Thursday, April 22, 2010

De Bello Lemures Featured At


The gracious folks over at The Indie Spotlight were kind enough to feature De Bello Lemures today.

I'd like to thank Ed Patterson and the other folks in charge over there.

Their site is a great resource for keeping track of the Indie book scene, particularly on the Kindle. [The iPad may get there one day, but right now the Kindle is still pretty much "where it's at" in terms of having a vibrant Indie book community.]

Check it out!


Monday, April 19, 2010

They're Dead, Jim.


I'm doing my best to wedge the story told in The Last Days of Jericho into both the available archaeological evidence and into the Biblical account.

This required me to be something of a schizophrenic, because I don't accept the accuracy of the Biblical account, and I think that Kenyon makes a compelling case that Jericho wasn't even occupied any more during the late Bronze Age - but I wanted to tell a story that required me to pretend that I didn't believe this. I had to pretend to accept Wood's dates, which are probably wrong, and the account in Judges and Joshua, which are almost certainly wrong. I ended up forging a messy compromise where I said, "OK, let's say that there was an independent city-state at Jericho, and there was an invasion as described in the Old Testament - but let's do the best we can to place those events in the context of as accurate a depiction of Late Bronze Age Canaan as the available research permits."

On the bright side, taking the real history of the Late Bronze Age seriously allowed me to enhance the Biblical account in ways that were, well, a whole lot of fun. For example, I am indebted to Richard Gabriel's excellent The Military History of Ancient Israel for his account of the chariot tactics employed by the Canaanites. Gabriel persuasively argues that a Canaanite force equipped with chariots, facing an enemy with no chariots on open and flat ground, would have almost certainly attempted to employ a mobile defense based on hit and run tactics; they would only have relied on siege defenses as a last resort. This means that the Biblical account, which leaps directly from Joshua's use of spies against Jericho to an account of the seven-day siege and its associated miracle, cannot be complete. In such circumstances, the Canaanites would have at least attempted to contest the Hebrews' crossing of the Jordan, and would have similarly attempted to engage them on the plain.

Including an engagement between the Jordan and Jericho was a great self-indulgence on my part - since I got to put on my SM Stirling costume - but I think most readers will get a big kick out of this "Military Horror" section. And as fans of Steven Spielberg will know in advance, a military situation where two armies meet and one of them is carrying the Ark of the Covenant can mean only one thing: face-melting. Win!


Friday, April 9, 2010

Writing About Ancient Urban Environments


One interesting thing about writing historical fiction is the challenges you face in describing urban areas.

In the course of working on The Last Days of Jericho, I have discovered that those challenges are magnified when trying to describe an urban area with a pre-monetary economic system.

When writing a scene set in, say, Rome during the Republican era, you can entertain the reader by focusing on the things about Republican Rome that are familiar. You can stress the similarity to modern experience. John Maddox Roberts has a neat little trick he employs a couple of times in his SPQR series: the narrator will walk down the street and stop at a sidewalk vendor to buy a sausage on a roll. The reader reads this and thinks, "A hot dog cart! He just stopped at a hot dog cart!" It's a neat little point of reference that stresses the ways in which some prosaic activities in that urban environment are very similar to the reader's own experience.

The problem I encountered while working on The Last Days of Jericho is that the economy of Bronze Age Canaan was pre-monetary. Money had not yet been invented as a medium of exchange. How do you describe an urban area where no one is using money? When your narrator walks through it, what does he see? It doesn't sound that tough until you sit down and actually try to do it.

The preliminary research I did revealed that the scholarly consensus is that the Canaanite cities had what are known as Redistributive Economies on a model similar to that of Ancient Egypt. All products effectively belonged to the king or the city and would be collected and stored centrally, and then distributed by the primitive state apparatus to the population. Readers familiar with the Old Testament story of Joseph and his sojourn in Egypt can see traces of this economic system in the tale of Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dreams. Joseph sees the years of famine coming, and the Pharaoh increases the amount held back in storage as a result; he is then able to distribute the stored-up produce when the famine arrives.

In terms of coming up with a way to work this economic system into a novel, the first obvious modern equivalent would be the Soviet system. The obvious imagery would be to depict the Canaanites as the Bronze Age equivalent of Russian shoppers standing in long queues to receive their ration of borscht. But the problem is that Canaanite society was class-based - their Redistributive Economy was not a communist economy, despite its centralization. There was a professional warrior class, a merchant class, a class of craftsmen, etc. - all of whom appear from the archaeological and limited literary evidence to have been on different economic levels. So I needed a way to combine the diversity of Canaanite society with its economic centralization. I think I found a good way to do that - and I hope that readers will like my solution.

What did I do? You'll have to read the book when it comes out to see the answer to that question.