My Schedule for Phoenix Comicon 2017

In which I provide my busy schedule for Phoenix Comicon, May 24-28, 2017.

I’m very excited to be going to PHXCC. I loved New York Comic Con 2015, and I loved San Diego Comic Con 2016… but some of my writer friends tell me they love Phoenix the best. So I’m eager to check it out for myself!

And I have a lot going on there. Eleven hours of programming — six panels, five signings, a meet-the-authors evening, breakfast with my editor, dinners with the whole terrific Random House/Del Rey crew (editors, publicists, authors). That’s a lot to cram into a few days. I am going to be, as the Emperor Commodus says in the Gladiator movie, a “busy little bee.”

If you want to see my panels on the official PHXCC web site,  here’s a link:

https://register.growtix.com/schedule/phoenix_comicon_2017/Alan_Smale?guest=36778

But below I list all my panels and signings for you, so you don’t need to poke about.

Wednesday 24th, 7:00-8:00pm: Elevengeddon! Not part of the Comicon proper, meaning you don’t need a PHXCC pass to attend: it’s a joint signing arranged by the Poisoned Pen independent bookstore, at the Hilton Scottsdale at 6333 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 85250. A bajillion other authors will be there with me. Well, okay, 24 in total. But way more than eleven.

Thursday 25th, 10:30-11:30am: Writing Ask Me Anything: “Ever wanted to have a pint with a bona fide best-selling author? Well, you may not be able to share a dram with them, but you are welcome to ask them anything. These authors come from across all genres and have been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt and are ready to answer your questions.” With Quincy J. Allen, Neo Edmund, Alexandra Oliva, Aprilynn Pike, and Alan Smale. North 126AB.

Thursday 25th, 1:30-2:30pm: Rock Up! Getting It Right With Military And Historical Accuracy: “Historical and tactical accuracy are key to making any story come to life and more believable. These authors know firsthand, some from real-life experience, how to rock up and make it wire tight at all times.” With Myke Cole, Jason M. Hough, Kevin Ikenberry, Warren Ochse, and Alan Smale. North 126C.

Thursday 25th, 3:00-4:00pm: Signing. Alan Smale and Jason M. Hough. Del Rey booth, Exhibitor Hall

Friday 26th: 10:30-11:30am: What’s New at Del Rey?: “Adventure, science fiction, innovation, fantasy: The publishers of some of the genre’s best and brightest stars are here to talk about what they’ve got coming out and what’s next on the horizon for Del Rey Books.” With Terry Brooks, Pierce Brown, Robin Hobb, Jason M. Hough, Rob Reid, Alan Smale

Friday 26th: 12:00-1:00pm: Get Me Out Of Here! “Time for some cross-genre fun and maybe make one of our authors scream “Get me out of here!” We will be asking our authors questions about something outside their genre and let you decide if their answer holds up. Let’s see what a sci-fi writer knows about magic systems or a fantasy author knows about the Andromeda nebula.” With Ryan Dalton, Christina Henry, Scott Lynch, Brian McClellan, Amy K. Nichols, Alan Smale, and Sam Sykes. North 126C.

Friday 26th: 1:30-2:30pm: Signing. With Beth Cato, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ochse, and Alan Smale. North 124AB

Friday 26th: 8:30-11:30pm: Drinks with Authors and Creators. Anyone with a guest badge gets free admission and drink tickets (all others at $10). There will be a cash bar and plenty of space to talk, draw, drink, and unwind.

Saturday 27th: 10:30am-11:30am. Signing. Alan Smale, Robin Hobb, Rob Reid. Del Rey booth, Exhibitor Hall.

Saturday 27th: 12:00-1:00pm: Build a Story Workshop. “Ever wanted to help build a story framework and then flesh it out as bona fide fan fiction? Imagine doing it with award-winning authors from different genres. The goal is to build a story framework in an interactive environment and then flesh it out and make it your own. We may even Web publish some!” With Ryan Dalton, Nero Edmund, Christina Henry, Jason M. Hough, Michael MacLean, Amy K. Nichols, and Alan Smale. North 126C.

Saturday 27th: 1:30-2:30pm: All Things Steampunk. “Steampunk in literature can cross boundaries, bend genres, and most certainly has the best costuming! These steampunk authors share their experiences writing in this increasingly popular genre.” With Quincy J. Allen, Kevin J. Anderson, Elizabeth Bear, Jim Butcher, Beth Cato, and Alan Smale. North 126AB.

Sunday 28th: 1:30-2:30pm: Signing. Pierce Brown, Bradley P. Beaulieu, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Brian McClellan, Alexandra Oliva, and Alan Smale. Exhibitor Hall.

Looking forward to a great time! Hope to see you there!

PhoenixComicon_Smale

 

 

Eagle and Empire book release month: May 2017 blogs and interviews

In which I provide a compendium of links to the guest blogs and interviews I did to promote the final book in the Clash of Eagles series, Eagle and Empire, released May 16th, 2017, including Scalzi’s “The Big Idea”, Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit”, and a ton of others. Frankly, I’m super-excited about the response to these books, and very happy to have been able to talk about it on so many great webby places.

5/15: On “Unbound Worlds”, I discuss why alternate history matters:

http://www.unboundworlds.com/2017/05/heres-why-alternate-history-matters-fantasy-writing/

5/15: A very fun interview with the great Paul Semel:

http://paulsemel.com/exclusive-interview-eagle-empire-author-alan-smale/

5/16: Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit”:

http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/favorite-bit-alan-smale-talks-eagle-empire/

5/17: On Signature Reads: Why We Love the Romans, In All Their Complicated, Bloody Glory”:

http://www.signature-reads.com/2017/05/love-romans-complicated-bloody-glory/?ref=5BE65931A39A

5/18: John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” on his blog, “Whatever”:

The Big Idea: Alan Smale

And you can find excerpts of Eagle and Empire in several places, including Paste Magazine, the Barnes & Noble site, and Unbound Worlds 50 Page Friday:

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/05/exclusive-excerpt-eagle-and-empire-by-alan-smale.html

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/mongols-invade-north-america-excerpt-eagle-empire-alan-smale/

http://www.unboundworlds.com/2017/05/50-page-friday-eagle-empire/?ref=9708FA4C47BE

I’ll be adding to this blog as new interviews, guest blogs, and other fun things appear online — at the time of writing (5/19) at least as many more again are planned, so check back over the coming weeks!

My Schedule for Worldcon 2016

In which I describe where you can find me at MidAmericon2, the 74th Worldcon, to be held in Kansas City, MO, August 17-21. Four panels (one I’m moderating), a writers’ workshop, a reading, a signing, and a kaffeeklatsch. And some parties.

(1) Kaffeeklatsch. Thursday 10am-11am. (2211 KKs).

(2) Panel: The Year in Astronomy. Thursday 3pm-4pm, with Mark L. Olsen (M), Brother Guy Consolmagno, John DeLaughter, Alan Smale, Henry Spencer. (3501F-A/V)

(3) Panel: Cleaning Up Your Prose. Thursday 6pm-7pm, with Alan Smale (M), Randy Henderson, Rob Chilson, Rebecca Schwarz, C.C. Finlay. (3501B)

(4) Writers Workshop. Friday 10am-noon, with Alan Smale and Rick Wilber (now filled).

(5) Signing. Friday 1pm-2pm, with Jeanette Epps, Alex Jabolokow, Lyda Morehouse, Lawrence M. Schoen, Alan Smale, and Mary A. Turzillo.

(6) Reading. Friday 7:30pm-8:00pm.  (2202)

(7) Panel: Twentieth Anniversary Sidewise Awards. Saturday 1pm-2pm, with Steven M. Silver (M), Alan Smale, Walter Jon Williams, Brendan DuBois, Ken Liu, Rick Wilber. ((3501F-AV)

(8) Panel: Revealing the Past through Alternate Histories. Saturday 4pm-5pm, with Eric Flint (M), Alan Smale, Walt Boyes, Kate Elliot, Esther Friesner (2504B)

Phew. Yep, I’ll be busy. DM me if you want to try to meet up with me outside these times…!

 

March/April Blogs and Interviews

In which I provide a compendium of links to the guest blogs and interviews I did to promote the release of Eagle in Exile (on-sale date March 22, 2016), including Scalzi’s The Whatever, Mary Robinette’s My Favorite Bit, Tor.com, SF Signal, SFFWorld… Lots. Lots. Even more than this time last year, for Book One, Clash of Eagles. Growth is good.

2/17SF Signal’s Mind Meld: The Secret Sauce of Alternate HistoryA dozen alt-hist authors, including moi, expound on what makes good alternate history, how we research and write, and which books we like.

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2016/02/mind-meld-secret-sauce-alternate-history/

2/22: I am interviewed by the great Paul Semel  about Eagle in Exile, research, what my coworkers at NASA think of all this, and… Romans in space?

Exclusive Interview: Eagle In Exile Author Alan Smale

3/15: What’s my favorite bit of Eagle in Exile? Mary Robinette Kowal knows…

My Favorite Bit: Alan Smale talks about EAGLE IN EXILE

3/18: My Dear Readers feature for Del Rey, featured on Suvudu.com. It’s all about maps. Because the map is the territory.

Dear Readers: A Letter from Alan Smale

3/17: Podcast: I am interviewed by The Week in Geek on Fox Sports 1280AM, down there at the Market of the Mud. I mean, New Orleans.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/twigradio/2016-03-17-twig?autoplay=1

3/22: Podcast: I talk to the Functional Nerds about working for NASA, Eagle in Exile, singing high energy vocal music with The Chromatics, and much more:

Episode 267 – With Alan Smale

3/22: “Five Oddball Books about Time Travel by Brits”; my feature for Tor.com about those timey-wimey weirdos across the pond. Oh wait.

http://www.tor.com/2016/03/22/five-oddball-time-travel-books-written-by-brits/

3/22: Here, I’m on John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea”, being more thoughtful than usual about the philosophy of What I Wrote. This turned out to be my vision statement for the whole trilogy. (But no real spoilers.)

The Big Idea: Alan Smale

3/31: In which I am interviewed by Sally Janin of The Qwillery about Eagle in Exile, my characters, the publishing biz, and dining with the dead. We had a lot of fun with this one.

http://qwillery.blogspot.com/2016/03/interview-with-alan-smale-author-of-the.html

4/1: Interviewed by Lauren Samer of Inverse about concepts and characters, inspiration, TV, and my writing-future.

https://www.inverse.com/article/13541-alan-smale-prefers-alternative-history-asking-the-prophet.

4/1: I talk with Andrea Johnson of SF Signal about short fiction vs. long, maps, The Chromatics, and the engines that will take us to Mars. “History is Cool!”

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2016/04/history-is-cool-an-interview-with-alan-smale-author-of-eagle-in-exile/

4/6: On the Campaign for the American Reader, I take the Page 69 Challenge. As with Book One, it’s surprising how pivotal Page 69 is in Eagle in Exile.

http://page69test.blogspot.com/2016/04/eagle-in-exile.html

4/13: And to round out this baker’s dozen of promo, I am interviewed by Matt Mitrovich of SFFWorld about Eagle in Exile, flying, great historical walls, and whether what-if writers can really enjoy the Superbowl.

http://www.sffworld.com/2016/04/interview-with-alan-smale/

Woo-hoo! That was quite a Book Release Month…!

Back Above Water

In which I reappear after a six month absence, and try to figure out where I’ve been.

Okay. Wow. I knew I’d have to take a bit of a break from blogging, but I didn’t know it would be that long.

It has, in fact, been exactly six months since my last post, which I wrote at New York Comic Con. And that feels weird, because it seems like I was at NYCC just yesterday. I had a great time there. I know a lot of people hate the crowds and the lines and the sheer slog of getting from A to B, but I was in heaven. I loved walking the halls and seeing so much enthusiasm for genre: books, movies, comics, games, TV shows. It was my first Comic Con, and I had a most excellent experience.

And on top of that, there was my time at the Del Rey booth. The Del Rey people are efficient, tireless, well organized, really smart, and have a keen sense of humor. Loved working with them, loved getting cramp in my hand from signing so many books. Enjoyed hanging out in the back of the booth — and down at the bar — with them, and with a number of Del Rey’s other authors.

I will resist the urge to name-drop. Yes, I will. For now. Because getting to meet so many of my writing heroes -and- a bunch of awesome debut authors who are going through just the same things as me right now deserves a more thoughtful appraisal, at some point.

Anyway, since getting home from NYCC, it’s pretty much been the salt mines for me. I was on a tight deadline to deliver Book Three, and I took it seriously, while also taking the day job seriously at the same time, so that means I’ve been working 60-70 hour weeks. Constantly. I did NaNoWriMo, to power me through the second half of the book. Zoomed past 50,000 new words on November 26th and kept going. And then I had to edit all those words. Long story short: I’ve now delivered Eagle and Empire to Mike Braff at Del Rey, and I’m eager to see what he has to say about it and get his feedback. At the moment the manuscript clocks in at 167,000 words, so I’m predicting there may be a leetle bit of structural editing required. But it’s done, the story is all there, the way I always wanted to tell it, and I’m very happy with the book.

Oh, and in the meantime… Book Two came out! Eagle in Exile hit the streets on Tuesday, March 22nd. Over February and March I wrote about 20,000 words of guests blogs, interview Q+As, and other associated promo stuff. I’ll be devoting a whole blog post to that soon, including a handy compendium of links.

And now that my head is back above water after all the writing and promo, I’ll try not to be such a stranger to my own blog pages. Hmmph!

 

New York Comic Con – free books, free coffee, and me.

In which I briefly describe my schedule for my trip to the Big Apple for New York Comic Con, Oct 9-12.

I do solemnly swear that that I will eventually get back to posting something other than my upcoming con schedules. But This Is Not That Post, because I’ve been busy writing Book Three and getting sick and getting better and I leave tomorrow for NY, so I should really throw some information up about it now.

This will be my first ever Comic Con, so I’m pretty excited about it. Although I was a bit startled to learn that NYCC is now larger than San Diego. SDCC’s attendance caps at 130,000. Last year’s attendance at NYCC was like 150,000 people. Whoa. And I used to think Worldcons were, you know, kinda big. I’m breaking a seven-year streak of going to Capclave because NYCC is the same weekend. Capclave attendance is, oh, a few hundred. Oh boy.

Anyway, I’ll be at NYCC all day Saturday and Sunday, and my scheduled signing times are:

Signing: Saturday 10th, 3:00pm-3:45pm, Del Rey booth #2205. Free books.

Signing: Sunday 11th, 12:00-12:45pm, Del Rey booth #2205. Free books.

Yes. Del Rey will be giving out FREE copies of Clash of Eagles for these signings. Seriously. They do that, because Del Rey are that awesome. Come at other times and get free books from Naomi Novik, Terry Brooks and many more. The full schedule for the Del Rey booth is online at

http://suvudu.com/files/2015/10/2015-NY-Comic-Con-Programming-DEL-REY-ONLY-HANDOUT2.pdf

If you want to chat with me at other times, DM me through FB, Twitter, or alansmale@gmail.com and we’ll figure out how to meet up.

If you’re in NY but not going to NYCC, you can still get to hang out with me and lots of cooler people who actually know what they’re doing, because there’s an Author Coffee Klatsch on Monday, 11am-1pm, at Penguin Random House, 1745 Broadway. The event is free to attend but you need to RSVP ahead of time and they aren’t giving free books away at this one. Here are the full details:

http://sf-fantasy.suvudu.com/2015/09/post-nycc-author-coffee-klatsch-at-penguin-random-house.html

From the list of writers who’ll be there, it’s obvious that this is going to be a great event. Come if you can!

Okay, I gotta pack. See ya there.

Baltimore Book Festival!

Woo-hoo! Next weekend — Fri Sept 25th through Sun Sept 27th — I’ll be at the Baltimore Book Festival. During the course of the weekend we’ll have 30+ authors at the SFWA Tent of Awesomeness, and I’ll be one of ’em. Sunday is my big day, with 3 panels and a signing, but I’ll certainly be around the other days too. Including the Saturday, 6pm-7pm: Meet the Author Social. Which, looking at the list of authors attending, I think is going to be pretty great.

My schedule for Sunday is As Follows:

11am-12 Noon: Design Your Own World.  “Join us in a Rousing Game of Stump the Panelists with a Worldbuilding Mashup – Audience Participation Encouraged. Learn what goes into creating fantasy and science fiction worlds.”

Panelists: Tobias S. Buckell, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Anna Kashina, Don Sakers, Alan Smale … although frankly, stumping me with this kind of thing? Probably not hard at all. 🙂

12 Noon – 1pm: Science in Science Fiction and Fantasy. “Which comes first: fiction or fact when it comes to science in Sci-fi and fantasy? Where do the “soft sciences” fit in? Ask our experts!”

Panelists: Karen Burnham, Jack Clemons, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Anna Kashina, Don Sakers, Alan Smale — I’ll be moderating this one.

2pm-3pm: I’ll be at the Signing Table!

4pm-5pm: Timey-Wimey Stuff: Time Travel, Alternate History, and Historical Fantasy.  “Sometimes past is present and future is past — especially around a time traveler. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Learn what’s what when we change the past, and how to avoid historical goofs and time travel gaffs.”

Panelists: DH Aire, Tom Doyle, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Alan Smale.

The full online schedule for the SFWA Tent of Awesomeness — along with details of who else is going to be there — can be found at:

http://www.baltimorebookfestival.com/schedule/location/11/Science-Fiction-and-Fantasy-Writers-of-America

Come along. I think it’s going to be a good time.

My Worldcon 2015 Schedule

In which I tell you about my schedule for Worldcon 2015. What? Panels, a reading, a signing, and a… gameshow?

My schedule for Worldcon has now been confirmed by the organizers, and here it is!

(1) Wednesday 19th, 13:00-13:45, Exhibit Hall B (CC)  Autographing. Bring books, book plates, crockery, random objects. I’ll sign anything that isn’t offensive. The full list of participants at this event: Erin Lale, Gerald Nordley, Alan Smale.

(2) Wednesday 19th, 19:00-19:45, 300D (CC)  Panel: To Include or Not To Include… Evaluating Writing Critiques. “When you’ve had a manuscript critiqued, you’ve gotten feedback… likely tons of it. But how do you sort out the good advice? What do you do with conflicting advice? New and mid-level writers can be led astray by critiques as easily as helped by them. This panel will discuss how to choose the advice that benefits your writing while still keeping it your story.”  Panelists: Alan Smale (M), Karen G. Anderson, Jennifer L. Carson, Scott Edelman, Patricia Briggs.

Having participated in a Writers of the Future workshop, Taos Toolbox, and two Rio Hondos, and having had a variety of beta readers for books and stories over the years (and critiqued many other writers too), I may have some opinions about this. 😉

(3) Thursday 13:30-14:00, 301 (CC)  Reading. From Clash of Eagles, or the upcoming sequel Eagle in Exile? You choose! 

(4) Thursday 19:00-19:45, Bays 111B (CC)  Panel: Connecting Your World’s Past with its Present. “The sense of ancient history in The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire is palpable and helps to make these series particularly rich.  When you develop a speculative environment, do you build the ancient history early on, or do you write the current history and then go back to weave in elements of the past?  What are some examples of where developing the past worked seamlessly…and examples where it seemed grafted on?”  Panelists: Julia Smith (M), Peter Charron, Patricia MacEwen, Alan Smale, Lezli Robyn.

I’ve never seen a panel title like this before. Quite thought-provoking, and should be fun – especially as my old friend Peter Charron from Taos Toolbox will be on the panel too, and I know -he’ll- have smart things to say…

(5) Saturday 16:00 – 17:00, Grand Ballroom: Salon III (Doubletree)  Panel: Sub-Genre Games. “SpoCon Presents: Sub-Genre Games. Are you deep for dystopia? Crazy for cyberpunk? Feverent for urban faerie? Soft on steampunk? We’re pitting ten sub-genres against each-other to see which should shed its “sub” prefix and become a fully-fledged genre alongside the towers of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Does YOUR favorite sub-genre have what it takes to stand alone?”  Panelists: Jessica Rising (M), Taiyo Fujii, Caren Gussoff, Frog Jones, Nick Mamatas, Christie Meierz, Steven Silver, Alan Smale, Kaye Thornbrugh, Dan Wells.

I’ll be honest: I have no idea what to make of this one. I guess we’ll all just show up and see what happens. I anticipate mayhem and shenanigans!

And if you don’t make it to any of these, feel free to stop me in the corridor and say hi. Hi!

The Decline and Rise of the Roman Empire

In which I argue that the Decline and Fall of the western Roman Empire was by no means inevitable. [This is the Director’s Cut of a two-part essay titled “Decline and Rise” that originally appeared on Suvudu.com in March.]

In the Clash of Eagles trilogy the ancient Roman Empire did not fall on schedule, and in 1218 A.D. a Roman legion crosses the Atlantic to invade the newly-discovered North American continent. There they face a mighty wilderness, confront the Iroquois and Mississippian cultures, and get much more than they bargained for.

Now and then I encounter polite incredulity at the notion that the western Roman Empire could survive until the thirteenth century with recognizable classical legions, their soldiers armed with the familiar gladius, pugio, pilum and all the rest. Some people assume that, since the Roman Empire declined and fell in our universe, it had to fall. That the Imperium’s collapse was almost preordained, a consequence of marauding tribes from without and moral decay and degenerate leadership from within.

I think this greatly overstates the case.

First, let’s look at what really happened. Then I’ll offer up a straightforward way in which it might have turned out very differently.

In the third century A.D., everything went to hell for Rome. It’s known as the Crisis of the Third Century, and for good reason. The Crisis was foreshadowed by the atrocities and persecutions of the Emperor Caracalla (198-217 A.D.) – of whom more later – and the utter bizarreness of his successor, the flamboyant and decadent zealot Elagabalus (218-222). The emperor who followed, Alexander Severus (222-235), tried to bribe the Empire’s enemies to go away rather than facing them in battle, alienating his legions, who eventually assassinated him. Certainly dodgy days for the Roman leadership.

This breakdown of Imperial power was followed by a half century in which 26 men ruled as emperor, many of them army generals claiming the position by force. In the process of almost constant civil wars the frontiers were stripped of troops, allowing a broad range of incursions by foreign “barbarian” tribes plus a resurgence of attacks from the Sassanids to the East. Just to mess with the Empire further, the Plague of Cyprian (probably smallpox) hammered it from 250-270 A.D., further reducing military forces while helping to promote the spread of Christianity.

Although it took until 476 A.D. for the western Roman Empire to completely founder, leaving Constantinople as the power center of a transformed eastern Empire, the rot was clearly irreversible after the Crisis of the Third Century. Organizationally, the most ominous step was the precedent of dividing the Empire into parts. Once division of the Empire became acceptable (during and after Diocletian’s reign, 284-305 A.D.), the demise of Rome was inevitable. No coming back from that.

But was all this predestined? Somehow programmed in? Could the Crisis of the Third Century have been averted?

Yes. Rome had introduced significant constitutional changes before, notably under Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.). With sufficient will and strong leadership, such things were possible.

So let’s go back to the beginning of the Third Century. Emperor Septimius Severus died in 211 A.D., leaving his empire to be ruled jointly by his sons, Caracalla and Geta. Caracalla was thoroughly unpleasant, and his murders, massacres, and persecutions make him a close runner-up to Caligula for paranoid brutality. Caracalla clearly had no intention of sharing the Empire with a brother he hated, and murdered Geta within the year. Caracalla then strode off as sole ruler into his reign of terror.

By all accounts, Geta was a much calmer, more thoughtful and reasonable man than his brother (although maybe this is a low bar). And perhaps on one critical day in December 211 A.D., Geta could have been just a little luckier, surviving Caracalla’s attempt on his life.

In the world of Clash of Eagles, this is exactly what happens. Geta escapes his grisly fate and flees Rome for Britain, where he is greatly respected by the legions. Factions align. Senators and armies choose sides. The Empire descends into a bloody ten year civil war, and almost collapses in the process. But ultimately, Geta wins.

Geta and the Roman Senate have experienced a cataclysm they never want Rome to experience again. They have looked into the abyss of chaos and societal collapse, and backed away. So when Geta proposes civil reforms to limit his own Imperial power and that of his successors, and plants the seeds for military reform to curtail Roman legions’ bad habit of supporting their own candidates for the throne and acting as kingmakers, the Senate is right behind him. The Severan Dynasty solidifies the Empire. Classical Roman culture perseveres. And there is much rejoicing, Roman-style; feasts and gladiatorial games and such.

Nothing about this scenario is at odds with Roman psychology. From Julius Caesar onward, the Senate would have dearly loved to curb the powers of both their dictators and their generals. Emperors used the power of the legions not only to put themselves into the Imperial purple but also to maintain themselves there… and to win arguments with the Senate.

If legions are not distracted – and often destroyed – by the Imperial struggles all through the third-century Crisis, Rome’s long-term future looks much brighter. A strong army can defend Rome’s borders. Strong emperors can beat back the Parthian resurgence.

What about the “barbarians”, you say? Well, massive migrations of hostile tribes into the Empire had been halted in earlier centuries by the likes of Julius Caesar and Trajan (98-117 A.D.). Similar incursions could have been held at bay again by a succession of determined emperors and competent armies in later centuries. The surge of Goths into the Balkans in 376 A.D. could be terminated and future troubles deterred by ruthless massacres. For examples, see how Rome razed Carthage to end the Third Punic War in 146 B.C., and how Trajan smashed the hell out of Dacia in 101-106 A.D. If the Romans were anything, they were ruthlessly efficient in their slaughter of their enemies. It wouldn’t have been pretty. But it would have been effective.

In my scenario, Emperor Geta quite unknowingly puts in place the safeguards that prevent the Crisis. His successors prove to be equally competent. The Empire continues to be ruled through strong central control. The military stays solid. The Rhine is never crossed by hostile tribes; Rome is never sacked by the Visigoths. The Empire is never split by power-sharing emperors and Byzantium – Constantinople – never rises to become dominant. The western Roman Empire lives on.

I think that does the trick. If you agree, feel free to stop here.

If not, let’s dig deeper into the Official Causes of Rome’s Decline and Fall.

And here we hit an interesting wall, and for me the most telling point: if even professional historians and other well-read experts can’t agree why Rome fell, the conclusion that its fall was inevitable is pretty hard to sustain.

For Edward Gibbon, “the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness.” Meaning that the Empire was unsound to begin with, due to lack of civic virtue, and its use of non-Roman mercenaries and the advent of Christianity ultimately caused its death knell. Vegetius, too, blamed military decline due to immoderate use of mercenaries. Many have proposed a slow decay of Roman institutions all through the centuries of the Principate.

Prominent economists, however, blame unsound economic policies. Joseph Tainter, an anthropologist, blames social complexity and diminishing returns on investments. Military historian Adrian Goldsworthy points to the weakening effect of endless civil wars and the decline of central authority. Historian William McNeill blames disease, geochemist Jerome Nriagu lead poisoning.

There are, in fact, over 200 different theories for why Rome fell. This preponderance can perhaps be blamed on the lack of strong evidence – the death rates from the Cyprian plague are guesses, for example, and precious few economic documents survive from the Rome of the third to fifth centuries A.D.

But to simplify: a number of these causes look suspiciously like effects – the effects of a weak central authority, combined with an out-of-control military promoting its own favorites for emperor and weakening the borders in the process – and seem avoidable.

In my scenario, the much more moderate Geta has defeated his notoriously brutal brother Caracalla in a sustained civil war at the beginning of the third century A.D. and ushered in an alternate timeline where the Empire is not weakened by almost a century of turmoil. Given the military reforms I’ve postulated, mercenaries are less necessary and can be kept under firmer control, their leaders are less likely to rise up against Rome. The borders stay firm. The so-called “barbarian” tribes are forced back or eradicated.

The economy remains strong, bolstered by plunder. The religion of the Christ-Risen thrives, but church and state remain separated. People still die from plagues and contaminated water, but with strong central authority paying attention and without the general devastation of almost constant civil war, many dire effects can be mitigated. And thus the Roman Empire expands in a series of fits and starts through the rest of Europe, and ultimately into Asia.

But does it live on unchanged? Does Roma still have recognizable legions in the thirteenth century?

Maybe so.

The Romans did adapt when they needed to. They adopted new ideas when they found them. But only if they saw an overwhelmingly good reason to do so.

And if they didn’t, they stayed with the tried-and-true. In fact, the Roman army was extremely conservative. Weapons and tactics remained largely unchanged between the Marian reforms of 107 B.C. and the late third century A.D. The military formations used by Julius Caesar were still commonly used well into the third and even fourth centuries. As it turns out, most Roman military disasters were caused by the army’s strategic and tactical inflexibility.

Beyond the tactics, the rituals of the military triumph remained unchanged throughout Roman history. Contemporary books discussing Roman army marching camps written 300 years apart describe exactly the same layout, and this is backed up by archeological evidence. Often even the individual signa – the symbols of various centuries and legions – persisted for centuries.

Weapons and armor barely changed either. The Roman pilum endured unaltered for 600 years, swords and daggers for almost as long. By the third century A.D. helmets were evolving to provide more protection, based on innovations copied from the barbarians. But it took a long time for these changes to manifest. Back in Urbs Roma, the same. Cowell’s Life in Ancient Rome reports that the main elements in Roman clothing “remained practically unaltered throughout almost the entire thousand years of Rome’s history.” Rome was already well into its decline by the time major sartorial changes kicked in. Housing styles, likewise.

And why? Underlying it all, Roman society was based on a system of patronage, a vertical patron-client relationship that defined Rome from top to bottom and was strongly resistant to change: “the web of interlocking obligations was tightly woven and made change difficult” (Everitt, The Rise of Rome). Keeping their society stable was Job One, and by and large the Romans did an outstanding job for centuries.

Unlike our own society, in ancient Roma change was not a given. It came slowly, and at a cost.

Some of those slow changes are evident in the 33rd Hesperian Legion of Gaius Marcellinus. The legions are certainly recognizable, but by no means identical to their third century counterparts. By 1218 A.D. tribunes have more direct responsibility for specific cohorts than they did in ancient Rome, and auxiliary forces are an integral part of the legion rather than being treated as a separate unit. (Over the long haul, such assimilation would be essential for efficient command and control.) In the Clash of Eagles trilogy soldiers are allowed to marry while in the army, and take furloughs between campaigns. Neither was permissible in ancient Rome, and both improve morale. Most crucially, promotion in the Roman army is now essentially merit-based. While there’s still a tendency for some tribunes to be political appointees, skilled and determined men like Marcellinus and Aelfric can and do work their way up the ladder to prominent leadership positions. The shapes and functions of Roman weapons – gladius, spatha, pilum – have not changed, but in the thirteenth century they are made of steel rather than iron.

And so, in Clash of Eagles, the Empire marches on. And good luck to them, for in the forests, plains and rivers of Nova Hesperia, the legions of Rome will face challenges that not even two millennia of ruthless conquest have prepared them for.

We see the world of Clash of Eagles through the close point of view of Gaius Marcellinus, who doesn’t spend a whole lot of time pondering history. He has other things to worry about. But if these books were set in Europe or Asia rather than North America, a number of other differences in society and technology would be apparent. If I get the opportunity to write further in this universe once the Clash of Eagles trilogy draws to a close, maybe we’ll get to see more of the slow-but-steady changes time has wrought across the Roman world.

Sound and Vision 1 – Podcasts and TV

In which I provide links to two podcasts and a TV interview – with Fictional Frontiers, Scientific American, and Fast Forward TV respectively.

I doubt you’ve ever wondered what I look and sound like when discussing ancient Rome and ancient America, but, if you had, here are some links that would help you. My fun podcast interview with Sobaib Awan of Fictional Frontiers can be found at:

http://www.fictionalfrontiers.podcastpeople.com/posts/60295

Next up, I was interviewed by Steve Mirsky of Scientific American’s Science Talk for a podcast entitled “Mississippi Mound Builders Meet the 33rd Legion”, and this you can find at:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/mississippi-mound-builders-meet-the-33rd-legion/

Last but definitely not least, the good folks at Fast Forward TV interviewed me on camera as part of their excellent long-running series of interviews of science fiction and fantasy writers. Find me and many even more famous people on the main Fast Forward TV board, or jump straight to my interview on YouTube at the links below:

http://www.fast-forward.tv/ff-interviews-gallery

Thanks go to interviewer Tom Schaad and all the production team, but especially Mike Zipser and Kathi Overton, for this one.

I certainly had a great time giving these interviews. Hope you enjoy them too!