervous system is not destroyed.
The novel recounts several campaigns on different worlds, not only how they deal with their alien opponents but how they grow and change as the result of their experiences, and how gradually they determine to go home again unaware or uncomprehending of how many centuries must have passed. The alien masters are depicted as coldly efficient, even cruel at times, but not unnecessarily so. They have the attitude of an owner to clever and resourceful pets but gradually the tables start to turn as the Romans realise their power.
This is a very gripping book with vivid scenes of battle but also good characterisation and development.
Dvorkin, David & Dvorkin, Daniel, The Captain’s Honor. New York, Pocket Books, 1989. (A Star Trek: the Next Generation novel)
The enigmatic M’Dok Empire has attacked the planet Tenara and devastated it. In response come the USS Enterprise-D under Captain Picard and another Federation ship, the Centurion, which hails from the ‘Roman’ world introduced in the original Star Trek episode Bread and Circuses. The crew of the Centurion, under Lucius Sejanus, may be part of the Federation and wear its uniform but they still retain traditional Roman ways and this brings them into conflict with Picard and his crew at times, particularly as some of the young aristocrats continue the charming Roman custom of plotting against each other and their government.
The backstory developed for "Magna Roma" and its people, where the differences occurred between its history and Earth’s, is quite well worked out, although the treatment of liquamen is rather bizarre in the banquet scene. The characters are interesting - Roman politics in space - as are the depictions of culture clashes with the Federation.
East, Rebecca, A.D.62 : Pompeii. Lincoln, Neb., iUniverse, 2003. ISBN 059526882X
Miranda, a graduate in the field of archaeology, is dissatisfied with her life in the 21st century and agrees to be the first to be sent back in time as part of a secret project. To ensure her return she has a transponder implanted in her arm. She arrives in the sea off Naples in late 61 AD and is rescued by some fishermen who sell her as a slave in Pompeii where she is bought by the wealthy noble Marcus Tullius (yes, a descendant of Cicero’s family).
Telling herself that this is a good chance to see the inside of a Roman house, she goes along with things. With her vaguely Germanic looks and awkward Latin, she is given menial tasks and it is then when she feels enough is enough, that she realises she is stranded. Her device does not work. Soon she works to better herself, telling tales, drawing from 2000 years of literature, folk tales, poetry and plays, and playing the flute at first to the daughter of the house, later to the master and others. She finds herself attracted to Marcus but realises there is no future as she is a slave and he is free until a series of events occur.
This is a charming love story as well as a time travel tale of a 21st century woman surviving in antiquity. It is also about how stories change lives. Miranda uses Shakespeare, Donne, Greek myth and fairy tales both traditional and feminist. Each one has a moral designed to explain or help the listener but they also reflect Miranda’s own feelings or problems.
It is a very descriptive book, more so than many other Roman historicals because the viewer is an outsider so describes the minutiae a Roman character would not. Sometime this can be a bit like Roman Civilisation 101 but it does have some strikingly evocative or beautiful scenes such as a Roman garden in full moonlight (which has been a recurring image for me over the years, for some reason). The characters are appealing and it is so pleasant to read a book by a woman who obviously admires the Romans and recognises that there is good as well as bad in any people (Rome’s biggest fans seem to be male writers). Compare Linda Evans’ treatment of her Roman characters in The Far Edge of Darkness which has many similarities to the plot of this book (female archaeologist stranded in Pompeii and sold into slavery).
On the other hand, while the book is meticulously researched and as accurate as possible in its depiction of Roman social life and customs, it is a unfortunate there seems to have been no editor to tighten it up and remove a lot of repetition such as the references to Miranda’s "pre-Raphaelite hair" which occurs twice only a few short chapters apart in exactly the same words. Or such solecisms as "Atalanta was the beautiful daughter of a Greek king, she was famous for being very beautiful…". Also the glossing of various Latin terms in brackets as if the reader (who is likely to be familiar with such terms as triclinium and to know Neapolis is Naples) is a tad patronising and rather irritating.
So in short, a good story, shame about the editing (or lack of it).
The author has a website http://www.rebecca-east.com/ which has a lot of factual background top the story. The novel was originally published as an e-book.
Edmondson, G.C.., The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream. New York, Ace, 1965.
The Alice is an 89 foot Naval yawl with test equipment attached. During a thunderstorm, it is struck by lightning at the very same time some of the crew are experimenting with a bell jar and their own moonshine. When everything clears, they find themselves moved in space and time - further north and beset by Vikings. In attempting to return home, their journeys take them from the 10th century Atlantic and Moorish pirates to the Aegean in the reign of Augustus, then the Pacific during World War II and finally home.
The Roman segment is by far the longest and involves the ‘rescuing’ of some girls and their madam who had been shipwrecked on an island. The madam turns out to be a Prohibition era speakeasy hostess from Chicago who arrived earlier much the same way as the Alice crew. They are all captured by an imperial quinquireme, even after and despite having shot a number of Romans with modern weaponry. Joe, the Alice’s commander, has the doubtful task of explaining, in schoolboy Latin, where America is, to general disbelief, and is chained to the oars while the Roman commander takes the Alice in tow. He had seen it move without sails when Joe used the onboard diesel to try to escape. Meantime one of his crew has ended up in Athens with one of Ma Trimble’s girls.
This is highly entertaining and more than somewhat tongue-in-cheek as it charts Joe Rate and his motley crew’s adventures and some of the odd passengers they pick up along the way. The Romans, while depicted as being arrogant, are shown to have discipline and honour.
Erskine, Barbara, The Warrior's Princess. London, HarperCollins, 2008 ISBN 9780007278442
A literature teacher at a London high school, Jess, is drugged and raped but can't remember who attacked her but has some suspects. Totally thrown for a loop, she resigns and leaves for her sister's cottage in a remote Welsh valley. There things really start to get weird. The place is haunted by the 2000 year old ghost of a girl whose family was lost after the battle where Caractacus was defeated by the Romans. She's looking for her sister and being rather destructive with it. Pretty soon Jess is tuning in to the sister, Eigon, daughter of Caractacus, who was also raped (at age 10) by a Roman soldier after the battle. Jess sees Eigon and her mother taken to Rome to grace Claudius's triumph, along with her father. They are pardoned and set up in a villa where Eigon matures into a skilled healer. Her life and Jess's seem to parallel as each is stalked b y her assailant. Jess is obsessed with finding out Eigon's story and goes to Rome, where takes some rather foolish risks though eventually everything comes full circle with a reckoning back in Wales.
I've always leery of 500+ novels, especially 500+ page large trade paperbacks. Nine times out of ten, they are overwritten, over-researched (let's put all that in) or simply padded. This commits the first and last sin and only omits the middle one because there isn't enough historical data on Eigon to overlard it with in the first place.
Shame, really, because for the first half, I really enjoyed it, finding it intriguing and well written. However, Jess increasingly annoyed me, as did some of the other characters. She seemed so obtuse, stubborn and self-centred, almost deliberately putting herself at risk and ignoring all the advice of her friends so repeatedly I wanted to strangle her. This took me right out of the story and I began to see the rather glaring flaws in it in both plot and pacing. Jess was made to act as she did simply to spin out the story, just as is done in a television soap opera. I saw how contrived so much of it was and how repetitive. How many times did the villainous Dan obtain a duplicate key so he could creep into someone's house and threaten Jess? Ho many times did Jess go somewhere where she felt safe only to compromise the place by her own stupidity? How many times did she turn off her mobile or fail to return calls? How many times did she wail, "But what about Eigon?" like a spoiled three-year old when someone tried to persuade her to return to Britain?
Then we had Jess's mother, barely mentioned, suddenly turn up near the end and she happens to know a modern day Druid who simply has to wander into a place and "listen in" to get the whole story. Could have saved Jess (and the reader) a lot of bother. In addition we have the Ancient Roman seer who plays a neutral game for a while, then decides to help Jess & co. - all long distance over 2000 years - and is somehow able to reincarnate Titus's restless spirit into a mouse which is seen in 21st Wales when he was killed in 65 AD. What?
The ancient part wasn't much better. Titus (Eigon's assailant and nemesis) was no better motivated than Dan, actually less so. Erskine really should have drawn up a timeline so she had the right time lapses. She seemed to lose almost a decade. Eigon would have come to Rome in 44 AD. Pomponia Graecina was accused of following a foreign cult in 57 and the great fire was in 64. So when Eigon says when she returns to Britain (in 65) that she hadn't heard British Celtic spoken in Britain for fourteen years, she (or rather Erskine) is out by seven years! Titus doesn't make a move against Eigon (or even giver her much thought) until the beginning of Nero's reign - 10 years after she arrived in Rome. He then makes a few half-hearted attempts to capture her over the next seven, only becoming really obsessed in the last few before he was killed. And while Eigon may have remained unmarried until past 30, it is highly unlikely her Roman friends would have been.
The book needed to lose about 200 pages to tighten up the flashbacks so they could be told without the clumsy spinning out of events in the present. A tighter writing style would have made the holes in the plot less obvious and might have glossed over the unconvincing coincidences.
Carelessly written (characters were always "levering" themselves out of chairs), clumsily plotted and paced, poorly drawn characters, this has little to recommend it.
Evans, Linda, Far Edge of Darkness. New York, Baen, 1996.
A mobster has captured scientists to create a time storm and keeps them in a remote part of Alaska. Three people become involved. Sibyl Johnson, an archaeologist who sees something at a dig she should not have, is suddenly sent back to Rome of 79 AD where she is sold into slavery with no memory of who she is. There she is aided by Charlie Flynn, a Miami undercover agent who had discovered what the mobster was up to and who also had been sent back to Rome of the same era earlier. After a short but bloody career as a gladiator, he has become a somewhat recalcitrant household slave. The third person is Logan McKee, once a commando and now a patient in a psychiatric hospital in Florida who is caught in the backwash of the time storm created to send Sibyl back. He finds himself not in Rome but five years into the future in Alaska.
Sibyl and Charlie have to survive not only Ancient Rome and their cruel master, but one of the mobster’s allies who is also in the past, and then they are sent to Pompeii not long before Vesuvius is due to blow its stack....
There’s plenty happening in this book and the main characters are interesting, though the Romans are rather stereotypical, unsympathetic, Hollywood types, except for a fisherman and his family who rescues Charlie (yet another hero ends up on a galley). There’s a good amount of background given for the ordinary reader though Evans seems determined to concentrate only on the dark side of Roman life - particularly slavery. The lack of any decent Romans or some with layers to their character is annoying.
Farrington, Geoffrey, The Acts of the Apostates. Sawtry, Cambs, Dedalus/Hippocrene, 1990.
Set in the reign of Nero, it concerns the half-Jewish/half-Roman Gaius Neophytus, soothsayer to the emperor who has returned after a mysterious two years in Judaea pursuing visions that have haunted him since an incident in his childhood in that country. Nero, too, has been having visions and we look set for a fascinating story of dark primeval forces returning to earth, drawn from Jewish mysticism, rather than the imaginations of H.P. Lovecraft or Arthur Machen. However, it is rather a tale of missed opportunities, of a man who fails to heed an admonition given him by several people over the years, to follow his own path. In the end Neophytus never learns and it all comes to nothing which leaves one with a sense of "So what?’ despite the fine poetic style.
Finney, Patricia, The Crow Goddess. Glasgow, Collins, 1978.
This is a sequel to A Shadow of Gulls (Collins, 1977, not sighted), but stands on its own. The first part is set in Roman Britain in 117 AD and the second part in 121 AD. It is told by the half-Irish, half-Roman bard, Lugh or Lucus, who has fled Ireland to escape Maeve, the Witch-Queen of Connaught. He befriends a Roman officer of the 9th Legion, Karus. However, he can’t escape his past nor the fact the Romans intend to invade Ireland.
Finney mixes Irish myth and legend with history in an inventive and convincing way. The Siddhe are real, characters have magical powers and the Emperor Hadrian rubs shoulders with the faery peoples in an ambush from which Lugh rescues him. This is an enjoyable read and not as hoary with ‘Celts-are-better-than-stodgy-Romans’ rhetoric as a lot of such fantasy. The author gives the Romans their due.
Fortschen, William R. & Segriff, Larry, The Four Magics. New York, Baen, 1996.
An asteroid with a destiny hits a remote world and all but destroys the primitive tribe, the Brom, who have magical powers. Many centuries later, a temple, then a city grow up around the asteroid. The city is divided into four, representing the Four Realms: Rome, the Vikings, the Knights Templar and the Egyptians; and the Four Sects: Fire, Water, Earth and Air. These all exist in an uneasy truce at the same time warding off the attacks of the Brom.
In this book, first in a series, based on a collectible card game from Mayfair Games, the Brom, under a charismatic leader, launch an all-out attack on the City, aided by a traitor within. The Four Realms have to band together to repel them and sort out who the traitor is. One of the main protagonists is Flavius, the Roman garrison commander, another is Nefer, sister to the pharaoh and commander of the Egyptians. With them are Harald Red Breks of the Varangians (Vikings) and Hugh de Marest of the Templars. Both sides use magic as well as conventional weapons.
The story reads just like something based on a role-playing game - lots of battles and some intrigue. Apart from the military side, there is little to indicate these are Romans as they are given to drinking brandy and have lace bed-hangings (on the other hand the Vikings still drink mead). Moreover, we are not told how they all came to be on that remote planet, or why, which does detract from credibility a tad.
Friesner, Esther, Child of the Eagle. New York, Baen, 1996.
This is an alternate history story where the night before the Ides of March, 44 BC, Brutus is persuaded to spare his father’s life by a mysterious woman who turns out to be Venus (legendary ancestress of the Julii, among other things). She wants Julius Caesar alive to save the Roman Republic from sliding into decay. Brutus finally agrees, thinking to spare Rome further bloodshed. This starts a long journey for Brutus where he gets what he wants up to a point. Caesar acknowledges him as his son and the shifty Octavius (the later Augustus) dies. But nothing is quite what he really wants and he finds himself accepting things that would have been abhorrent to him. People die around him, including those he loves. Caesar conquers Parthia, then dies of a cold but Brutus lives on, aging slowly as part of Venus’s reward until she asks one thing too much of him: to kill a woman and child in Judaea who will, if left alive, she claims, destroy her.
Friesner’s Brutus is a tortured soul and the alternate history is well worked out, the background research sound without being overpowering. A very interesting and original read.
Godfrey, Daniel, New Pompeii. London, Titan Books, 2016. ISBN 9781783298112
The energy giant, NovusParticle, has been moving people out of their timelines, unknown to everyone though a few conspiracy theorists have their suspicions. Their biggest secret is New Pompeii, a complete reconstruction of the extinct city but in Central Asia but people with real Romans taken from the day the Vesuvius erupted. Nick Houghton is given a job there interpreting and it seems like a dream come true, actually to speak and interact with Romans. The NovusPart people claim to be from the emperor and explain the slight lack of a sea and other anomalies as the result of the eruption. However, as Nick tries to warn them, the Romans might lack the technology but they are not stupid. The more he digs into what happened to his predecessor, the more he comes to realises that something very rotten is at the heart of NovusPart and that someone or some people in the future are pulling the strings.
This is an extremely well written novel with interesting characters, sound background research and enough twists and turns to keep one guessing. It is also highly original and quite a different sort of "Romans brought into the present" type story. Followed by a sequel.
Godfrey, Daniel, Empire of Time. London, Titan Books, 2017 ISBN 9781785653155
Goodman, Carol, The Night Villa. London, Piatkus Books, 2008 ISBN 9780749939083
Sophie Chase, a classicist with a particular interest in the case of the slave Petronia Justa, is lured into joining the Papyrus Project founded by IT millionaire John Lyros. The Project aims to read the charred scrolls found in the ruins of a villa in Herculaneum, the Villa of the Night, by means of MRI scans without unrolling them. With her is a bright pupil of hers, Agnes Hancock, as well as experts in related fields from England and another American professor with whom she once had an affair. All these people are domiciled at Lyros's villa on Capri which is built as an exact replicas of the Villa of the Night.
The scrolls were written by one Phineas Aulus who was supposed to have had in his possession the Golden Verses, a lost work of Pythagoras. Beneath the academic debates and the thrill of discovery as each portion is scanned and translated there is something sinister. Sophie thinks she sees a former lover on a yacht, one who got caught up in the Tetraktys, a weird sect based on the works of Pythagoras. Someone keeps sending her messages based on Pythagorean numbers and images. Then one of the group is killed in the ruins of the actual Villa of the Night while showing paintings in a tunnel to Agnes.
Like a thread interweaving with the present day is the Phineas scroll, a diary recounting his arrival at the Villa in Herculaneum after a shipwreck a few days before Vesuvius erupts. Here he encounters Petronia Justa and her mistress, the latter is a member of a secret cult based on the story of Persephone and Hades. As his account unfolds, it seems the cult is rather more sinister that it appears and that the villa is atop a labyrinth which was designed as a trap to cause prolonged agony to his hostess's victims. There is a final twist in the tale which reveals the ultimate, ironic fate of the slave Petronia Justa.
Once you get past the disconcerting first person present tense the novel is written in, this is a good academic mystery with some rather unsavoury people both in the past and in the present. The 'flashbacks' in the Phineas scroll are atmospheric, hinting at a dark, oppressive decadence in the villa - Calatoria's squid headdress suggests something Lovecraftian which only adds to the uneasy atmosphere. A similar only slightly less disturbing atmosphere hangs over the modern replica on Capri because someone is a mole, feeding adherents of the Tetraktys information about the translation of the scroll and any excavations for his lost trunk. That someone is also a murderer. There are enough twists and tu5rns especially regarding the identity of the mole. There is a real sense of place with vivid descriptions of the sea, the villa, gardens and the ruins of Herculaneum and the modern town nearby.
Rounding out the book is an interview with Carol Goodman (by her husband) on how she came to write the novel and some question for discussion by book club readers.
Harlan, Thomas, Shadow of Ararat. New York, Tor, 1999 (Oath of Empire Book 1)
In this alternative history series, it is 600 AD and the (western) Roman Empire still stands, having thrown off Goths, Huns and the like. The Emperor of the West, Galen Atreus, decides the Persian Empire has to go as it has been a threat too long, besieging Constantinople. He joins with the Emperor of the East, Heraclius, in an invasion of the Persian heartland. Meantime, back in Rome, Galen’s younger brother, Maxian, a healer with mystical abilities, has discovered a terrible secret power that is sapping the life of the Romans and seeks to destroy it. This takes him to some very strange places and involves the raising from the dead two remarkable men from the past who can enhance his own powers (in this world magic is real). Elsewhere a young Irish lad, Dwyrin, studying to be a thaumaturge in Egypt, is sent to join the legions and on his journey discovers an awesome power within. Also in Persia is an agent of Galen’s, the formidable Thyatis Clodia and her band of friends and helpers. Opposing them is the King of Kings of Persia, a man driven somewhat insane, his general, and the sinister and powerful mage, Dahak.
This is an epic tale covering vast distances and peopled with a vivid collection of characters. The narrative switches back and forth between the several groups yet holds your attention and never becomes confusing. All the characters, good or bad, are interesting and there are some memorable ones among them such as Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, Ahmet, Dwyrin’s teacher who discovers hidden depths, Dwyrin himself, Thyatis, and Krista, Maxian’s companion. It is a thick book but the story is swift moving and studded with gorgeous descriptions and some stunning battle sequences. A complex tale well told despite some syntactical rough patches and places where the copy editor fell asleep (‘Gregorious’ for ‘Gregorius’ and ‘Londonium’ for ‘Londinium’). References to oranges and sugar, for example, can be passed off as alternate history
Harlan, Thomas, Gate of Fire. New York, Tor, 2000 (Oath of Empire Book 2)
Persia has fallen and the Roman troops are returning home or have been reassigned but other powers are moving into the vacuum, most notably the sorcerer calling himself Dahak. Meantime Mohammed has an epiphany, partly as a result of his experiences at Palmyra and starts a war against idols and false gods while Maxian and his resurrected legends, Caesar and Alexander, try to unravel the Oath which is the root of the curse that is sapping the Romans.
This sequel is more sword and sorcery and less alternate history. It is a curiously diffuse book, reading more like a series of often unconnected incidents for most of its length. Unlike the first book, there is no overarching plot to pull all the threads together. A novel this length needs some sort of structure to hold it together otherwise it becomes tedious and one starts to notice all the little glitches that one happily overlooked in the epic sweep of the earlier book such as irritating stylistic mannerisms, curious syntax and grammar and even odder Latin. Characters are introduced, then abandoned for chapters on end and the novel doesn’t so much end as stop. Nothing is resolved. It was a literary equivalent of the running-up-and-down-the-corridors episode of a Dr. Who story. Indeed, most characters are in left in a sort of limbo, some major ones apparently dead. Instead, we are treated to a rehash of the eruption of Vesuvius (apparently in this reality it didn’t happen in 79 AD but centuries later) purloined from Pliny. The lack of real substance is compensated for by endless descriptions of characters every time they appear - their hair, their clothes - even views although the characters may not actually be able to see them such as saying a platform faces the setting sun when it is the middle of the night and the fact is irrelevant anyway. I felt drowned in a sea of verbiage which made the going very hard.
Harlan, Thomas, The Storm of Heaven. New York, Tor, 2001 (Oath of Empire Book 3)
Harlan, Thomas, The Dark Lord. New York, Tor, 2003 (Oath of Empire Book 4)
Harris, Elizabeth, The Sacrifice Stone. London, HarperCollins, 1998 (c.1996).
In Arles of 175 AD, the actions of ex-legionary, now officer in the treasury Sergius Cornelius Aurelius give rise to a legend of a boy Christian martyr, sacrificed to Mithras and now patron saint of throat-healing. In the present day, a girl in Arles has a vision of St. Theodore and a British theology student, Joe, accompanied by his sister, Beth come to Arles to work on his thesis on early saints, especially obscure ones like St. Theodore. Beth soon feels she is shadowed by a mysterious presence, a half glimpsed figure in a toga who seems to be trying to communicate with her. She is not alone for she meets a young film-maker who is similarly pursued. Together they must unravel what truly happened nearly 2000 years ago.
This is a skilful blending of past and present, a beautiful fantasy/mystery peopled by credible characters, well drawn and well written. It is a good evocation of how events in early church history got invented or perverted by vested interests (in this case not even Christian ones) and how innocent (pagan) people could suffer, even after 2000 years. The only glitch was Joe’s attributing Nero’s blaming of the Christians for the fire to the fact it started in his new palace ( bit difficult since the fire had to clear the area where it was to be built), unless it was to show how ignorant Joe was (he was shown to be parroting the simplistic view of Roman treatment of Christians made all too familiar by Hollywood and Sunday school.)
Headley, Maria Dahvana, Queen of Kings. London, Bantam Press, 2011. ISBN 9780593067048
Cleopatra is desperate to save her country. Actium is lost, she and Antony have a falling out so she turns to the old gods of Egypt and attempts to summon Sekhmet. Unfortunately, the spell is not complete and her translator has had to make some guesses. Also she is interrupted by a message from Antony who has stabbed himself. The upshot is that Sekhmet does indeed manifest but takes Cleopatra's 'ka' and possesses her, turning her into a sort of vampiric monster, though not entirely. She appears dead to Octavian (Augustus) with just a bite on her arm which he assumes was caused by snakebite (actually where Sekhmet bit her) but as he gazes on her, she opens one eye and he sees death and destruction stretching far into the future, including visions of men with guns. He is even more horrified later to find her tomb empty and instigates a search. Sekhmet wants blood and can never be satisfied. Her mission once was to destroy the human race. Cleopatra wants vengeance on Augustus for causing Antony's death and that of her son, Caesarion. She heads for Rome.
This is a very well written, macabre historical fantasy. Cleopatra is part monster, part queen, and part mother and lover. She is unable to save all her children, though she tries,and she has never ceased to love Antony. Antony is depicted as strong but a bit rash, very much the hero and leader of men and so worthy of that love - he reappears as a ghost later on and even as a ghost, he has more charisma than Augustus.
Augustus does not fare as well and at one point I actually got a bit irritated at the constant depiction of him as a coward and weakling, addicted to a kind of drug. You don't establish a new form of government and have it continue for centuries after a lengthy civil war, by being a whinger. The problem with Augustus is that in his youth (the period of this novel), most of what we know about him was written by his enemies; the latter part of his life by either himself or his followers or those favourable to him. At all events, this Augustus surrounds himself with witches, one of whom is very nasty indeed, another is just plain weird and intervenes with the weaving of fate once too often.
It all builds up to a terrific battle when the gates of Hades are opened in an attempt to use Sekhmet to raise Hecate and all hell breaks loose, literally. There are some minor niggles. Rome's material culture in places seems more like 18th or 19th century London (chimneys, curtains, lots of glass). Several characters' speaking of Augustus' actions as not being what an emperor would do are a bit meaningless. At this point he was merely 'First citizen" and not part of a dynasty.
The end does leave the way open for a sequel and the author in the afterword half jokingly mentions a trilogy. Certainly none has appeared nearly four years later.
Holder, Nancy, The Evil That Men Do. New York, Pocket Books, 2000 (Buffy the Vampire Slayer series)
A pair of ancient vampires and their ‘court’ arrive in Sunnydale, planning to bring the demon Meter into the world with a series of sacrifices. One of them, Helen, has killed many slayers over the centuries. Meantime the level of violence, hatred and tension rises drastically in the town with killings, lynch mobs and friends turning in anger on friends, including the Slayerettes. Only Buffy and Angel seem immune.
The interest here is that Helen and her consort, Julian, are Roman vampires from the reign of Caligula who, historians such as his biographer Anthony A. Barrett, would be interested to know, was a minor demon, also involved in the Meter cult. It is Caligula’s ashes which Julian and Helen seek to complete their ritual. There are a number of flashbacks to 39 and 41 AD showing us a Roman slayer named Diana and how Helen, her friend became a vampire at Julian’s hands. The picture of Rome, or at least Caligula’s court is Hollywood conventional: gladiatorial games, madness and torture - even Vestals being put in the arena. But then Caligula’s court is a court of real demons running amok and causing devastation in the empire which was only saved by Claudius routing the demons. In this same parallel universe, Rome has only one aqueduct. It’s a good read that captures Buffy - if not Rome (there’s the usual confusion between a toga and a tunic found in a lot of American popular literature). It makes one wonder what it is about the Romans that so many of them are vampires in fiction?
Holt, Thomas, A Song For Nero. London, Abacus, 2004 (c. 2003) ISBN 0349116148
What might have happened had Nero not committed suicide in 69 AD but escaped after someone died in his place? This novel opens ten years later with Nero and his companion, the Greek Galen, both failed con artists and petty criminals who are always one step ahead of the law or else in gaol facing execution. This time round they find themselves wanted by several people, some of whom want them dead while others want something else and all to do with the past.
Narrated in an engaging Arthur Daley-esque style by the rogue, Galen, this takes a while to get going and appears to be a picaresque of the misadventures of the two small time crooks. However, once a rather sinister pattern starts to emerge, it becomes engrossing. Apart from being a good yarn, it is a study of human nature and character (would people be different if in a different situation) and the nature of truth: is it what happened, what people believed happened or what people are told happened? Galen is a liar but claims to be telling the truth about Nero and his adventures. He defends him as being "all right" but consistently refers to him as the "most depraved" or "most wicked" man in the world.
The strokes of luck or coincidences which save them become more frequent and outrageous towards the end of the book and indeed a case can be made that the whole thing was made up by Galen arising from his guilt over Nero’s or his own brother’s death. A really interesting, meaty book well written and humorous which leaves plenty to think about long after it is finished.
Isidore, Sarah, The Hidden Land. New York, Avon, 1999 (Daughters of Bast series)
Veleda, niece of the high priestess of the Eburones in ancient Gaul, releases a strange black cat intended for sacrifice during a time of plague and is thus brought into the presence of the Egyptian goddess Bast in the Otherworld. Both Bast and her bloodthirsty sister Sekhmet are embroiled in a struggle. The old order is passing, worshippers are falling away from the temples in Egypt as people turn to new gods. Bast warns Veleda that the Romans are coming to conquer all of Gaul and bestows healing and prophetic powers on her. Veleda’s warnings are unheeded as the tribes refuse to believe the Romans want to invade Gaul and are confident of defeating them even if they did. So they ignore her attempts to unite them all at least until after a series of defeats at Julius Caesar’s hands. The first attempt at unification meets with failure but the second under Veleda’s guidance and the charismatic Vercingetorix is but by now the goddess Bast has other plans for Veleda...
This is a well written yarn that holds your attention and makes you care about the characters (especially if you like cats). This is despite the fact you know Veleda’s efforts are doomed unless Isidore is writing alternate history. Veleda is a sensible character, not one of those whining heroines who either puts up objections or refuses to do something because it’s odd or untried. Veleda might hesitate a bit but then she just gets on with it. Should be more like her. The Romans are not much featured as individuals, though, except for Julius Caesar and he doesn’t really come alive. There is a lot of "mother goddess" stuff and whenever Bast and Sekhmet are referred to capitals are used for the pronouns. This seems a tad precious. The other whinge is that we are back in the "noble, feminist Celts" versus "dreary, male chauvinist Romans" trope which simply won’t wash, though Veleda’s cat does admire the Romans for their abilities. I can’t imagine Julius Caesar dismissing women as of no account, not given the women of his family and of his acquaintance (one thinks of the formidable Servilia). And when one reads that Bast will not permit Veleda’s child to be born in a city (Rome) where the mother is so little valued, one can only choke. Likewise it is quite simplistic to imagine that sacred streams and groves were unique to the Celts and that the Romans did not have them. I also question whether Egyptian archers would have been serving in the legions in Gaul at this point. However, if one ignores the feminist absurdities, it is a good telling of the Gallic conquest from the Celtic viewpoint and makes an interesting counterpoint to Paul L. Anderson’s non-fantasy novels on the same subject, especially in the treatment of such historical figures as Dumnorix.
Kenyon, Sherrilyn, Seize the Night. New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2005.
This is part of the Dark Hunter series and falls into the sub-genre of ‘vampire romance’. Dark Hunters appear to be immortals (with fangs) who keep humanity safe from assorted supernatural nasties. Although it is one in a series, it can be read on its own.
The protagonists are Tabitha, a feisty, self-styled mortal female vampire hunter and Valerius Magnus, a Dark Hunter who was the son of a Roman senator. The setting is present day New Orleans. Valerius is withdrawn and haughty with a reputation for cruelty. None of the other Dark Hunters like him (these are one Atlantean, one Greek and one Celt). However, nothing in his behaviour towards Tabitha and her family bears out this reputation, His story is told in a series of flashbacks against the main plot of the conflict between Apollymi, Atlantean goddess of destruction, and Artemis.
Quite an enjoyable read, written in a chatty, indulgent style with the usual quota of impossibly beautiful men typical of the genre. The Roman background is sketchy and there is no mention of which era Valerius comes from, Republic or Empire. The behaviour of Valerius’s family would be considered psychotic and hardly the norm by most Romans. However, Valerius behaves as one would imagine a Roman noble would in the present and he is very dignified, quietly elegant in dress and generally a ‘class act.’
There is another book in the series, Dancing With the Devil which tells the story of Zarekk, another Dark Hunter, who is Valerius’s half-brother and former family slave.
Kilian, Crawford, Rogue Emperor. New York, Ballantine, 1988. ("A novel of the Chronoplane Wars")
A time machine invented in the dysfunctional future of 1998 has opened up a series of parallel Earths in different time zones or chronoplanes, ranging from 71,000 BC to 2089 AD. Scientists of our Earth realise that the world is doomed so the International Federation was set up to explore "downtime" chronoplanes (i.e. worlds earlier in the time stream) to find the reason for the impending catastrophe, taking and training children from those worlds with the right aptitude to be agents or scientists themselves.
One such agent is Pierce, from Earth’s New Mexico of the 20th century, sent to Ahania, a planet which is Rome of the lst Century AD. Due to IF interference, Domitian is still on the throne in 100 AD as he is favourable to the Hesperians, as the IF people call themselves (they have an embassy in Rome and have introduced such things as bicycles, flashlights, razorblades, potatoes and chilis but nothing high-tech in the way of weapons). However, right in the middle of some gladiatorial games, someone takes out Domitian and his court with an anti-tank missile. Pierce sets himself to find out who and why. He is aided by a young Roman noble, his family and Pliny the Younger.
This is an absorbing, fast-moving book with likeable characters. Kilian obviously likes Romans (unlike a lot of fantasists) and gives them credit for brains and their historic adaptability when confronted with foreign or superior technology. A minor whinge is the number of non-citizens getting about in togas - unless things were very different under the Flavians! Oh, and of course there is the obligatory "hero-ends-up-in-the-gladiatorial-games" bit, however, it’s near the end.
Le Guin, Ursula K., Lavinia. Orlando, Harcourt, 2008 ISBN 9780151014248
Lavinia, who is Aeneas's last wife, has about one line devoted to her in Virgil's Aeneid and doesn't speak at all. In this book, Ursula Le Guin remedies this, fleshing her out, giving her not only a voice but a past and a future beyond where the Aeneid stops. Lavinia narrates the story, telling us she is the daughter of Latinus, one of the kings around at the time and her duties include assisting him with the various rituals which were so important. Her mother has gone a bit mad because of the loss of her young sons. Religion in its original sense along with prophecy plays an important part in the lives of these Bronze Age Italians and this is another point of departure from the Aeneid as there are no anthropomorphic deities contending with each other and causing all sort of problems for mere mortals. Instead there are numinous beings who must be placated or worshipped, forces of nature or special places, in other words, the old Roman religion (think Shinto). Indeed these people are very much proto-Romans, though Rome itself is a thing of prophecy, centuries in the future; all that exists in Lavinia's time is a muddy village not even called Rome.
The events of the novel are much as in the later books of the Aeneid The Trojans arrive by ship, treaties are made and broken, Lavinia, who was to marry Turnus, a Latin prince, chooses to follow a prophecy and marry the foreigner, Aeneas, war breaks out and Aeneas kills Turnus in single combat. Then follows the three years of her marriage to Aeneas before he is killed, her widowhood and problematic relationship with Aeneas's son by his first marriage, Ascanius, and her raising of her own son by Aeneas. Lavinia comes across as a determined woman with a strong sense of honour and of right.
What makes this more than a convincing recreation of Bronze Age Italy, is that Lavinia is aware she is the creation of the poet Virgil who lived over a thousand years after her time and that she only has life because of him and so does everyone else. She meets him in a sacred grove and speak to him on three occasions. He, while he is having these Life on Mars moments, is dying but he is able to tell her he is sorry he didn't give her as much life as he did Dido (though Lavinia comes to believe that it was because he didn't, she was able to achieve immortality and not go down into the Underworld like Aeneas or Dido and all the rest.) He also tells her of Rome as it will be and something of her own future. This guides her in her decisions (and enables her to read Aeneas's shield far better than he can) and when things fall out as he predicted, she can hear his voice speaking over the events as they unfold.
This is beautifully written in clear, spare language evocative of an old poem. The characters, especially Lavinia, are well drawn and lively. All in all, something a little bit different.
Llywelyn, Morgan and Michael Scott, Etruscans : Beloved of the Gods. New York, Tor, 2001. ISBN 0812580125
Bur-Sin, a demon from the Etruscan Otherworld, escapes, fleeing a minor ‘ais’ (deity), Pythia, and collapses in a sacred site near an Etruscan city. A young girl, Vesi, finds him but her compassion is rewarded with a brutal attack. Her mother, Repana, flees with her into exile rather than destroy her and her unborn child as requested by the priests. There in the home of the scarred tribesman, Wulv, Vesi gives birth to a boy she names Horatrim, meaning ‘spirit of heroes’. Horatrim is not only part demon but has been gifted with the knowledge of his Etruscan ancestors thanks to the efforts of Repana’s friend, the Etruscan lord killed while protecting the fugitives.
In the meantime, several groups are after this miracle child who grows at a faster rate than any normal one. Bur-Sin wants to destroy him because he is a threat, a conduit through whom he can be reached; Pythia and her minions because he is a way to reach the recalcitrant Bur-Sin. Further south, the Romans carry out raids. One of which kills Wulv and Repana, forcing Horatrim to flee with his mother to Rome as he is told his destiny lies there.
This is the Rome of Tarquinius Superbus (not Superbius as the book has it), the last of the Roman kings. Horatrim, now physically a young man though really only about five, is adopted by a senator/merchant, Propertius Cocles, after rescuing him and his wife on the road, and is named Horatius which clues you into where this is heading. Bur-Sin is casting around for a proper human form and finds it in a young man whose name will be equally familiar to students of Roman mythology and the stage is set for a stunning confrontation in the Netherworld between the forces of good and evil which yet leaves room for a sequel or two (what about the bridge, Horatius?)
Vividly written, this is rather like a darker version of Thomas Burnett Swan’s territory. There are some very striking and moving sequences and a fascinating mixture of ‘otherworld’ and early Roman history and legend. My only complaint (apart from solecisms like ‘taverna’ for ‘taberna’ and ‘Superbius’ for ‘Superbus’), the authors are too black and white with the Romans with the usual stereotypes of brutal and cruel.
The image of Rome is an odd one, reflecting the early appearance in some ways (though the Etruscan influence was long and such things as drains would already have been in place) yet mixed up with tropes from a much later time such as exotic foods of the bull’s testicles variety and rich clothing. Nonetheless the book is a good read and it would be interesting to see further developments in this world of Horatrim/Horatius.
Manfredi, Valerio Massimo, The Tower. London, Macmillan, 2006 ISBN 1405090855
In a desolate south-western corner of the Sahara stands an ancient tower, older than any known civilisation. Some time in the 1st century AD, a party of Roman soldiers, seeking a fabled kingdom of black queens, camps too close to it and is annihilated by a mysterious force. There is only one survivor, an Etruscan haruspex, who writes down what he witnessed many years later.
In the 1920s Philip Garrett of the Musée de l'Homme in Paris sets out in search of his father who went missing ten years before in the desert. He follows clues his father left in a book of his travels which a French army officer gave him in return for his cooperation in tracking down one Selznick, a former colleague of the older Garrett. He eventually traces his father first to Palmyra, then Petra and finally to the south-western Sahara. The man Selznick, also a renegade Foreign Legionnaire is also following the Garretts, searching for the same thing, the tomb of the 'Man of Seven Tombs'. He believes the forces there will heal him and allow him to take revenge on the older Garrett for inflicting an unhealing wound on him. The priest-mathematician, Father Boni, working with Marconi, has detected a signal in space which is rapidly approaching Earth from the constellation of Scorpio. Using the resources of the Vatican, he sends the Jesuit, Father Hogan, to where he has calculated the signal is aimed with a view to record it for later decipherment. Finally, the people of the hidden oasis kingdom of Kalaaz Hallaki prepare to travel to the same destination as they know of the signal and believe the light of knowledge it will impart will heal the mind of their queen.
This is real Indiana Jones stuff with lost kingdoms, beautiful enigmatic princesses, ancient mysteries, adventuring archaeologists and brave Arab warriors. The 'Rome in fantasy' component occurs in the prologue when the detachment of legionaries encounter the dark forces in the Tower, and later, when Philip discovers an intact Roman house under a Franciscan church, preserved after the eruption of Vesuvius. Inside are the well preserved remains of the Etruscan haruspex and the document he was writing at the time. Rome's presence is a constant in the many ruins, monuments and roads the protagonists pass through or over in the journey, some of which play and important part in the plot. Pliny's description of the 'Blemmyae" of the desert is treated as literal depcition of a real people and much hangs on this. A really gripping read.
Mann, Phillip, A Land Fit For Heroes. London, Gollancz, 1993-1996.
(Vol. 1: Escape to the Wild Wood, 1993
Vol. 2: Stand Alone Stan, 1994
Vol. 3: The Dragon Wakes, 1995
Vol. 4: The Burning Forest, 1996
Set on an alternate world where Rome never fell and the legions did not leave Britain, the first book in the series, Escape to the Wild Wood, is about three young people, Viti, a Roman graduate of the military academy, Angus, a British engineer at the same place and Miranda, a British girl in catering, who are thrown together by fate. They escape from the ordered world of 20th century Roman Britain to the forest where the descendants of the Celts and wild things live, and more than a bit of magic. More than a hint is given that all is not well in Rome’s globe-spanning empire - cattle disease, revolt and a certain ‘hardening of the arteries’ where Rome’s traditional rationalism and practicality have become hidebound, stifling and soul destroying.
Stand Alone Stan picks up from the end of the first book and continues with what happens with each of the protagonists in the village of Stand Alone Stan as each goes his or her separate ways. While Miranda finds her niche in a sisterhood and begins to mature, Viti, now called Coll, feels restless and suicidal. Angus learns much but turns to terrorism against the Romans. Meantime, far away in Rome events occur that could threaten their very existence.
In this Mann’s themes of freedom of the individual versus stifling bureaucracies and governments run by people who have lost touch with themselves and live a blind existence are more fully developed so that "Rome" becomes more an allegory for the problems of late 20th century civilisation and the "wild wood" a place where one can discover oneself if one is prepared to suffer in the process. This is a far richer treatment than the simplistic dichotomy popular among Celtic fantasists where Rome is the soulless, unimaginative, legalistic harbinger of. the 20th century while the Celts are the wild romantic, imaginative alternative to this grey age.
The world of 20th century Roman Britain is well worked out: straight Roman roads on which travel solar-powered, remote-controlled horseless chariots; rivalry between the great families; the Games but with state-of-the-art technology and so on. However, the first novel suffered too much description and not enough plot as if the author were so in love with his own creation he was holding up it like a snow-dome to be admired (the Discworld-like introduction which begins the two novels is somewhat arch and does not really fit in with the style of the series as a whole). It was almost a third of the way in before the heroes were introduced and halfway before something substantial happened. A stylistic irritation was long passages in the present tense describing geography, customs, etc. interspersing the narrative. None of this was helped by little humour. However, the second book is a vast improvement over the first since it moves more fluidly and omits lengthy disquisitions in the present tense.
Mann, Phillip, A Land Fit for Heroes vol. 3: The Dragon Wakes. London, Victor Gollancz, 1995.
Each of the three heroes, Coll, Angus and Miranda goes his/her separate ways with new companions, each learning more about themselves and their special abilities. In the meantime, the Roman Emperor sets in motion his plan to burn the forests of Britain and to turn the place into a large sheep farm.
This is very much a "penultimate" book in a series. Much is set up for the final confrontation: between those of the Britons who have not forgotten the old ways and the Romans who have. It moves at a good pace and there’s lots of plotting by various powerful Romans contrasted with the various struggles of the young trio of heroes and their friends.
Mann, Phillip, A Land Fit for Heroes vol. 4: The Burning Forest. London, Victor Gollancz, 1996
Coll finds his calling as a singer with special powers and Miranda becomes something large and otherworldly. Meantime Angus carries on a more mundane plane as a would-be terrorist with a small band of rebels against the Roman Empire. The Roman Emperor playing a complex double game brings his plans for Britain to fruition – but at a terrible cost.
This continues with its epic sweep towards a rather grim climax, for in a way nearly everyone fails. Only those who lived rather humbly and didn’t bend the powers of nature in some way seem to have survived. Indeed, the allegories abound here, from rebels who spout high flown words but can only destroy to the powerful who change things on a whim, destroying lives, or who live by abstractions, forgetting people. Like Edge of Darkness it strongly expresses the idea that nature can only be bent, twisted and flouted so far before it will turn and destroy humanity.
McDougall, Sophia, Romanitas, London, Orion, 2005 ISBN 0752868942
This novel is set in the present but on a world where Rome never fell and in fact controls most of that world. The rest, except for China, is controlled by Japan,, known as Nionia to the Romans. As the book opens, the Empire is mourning the untimely death of the heir apparent and his wife in a car accident. Their son, Marcus, comes to realise that their deaths were not accidental and with the aid of Varius. one of his parents' staff, escapes to a sanctuary for runaway slaves in the Pyrenees. Meantime, Una a British girl with unusual telepathic powers, rescues her brother from crucifixion and escapes to southern Gaul where they encounter the disguised Marcus who helps them reach the sanctuary. Even then they are not safe because there is a traitor and the Imperial patrols get ever closer. Then Varius is arrested, accused of murdering Marcus. Marcus resolves to return to Rome to show the Emperor he is still alive. Behind all of this brews a war between Rome and Nionia.
This is a mighty tome, the first in a trilogy. However, it is not a particularly well written book. There are a lot of adjectives but not a lot of description of this 21st century Rome except in patches. While one would not want an "info dump" (a common failing of science fiction writing when dealing with other worlds), one would like a bit more flesh on the bare bones so one feels one is inhabiting a real place. One would like to know why they have slaves when they have advanced technology, for example, and why the plan to abolish slavery would cause such desperate measures when there already is a shortage of slaves anyway.
The characters are actually quite interesting, particularly Una and her brother, though one does wonder what the significance is of having her a telepath and him an empath. In another sort of story they would be mutants or aliens.
The style is rather a drawback, featuring often clumsy, long, loosely constructed sentences. Every noun has to have a descriptor (perhaps this is the author's background as a poet). Often one has to re-read the sentences to discern the meaning. There is a plot but it is rather thin and, despite some sequences where one thinks, "Ah, these are Romans" or "This is Rome", there is little to make one want to read the rest of the trilogy.
McDougall, Sophia, Rome Burning. London, Orion, 2007 Sequel to the above.
McDougall, Sophia, Savage City. London, Gollancz, 2011 Sequel to the above.
McMullen, Sean, Centurion’s Empire. New York, TOR, 1998.
Vitellan, a young Roman living during the reign of Vespasian, survives five days in icy water, following a shipwreck. This brings him to the attention of the Temporians, a mysterious and secretive group of Etruscans, Greeks and Romans who have survived the centuries by periodically putting themselves into deep freeze with the aid of a drug they have named Venenum Immortale. Operating behind the scenes they have guided Rome’s destiny over the centuries. However, before they can contact him (he is by this time serving as a centurion in the legion that guards their hidden fortress in the Alps), thieves break in to their stronghold, kill a number of them and steal the Venenum. Some of it falls into the hands of a Greek physician whom Vitellan encounters later in Britain and he freezes himself, hoping to outlive an unhappy love affair. This starts a tradition in the local village of harvesting blocks of ice to put in his cave while he sleeps in return for being able to freeze food instead of salting it. He next awakens in the Dark Ages and while the people he meets regard him as a repository of lost ancient knowledge, realises that the corrosive nature of the Venenum is slowly killing him. After helping a young King Alfred defeat a Viking raid, he is refrozen, next awakening in the 14th Century where he rescues several people, including a young countess from the depredations of the French peasantry. His next awakening is in the 21st century where his village is now the centre of a great financial empire based on cryogenics. This awakening is the most perilous yet as not only is there an old enemy from the 14th century but it is a world where identities, even personalities can be exchanged almost at will, where even the most trustworthy have secrets and ancient trusts have been betrayed.
Although it doesn’t mention it, this novel is based on a series of short stories which explains why there is a certain amount of repetitive material. However, this is a minor complaint. The characters are well drawn, particularly Vitellan and while the Roman, Dark Age and Mediaeval sections are interesting, the longest and most fascinating is the 21st century. This is quite a frightening future yet in many ways is quite close to our present. McMullen seems to admire the Romans and portrays Vitellan sympathetically, drawing on not only Roman technological and military skills (in the more barbarian times) but also their known adaptability and flexibility, traits often overlooked. There is also a certain pathos in Vitellan’s plight – a one-way ticket to the future, his true home long gone and all he knew. In earlier times he was a source of wonder, of lost arts but in our near future he does not even have that but is seen as a curiosity to be exploited.
McSkimming, Geoffrey, Cairo Jim and the Tyrannical Bauble of Tiberius. Sydney, Hodder Headline, 2001 ISBN 0733616402
This is part of a series of children's books featuring archaeologist Cairo Jim (who is based at a dig as his nickname implies), his talking macaw, Doris, and Brenda, the wonder camel who doesn't speak but thinks. A series of temporal disturbances in Rome sees the trio sent by Jim's patron and founder of the Old Relics Society to investigate. They discover someone has stolen a pendant given to the Emperor Tiberius by the nymph Egeria. This pendant, in the form of a lion and goat, has the power to stop time for a short time. If it were complete (the tail is missing) it could bring back "all of the calamities of lost history". Jim's nemesis and fashion victim, the villainous Captain Neptune F. Bone is also after the pendant and missing tail though someone else from Jim's past actually stole it .
The book is a huge romp with one outrageous pun, joke or event following another. What makes it in scope for this bibliography - but only just - is the statement that the nymph Egeria not only advised Numa Pompilius but all rulers up until Tiberius by which time she had grown old and was about to die so she gave him the 'Bauble'. That and the fact that a ghostly Roman army appears at one point.
Meluch, R. M. The Myriad. New York, DAW, 2006 (c. 2004) Tour of the Merrimack #1 ISBN 0756403200
In the 26th century the USS Merrimack, a spaceship commanded by Captain John Farragut with a complement of marines as well as naval personnel, is hunting for traces of the Hive, an almost unstoppable alien species which literally devours anything in its path. Also aboard is a cybernetically enhanced "patterner", Augustus, from Palatine, the home planet of the new Roman Empire, former enemies of the United States, so no one trusts him. In passing close to a cluster, they set off what appears to be a booby trap meant for someone else. They discover that, contrary to accepted theory, the cluster has inhabited planets, three of them populated by humanoids, ruled by a dictator. Further investigation reveals ever more anomalies and soon Farragut and Augustus realise the entire timeline could be at risk.
This is a real hoot - fast paced and humorous but exploring intriguing possibilities concerning the origin of the Milky Way and temporal paradoxes. The Romans are represented in the main by Augustus and we don't see their home world or civilisation but we do know they are into cybernetic and genetic enhancements (Augustus is very tall as well as 'wired'). Meluch postulates that after the Roman Empire fell, little cells of survivors kept the flame alive down through the centuries, often producing some of the greatest thinkers, engineers, etc. When Palatine was discovered, they all migrated there, creating a brain drain on Earth (which is not a united Utopia but still consists of nation states each with their own colonies). A further sore point is that Palatine was once an American colony but the Romans seceded and built an Empire and even though they lost the war, they are still independent and America wants Palatine back. (Don't know why the fuss -the Yanks did the same to the Poms in the 18th century, after all.)
If you liked the slight wackiness of the original Star Trek crew or the space marine adventures of Space: Above and Beyond, you'll like this as it has colourful characters, lots of action and is fast moving.
Meluch, R. M., Wolf Star. New York, DAW, 2007 (c. 2005) Tour of the Merrimack #2 ISBN 9780756403836
The United States' space forces have long had a type of artificial wormhole or jumpgate technology called a 'shotgun' which enables them to cover vast distances and bypass the territory of the enemy Palatine (or Roman) Empire. Now it seems the Romans are developing a similar technology called a 'catapult'. Captain John Farragut and the crew of the Merrimack are ordered to stop them. Unfortunately, there is a Roman 'mole' in the fleet and the Romans have captured Merrimack's sister ship, the Monitor, and have the Merrimack's codes and harmonics which can render their weapons useless. However, just when things seem to be going the Romans' way, a new and terrible enemy appears.
This sequel is set in a slightly different universe than its predecessor (as the events at the end of the first novel signpost) so that it almost reads like a prequel showing how the Hive was first encountered and the Romans have their Empire and are at war with the United States instead of under an uneasy truce. The same bunch of colourful. larger than life characters are on board, including some who were dead in the first novel, even if their relationships are slightly different. The Romans are mostly off-stage or at a distance until very near the end, so we don't see a lot of their civilisation though there are some nice touches in the description of the decoration of their ships and in reference to their discipline and stoicism. On the other hand, there is no real attempt to differentiate them by their speech as they use the same slang as the Americans instead of developing their own variants. A real page turner, even if the author appears to have declared war on personal pronouns and conjunctions, resulting in a lot of broken sentences.
Meluch, R. M., Sagittarius Command. New York, DAW, 2007 Tour of the Merrimack #3 ISBN 9780756404901
The Hive are chewing up the Near Space worlds of the Palatine Empire. What is really worrying is that they are showing hitherto unexpected intelligence and guidance. Given the general distrust between the Romans and the United States, the former suspect the latter of having something to do with the Hive's arrival from across the galaxy. Things are not improved when the Roman Emperor offers John Farragut a triumph (a ploy to claim the USA as a Roman colony ) as a reward for coming to the aid of a beleaguered Roman world. It all goes rapidly pear-shaped when during the height of festivities, the Emperor is assassinated and Romulus, his ambitious but feckless son seizes the throne. Meantime, Augusts, the Roman "patterner" still assigned to Farragut, does his stuff and concludes that the Hive were deliberately sent to Near Space by human intelligence, namely by Constantine Siculus, a Roman executed on Thaleia in the heart of Hive territory, 61 years before. A joint Roman-USA expedition (which includes Farragut's old nemesis, Numa Pompeii) is sent out to Thaleia.
Like the previous books, this is full of action told in crisp, short sentences laced with marine humour and gung-ho (and marine slang for those who miss Space: Above and Beyond). It starts with a bang with a Roman force in a replica of an old-style Roman fort (because the Hive eat anything more high-tech) holding out against impossible odds and doesn't let up. The commander, Herius, goes from hostility towards Farragut, suspicion and finally respect, then trust. The Hive are even more of a menace as they seem so indestructible especially the 'gluies'. However, the humans do discover some defences along the way. The same motley somewhat whacky crew are still on board, Kerry Blue, Gypsy Dent, Ranza Espinoza, Col. TR Steele etc, plus there's devious Roman politics and devious Romans. All in all a very enjoyable read.
Meluch, R.M. Strength and Honor. New York, DAW, 2009 (c. 2008) Tour of the Merrimack #4 ISBN 9780756405786
Following directly on from the events of Sagittarius Command this instalment sees Caesar Romulus declare war on the United States; August leaves the Merrimack on his own mission; the true heir to the throne emerges and arrives at Fort Eisenhower where he and Callista Carmel (to whom he was a mentor) are fried in an attack though both survive is radically altered physically. The Hive are not wholly dead and a new generation erupts not only deep space but also within the Palatine Empire something Caesar Romulus does not want to acknowledge. The Merrimack leads an attack on Palatine and some of its marines under Col. Steele are captured.
Since this appears to be the final novel a whole lot of loose ends are tied up but not before we have a full quota of space action, wry comments and deeds from the likes of Kerry Blue and her comrades plus a devious deeply laid plan from Augustus which includes a final gift to humanity at large. The story is interspersed with debates on the meaning of life between Don Cordillera, Farragut and Augustus which have a certain resonance as events unfold. How the Romans came to be is further explored and thankfully they are still around with their empire at the end. This has been a good series with some great characters, adventures, humour and a real respect for the Romans.
Meluch, R.M., The Ninth Circle. New York, DAW, 2012 Tour of the Merrimack #5 ISBN 9780756407643
This takes place a few years after the previous book. Farragut has an Earth posting and Callista Carmel now commands the Merrimack. Lt Glenn "Hamster" Hamilton has taken leave of absence to go with her husband, a xenolinguist, to an Earth-like planet, Zoe, as part of a Earth Nations scientific expedition. The ships she and her husband are on is attacked as they enter the atmosphere which the Earth Nations boffins somehow blame her for and similarly they refuse to believe that the local life is DNA-based. Hamster and husband get ore out of going AWOL and exploring the local sentient life, particularly some fox-like creatures. Meantime, far away in the Roman Empire, Farragut's younger brother has defected to the Romans, has joined a legion and goes by the name of Nox. However a "initiation" ritual for new recruits goes pear-shaped and one is killed, the upshot being the whole 8-man squad is exiled. They turn pirate and build up quite a reputation before fate leads them to Zoe.
This is another strong entry in the series, a bit different because some of the secondary characters take the lead. The usual suspects like the marines (Steele, Kerry Blue and so on) are seen only briefly though there is a further development in Kerry and Steele's relationship. The Roman renegades are an interesting bunch, a mixture of good and bad, light and shade, especially Nox and the sapient foxes and mammoths are fascinating. There is a strong hint of someone playing a long game, that the exile of the 8 was engineered.
Meluch, R.M. The Twice and Future Caesar. New York, DAW, 2015 Tour of the Merrimack #6
Mitchell, Kirk, Procurator. New York, Ace, 1984.
New Barbarians. New York, Ace, 1986.
Cry Republic. New York, Ace, 1989.
This trilogy also deals with a world where Rome never fell. In the 20th century it is a world-spanning empire with colonies in America, though Rome and China are largely ignorant of each other. The hero is a middle-aged career soldier of the old school, Germanicus Julius Agricola, a scion of the ruling Julio-Claudian gens. Like imperial China, another ancient empire, Rome’s technology has stagnated, everything is done according to tradition. Germanicus wants to revitalise the empire by restoring the Republic. As he sees it, there were two major turning points in Rome’s history: the freeing of a religious leader by Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius and the victory of Varus over the Germans in 9 AD which enabled Rome’s boundaries to be pushed to the Vistula, allowing Germany to be romanised.
Procurator describes Germanicus’s efforts to put down a revolt and deal with internal treachery at a remote fortress in Anatolia where he first encounters a quasi-Islamic religious leader who tells him he has a destiny.
New Barbarians finds Germanicus now emperor and having to deal with an attack on Roman colonies in the New World by the Aztec Empire. He is inveigled by an Anasazi woman to destroy Tenochtitlan.
Cry Republic sees Germanicus deposed and in exile for harbouring Republican sentiments. In Judaea he finds unexpected allies and takes drastic steps to regain his throne.
This is a very well written series, perhaps not as detailed in its forward projections as the Land Fit For Heroes tetralogy but the better for it, though it is very different in not being an allegory. It is peopled by vivid characters and has plenty of action, as well as thought. The world imagined is a convincing one. A minor whinge is that the Latin is a bit peculiar (the plural of pilum is pila, not pili). Also, I felt the final story a tad inconclusive with some loose ends that could have been tidied up.
Monaco, Richard, Runes. New York, Ace, 1984.
This is the first volume of a projected series detailing what happened to Arthur (whom Monaco, like Marion Zimmer Bradley in The Forest House, postulates to have been born during the Roman Empire) between his birth and the time he reappears in history during the Dark Ages, and then down to the present. Unlike Bradley’s work, this is full of magic and ancient entities trying to reclaim Earth.
The Avalonians, creatures of light, have been selectively breeding humans over the ages to help them with their war against the Dark Ones who are imprisoned under the Earth. Now there is the Roman, Leitus, the son of Spartacus but raised as a noble; and the British chief’s daughter, Bita, who must come together to produce the one known as Arthur. However, things don’t go quite according to plan. Leitus fathers a child on Bita’s sister while the Dark Ones unwittingly unleash a destructive force that will slowly destroy everything over time. Interwoven with this are events from Roman history, particularly the turbulent 50s BC, as a backdrop.
Monaco is at his best in describing the lair of the Dark Ones, the dwelling place of the Avalonians and the countryside around Rome. These passages can be quite lyrical. His Mark Anthony emerges as an interesting and attractive character. Beyond that there is little to be said for it.
The chronology is a mess. If you are going to interweave fantasy and history (and not write alternate history), at least get it right. It’s just too confusing otherwise. The book begins in 53 BC then moves forward to 46 BC but actually describes the events of the previous decade! Pompey (who would have been dead anyway) is described as a "young man" while Caesar (six years his junior) is "balding and grey". Other anachronisms abound - Praetorian guards and the City Watch in late Republican Rome are the most egregious.
And Rome itself seems some fantasy place of marble with villas in the city, residential streets merging into farmland, the senate house and forum on a hill, the former boasting tall glass windows, and eucalyptus and palms in the centre of the city!
Monaco, Richard, The Broken Stone. New York, Ace, 1985.
This effort picks up the story 15 years later, shortly after the Battle of Actium. Mark Anthony has a close encounter in a pyramid and sets off to locate Leitus, Bita and Arturus who are in Jerusalem. They in turn are being given the Royal Order of the Boot by their rabbinical friends (cue quota of Jewish mysticism - the Celtic angle taking a back seat here). Meantime gladiator Subus departs for Alexandria to find his 13 year old daughter and her mother. The upshot is a family reunion of sorts in the great pyramid where Leitus’s Uncle Flacchus (sic) has two of the magic stones that caused so much havoc in Runes and Leitus’s daughter, Morga, has the third. She and Arturus have a bit of slap and tickle before falling into hell. The powers of hell are unleashed and Flacchus gets his.
If anything, this is even more tedious than the first book. It is written in that jerky, disjointed single word per sentence or paragraph or verbless sentence style with too many sentences beginning with ‘And’ some American writers think modern and pithy. The history is just as wobbly, too - Cleopatra and Anthony dying on a royal barge; Flacchus being Octavian’s second-in-command (what’s Agrippa, then? Chopped liver?). Once more Anthony is the only interesting character. The rest are cardboard cutouts. We are left at the end with the entertaining thought that Anthony and Cleopatra are destined to be reincarnated - no doubt as Lancelot and Guinevere. Fortunately, we’ll never find out as the series seems to have been aborted at this point.
Nielsen, Nick, ELV-2: Time’s Square. London, HarperCollins, 1999.
In the far future humanity has been downsized – literally – and are only one-sixth of their original height. Likewise their surroundings. This was all part of a massive re-engineering feat carried out over centuries while everyone slept. Unfortunately, the datastores were corrupted with horrendous if amusing results (for example a coconut is called an orange, New York is believed to be London with the Thames on one side and "the other river" on the other and their idea of a macho name is ‘Daphne’ or ‘Hyacinth’). So a timeship was built to find out what really happened (its adventures were detailed in the first book, ELV). In this outing two of the crew, Trafalgar Hurlock and Stilton Cheesemaker, egged on by Trafalgar’s future self, have to go back in time and fix up the messes caused by the first time trip. This takes them to 1506 Florence where they inadvertently pick up Leonard da Vinci, then to the Stone Age and then on to the founding of Rome where Leonardo designs the city for them and then to "the year zero" where he is almost eaten by a lion in the arena, and then back to Florence in 1506 and so on.
This is written in a humorous, somewhat Terry Pratchett style and is one of the few time travel stories I have encountered to confront the question of temporal paradoxes head on. In fact, the whole novel turns on them. It is also worked out with a certain loony logic where everything actually fits together rather well. The Roman segments provide on one hand a somewhat cock-eyed view of Rome’s origins and on the other a rather stereotyped lions and gladiators picture of Rome under Augustus in which some rather ignorant guards claim to be speaking "Roman" Latin and who have never heard of Italians, which seemed too unlikely to me.
Norton, Andre & Shwartz, Susan, Empire of the Eagle. New York, Tor, 1993.
This is another story to look at what might have happened to the Roman legions defeated and captured at Carrhae in 53 BC. The hero is Quintus, a young tribune, who follows the eagle of his legion into captivity. He and a small group of Roman soldiers are taken by a Chinese general from the Parthians, and find themselves marching ever eastward across the Gobi towards Ch’ang-an, the Chinese capital. On their journey they encounter a mysterious woman and an old man, survivors of ancient Mu, who are engaged in a battle with ancient enemies and need Roman help, especially Quintus’s as they claim he is an avatar of Arjuna.
In this novel ancient Mediterranean history and Indian myth meet and blend. This is truly an epic, stirring, and vividly and imaginatively written. This is the work of people who know and appreciate the Romans (we will pass over the glitch about the ‘boyhood Livy’ Quintus studied). The writers know how to use the legionaries’ special qualities as a pivotal part of the story, taking them from the black despair, shame and humiliation of their defeat to their key role in the defeat of the forces of evil. Even the eagle itself has a special part to play, one that has surely crossed readers’ minds given the veneration owed these standards, something touched on in Rosemary Sutcliff’s stories, Eagle of the Ninth or The Silver Branch.
(For other non-fantasy views of the possible fate of the survivors of Carrhae, there are James Watson’s Legion of the White Tiger (Gollancz, 1973) and Alfred Duggan’s Winter Quarters (Peter Davies, 1956))
O’Neill, Joseph, Land Under England. London, Gollancz, 1935. (Reprinted Penguin, 1987)
There is a legend that a passageway leads to an underground world beneath Hadrian’s Wall. This has obsessed Anthony Julian’s father who spent his life pursuing that obsession and then one day disappears. Years later Anthony finds the entrance beneath the Wall and goes in search of his father. Here in the twilight world of no colour and endless monotony, he finds a city peopled with the descendants of those Romans who fled underground to avoid the invading barbarian hordes. Everything is regulated and circumscribed but the people are welcoming, friendly and open, wanting him to join them and give up his ideas of freedom and individuality. They have had to become like they are simply to survive and not to go mad in such a dreary place, we come to understand, but their way is not for Anthony. He must escape them, the elite who have coercive powers of the mind, and his own father, now half-mad.
This is a fascinating book but grim and tragic to think such a strong and vibrant people as the Romans appear to have been should be reduced to these mushrooms.
Parkin, Lance, Warlords of Utopia. New Orleans, Mad Norwegian Press, 2004 ISBN 0972595961 (Faction Paradox)
This is one of a series of stand alone novels concerning the great war between rival powers involving time and the rewriting of history so you don't need to have read the others in the series to enjoy this novel. It is written as the memoirs of one Marcus Americanus Scriptor, a Roman citizen on a world where Rome never fell. At the time of his birth (in what we'd call Manhattan, here an island belonging to his family in a remote Roman colony), a strange old man suddenly appears in Rome speaking an unknown language. He was then locked up for 19 years and the adult Scriptor comes to interview him and thus discovers a bracelet which will take him to an alternate Rome. Eventually, over 500 alternate Romes are discovered, some very similar to Scriptor's, others where China became the dominant power, yet others where religion dominates and even one where Rome is a matriarchy. All have one thing in common: Rome never fell.
A task force is formed made up of Scriptor and his wife and people from some of the alternate Romes. Trade is opened up between the realities centered on Scriptor's world which seems to be the best possible of all the Romes with its long peace, technological advances and so on. Scriptor becomes aware there i a great gulf which seems to be impossible to cross from the Romes on the edge of the known worlds. One day he does manage to cross the gulf and discovers a set of alternate worlds all in what we recognise as World War 2, usually with the Nazis winning. There are multiple Hitlers and some outside force has been meddling so that the Nazis always conquer. Scriptor finds these worlds appalling. However, they become aware of him and the Romes across the gulf and launch an invasion, hence the book's title for these worlds have a Prime Germany just as there is a Prime Rome where everything has always gone its way.
This is a terrific read with each Rome well thought out as well as all the various alternate Germanys (and Hitlers - there's even a reality where he was a communist). The information about Prime Rome is given gradually not as an info dump which is a fault in some of this type of narrative. For example, you come to realise its technology, at least initially, is based on clockwork. You are not told this. This information is given succinctly and entertainingly in a way Romanitas should have been. There is a real sense of menace not only from the various alternate Nazis but from the higher powers manipulating everything. It all works really well and has a satisfying conclusion. Some might whinge that the Latin is a b it ropey but it is otherwise well written and engaging.
Pournelle, Jerry, Janissaries. New York, Ace, 1979.
A group of soldiers under Captain Rick Galloway hired by the CIA for an operation in Africa are rescued by a flying saucer. Their choice was stay put and be killed or come with the aliens, subdue part of an alien planet, Tran, and grow a drug there that can only be harvested during a 20 year period every 600 years when a rogue star returns. They are told little else but are allowed their weapons and armaments. Also on board is Gwen Tremaine, an anthropologist, enticed aboard by the pilot, a non-Earth-born human named Les.
On Tran, Rick is cast out by his second in command, meets up with Gwen and throws in his lot with one of the warring feudatories living there. His superior weapons give him the advantage - but then so do those of his men who have joined a rival warlord.
Most of the planet is peopled by descendants of previous alien expeditions to Earth. Every 600 years they carry off people to grow the drug and quite often return to wipe them out after they have got what they want. Thus the bulk of the planet is Iron Age, a mixture of Celtic and Mycenean peoples. The exception is a Roman Empire made up of descendants taken from the time of Septimius Severus in 200 AD with an influx of Franks from 800 AD. Hence they do not use traditional legionaries but mounted heavy cavalry and they are Christian. Rick manages to train his warriors in modern methods and defeats a Roman force in order to raid for food to stockpile in caverns against the coming time when the rogue star returns. His dream is to bring advanced ideas and technology to the people of this world to help them survive and this includes the Romans.
Pournelle, Jerry & Green, Roland, Janissaries: Clan and Crown. New York, Ace, 1982.
Where the first book was concerned with the arrival and establishment of the mercenaries from Earth under Rick Galloway, this one deals with the alliance between his kingdom and the Roman Empire as the planet slips further towards the Time. He throws his lot behind Marselius who has declared himself Caesar rather than the current weak incumbent and much of the book concerns battles to bring about unity within the Roman Empire and with Tamarthern and Drentos. At the same time, he and Gwen continue with spreading new technologies through the university Gwen runs.
There is a lot more Rome in this novel, however, I found the characterisation not as good as in the earlier one - Rick’s sudden fling with an unnamed Roman women seemed totally out of character and the way it was handled, with no further references or explanation made me lose sympathy with him. In this the women characters are not well handled being given very short shrift, except, perhaps, Rick’s wife, Tylara. Also, the flow of events at times is very jerky. At one point a character drifts in a balloon over a high mountain range and crashes. In the next chapter he is back home with no explanation as to how he was even found, let alone how he got there.
Followed by Janissaries III: Storms of Victory (Ace, 1987), not sighted
Rahman, Glenn, Heir of Darkness. Lake Geneva, WI, New Infinities, 1989.
This story draws its roots from Germanic myth, centring around a ring of power stolen from its German guardians by Zenodotus, a Greek sorcerer, who presents it to Tiberius. Use of the ring by anyone dooms their souls; possession of it by the wrong people, the worshippers of Heid, will bring about Gotterdamerung. Osric, foster son and apprentice of the ring’s last guardian, comes to Rome to get the ring back from Caligula who is now emperor. Also in Rome and opposed to him is the shape-shifting sorceress, Frigerd, servant of Heid. What ensues is a three-way duel between Frigerd, Zenodotus and Osric with allies and pawns such as Herod Agrippa, Caligula, senator Marcus Junius Silanus, an ex-gladiator and his lover and assorted friends.
Quite an entertaining yarn though it follows the trope of corrupt Rome as opposed to noble savage Germans and the conventional depiction of Tiberius as a depraved tyrant. Of course, there is the obligatory gladiatorial sequence as Osric is captured and handed to a gladiatorial school. However it moves quickly and has a quite a fluid style with a balance of description and action. Its chief flaws are a misogynistic subtext (the women are either referred to as "whore" or "wench" and it concludes with two of the heroes being waited on by their women slaves, one being the freeborn Frigerd now stripped of her powers after being raped by the hero) and the appalling amount of typographical errors. Was the copy editor asleep?
Rayner, Jacqueline, The Stone Rose. London, BBC Books, 2006 (Doctor Who) ISBN 056348430
Mickey, who is doing volunteer work taking kids to the British Museum, sees a Roman statue of Fortune which is exactly like Rose. Realising that this means they get to go to Rome, the Doctor and Rose set off to arrive in Rome of the 2nd Century AD. There they encounter a man whose son is missing; a sculptor who until recently was no one at all but now creates extremely lifelike statues and a 16 year old slave girl who is said to be able to foretell the future but who has the odd name of ‘Vanessa’ and knows about Hadrian’s Wall which hasn’t been built yet.This is a well written adventure involving time travel, time paradoxes, displaced futuristic artefacts and a mystery to be solved. The Roman characters are well drawn and sympathetic as are the Doctor, Rose and Mickey. A good read
Rice, Anne, Blood and Gold. London, Arrow, 2002. ISBN 009271494
This instalment of Rice’s popular Vampire Chronicles series tells the story of Marius, her male Roman vampire character who has appeared in Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned and Pandora. He may have been in others but as I am not a particular fan of Rice I haven’t read them.
Marius narrates his history to Thorne, a Viking vampire who has just rejoined the world after centuries of lying about on ice in the cold north. Marius is the Keeper of Enkel and Akasha, the oldest and original vampires who must be preserved because if they are destroyed, every other vampire goes with them. He lugs them about (they have all the animation of molasses in winter and about as much conversation) from place to place over the centuries, keeping their whereabouts secret so others don’t come to them to cop a feed of their superior vintage blood. How this son of a Roman senator from the reign of Augustus becomes a vampire is passed over briefly as it has been described in detail in Vampire Lestat though the fallout is not as Mae, the priest who gave him to the dark god, reappears and plays a major part along with Mael’s companion, Avicus. Most of the action begins in Antioch, two centuries later where Marius lives with Pandora until they separate after a quarrel over Enkel and Akasha, then moves back to Rome not long before it is sacked, then on to Constantinople. Marius then passes over the following millennium and the bulk of the rest of the book is what befalls him in 15th century Venice where he has become an artist of some renown and then on into the next century or so.
This is a tale of vampire obsessions. We are given a hint of this when Marius introduces Thorne to his companion who compulsively builds miniature villages and railways and says it happens to a lot of vampires. Yes – ex-Romans who cart about two almost inanimate specimens of the undead and whose obsession costs him the love and companionship of his fellow Roman vampire. So he spends the next millennium and a half obsessively trying to track her down. Obsessive-compulsive, much? On the other hand, his obsessiveness does develop his talent as a painter, and he does get to meet some interesting people along the way, not all of them well-intentioned, such as the enigmatic Eudoxia.
This is a vividly written book with a fair bit of action (unlike some of the wordy philosophical debates between characters who remind me of a certain type of pretentious undergrad that feature in the first two books in the series). Rice really captures the feel and flavour of Renaissance Venice or the odd atmosphere of Rome before Alaric’s sack. There are some memorable characters in Mael, Avicus, the orphaned vampire Zenobia and Bianca. All in all a good read.
Rice, Anne, Pandora. London, Chatto & Windus, 1998
The vampire Pandora, reluctantly at first, sets her story to paper at the request of a fellow vampire. She tells of her early mortal life growing up the clever, well-educated daughter of a patrician family in the Rome of Augustus, and how she loses her father and brothers to the machinations of Sejanus during the reign of Tiberius. An exile in Antioch she resumes her interest in the cult of Isis and encounters an old family friend, Marius, now a vampire. All the while she is haunted by strange dreams of an earlier life in ancient Egypt and a cult of blood suckers.
Anne Rice is an author you either love or she leaves you cold. I am in the latter category. However, I must say I did rather enjoy this book as it isn’t as turgid as a lot of her writing. The characters are interesting and so are their situations. There none of those interminable deep and meaningful discussions, nor flashbacks within flashbacks that I found so irritating in The Vampire Lestat, for example. Instead there is plenty happening, and a good, clear narrative with some quite poignant moments.
My only whinge is that Rice has some odd (rather Hollywood) ideas about ancient Roman society which mar an otherwise effective recreation (the old saw about how ghastly garum was – this from Pandora herself, the notion that it is was customary to rape the kitchen staff after a banquet, etc.). And she can’t resist the temptation to contrive to introduce some (well known) anecdote about Augustus or some other historical figure and have Pandora or her father present, whether it is likely or even relevant or not.
The Vampire Lestat has a chapter narrated by Marius which deals with his life as the half-Gallic scion of a noble Roman family.
Roberts, John Maddox, Cestus Dei. New York, Tor, 1983.
Several millennia in the future and after a dark age, Earth and its space colonies are ruled by a council of the major religions. The newly rediscovered Flavian system presents them with two things they abhor: slavery and artificial constructs (i.e. androids). Charun, the chief planet in the system, though settled originally by a mixture of Italians, Greeks and Bulgarians, has a society very similar to that of late Imperial Rome: an idle populace, slaves and gladiatorial games.
Sent to bring Charun into line - before a militant Muslim starfleet can get there - is Father Miles, a combat-trained Jesuit missionary with some unorthodox ideas.
This is a lively read with plenty of martial arts action (especially between gladiators and the priest), plotting and counter-plotting and a cast of colourful characters. These range from Parma, the intelligent but uneducated savage turned gladiator to Luigi the fixer, Ludmilla, the sister of the Consul of Charun, Jeremiah the Franciscan friar who has his doubts about Father Miles, Marius the gladiator school owner and assorted women pirates and gladiators. Roberts’s theme seems to be that without something outside of an individual, a moral code and/or belief in a deity, society is bound to stagnate and decline as individuals become increasingly self-centred and unproductive. However, the prose is brisk and entertaining and the message is not allowed to drag it down.
Roberts, John Maddox, Hannibal’s Children. New York, Ace, 2003. ISBN 0441010385
What if Hannibal had defeated Rome? How would history have unfolded? These are the questions Roberts attempts to answer in this novel.
In this alternate reality in 215 B.C. Hannibal besieged Rome and offered them the choice of exile as a nation or death. Reluctantly the Romans agreed to exile provided Hannibal swore to leave untouched their ancestral tombs and their sacred places, though he might loot them. Then the entire population of Rome moved north with their sacred objects to Noricum (modern Austria and part of Bavaria). A great oath was sworn that in time the Romans would return to Rome. In the meantime they carved out an empire unknown to any Mediterranean country where it is believed the Romans are extinct.
In 100 B.C. Marcus Cornelius Scipio is recalled from a campaign to head an expedition south, ostensibly for diplomacy and trade but actually to discover how powerful Carthage is, for recent omens indicate it is now time the Romans returned and took Italy back. Roma Noricum (as the new capital is called) is not exactly united for among the leaders are those of the ‘new families’, recently romanised Gauls. These oppose the expedition. As a result one of their number, Titus Norbanus, is made second in command.
Soon they encounter Hanno, the wily Carthaginian governor of Tarentum, and the even more devious Zarabel, priestess of Tanit and sister of Hamilcar, shofet of Carthage. The rivalry between Zarabel and Hamilcar is bitter and long-standing revolving around the conflict between the new Hellenism (Hamilcar) and the old mystical Carthage (Zarabel). Hamilcar wants to use the Romans in his coming war in Egypt. Zarabel has other plans. Marcus leads some of the delegation to Egypt, believing its wealth could be useful to Rome while Nobanus remains with Zarabel. There Marcus encounters the remarkable Ptolemy queen, Selene, and pursues his interest in military technology. Thus the two rivals find themselves on opposite sides as the Carthaginian invasion force approaches Egypt.
Roberts has created a believable alternate history, carefully working out how it diverges from the history we know. His obvious admiration of the Romans, especially the legions, is a welcome change from the rather more common negative view of them as brutal and unimaginative (especially in contrast to the Celts). If you are not an admirer of Rome this will doubtless grate. Selene and Zarabel are interesting but Roberts tries too hard to make Norbanus a villain – particularly noticeable when his actions are more than competent, even heroic, so Roberts seems to have to contrive something to make him seem unworthy again. There are some minor glitches in the Latin. It should be ‘oppidum’ not ‘oppidium’ and the plural of ‘flamen’ is ‘flamines’ not ‘flaminae’. Some of Marcus’s inventions for the Egyptians are fascinating and anticipate later technology (submersibles). The novel is open-ended suggesting there is to be a sequel.
Roberts, John Maddox, The Seven Hills. New York, Ace Books, 2006 ISBN 0441013805
This is the sequel to Hannibal's Children. Scipio is still in Alexandria encouraging the development of yet more war machines (he already has his submersibles and now his boffins are working on iron ships and flying machines). Queen Selene declares Egypt an ally of Rome but has her price and her own agenda. Meantime Norbanus successfully marches his army across the desert and up through Judaea, gaining great kudos for this feat plus his organising of Judaean affairs (stopping a civil war between two kings) and negotiating with the Parthians. Hamilcar of Carthage decides to attack Italy with a vast army and Norbanus is the one sent against it.
As in the first novel there are lots of fascinating characters apart from Selene, Hamilcar and his sister Zarabel from the first novel such as Queen Teuta of Illyria. There is plenty of political intrigue, not only the rivalry between Hamilcar and Zarabel but also the conflict between Rome's new and old families.
We can see why Roberts stresses the Spartan nature and invincibility of the Romans because these Romans could be nothing else, coming from the remote north and having no contact with Greece and none of the wealth that came to the Romans of our reality following the defeat of Carthage. Here we see signs that their stern virtus is about to crumble even quicker than in our history. Already the legions are loyal to a general and not the state.
Again it is well written with interesting twists in history. It builds well towards a showdown between Scipio and Norbanus as well as between Carthage and Rome.
Roberts, Rhonda, Gladiatrix. Sydney, HarperCollins, 2009 ISBN 9780732288556
22 year-old Kannon Jarrett is an orphan who knows nothing of her past, being discovered as a baby tied up in a cave in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, then raised by one Yuki Jarrett, a part Japanese martial arts instructor. Yuki has been killed in a car accidents and now Kannon runs her martial arts school on the Illawarra. One evening after a particularly trying day, her mentor, ex-police detective Desmond ('Des') Carmichael comes with some footage from a US news program about the disappearance of Time Marshall Victoria Dupree. Yes folks, this is a reality where they have time travel (or at least the USA does, the time portal is in San Francisco) and the other main difference is that the cult of Isis has survived until the 21st century and is one of the major religions though some fundamentalist Christian groups are decidedly hostile to it. It seems that Victoria's daughter was kidnapped some 20 years previously when Dupree was a police woman working on a case. From the photo of the child, Des has concluded that Kannon must be Celeste since he was there when Kannon was found. The only way to find out is for Kannon to find Dupree and ask her.
This is not as simple as it sounds. Victoria was on a mission to the Rome of Augustus to find proof of whether or not the Isis cult practised human sacrifice. Kannon goes to San Francisco and manages to persuade those in the time portal building to let her wait for Victoria's return. However, during a terrorist raid she is dumped into the time portal and ends up in 8AD just outside Rome. Fortunately, she has Victoria's bag from her office which contains a gun and her 'phactor' (a fancy sort of blackberry-cum-palm-top). Once in Rome, she sets about tracking Victoria who had been posing as a gladiatrix, claiming to be her daughter. She meets up with some of the people Victoria had been working for or with who include an agent, an ex-gladiator, a wealthy and ambitious aristocratic woman and priests of Isis. There's plenty of treachery, double-crossing and unexpected allies plus a weird woman who seems to be able to tell the future.
This is a thick book and pretty action packed after a slowish start (desperate heroine and a detailed description of how you'd drive from near Bulli to Lithgow) but once in San Francisco and then Rome the pace picks up considerably. Kannon is an interesting and likable heroine and her aikido skills certainly come in handy (the obligatory gladiator scene is decided very neatly and quite abruptly because of them. Go, Kannon!). Alexander (the Thracian ex-gladiator) is your typical broody 'romance' hero though shows some unexpected traits when not being sullen. However, I get the impression Roberts doesn't like Romans much. There isn't one with any redeeming features, being greedy, treacherous, arrogant, manipulative, etc.
I also found the descriptions of Rome rather modern-sounding. A hotel was described as a sort of Holiday Inn and indeed featured a reception area with a receptionist behind a desk and a happy family tripping along upstairs whereas inns were rather seedy places with dubious reputations usually. There was an awful lot of silk around for the era. In other words I didn't much feel I was in ancient Rome. It sounded more like a Rome-which-has-survied-into-the-21st-century.
Still, it's a fun adventure with an appealing heroine and a different background, southern NSW as opposed to somewhere in the USA or Britain though now she's relocated to San Francisco the 'local colour' may be lost.
Robeson, Kenneth, Doc Savage: The Forgotten Realm, New York, Bantam, 1993. ISBN 055329551
The Doc Savage series of pulp novels by Keith Robeson was originally published between 1933 and 1949 and was reprinted by Bantam in the 1990s. This novel is based on an unpublished outline by Robeson. Presumably someone else must have expanded it and the only clue is that it is copyright to a Will Murray. That it was written recently is indicated by the use of the expression "hook up with" which is very 1990s even though it is set in the 1930s.
A man is found wandering around the ruins of a Roman fort in Scotland wearing a white tunic with a gold border. He speaks some English but mostly classical Latin. He identifies himself only as "X-man". Unsurprisingly, he ends up in the nearest institute for the permanently confused where he grows plants and is a model patient until a stray cat gets into hi s room and he freaks out. Eventually, he escapes.
In the meantime, one of Doc Savage's super-brainy associates, the archaeologist, Sir William Harper-Littlejohn aka Johnny who is in London to give a lecture, sees the item reported in a paper and heads north. Doc Savage and more of his brains trust come to London and follow Johnny. There they find themselves embroiled in a strange adventure involving a lost Roman city in Africa founded by the missing Ninth Hispana legion; a treacherous relics thief and a pair of con artists after the gold of that city, not to mention the current Imperator who banished "X-man" in the first place.
An interesting, fast moving plot with some eerie moments such as the silent mist enshrouded lake in which the island of the lost city stands. Another plus is that the author obviously likes and admires Romans.
On the minus side, it is not particularly well written (syntax, sentence structure) and employs typical pulp prose.
Russell, Gary, Doctor Who: Spiral Scratch, London, BBC Books, 2005
The 6th Doctor and Mel travel to Carsus, a sort of superlibrary put together thanks to the larcenous habits of the Doctor’s old friend, Professor Rummas. There they find him murdered – or is he? It seems someone or something is intent on removing all the Professor Rummases in all the potential universes. Not only that, some of these universes keep disappearing. Who is kidnapping ‘time sensitives’ from various planets in various dimensions and why? What part do the mysterious Lamprey family in 1950s Earth play? Not only are the 6th Doctor and Mel involved but they keep encountering themselves from alternate realities where each ‘Mel’ is slightly different. These alternate realities include one where Rome never fell.
This starts off a bit like some of those annoying New Adventures novels where we meet different characters in different timelines or places and just when things get interesting we move to another set of characters. However, all does come together and a pattern emerges. The story is clear enough and the villain is a bit different. The variations in the Doctor and Mel are fascinating and I rather suspect there are allusions to other BBC or New Adventure or Big Finish stories and characters. It all builds up to a big climax, lots of self sacrifice on the part of the Doctors. After all, you can’t get bigger than reality across all the universes. There’s lots in there and it keeps you reading. There are some nice character studies, especially of the new characters and the 6th Doctor and Mel are well portrayed, much better written for than on TV. But in the end it was not all that memorable with some strangely American-style writing such as short, sharp sentences lacking a verb and some expressions such as “hood” for “bonnet” (of a car). Odd as Russell is English.
Sadler, Barry, Casca: 1. The Eternal Mercenary. New York, Ace, 1979.
Vietnam, 1970, and a soldier is brought in, apparently mortally wounded. Almost before the doctors’ eyes, the head wounds heal. As he regains consciousness, he mutters in Latin. Who or what is this man? Overnight his story is revealed. He is Casca, a native of Latium, one of the three soldiers set to guard Jesus on the cross. He was the one to finish him off with a spear. For that, he is told he will remain exactly what he is, a professional soldier since he is so content with it, until they meet again.
Casca notices little at first, except wounds heal quickly and sickness passes him by. However, his life gets decidedly colourful when he is shipped to the mines for killing a senior officer over a woman. Decades later he is released but sold to a new owner to train as a gladiator. Freed in the arena, he desecrates a bust of Nero and finds himself on a galley until the end of Domitian’s reign. Finally, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, while fighting the Parthians under Avidius Cassus, the full horror of his situation comes to him: the endless cycle of battles, blood and death - for everyone else but him. The book concludes with a return to the present and Casca’s escape from the hospital.
Written by a soldier in a rough soldier’s style which is nonetheless more readable than some others, the novel captures very well the sort of coarse experiences of someone like Casca. Racist, sexist and totally politically incorrect, yet at the end we see he has started to grow past this. Naturally we have the Obligatory Gladiatorial Sequence, but with the added spice of Casca using his recent karate training from a visiting Chinese he met on his travels.
It may not be great literature but it is lively and keeps the attention. My main whinges are some chronological confusion (e.g. at one point Casca seems to be saying Augustus was on the throne at the beginning, then says it was Tiberius. Tiberius is correct); a tendency to mix modern and ancient names for places, often using two names for the one place; a problem with the Latin name for the Roman shortsword which he never gets right; and some odd ideas on gladiators, making them sound more like kung fu schools in a Chinese martial arts film. This is a pity as quite a lot of research seems to have been done into the background (he even quotes a passage from Cicero at one point) and the presence of the Chinese in Seneca’s household could be a subtle attempt to explain certain elements in his philosophy.
In subsequent books in the series, Sadler takes his hero through adventures in various times and places, always the soldier. The others in the series are:
Casca: The God of Death (Ace, 1979)
Casca: Warlord (Ace, 1980)
Casca: Panzer Soldier (Ace, 1980)
Casca: The Barbarian (Ace, 1981)
Casca: The Persian (Ace, 1982)
Casca: The Damned (Ace, 1982)
Casca: Soldier of Fortune (Ace, 1983)
Casca: The Sentinel (Ace, 1983)
Casca: Conquistador (Ace, 1984)
Casca: The Legionnaire (Ace,.1984)
Casca: The African Mercenary (Ace, 1984)
Casca: The Assassin (Ace, 1985)
Casca: The Phoenix (Ace, 1985)
Casca: The Pirate (Ace, 1985)
Casca: Desert Mercenary (Ace, 1986)
Casca: The Warrior (Ace, 1987)
Casca: The Cursed (Ace, 1987)
Casca: The Samurai (Ace, 1988)
Casca: Soldier of Gideon (Ace, 1988)
Casca: Trench Soldier (Ace, 1989)
Casca: the Mongol (Ace, 1990)
Sapir, Richard Ben, The Far Arena. New York, Secker & Warburg, 1979.
A body of a man is found eight metres down in the Arctic ice during an oil drill. He is revived and reveals himself to be Lucius Aurelius Eugenianus, a popular gladiator of the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD). He tells his story to a Latin-speaking nun and with her aid escapes from the team of scientists who wish to experiment on him and treat him as a specimen.
Most of the book alternates between the efforts of the team of scientists to revive him then decide what to do with him, and his own memories of his life and how he came to be frozen in the ice. The latter part deals with his reactions to the 20th century and his new surroundings.
This is very well written. Eugenianus remains in character at all times, and an engaging one at that. He displays an alien attitude to ours regarding the games. There is no attempt to make him think of them as anything but a good show and he is a consummate showman. His friendship with the Scandinavian nun is rather ironic given their totally opposite lifestyles and philosophies. We learn a lot about Roman martial arts and the ways of gladiators along the way, which seem soundly researched and extrapolated. Yet there is pathos - Eugenianus’s world has irretrievably gone. The final chapters in Pompeii’s ruins are very poignant.
Scarrow, Alex, Time Riders: Gates of Rome. London, Puffin, 2012 ISBN 9780141336497
This is the fifth in a series about a group of Time Agents whose brief is to prevent time travel destroying history as we know it. These three are Liam, an Irish youth who should have gone down with the Titanic, Maddy, an American girl who should have died in a plane crash in 2010 and Sal, an Indian girl who should have died in a fire in 2026. They were recruited just before their deaths. It isn't necessary to have read the previous four books as enough background is given in this to know what is going on.
In 2070, the world is cactus, the environment is shot, there are wars and to top it off, some genius has invented a superbug which turns people into sludge - no cure, no defence and it's airborne. Project Exodus has been developed to send 300 of the best and brightest Americans back in time to the reign of Claudius where they will guide the Roman Empire on a more democratic course and hopefully avert the ghastly present by changing history. Well, that was the plan. However, the pandemic causes the Project to be rushed, and far from 300 of the best, they have politicians who have paid to be there plus various makeweights. The result is they end up 17 years earlier, in the reign of Caligula, having lost a lot of their weapons and equipment. Things go even more horribly wrong and further uptime history is overwritten. Caligula's reign went on well into what would have been Claudius's and he was succeeded (after taking on a Christian style religion with him as God/Christ and disappearing) by a whole list of emperors not recorded in our history. Liam, Sal and Maddy who are in 2001 New York, just before the attack on the World Trade Center, experience a number of shifts, each one more cataclysmic than the last, starting with NYPD sporting a trident symbol and Starbucks with a Latin name and culminating with Manhattan completely replaced by a wilderness populated only by a few tribes of Native Americans.
To add to the team's problems, a squad of killer cyborgs sent from the future to destroy them appears. Liam manages to be sent into the past, to 54 AD and tries to set history right, eventually joined by the other two.
This may be a Young Adults novel but it can be enjoyed by any age group. There's plenty of action, the young heroes are well drawn, the alternate Roman history is well worked out and the description of Rome and the Romans is very vivid. This isn't surprising as Alex is the brother of Simon Scarrow, writer of the Roman Legion series (Under the Eagle, The Eagle's Conquest, The Eagle's Prey, etc.) - in fact, as a bonus for fans of that series, Cato and Macro make an appearance, or at least an alternate Cato and Macro as older men. Another plus is the hints of something rather complex and sinister - if not "timey-wimey" - going on as a thread behind the events of this and the previous books, something involving the time agency itself and its founder.
Schiefelbein, Michael, Vampire Vow. Los Angeles, New York, Alyson Books, 2001. ISBN 1555835864. US$12.95
Victor Decimus, a Roman officer serving in Judaea during the reign of Tiberius, befriends then becomes obsessed by a young Jew named Joshu who apparently comes to reject him in favour of his god. Victor goes ballistic and takes it out on various people of Jerusalem, eventually being drawn to a mysterious seeress who promises him the Kingdom of Darkness, a sort of ‘third way’ between Heaven and Hell. In short, he becomes a vampire with a grudge against the god of the Jews and the Christians. For the past 1000 years he has been infiltrating monasteries and dining off the monks before moving on (Henry VIII was not the only one responsible for the dissolution of monasteries, it seems). After his most recent effort, he leaves England for the United States, coming to a small monastery in Tennessee where he believes he has found the one who will enable him to leave this world behind and enter the Kingdom of Darkness.
This is a good, swift read with an interesting and different approach to vampires: that you don’t remain one forever but can choose to move on to the ‘Kingdom of Darkness’ as long as you can find someone to replace you. The unusual setting and ironic concept (a vampire monk with a grievance against the church and an obsession with Jesus the man) are real pluses because at times it is rather gory and Victor is somewhat unsympathetic being self-centred, violent and predatory - even before he becomes a vampire which is probably why he seemed suitable to the seeress Tiresia. However, the Roman sequences aren’t very convincing with some weird anachronisms such as the Baths of Caracalla being listed as among the sites of the Rome of Tiberius!
Followed by sequels, Vampire Thrall (Alyson Books, 2003), Vampire Transgression St. Martin's Griffin, 2007 and Vampire Maker, St. Martin's Press, 2010 which don't appear to have Roman content).
Scott, Melissa, A Choice of Destinies. New York, Baen, 1986.
In this alternate history, Alexander, instead of invading India, turns back, West, to put down a revolt of the Greek cities, and warned by a strange seeress to be careful, manages to avoid an early death. After sorting out the Greek cities, he turns next to Rome, just starting out on its series of conquests…Interspersed with this narrative are vignettes from later in the history of the empire Alexander’s actions create, an empire which lasts at least until the end of the 16th century where, presumably because there was no Dark Age, they have space-flight and Romans and Africans, British and Germans all work together as part of that empire. These vignettes throughout hint as to how they got there, showing the empire slowly evolving.
This is an extremely well written book. The author obviously is at home in Alexander’s world. It isn’t either the sketchy, populist mock-up so many of these alternate or time-travel stories are, nor is it overburdened with research. The characters are vividly drawn and the what-if element well handled and well thought out. The style is readable and a cut above what I, at least, have come to expect from Baen and other such SF publishers.
Smale, Alan, Clash of Eagles: Book 1 of the Hesperian Trilogy. London : Titan, 2015. ISBN 9781783294022
Smale, Alan, Eagle in Exile: Book 2 of the Hesperian Trilogy. London : Titan Books, 2016. ISBN 9781783294046
Smale, Alan, Eagle and Empire: Book 3 of the Hesperian Trilogy. London : Titan Books, 2017 ISBN 9781783294060
Somtow, S.P., The Aquiliad :Aquila in the New World. New York, Pocket Rooks, 1983 (reprinted by Ballantine in 1988) ISBN 0345338677
Set mostly in the reigns of Domitian and Trajan (with a sort of prologue in Nero’s reign), this alternate history concerns one Titus Papinianus who is sent to govern the Roman province of Lacotia, for in this reality, not only have the Romans conquered part of America, they have steam-powered cars and ships. With him is Aquila, a wily old Lakotan chief he first met while warring with the Parthians to protect the emperor’s herd of aurochs (i.e. American bison).
Papinianus, his former tutor, Nikias, the Egyptian sage, Aaye and Aquila have a number of adventures which include an encounter with the Olmecs and people in flying saucers who resemble some of the latters’ gods who come from the far future and who are in pursuit of the Green Pig, a time criminal. And when Trajan sends him to find China which he believes to be in the Americas, the quartet encounter Bigfoot, come unstuck in a potlatch contest (thanks to a Chinook-Egyptian dictionary) and dinosaurs though probably the worst menace is the vagaries of capricious emperors.
This is a very funny book with some outrageous puns, some in Latin (the "scientifictiones’ author, P. Josephus Agricola) not to mention American Indian names rendered into Latin ("Equus Insanus", "Ursus Erectus") and tribes ("Choctavi", "Chirochii") and the very long River Miserabilis. There are some delicious throwaway remarks which imply our own reality is not the proper one at all. One improbable situation follows another with or without the doubtful assistance of inimitable Aquila and there are some great visual images such as Aquila in a war-bonnet, face-paint and toga.
Somtow, S.P., The Aquiliad :Aquila and the Iron Horse. Gillette, NJ, Wildside Press, 2001 (originally published New York, Ballantine, 1988) ISBN 158715319X
Narrated by Aquila’s youngest son, Equus Insanus, now adopted by Papinianus, this picks up a few years after the events of the first novel. Equus Insanus is in Rome being ‘civilised’ and not liking it much since it mainly seems to consist of floggings. A prank with school friend, Lucius Vinicius the emperor’s nephew, to free some Lakotan slaves results him and Papinianus being sent to Lacotia to build a railway across the province (the steam engine having been newly invented, modified from the steam cars of Nero’s reign). Equus Insanus is delighted to return home but soon discovers strange things such as a baby brontosaurus and Lacotians attacking Romans despite being part of the Empire. People are being snatched by flying saucers and returning strangely changed. Apparently, the Green Pig is back and meddling in this universe again while it collapses. Equus Insanus and Lucius Vinicius must capture the Green Pig to save their world.
This is an amusing sequel told by a likeable rogue whose opinions of Roman civilisation and Romans are vastly entertaining. Despite the humour, there are some serious observations on what happens to less technologically advanced cultures when they are swept up by a more powerful ones, how the people are displaced and fall victim to alcohol and their traditions are reduced to mere tourist attractions. Aquila appears briefly as do the sasquatch Abraham-bar-David and the quarrelsome Egyptian, Aaye.
Somtow, S.P., The Aquiliad :Aquila and the Sphinx. New York, Ballantine, 1988 ISBN 0345347919
Swann, Thomas Burnett, Lady of the Bees. New York, Ace, 1976.
(Parts of the novel appeared under the title Where is the Bird of Fire? in his anthology of the same name (Ace, 1970). This earlier version has been reprinted in Classical Stories, edited by Mike Ashley (Robinson, 1996))
This is a fantasy involving Rome’s foundation, Romulus and Remus, the Dryad who helped rescue them as infants, Sylvanus, a Faun rescued by the gentle Remus from the impetuous Romulus, as well as other mythical creatures living in the woods. In amongst all this are woven the legends involving Amulius and Numitor, Rhea Silva and others.
A beautifully written book, it is not afraid to look at the tragedies and harshness of life. The end is a satisfying laying of the foundations for Rome’s supremacy not only in war but as a bringer of civilisation. Here is another author who does not simply equate Rome with mundanity and badness, and the Other (in the form of fauns and dryads) with creativity and goodness.
Swann, Thomas Burnett, The Weirwoods. New York, Ace, 1967.
(A slightly different version was serialised in Science Fantasy #77 and #78 (1965))
This fantasy is set in the late Etruscan period and concerns the town of Sutrium which borders the Weirwoods where the Weir Ones still survive, occasionally trading with the Sutrii. This balance is disturbed when merchant Lars Velcha captures a water sprite boy, Vel, and brings him for his daughter, Tanaquil, as a companion. The part-Gaul flautist, Arnth, comes and helps Vel escape with Tanaquil’s help. Led by Vel, the Weir Ones take their revenge on Sutrium and destroy it.
The Romans do not appear much. Looked down on as cloddish peasants by the Etruscans, they are seen at the end as offering a place of refuge which is accepting of outcasts, and are described as "farmers and traveling players and not princes and slaves". This is a charming fantasy with an unusual background.
Tarr, Judith & Turtledove, Harry, Household Gods. New York, Tor, 2000 (c.1999)
Nicole Gunther-Perrin, lawyer and divorced mother of two, is having a really rotten day. First her baby-sitter announces she is returning to Mexico and can’t take the kids anymore; then she gets done out of a partnership in the law firm (the old glass ceiling); next one of the senior partners tries a little sexual harassment; then her kids come down with a virus and her ex is off to Mexico instead of paying her what he owes in child support; and then the microwave breaks down. In despair she appeals to a votive tablet of Liber and Libera she owns to send her back to a time when everyone was equal all was fine with the world. Uh-huh.
She awakens, not in Los Angeles of 1999 but in Carnuntum of 170 AD, having travelled, via her own DNA to inhabit the body of a remote ancestress, a widowed tavern-keeper named Umma. There she finds things dirty and smelly but she is able to speak Latin and has help from Julia, Umma’s slave. Right away, some of her more precious 1990s sensibilities take a pounding. Not just slavery but children drinking wine, even watered wine, corporal punishment for naughty kids (at one point I found Nicole’s attitudes odd even for Canberra in 2001 never mind Carnuntum in the 2nd century AD.). No doubt the gods intended to be helpful but it seemed as if they visited the curse of ‘may you live in interesting times’ upon the hapless Nicole. She faces pestilence and the death of friends, and a lover, famine, and rape as the town becomes embroiled in Marcus Aurelius’ war with the Quadi and the Marcomanni.
This is a terrific book, despite its length. Nicole is a real (if somewhat alien at times), flawed heroine who yet finds reserves of strength and ingenuity to survive in an unfamiliar time and place (she is quite ignorant of history). Starting off as somewhat prissy and politically correct, she is flexible enough to adapt and change. Unlike the hero of Lest Darkness Fall she cannot bring changes based on her knowledge of superior technology. More realistically, she only knows it exists, not how to reproduce it. The other characters, Julia, the children, her friends and neighbours are all vividly drawn and we have a real taste of life in a Roman frontier town among ordinary folk. Although at times quite grim, there is humour in the story, sometimes in the contrast between Nicole’s attitudes and her surroundings and sometimes arising from the situations that occur.
Timlett, Peter Valentine, The Twilight of the Serpent. London, Corgi, 1977.
This is the third part of a trilogy (The Seed Bearers and The Power of the Serpent are the first two parts) and is the only one to concern Rome. It begins in the reign of Augustus with Joseph of Arimathea and the young Jesus visiting Drucius, arch-mage of all druids in Glaeston (Glastonbury). Drucius tells them druidry’s days are numbered and it is time to pass on the Light to their successors and to aid them. Hence years later, the druids give land to Joseph and the Culdees when they flee to Britain to avoid persecution. Under Cranog, Drucius’s successor, the druids must sacrifice everything so their knowledge does not fall into the wrong (i.e. Roman) hands, culminating in their destruction by the Romans on Mona in 61 AD.
In other hands this could have been a dramatic and moving account of the passing of the old and the coming of the new. However, Timlett has as little concept of building climaxes as he does of syntax and grammar. Written in a leaden style given to repetition of pet phrases and overlarded with Celtic mysticism in the form of a modern reconstruction of druidism, it constantly misses. Dramatic moments are cut off by pages of stilted dialogue where characters exchange screeds of historical information that read more like a school text (the worst being an unlikely conversation between a druid priestess and her Roman captive as if they are comparing notes at a seminar). Having built up to the great battle on Mona, Timlett dismisses the actual event with a sentence and treats us to a couple of chapters on the thematically unrelated Boudiccan revolt before returning to Mona as a sort of flashback. Characters are flat and ill-drawn, particularly the Romans. The historicity isn’t bad but falls over when dealing with non-British history. This is a borderline work, the only fantasy is the druidic involvement with beings on another plane of existence and their connection with Atlantis.
Topping, Keith, Dr. Who: Byzantium! London, BBC, 2001
The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki arrive in the Tardis outside Byzantium in 64 AD. The city is in a state of unrest. Zealots are attacking Romans, Christians or Pharisees; Pharisees are persecuting Christians and Zealots; Romans are trying to keep order while subject to internal plots by ambitious young tribunes against the city prefect and the general. The four time travellers are separated in a market place massacre. The Doctor is rescued by some Christians; Vicki by a poor Greek family; Barbara by the chief Rabbi while Ian is taken by the Romans and ends up in the villa of the city prefect. The time travellers came to observe but become involved in the events though not to the point of changing history. The novel leads into the TV story The Romans as the Tardis is taken to a villa outside Rome and they must follow it there.
The book is set out like a six-part Dr. Who story, each part consisting of several chapters each headed with a quote from one or other of the gospels. It is plain that early church history interests the author, especially in a less obvious place like 1st century Byzantium, then a Roman protectorate and not the imperial city it became several centuries later. The Dr. Who characters are well drawn, especially Vicki who emerges as more spirited and resourceful than she did usually in the TV series while the Doctor’s encounter with some early translators and transmitters of the gospels seems to allow Topping to have a go at the prose of some modern translations of the Bible (as opposed to the King James Version).
The depiction of the lives of ordinary people such as the Greek family Vicki lives with and puzzles is interesting. The actions and attitudes of the Zealots made rather disturbing reading so soon after the events of 11 September 2001 and were given a sharp edge by those events. It is with the Romans there were problems: too overdrawn and not well researched. In short they fell into the brutal decadent Hollywood stereotype (with two exceptions). There were some odd uses of the word ‘tunic’ where characters dropped them on chairs or put them on again when visiting. What had Topping in mind? Similar a palla was described as a dress. Plurals were used as singulars, e.g. sicarii instead of sicarius or mixed as in "consul suffecti". Men’s names gained an extra ‘o’ as in "Hieronymous" instead of "Hieronymus" or were just plain weird such as "Flavia" instead of "Flavius" or "Fabius Actium". Women’s names had their husband’s tacked on as in "Antonia Vinicius" instead of (if you must) "Antonia Vinicii" or were quite anachronistic such as "Jocelyn". The physical description of Byzantium as a city of domes, towers and minarets makes it seem more like the later Turkish city as does the presence of a Bedouin quarter and mention of the Theodosian forum is anachronistic. It is a pity the research was not a little more thorough as the story is a good one, set at an interesting time, and is well in the tradition of the first Doctor and his companions.
Turtledove, Harry, Gunpowder Empire. New York, TOR, 2004. ISBN 0765346095. "Crosstime Traffic" Book 1.
At the end of the 21st century, travel between alternate universes is not uncommon. The travellers are traders because our Earth has solved its resources problems by acquiring foodstuffs, petrol and so forth from these multiple realities. The Solters are an ordinary Californian family with two teenagers, Jeremy and Amanda, in high school except that during the school holidays the whole family relocates to Polisso, a city in Dacia (Romania) in an alternate where the Roman Empire never fell. Not long after arrival, Mrs Solter comes down with appendicitis, necessitating a quick trip home, leaving the kids behind to fend for themselves. The situation becomes grave when all contact with the homeworld and other alternates is lost shortly after the older Solters leave. Things get worse when the Lietuvans (with whom the Romans have been at war on and off for centuries) attack Polisso.
Amanda and Jeremy have a lot of issues to deal with, especially if they might be stuck forever in a place with primitive medicine and sanitation, unrefined food, slavery, no entertainment beyond the arena and rampant sexism. They also must fall back on their own ingenuity in dealing with officialdom, their fellow townsfolk and in defending themselves from the enemy.
This is a rousing ‘young adult’ adventure which captures the sights, smells and rough life of a frontier town under the Roman Empire in a way not dissimilar to Household Gods which Turtledove co-wrote with Judith Tarr. There’s a certain irony in that our world has not really solved its resources problems but moved them sideways as it were. Jeremy is literally nauseated at the thought of even touching furs yet his world gets by with the heavy use of plastics and other synthetics (oils are not used for fuel anymore only for the manufacture of plastics) which must cause a lot of pollution. If I have any complaint it is that there is a certain repetition of information and things tend to be spelled out a bit (this plus the fact the elder Solters have no given names and exist only in relations to the teens is why I have assumed that this is a ‘young adult’ novel. Such readers are likely to come to it from a SF or fantasy background rather than an historical novel one). Turtledove is the only author apart from Silverberg, so far, who has addressed the evolution of the Latin language over the centuries into an Italianate one, though not Italian.
Turtledove, Harry, The Misplaced Legion. New York, Ballantine, 1987. ("The Videssos Cycle")
Part of a legion under tribune Marcus Scaurus is in Gaul with Caesar. During a duel between a Celtic chief armed with a Druid spellbound sword and Scaurus with a like sword, the weapons touch and Marcus and his three cohorts find themselves in a world in another dimension where magic is real. They become attached to the emperor of embattled Videssos, and fight with other mercenaries. However, their great strength and value to their new employer are their discipline and their infantry tactics as Videssos and its rivals use cavalry.
This is an interesting idea but is carried out in a rather flat, jejune way. I never had the feeling I was reading about Roman soldiers. They could have been modern American infantry from speech and attitude. Videssos is a conventional sword-and-sorcery world where characterisation is thin, especially the women who fall into one or two stereotypes.
The other books in this series are:
Emperor for the Legion (Ballantine, 1987)
The Legion of Videssos (Ballantine, 1987)
Swords of the Legion (Ballantine, 1987)
Wagner, Karl Edward, Bran Mak Morn Legion From the Shadows. New York, Zebra, 1976.
Dedicated, appropriately, to David Drake, this continues the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s 3rd Century Pictish king, Bran Mak Morn. A Roman fort is overrun in a particularly grisly fashion and Bran realises there is another player in the game in the conflict with the invading Romans - too foul a weapon even against Rome. These are the Legio IX Infernalis, the offspring of the loathsome worms of the earth and the remnants of the lost 9th Legion. Against such foes, Bran must seek the aid of Morgan, an ancient vampiric warrior-queen.
This is a good stirring mix of supernatural and derring-do battles in the Howard style.
Wentworth, K.D., The Imperium Game. New York, Del Rey, 1994.
Kenrickson is one of the chief programmers in a Westworld-like reconstruction of Imperial Rome where wealthy people play a Dungeons and Dragons type game, the goal being to become emperor or empress. However, when the current emperor is murdered for real and then his fellow programmer, Kenrickson realises something is going badly wrong. Some of the programs go haywire, people disappear and he is accused of murder.
This is as much a whodunnit as a fantasy story as one is swept along with Kenrickson, meeting a lot of shady or peculiar characters as he investigates what is going on. Written somewhat tongue-in-cheek, this is a lot of fun, from the various gods’ manifestations (and quarrels) to Rufus’s lyrical appraisal of Amaelia ( "skin, smooth and pale as the underside of a newborn mouse’s belly, and such eyes, green as the finest plastic...") and the disconcerting way characters drop out of their Roman personae and discuss hit points or experience points.
Watson, Ian, Oracle. London, Victor Gollancz, 1997.
Returning from a conference, Tom Ryan finds what appears to be a Roman centurion on the roadside. As far as Marcus Appius Silvanus is concerned, it is AD 60 (or rather the Roman equivalent) and they’ve just defeated Boudicca. Meantime, Tom’s sister, Mary has been contacted by an old friend, active in the IRA and not far away some curious experiments involving time-travel are being conducted in the name of national security. A nosy gossip-rag journalist sticks his bib in…
This has everything – a temporally displaced Roman, Irish expatriates in England, trying to escape their grim childhood, the IRA, time-travel, boy-geniuses, MI5 and MI6 and the department of dirty tricks, plots on the Queen’s life, to name the most salient. Like a lot of modern books it starts with one group of people, tells their story for a chapter or so, then introduces a second group, focuses on them for a further few chapters, introduces a third group, then a fourth, and eventually a fifth and sixth set of people, then cycles back and forth between them in a device that, in my view, works best in the cinema or with a smaller set of groups. The parts dealing with Marcus and his reactions and adjustments to the 20th century as well as his interaction with the Ryans are the most interesting. Watson brings Marcus and his world alive and these parts compare well with Far Arena. Also interesting are the shonky journalist and his colourful associates. Least interesting and difficult to plough through were the bits dealing with the MI5 and MI6. For some reason I found these tedious. The last third is very gripping, reading as a thriller. However, the end is rather unsatisfactory, begging for a sequel as all but one thread was left, literally hanging with no hint as to what to became of some of the major characters, including Marcus.
Wollacott, L. R., Novo Roma Veneratio, Dedecus et Bellum. [USA], L. R. Wollacott, 2007. ISBN 1419625160
Not yet reviewed.
Yarbro, Chelsea Quinn, Blood Games. New York, Tor, 1980.
One of Yarbro’s series about benevolent vampire, Saint Germain, in this he is at the court of Nero. Here he has to rescue the beautiful noblewoman, Atta Olivia Clemens, from her brutal husband while avoiding various bits of intrigue and plotting against him, one of which puts him the arena for the Obligatory Gladiatorial Sequence. Olivia he turns into a vampire (and she gets her own series). Amusing are the letters from a young Christian which conclude each section. Otherwise, it is a bit overdone with some questionable historicity and nomenclature (and Latin!). It is plain that Yarbro is nowhere near at home in Ancient Rome as she is in the 17th and the 18th centuries and overcompensates by larding her narrative with the ill-digested fruits of her research.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Anderson, Poul, "Delenda Est". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1955). Also reprinted in Time Patrol (Tor, 1991))
Time Patrol agents must undo temporal meddling which has led to a world where Rome never existed. It is divided into large states of Celtic and Carthaginian origins who mostly seem to be at war with each other. The technology is roughly 19th century. The solution is to go back in time to a key point during the Punic Wars to save Rome, despite the agent, Everard’s distaste as he finds "something repellent about the cold, unimaginative greed of Rome."
Anderson, Poul, "Star of the Sea". Time Patrol, New York, Tor, 1991.
A novella in the Time Patrol series, this is set in 70 AD during the revolt of Civilis. Everard and a Dutch archaeologist have to undo a paradox they have unwittingly caused, namely the charismatic power of the shaman-like Veleda. Apart from the rebellious Germans such as Civilis, other characters include the Roman commander, Cerealis, still smarting from his defeat by Boudicca but willing to listen to reason. Everard is still no fonder of Romans.
Anderson, Poul & Gray, Kenneth, "Survival Technique". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990.
(Originally published in 1957)
A time experiment sends three academics to the Rome of Augustus and brings back three slum-dwelling Romans. These three, a woman and two men, escape and disappear after being questioned. It becomes apparent that the three Romans are far better equipped by their background to survive in their new time than the three hapless scientists in the past with their mispronounced classical Latin.
Arthur, Robert, "Don’t Be a Goose". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in 1941. Reprinted in Ghosts and More Ghosts (Random House, 1963))
A professor falls asleep and finds himself inside the body of one of the geese in early Rome, ca. 390 BC.
Bailey, Robin W. "Child of Orcus". Sword and Sorceress I (Bradley). New York, DAW, 1984
A woman gladiator is sent on a mission by Messalina to find a cult with the secret of immortality. She finds more than she expects - a sad ghost, an immortal Roman sculptor and a series of duels in the underworld.
Barker, Clive, "Human Remains". Mammoth Book of Vampires (Jones), New York, Carroll & Graf. 1992.(Originally published in Books of Blood, vol. 3 (1984)
A strange statue-like creature found in a Roman ruin near Carlisle lives by bathing in blood and drawing others’ lifeforce so it can become that other.
Blackwood, Algernon, "Roman Remains". Night’s Yawning Peal (Derleth), New York, New American Library, 1974. (Originally published in Weird Tales, March 1948, and also reprinted in Weird Tales edited by Peter Haining (Neville Spearman, 1976))
A remnant of pagan times in a remote valley in Wales casts a strange spell on a young woman and a recuperating airman.
Bloch, Robert, "Slave of the Flames". The Opener of the Way, Sauk City, WI, Arkham House, 1945. (Originally published in Weird Tales, June 1938. The Opener of the Way was reprinted by Neville Spearman in 1976)
A pyromaniac encounters Nero and his priest in Chicago of 1871.
Booth, Susan, "Scent of Blood". Time of the Vampires (Elrod & Greenberg), New York, Daw, 1996.
Trajan and Hadrian invade Dacia (i.e. Romania) in 106 AD and encounter more than they bargained for - vampires.
Brunner, John, "An Elixir for the Emperor". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990.(Originally published in The Best of John Brunner (1988)
A successful general resents a newly created emperor who is merciful and well loved. He and a senator conspire to kill him. Meantime a Nubian sorcerer whom the general had sent to the arena and the emperor had spared, returns with an elixir of life intended for his benefactor. Instead, he finds his nemesis on the throne. No date is given and the emperor is fictitious.
Cherryh, C.J. & Morris, Janet, "Basileus". Heroes in Hell (Morris), New York, Baen, 1986. (Part of the "Heroes in Hell" shared universe)
Julius Caesar forms an alliance with Alexander the Great in Hell.
Cherryh, C.J., "Marking Time". Rebels in Hell (Morris), New York, Baen, 1986. (Part of the "Heroes in Hell" shared universe)
Napoleon, Augustus and Horatius have another improbable adventure in Hell.
Cherryh, C.J., "The Prince". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in Heroes in Hell (Baen, 1986). Part of the shared universe "Heroes in Hell")
Set in Hell, Augustus, Machiavelli, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and others plot against each other aided by access to computers, jeeps and other things, with the unfortunate and newly arrived Marcus Junius Brutus as pawn.
Cherryh, C.J., "Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth". Crusaders in Hell (Morris), New York, Baen, 1987. (Part of the "Heroes in Hell" shared universe)
Caesar has problems with his son, Caesarion, who has joined the dissidents.
Clement, Hal, "Question of Guilt". The Best of Hal Clement, New York, Del Rey, 1979. (Originally published in 1976)
A man and his family have moved to Dacia from Rome in the 2nd Century AD to try to save their haemophiliac son. The man’s experiments could make him either a medical pioneer - or the first vampire.
Colebatch, Hal & Matthew Joseph Harrington, "Aquila Advenio". Man-Kzin Wars XII. New York, Baen, 2011 (c. 2009) The Ninth Legion plus some Picts and some womenfolk are captured by the Jotoki who had earlier been impressed with the organisation and civilisation of the Romans when they had observed the rescue operations after the eruption of Vesuvius. They hope to use the legion in their wars against the Kzin. Millennia later the descendants of those Romans are still giving the Kzin hell.
Crawford, Anna, "Mystery of the Campagna". Dracula’s Brood (Dalby), Wellingborough, Equation, 1989.(Originally published in Unwin’s Annual (1887))
An artist is ensnared by a Roman vampire entombed beneath the grounds of the house he is renting outside Rome.
Dickson, Gordon R., "Time Grabber". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in 1952)
A scientist unlawfully experiments with a time machine, taking 16 Christians from the arena in Nero’s reign, then realises he must restore the balance by replacing them. So he takes 16 Roundheads from 1649 and sends them to 65 AD. Meantime, the scientist treats his Roman Christians like pet rats as the repercussions mount up.
Doyle, Arthur Conan, "Through the Veil". Clans of Darkness (Haining), London, Sphere, 1971. (Original publication unknown but reprinted in The Conan Doyle Stories (1929), reissued in facsimile by Galley Press (1988))
A couple visit the site of an Ancient Roman camp at Newsteads and briefly recall earlier lives, he as an attacking Pict and she as the wife of a Roman soldier whom he kills.
Drake, David, "Black Iron". Nameless Places (Page), Sauk City, WI, Arkham House, 1975. (Later reprinted in Vettius and His Friends (Baen, 1989)
The Cappadocian merchant, Dama, brings his friend, Vettius, a Roman soldier a Persian sword with a human soul and the tale of an automaton he fought with it, also endowed with a human soul. One of a series of short stories Drake wrote about this pair, set in the 4th century.
Drake, David. "Dragon’s Teeth". From the Heart of Darkness. New York, Tor, 1983. (Originally published in Midnight Sun, vol. 1, no. 2 (1975). A shorter version was published in Swords Against Darkness (Offut), 1977. A later version, based on the longer version and original to the collection, was published in Drake’s Vettius and His Friends (1989).)
Vettius and Dama encounter a semi-human giant in an ambush against the Sarmatians and track down a sorcerer who has created monsters.
Drake, David, "Dreams in Amber". Whispers V (Schiff), Garden City, NY, Doubleday, 1985. (Later reprinted in Vettius and His Friends (Baen, 1989)
293 AD Britain. The revolt of Carausius and Allectus’s part in assassinating him are shown to be part of something more cosmic. They are pawns in a conflict spanning millions of years.
Drake, David, "The False Prophet". Vettius and His Friends, New York, Baen, 1989.
Vettius and Dama’s first encounter. Vettius helps Dama investigate a mysterious prophet who has caused the suicide of Dama’s mentor and who turns out to be unearthly indeed.
Drake, David, "From the Dark Waters". Vettius and His Friends, New York, Baen, 1989. (Originally published in Waves of Terror (Parry), 1976)
Vettius and Dama on a voyage encounter a monstrous shark.
Drake, David and Wagner, Karl Edward, "Killer". Vettius and His Friends, New York Baen, 1989. (Originally published in Midnight Sun, vol. 1, no. 1 (1974). Later expanded into a novel, published by Baen, 1985.)
Lycon, a hunter for the arena, is called on to recapture a mysterious creature from another world which has escaped.
Drake, David, "The Mantichore". Vettius and His Friends, New York, Baen 1989. (Originally published in Swords Against Darkness III (Offut), 1978.)
Dama brings a necromancer and his zombie servant to a deserted inn haunted by the spirit of a mantichore - with disastrous results.
Drake, David, "Nemesis Place". Year’s Best Horror Stories #7 (Page), New York, Daw, 1979. (Originally published in Fantastic, April 1978. Later reprinted in Vettius and His Friends (Baen, 1989)).
Vettius discovers from a Persian sorcerer the existence of a column of gold created by a sorcerer of Antioch a century before and persuades a reluctant Dama to accompany him.
Drake, David, "Lambs to the Slaughter". Foreign Legions. Riverdale, N.Y., Baen, 2002
A detachment of the legion brought by the Guild from the Parthians after Crassus’s defeat at Carrhae, is sent to escort an administrator inland on a newly conquered planet. Neither the centurion nor the administrator think this is a good idea and with good reason. However, Roman ingenuity and doggedness save the day – just.
Drake, David, "Ranks of Bronze". Vettius and His Friends, New York, Baen, 1989. (Originally published in Galaxy, August 1975, reprinted in The Eternal City (Baen, 1990). Expanded into a novel of the same name (Baen, 1986).
A Roman legion, captured at Carrhae, fights an alien war on a low-tech planet.
Drake, David, "The Shortest Way". From the Heart of Darkness, New York, Tor, 1983. (Originally published in Whispers, March 1974. Later reprinted in Vettius and His Friends (Baen, 1989))
Vettius and Dama take a short cut along a road in Dalmatia closed for 50 years - for a good reason. It is infested by a family of undead cannibals.
Drake, David, "Springs Eternal". Crusaders in Hell (Morris), New York, Baen, 1987. (Part of the "Heroes in Hell" shared universe)
Sulla and Messalina enjoy a spiky menage.
Drake, David, "To Bring the Light", published as an original work in a new edition of L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, New York, Baen, 1996.
Herosilla, an educated and atheistic Roman lady, is watching the celebrations of Rome’s 1000th anniversary during the reign of Philip the Arab (244-249), when she is struck by a thunderbolt. She awakes in 753 BC. There she is taken for a goddess because of her unorthodox arrival in a thunderclap, much to her disgust. She must deal with the brothers Romulus and Remus. The former thinks he has a destiny and is rather arrogant while Remus is rather pleasant. Herosilla, like Padway, must engineer things so that the legends can happen and maybe she can find or create some sort of civilisation.
Duane, Diane, "The Fix". The Magic Box (Little). New York, DAW, 2006.
Lucius, a slave boy who works at the Colosseum during the reign of Titus, dreams of owning a wooden gladiator doll. A chance encounter and some divine intervention (the result of a wager between Mars and Venus) help him realise his dreams.
Flint, Eric, "Carthago Delenda Est". Foreign Legions. Riverdale, N.Y., Baen, 2002
A sequel to Ranks of Bronze set some years after the Romans have returned to Earth in their captured Guild ship. A group of the toad-like aliens employed by the Guild rebel, steal a ship and come to Earth offering to help destroy the Guild whose fleet is approaching. This Earth (more or less 21st Century but obviously an alternate) has a few tricks derived partly from the Roman veterans and partly from their own ingenuity gained from years of fighting amongst themselves.
Friesner, Esther M. "Up the Wall" in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine April 1990, reprinted in Dragons! ed. by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, Ace, 1993
The remnants of the 9th Legion left alone on Hadrian's Wall after Rome has fallen have to deal with a dragon with the dubious assistance of a hired hero from the Continent
Greenough, Richards, Mrs, "Domitia". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990.
During the Renaissance, a noblewoman is possessed by the spirit of Domitia, wife of Domitian, at her villa outside Rome
Hamilton, Peter F., "Watching Trees Grow". Futures: Four Novellas (Crowther). Aspect, 2001
Crime novella set in an alternate Britain ruled by descendants of the Romans.
Harrison, Michael, "Some Very Odd Happenings at Kibblesham Manor House". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in 1969)
A manor house in Sussex was built over a Roman temple dedicated to Cybele. A pair of forceps used in the castration of the cult’s priests is discovered and exerts a spell over a young woman who sees herself as a priest in Cybele’s processions. This ancient horror reaches out and destroys the family.
Howard, Robert E., "Kings of the Night". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in Weird Tales (1930) and reprinted in Skull-Face and Others (Arkham House, 1946 and Neville Spearman, 1974), also in Worms of the Earth (Futura, 1969))
Bran Mak Morn leads a loose coalition of Celts, Britons, Picts and others to stand against the Romans. The Vikings in his army won’t fight except under a king so Bran’s sorcerer summons Kull of Atlantis back from the dead to aid them.
Howard, Robert E., "Men of the Shadows". Worms of the Earth, London, Futura, 1969.
A Romanised Norseman is the sole survivor of a troop of legionaries sent north of the Wall. The expedition has been set upon and harried by Picts under Bran Mak Morn, who spares his life and tells him the story of the Picts and his people’s most probable future.
Howard, Robert E., "Worms of the Earth". Worms of the Earth, London, Futura, 1969. (Originally published in Weird Tales, Nov. 1932. Reprinted in Skull-Face and Others (Arkham House, 1946 and Neville Spearman, 1974)
Bran Mak Morn with the aid of a serpent woman, calls on the dreaded descendants of the original inhabitants of Britain, creatures driven underground and now no longer human. He wants their aid to avenge himself on the cruel Titus Sulla who has crucified one of Bran’s Picts.
Kirk, Russell, "The Last God’s Dream". Princess of Other Lands, Sauk City, WI, Arkham House, 1979.
An enigmatic elderly man befriends an American couple in the ruins of Diocletian’s palace at Split in (the former) Yugoslavia. He narrates for them a series of strange experiences he had in a small hotel with a shunned room and a sealed door, involving the emperor Diocletian (reigned 284-305 AD).
Koja, Kathe & Barry N. Malzberg, "In the Last Chamber". Alternate Tyrants (Resnick). New York, Tor, 1997.
A self-aware Caligula reflects on his past.
Long, Frank Belknap, "Little’s Dream" in his novel, Horror From the Hills, Sauk City, WI, Arkham House, 1963.
A 20th century man recounts a dream in which he was a provincial quaestor in Spain, near the Pyrenees, during the late Republic. He persuades the proconsul to send forces into the hills near Pompelo (modern Pamplona) at the terrified request of the local aedile. Twice a year dark people hold unspeakable rites and take a quota of villagers. This year some of the dark people were killed and there is menace in the air. The Roman forces are overwhelmed by primeval horrors.
Long, Karawynn, "And Make Death Proud to Take Us". Alternate Tyrants (Resnick). New York, Tor, 1997.
Cleopatra reflects on her life, Mark Antony and Octavius as she contemplates suicide, then sees a way out of her dilemma.
Lumley, Brian, "What Dark God?". Nameless Places (Page). Sauk City, Arkham House, 1975.
Two train travellers encounter a strange group who invoke the ‘Tuscan Rituals’ (mentioned by Ovid) and one of whom may be a dark ancient Roman deity.
Lupoff, Richard A. "Jubilee" Alternate Tyrants (Resnick). New York, Tor, 1997 The events at the jubilee of the failed assassination attempt on Julius Caesar where the current Caesar, of the Universal Republic has arrived in Terra Australis to welcome back the first Roman spacecraft to Mars.
MacLeod, Ian R., "The Golden Keeper". Asimov’s Science Fiction. Vol. 21, no. 10/11 (Oct./Nov. 1997)
A Roman official posted to a remote part of Egypt is haunted by memories of his father and strange dreams of peculiar entities and cities.
McDevitt, Jack, "The Tomb". What Might Have Been: Alternate Wars, New York, iBooks, 1991. A hunter and a scholar meet in the ruins of a Roman city in a reality where the very name of Rome has been forgotten except by a few because Constantine lost to Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge.
Mooney, Brian, "The Tomb of Priscus" Shadows Over Innsmouth (Jones). New York, Del Rey, 2001
Near Hastings, a tomb of a Roman soldier is discovered, far more elaborate than would be expected. It is covered with the sort of images found at Innsmouth. Priscus was a scholar who became infected with the same alien blight found in the people of Innsmouth millennia later and, moved to Britain and after practising unspeakable rites was crucified and buried there. However, that evil is not dead and the corruption can still spread.
Munn, H. Warner, "King of the World’s Edge". Merlin’s Godson. New York, Ballantine, 1976. (Originally published in 1939)
A parchment in rough soldier’s Latin, found in the Florida Keys, tells the story of Ventidius Varro, a Roman centurion once in the service of Arthur, who had to flee with his legionaries far away across the seas where he endeavoured to set up a new Rome among the Aztecs.
Nelson, R. Faraday, "Nightfall on the Dead Sea". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in 1977)
An old centurion, living during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD), narrates a tale of his youth when he was posted to Bethlehem in Judaea. A series of attacks by an unstoppable, blue-skinned man in death robes plagues the place.
Pain, Barry, "The Bottom of the Gulf". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990.
What happened to Mettius Curtius after he leaped into the chasm that opened in the Roman forum, according to legend in 362 BC.
Pumilia, Joe., "Forever Stand the Stones". Year’s Best Horror Stories, vol. 4 (Page). New York, Daw, 1976.(Originally published in Jack the Knife (1975))
Walter Deacon is drawn into Stonehenge to replace the Lord of the Portals who lives outside space and time and wants to be free. In an attempt to obliterate Walter’s existence in space/time, the Lord sends him back through the past to kill one of his ancestors, each time causing suffering and death. These journeys are to 15th century Wallachia (where he is Vlad the Impaler), Ancient Rome (where he is a witch) and Ancient Babylon (where he is a demon). Meantime, in Ancient Britain just before the Roman invasion, a young druid leaps into the Portal and finds himself in 19th century London ... as Jack the Ripper.
Roberts, Keith, "Survey of the Third Planet". The Eternal City (Drake), New York, Baen, 1990. (Originally published in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1966))
Aliens decide that the nice blue world would be easy pickings for their traders. They reckoned without the primitive but persistent and efficient military organisation they found there.
Sheckley, Robert, "The Resurrection Machine". Time Gate (Silverberg & Fawcett). New York, Baen, 1989.
In the future, scientists are able to recreate historical personages as computer simulations. One such is Cicero who encounters anarchist Bakunin. Cicero is very much the wily politician who gets the better of his "creators" .
Sheckley, Robert, "Simul City". Time Gate: Dangerous Interfaces (Silverberg). New York, Baen, 1990.
Bakunin finds a newly created palace in cyberspace which he shows Cicero. They discover that one of the chief share-holders of the company which owns them wants to enter their world and rule over them. He also has recreated Cleopatra to be his queen. (Cleopatra is less then impressed). Cicero and Bakunin try to thwart him but encounter a new player in the game – Julius Caesar.
Silverberg, Robert, "To Be Continued". The Songs of Summer (Silverberg). London, Gollancz, 1979. (Originally published in 1956)
Gaius Titus Menenius has just achieved physical maturity and the ability to father a child two millennia after he was born as he has aged at a very slow rate. Over that time he has assumed many identities, often simultaneously. Now he must find a woman to be his wife and the mother of his child from among his acquaintances in 20th century New York.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 1202 Prologue". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003.
Set in 450 A.D., historian Lentulus Aufidius and his friend discuss how things might have been if Moses had succeeded in leading his people out of Egypt.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 1282 With Caesar in the Underworld". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003.
Set in 529 A.D., Rome is beset by Goths and Vandals and needs military aid from the Eastern Empire so a marriage alliance is planned. Faustus an official, and his friend the playboy younger son of the ailing emperor, entertain the ambassador from Constantinople with a tour of Rome’s underworld.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 1365 A Hero of the Empire". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003.
In 612 A.D., Horatius is exiled to Arabia but still entertains hopes of doing something to benefit the Empire and win himself back into the Emperor’s good graces. Though the Greeks of the Eastern Empire seem to be territorially ambitious, he decides the Saracen Mahmoud with his charisma and preaching about one god is the greater threat.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 1861 The Second Wave". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003.
Describes the debacle which occurs when the Roman Empire attempts to conquer the Americas in 1108 A.D.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 1951 Waiting For the End". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003. (Originally published in 1998).
In 1150 AD weakened by the failed invasions of the Americas, the Western Empire finds itself at the mercy of the Greek-speaking Eastern Empire.
Silverberg, Robert, "An Outpost of the Empire". Roads Not Taken (Dozois and Schmidt). New York, Del Rey, 1998. Also in Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003. Originally published in 1991 by Agberg Ltd.
A Roma Eterna story set in AD 1453 in which a high-born Byzantine lady of Venice forms completely the wrong impression of a young Roman proconsul, based on her own prejudices.
Silverberg, Robert, "Getting to Know the Dragon". Far Horizons (Silverberg). (Originally published by Agberg in 1999. Also in Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003.)
A Roma Eterna story set in AD 1750 concerns a historian writing about the golden age of Trajan VII, 250 years earlier, and the horrifying details of Trajan’s circumnavigation of the world.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 2568 The Reign of Terror". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003
Set in 1815, two well-meaning men, one a general and the other a consul, try to put the empire back on track after several generations of inept emperors, with bloody results.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 2603 Via Roma". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003. (Originally published by Agberg Ltd in 1994)
A Roma Eterna story which depicts the fall of the Caesars, the murder of most of the Imperial family ion AD 1850 and the re-establishment of the second republic.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 2650 Tales From the Venia Woods". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003 (Originally published by Agberg Ltd in 1989)
Another Roma Eterna story which tells of the last of the old imperial house living quietly as a recluse in the forest outside the city we know as Vienna in 1897.
Silverberg, Robert, "A.U.C. 2723 To the Promised Land". Roma Eterna. New York, Eos, 2003 (Originally published by Agberg Ltd in 1989)
Some Jews still living in Egypt, led by a charismatic Egyptian Jew, Moshe, attempt to build a spaceship in AD 1970 to take them to a promised land. His death sees the start of a new religion in the Middle East with Moshe being looked on as the Son of God.
Stasheff, Christopher, "The Simulated Golem". Time Gate: Dangerous Interfaces (Silverberg). New York, Baen, 1990.
A client wants to recreate Rabbi Loew to see if he can create a Golem and won’t listen when told this is just a legend. To force Loew’s hand, they release hunter programs which will seek out and destroy simulacra and so the Rabbi does create a Golem but one programmed not to kill in order to defend Joan of Arc, Caesar, Cicero and others who are fighting for their lives.
Stirling, S. M., "The Three Walls – 32nd Campaign". Foreign Legions. Riverdale, N.Y., Baen, 2002
Vibulenus and his cohort lay siege to an enemy fortress during a fight between a tribe the Guild supports in its conquest of a particular area and those resisting. This calls on all the cohort’s ingenuity with sieges despite the fact they loathe their commander and what is being done to them.
Zebrowski, George, "The Numbers of the Sand." What Might Have Been: Alternate Wars, New York, iBooks, 1991.
A historian watches the meeting between Hannibal and Scipio at Zama in many different realities.
NOVELS NOT SIGHTED
(Excludes those already mentioned as parts of trilogies or series)
Arnold, Edwin, Lepidus the Centurion. New York, Crowell, 1901.
Cherryh, C.J. & Morris, Janet, The Gates of Hell. New York, Baen, 1986. (Novel in the "Heroes in Hell" shared universe)
Cherryh, C.J. & Morris, Janet, Kings in Hell. New York, Baen, 1986. (Novel in the "Heroes in Hell" shared universe)
Levy, Elizabeth, Running Out of Time. New York, Knopf, 1980.
Wheeler, Jill, There’s No Place Like Rome. New York?, Abdo, 1988.
Anderson, Poul & Karen, The King of’Ys 1: Roma Mater. New York, Baen, 1988.
Anderson, Poul & Karen, The King of Ys 2: Gallicenae. New York, Baen, 1988
Anderson, Poul & Karen, The King of Ys 3: Dahut. New York, Baen, 1988.
Anderson, Poul & Karen, The King of Ys 4: The Dog and the Wolf. New York, Baen, 1988.
Baxter, Stephen, Emperor (Time's Tapestry book one). London, Gollancz, 2006
Davidson, Avram, Peregrine Primus. New York, Ace, 1971.
Holland, Tom, Attis. London, Allison & Busby, 1995.
Richards, Kel, The Case of the Vanishing Corpse. Sydney, Hodder & Stoughton, 1990.
Jackman, Stuart, Death Wish. Oxford, Lion, 1999
Ludlow, Jack, Pillars of Rome. London, Allison & Busby, 2007
Ludlow, Jack, Sword of Revenge. London, Allison & Busby, 2008.
Ludlow, Jack, Gods of War. London, Allison & Busby, 2009
Richards, Kel, The Case of the Secret Assassin. Sydney, Hodder & Stoughton, 1992.
Richards, Kel, The Case of the Damascus Dagger. Sydney, Hodder & Stoughton, 1994.
Richards, Kel, The Case of the Dead Certainty. Sydney, Hodder & Stoughton, 1995.
Whyte, Jack, Dreams of the Eagle: The Skystone. Toronto, Viking, 1992.
Whyte, Jack, Dreams of the Eagle: The Singing Sword. Toronto, Viking, 1993.
ROMANS WITH FANGS
"Vespertilia" ("A Mystery of the Campagna" by Anna Crawford,, 1887)
"Olivia Clemens" (created by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, featured in Blood Games ,1979; A Flame in Byzantium, 1987; Crusader’s Torch, 1988; A Candle for D’Artagnan, 1989)
"Ludovico" (A Delicate Dependency by Michael Talbot, 1982)
"Marius" and "Pandora" (created by Anne Rice, featured in Vampire Lestat, 1985, Pandora,1998, Blood and Gold, 2002)
"Helen" and "Julian" (The Evil That Men Do by Nancy Holder, 2000)
"Victor Decimus" (Vampire Vow by Michael Schiefelbein, 2001)
"Valerius Magnus" (Seize the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon, 2005)
"Appius Livius Ocella" (Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris, 2010, 10th in the Sookie Stackhouse series)
"Divia" and "LaCroix" (Forever Knight, TV series (1989; 1992-1996) particularly "A More Permanent Hell" and "Ashes to Ashes"). "LaCroix" also features in spinoff novels: Intimations of Mortality by Susan M. Garrett, 1997; These Our Revels by Anne Hathaway-Nayne, 1997 and A Stirring of Dust by Susan Sizemore, 1997)
Doctor Who 4-part story The Romans, first broadcast 1965. The time-travellers arrive in AD 64 and become involved with Nero and his court.
Two Thousand Years Later (Bert Tenzer Productions, 1968) 80 min. colour film. Roman soldier kept in suspended animation by god Mercury is sent back to Earth to warn of impending doom but falls victim to TV hucksters.
Star Trek episode, "Bread and Circuses", first broadcast 1967, set on a planet where the Roman Empire still flourishes with such modern touches as televised gladiatorial games and Jupiter motorcars.
Empress of the Othernow Play performed in 1995 by the Huntingdon Drama Association, script by Peter Vialls, set in Londinium in 1969 and about the God-Emperor Livia, featuring the Doctor, Romana and Cybermen
Forever Knight episode "A More Permanent Hell", first broadcast, 1996, set in AD 79, Pompeii in flashback wherein LaCroix and Divia become vampires.
Fires of Vulcan Big Finish, 2000 CD and cassette . Audio Dr. Who play with the 7th Doctor and Mel set in Pompeii AD 79
100 Big Finish, 2007 CD. Four audio Dr. Who plays, one of which sees the 6th Doctor visit Rome of 100 BC where Evelyn, his companion, tries to change history, thinking Julius Caesar might have been improved if he had been "Julia".
Old Soldiers Big Finish 2007 Audio Dr. Who novel in the Companion Chronicles series featuring the Brigadier, an old fortress dating from Roman times and an invasion from the past.
Doctor Who "Fires of Pompeii" first broadcast in 2008, set in Pompeii in 79 AD on the eve of the eruption of Vesuvius. Do the Doctor and companion, Donna, try to warn the inhabitants or do they let events take their course?
Doctor Who "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang" first broadcast in 2010. The Doctor and Amy arrive near Stonehenge in 102 AD where they encounter a Roman legion which is not what it seems (one does treasure the shot of a Cyberman staggering back, with a gladius through its gut and the legend of the faithful centurion guarding the Pandorica through time)
Doctor Who: Demon Quest: The Relics of Time by Paul Magrs. BBC Audiobooks, 2010. The 4th Doctor and housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey find themselves in ancient Sussex during the Roman invasion. The tribesmen say the Romans have a wizard, and this old man seems to the the Emperor Claudius but he is quite unfazed by references to future events and some of the futuristic items the Doctor and Mrs Wibbsey have.
Doctor Who "The Wedding of River Song" first broadcast 2011. In a reality which should never have been, time has stopped and everything happens at once. Thus Churchill lives in Buckingham Palace as a Caesar, people wear togas, a Roman soldier in a chariot is seen stopped at a traffic light. Charles Dickens is to appear on a television program to talk about his new work, and so on.
Doctor Who: Wrath of the Iceni by John Dorney. Big Finish, 2012 The Doctor takes Leela to learn about her ancestors, pitching up in Norfolk at the time of Boudicca's revolt.
Doctor Who: Luna Romana by Matt Fitton. Big Finish, 2014. The Doctor and Roman I go to ancient Rome in the search for the Key to Time.
"The Futurists" story and art by Mike Collins. Doctor Who Magazine issue no. 372 (16 Aug. 2006)-no. 374 (11 Oct. 2006) The Doctor and Rose find a Roman soldier in an altered 1920s Italy where Futurist architecture is taking over, literally. They then journey back to Roman Britain of the late 3rd century only to find the Futurist invasion is happening there.
Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies
The Detective and the Toga Annotated bibliography of historical detective stories both novels and short stories set in Ancient Rome. Includes works in languages other than English.
Also news of recently published and forthcoming books. Also has some useful
articles on aspects of Roman culture such as togas and daily life. Kept well up
Historical Fiction Set in Rome Has redesigned the website making it easier to use but the data on it remains a bit dated with nothing later than 2006 as far as I can see meaning more recent novels of the likes of Lindsey Davis, John Maddox Roberts, Stephen Saylor, Simon Scarrow not to mention newer authors like Douglas Jackson and Anthony Riches simply aren't there. I feel it's strength lies with the older novels from the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries.
Historical Novels website. Ancient World
A.D. 62 Pompeii
Authors (these are not necessarily writers of alternate Rome stories, they may write straight Roman historicals or Roman mysteries but I like them and wanted to put links to them in anyway)
Albert A. Bell
R. M. Meluch
Alex and Simon Scarrow
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