Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Death by Greek Fire

Thought I'd offer this for possible review.  The opening chapter to the second Decimus Julius Virilis novel I'm writing.  The novel/series is about a 1st Century Roman detective who is somewhat of a cross between a Sherlock Holmes and a Jason Bourne character.  But set in the intriguing times of Caesar Augustus' Rome.

And really, if you're into History like I am, the era of Octavious Caesars's Rome was absolutely chock-full of intrigue and danger.  Just built for these kinds of novels.

So here goes.  Give it a try.

7 AD
On a hilltop overlooking a mountain valley road

            Death comes in the deepest portion of the night. Suddenly and without warning.  Especially here.  Deep in enemy territory surrounded by sullen mountains shrouded in dark forests underneath low lying carpets of icy fog.  Unseen death stalks the careless.  An arrow from out of the darkness.  The sudden thud of a hurled javelin cracking into one's lorica segmentata.  The unexpected surge of a black figure rising out of the darkness followed by the swift stroke of cold steel across yielding flesh. In the night death comes sudden, swift and sure.  Especially here, on this strangely quiet, foreboding night in Dalmatia.  The promise of death so near in the darkness it was making the entire legion nervous and fidgety.   He knew from his long experience soldiering what fear could do to a legion.  A legion spooked and restless on the night before a possible battle contained all the ingredients for disaster.  Fear could make a legion, led ineptly, to bend  . . . to yield ground . . . and eventually to shatter like cheap pottery thrown onto a cold stone floor.
            Not that the commander was inept.  Inept was a harsh descriptor.  It connoted incompetence and a casual disregard of assigned duties. Young would be a better description.  Inexperienced.  Thrust into the command of a legion long before he was ready for it.  The young Gaius Cornelius Sulla was just old enough to be elected into the Roman Senate.  Old enough, but contrary to tradition and Roman law, the young Senator had never served in the army.  Never held one of the minor political offices which were normally prerequisites before running for a Senator's seat.  Money, and his father's reputation, allowed the boy to bypass mere formalities.  He was suitably impressed with the duties of being a legion commander.  He wanted to prove to his father he was the man and son his father wanted.  It was just that . . . well . . . the lad was but a boy.  A boy given the commanded of Roman legion which was sorely below nominal strength in manpower and finding itself hurled into the depth of enemy territory without proper training and equipment.
            Youth untrained, and a legion improperly handled, were the ugly ingredients needed for a recipe of unparalleled disaster.
            Twenty-four years serving in one legion or another had taught him what the end results of a legion shattering like a piece of thin glass would be.  A horror beyond description. The killing would be endless.  Roman soldiers throwing down their shields and swords as they ran from the battlefield in a mass panic only to be ridden down by the enemy's cavalry or assaulted by roving bands of sword and axmen.  Hacked to pieces or ran through by fast riding cavalry, the memories his past burned brightly in his mind.  He knew if such a debacle happened on the morrow there would be few, if any, survivors.  Especially here in this mountainous country overran with ravaging madmen filled with bloodlust and hate for anything Roman.  That's why, throwing a heavy campaign cloak over his shoulders as he stood near the warmth of a burning brazier, he preferred inspecting the army's perimeter in person. 
            Stepping out of his tent, pulling the heavy wool cloak tighter around his shoulders, he took his time setting his bronze helm over his brow before reaching for his officer's baton firmly clamped under his right armpit.  On either side of his tent's entrance the two legionnaires snapped to attention and saluted in perfect unison.  Acknowledging their salutes with a wave of his baton he eyed the camp to his right and left in silence and then turned his attention to the nine legionnaires standing directly in front of him.
            The young decanus, or a contriburnium commander of eight men, saluted smartly as the eight legionnaires behind him snapped to attention.  One glance from his old eyes told him he and his men had spent some time getting their armor cleaned and smartly arrayed.  The decanus was, at best, eighteen or nineteen years old. He, like his men, were not much more than raw recruits swept up off the streets of Brundisium and Rome and sent packing off to Dalmatia.  Dalmatian tribesmen were in revolt . . . again. And Roman authority . . . again . . .  being challenged. The decanus was so young his beard was nonexistent.  So frail of bone he wondered how the Hades the lad stood upright in the sixty or more pounds of standard legionnaire armor assigned to each man.  Nevertheless, the lad was standing tall and proud.  His men looked smartly attired and diligent.  It didn't matter if the contriburnium was of the 7th cohort.  The 7th being the cohort of the youngest, most untrained soldiers. 
            Lads beginning their long, arduous, and sometimes quite deadly learning phase of becoming a professional soldier.  In the young eyes of these nine men he could see they were looking for some sign of hope.  Some gesture that they might survive in what was, obviously, a desperate situation.   And without a doubt it was a desperate situation.   Surrounded on three sides by determined foes who vastly outnumbered them.  Intent on throwing off the yoke of Roman rule, the six or so main Dalmatian tribes united and waged war on anything which hinted of imperial power. This newly formed legion, Legio IX Brundisi, was within their grasp.  A brand new legion, vastly undermanned, yet swept up into the fight because of the threat of a foe so lose to the shores of Rome itself. 
            It was a hodgepodge collection of veterans and raw recruits.  And he, Decimus Julius Virilis, being third in command, was the legion's Praefectus Castorum.  His main duty, of the many assigned to him, was to throw this collection of madmen together and hone it into a fighting machine as quickly as possible. A vastly important job given only to a professional soldier who had come up through the ranks and had proven himself to be both tough and enduring, as well as loyal and intelligent. A job that never ended. He had ordered a contriburnium from the 7th to be his personal escort tonight as he inspected the legion's perimeter.  Yes, a move fraught with danger, perhaps.  Especially so if the rebels decided to assault the legion's defensively lines hidden behind the veil of darkness.
            In all the world there was no fighting force as well trained, well organized, and more victorious, that the seasoned professional legions of Rome.  For almost four hundred years Roman legions fought the armies of just about every foe in what would become, eventually, modern Europe.  Greeks, Etruscans, Carthaginian, Egyptian, Spaniards, Parthians, Germans, Gauls.  The list was endless.  For four hundred years Rome’s steel had, by in large, remained victorious.  Yet four hundred years of military dominance guaranteed one certainty.  There would be no peace, no tranquility in an empire forged from steel and strife.  There would always be someone, somewhere, ready to rise up and defy the Roman yoke.
            Eyeing the darkness and low hanging clouds of fog surrounding the hilltop the legion now commanded, Decimus could feel the weight of the coming battle resting on his tired shoulders.  It would be a desperate fight.  An unwanted fight.  The legion was seriously undermanned.  It was alone, deep in enemy territory, miles away from the main Roman army under the command of Tiberius Caesar.
            Caesar, the adopted son of Caesar Augustus, had been summoned by his father to return to Rome and take command of the ten or so legions being assembled to fight the Dalmation rebellion.  The general had been in the north, beyond the Alps, fighting Gaul and Germanic tribes and trying to stabilize the northern borders.  But the Dalmation uprising, so dangerously close to the Latin homelands, took priority.  The rebelling tribes were directly east of Rome.  Just across the watery finger of the narrow Adriatic Sea.  A failure of her legions now would directly threaten Rome itself. Therefore, her best general had been summoned to take command of the legions assembled to put the rebellion down.
            Legio IVth Brundisi, had been hastily recruited, marginally equipped, and shipped off Dalmatia before being properly trained.  The legion was a fifteen hundred men short of a legion’s nominal 6,000 men strength.  Without its cavalry contingent of 400 or more horsemen, with each of the legion’s eight cohorts drastically undermanned, their disastrous arrival in the Illyricum port of Naorna, was like a prophet’s decree of looming defeat to come.
            Fire spread its ravenous hunger across the small fleet which escorted the legion’s troopships to Narona.  Dalmation spies infiltrated the Roman held port and somehow set fire to all of the legion’s troopships only moments after the last man of the legion had disembarked.  The fires spread from ship to ship, lighting up the harbor’s night with a terrifying display of light and smoke, and continued to hungrily devour ships far into the next three days.
            Bad luck continued to haunt the IXth Brundisi as they left Narona and marched into the depths of the rebel held territory.  Leaving the port rebels began to attack the rear and flanks of the columns of the marching legion with sudden, deadly attacks of small units of bowmen who hit hard and just as swiftly faded back into the forests before any counter attack could be organized.  The continuous loss of one or two men with each swift attack was telling.  Untrained recruits not used to the hardships of war sulked and stewed in their thoughts when the legion finally made camp at night.
            He saw it in the men’s eyes.  The lack of sleep.  The lack of trust in the legion’s legate.  All of it was combining to create that deep set feeling of fear which, if allowed to grip the hearts of all, was unquestionably a recipe for a disaster waiting to happen.  It rested on his shoulders as the legion’s Praefactous Castorum, the legion’s most experienced veteran, to train these men into a fighting unit.

            Nodding to the young decanus, Decimus set off with a firm step to inspect the legion’s perimeter, not knowing that within moments, an unimaginable disaster was soon to turn the dark Dalmation night into the raging fires and billowing roar of a Grecian Hades nightmare.  

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Movie Review: Batman vs Superman

The BIG controversy. The heresy of it all!  The abominable distillation of both the Batman legend AND the Superman legend.

Yes, we're talking about the Batman vs. Superman movie that's been all the rage for the last few weeks.  But, Holy Freakin Cross-Eyed Second Cousin!  Has this ONE flick been stirring up so much shit in the Batman and Superman fan base . . . or more precisely . . . in the Marvel/DC comics fan base.  So much stirring up bad feelings the movie will, without question, absolutely positively  crack the $1 BILLION mark in ticket sales before we hit July.

Yes.  That's one BILLION (probably much more, by the way) in ticket sales by July.

So what's the big fracken deal about this movie that's sooooooooo controversial?

In a word:  Not a damn thing.  Not if you're like me and just like to go see a good action flick that might . . . just might . . . have an actual half-ass story plot behind it to work on.  And that's BvsS.  We go back a lot to the origin stories of both super heroes.  Or at least, referred heavily back to them in the flick.  That's okay.  A new director, taking the old franchise in a different direction, has to re-interpret the origin stories.  That would be, to me, kinda mandatory. But after that, what then?

The What Then is where the story branches off 18 some odd months later after the movie, The Man of Steel, ended.  In other words, BvsS begins in the aftermath of Superman's big fight against General Zod, and the destruction of which followed of the city.

God-like creatures descending from the heavens to destroy Mankind.

That's the core plot-line of the movie.  How do puny Earthlings defend themselves against god-like creatures?  And, as a secondary topic, what is the definition of being 'a hero.'

Good stuff, Maynard.  I bought the story line hook, line, and sinker.

Okay, okay . . . maybe to many people, Ben Afleck is not one's first choice as being Bruce Wayne/Batman.  But he did a serviceable job.  And . . .  I suspect he may grow into the part . . . with the next film or two.  Maybe Amy Adams not the most interesting Lois Lane we've seen in the flicks.  But she's okay.

But I will tell you Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is. . . . wow!!!  Now THERE'S a woman I'd like to get to know.  She's the one to go see in this movie.  I mean it.  She steals the scenes every time she's in one.

Jeremey Irons as the butler, Alfred Pennyworth is spot-on, brother.  Dripping with dry humor and sarcasm, maybe the best Alfred of them all.  Let's give him more screen time the next time around.  Please!

Henry Clavil as Superman is spot on as well.  Frankly, I think Henry is vastly underrated as an actor. He brings compassion, intelligence, and humor to this role.  And I really, really like that.

(And wait until you see the scenes concerning Aquaman.  Yowsers!)

The controversies, you ask?

Does Marvel Comics do a better job with their portrayal of their heroes on screen compared to DC Comics (overhead a very interesting debate about that between mother and grandmother as we exited the movie)

Is Christopher Noland's direction in his trilogy Batman series better story telling than Zack Snyder's BvsS? (you have to decide that one, kiddo.  Leave me out of it.)

Did Ben Afleck's interpretation of Batman kill off the Batman legend? (Pure bullshit, if you ask me.)

Go see the damn movie.  You may not like it.  But its not bad.  Not bad at all.