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Geoffrey of Villehardouin
on July 11, 2012 :
Francis Hagan has given one good reason for what sets these stories apart from normal fiction: the unpredictability of artificial intelligence (AI). That analysis aside, among the several elements that make a good AAR story one could include: 1. A good and insightful modelling of the history, tactics and strategy of that period, 2. Intelligent and inventive dialogue from interesting characters, 3. Accurate characterisation of the historical characters, if there are any, 4. Interacting with the unpredictable AI in a way that would seem appropriate for these particular characters. 5. Inspirational moments with quotes that sum up something of the wisdom or culture of the time. Dialogue seems to have an inherent value in human life and there is plenty of it in these six stories. Some of the other elements are not as common, e.g. because the characters are not historical. The tactics, too, offer a challenge, as for most armies little has survived in the way of military treatises to guide historians while the contemporaries who chronicled history rarely were the strategists who made that history. But this can also provide something of a free licence and if one can still find inspiration in the stories, it should be proof of the inventiveness of the writers.
Spite of Severus is set at a time about which relatively little is known - Britain at 410AD - which at least can allow the imagination a free rein. So the author, Stephen M. Tutin, begins with several fictional characters, the first of which is called Octavius Severus Alexander, of mixed Roman and Pictish descent. Severus, for short, was hoping to rule in the place of Constantine III after the latter’s departure from Great Britain but apparently another leader, Vitalinus, succeeded in gaining primacy in the power vacuum that ensued. Severus, having in the course of events lost much of his land and all his influence, sought refuge among the Picts, a Celtic people living in parts of Scotland, ruled by a man called Angus. His new home should provide the launching pad for a Pictish conquest of former Roman Britain.
Sébastien Arondel in his Eastern Jewel in a Western World tells the story of a fictitious orphan from a Muslim family in the Holy Lands adopted by the King of France and raised as his own son, along his other children, as an “experiment”. The adopted son, much as he is uncomfortable with his predicament, wastes little time in learning to demonise the enemies of the state as “heretical”, “devilish”, “snakes” or “dirty rats”. Demonisation of the enemy is a necessary, if not always sufficient, factor in waging a war. That orphan, named Muhammad Sahadeddine, a.k.a. Philippe in the Parisian royal circles, has especially little time for the Pope - and there is a foreboding of an impending vengeance upon the Vatican for the various wrongs committed against Muslims in faraway lands.
Robin Zhu‘s Takeda actually starts with two historical characters, the narrator and his protagonist. This creates opportunities for historical characterisation but also provides a challenge in convicingly portraying these two historical characters. The narrator, Nobushige, pointedly scorns the enemies of the state as “treacherous swine” as his brother, the Takeda daimyo (clan ruler) Harunobo, wastes not a moment in marching off with an army against them. All we know, all there has been, is calls from a lowly messenger to the assembled clan elders that “we must do something” in response to what he claims is an invasion. Is the lowly messenger a part of that “we”, or was it a subliminal slip? Only the daimyo seems prepared to listen to him. One cannot help but read between the lines that the daimyo has orchestrated that scene and that the role of the elders, no matter how good they may be at debating, is rather decorative. So this is going to be an account of a strong willed man, and the fate of his clan while he does as he pleases. That may be a good characterisation of a leader that eventually united a large part of Japan under his rule. The AI is probably at its best in modelling economic growth and the balances of power, a foretaste of which we get in this first chapter. For readers who are not familiar with Sengoku Japan – or even Japan – access to Wikipedia could help to understand the geography.
Gilberto Fonte in his Heaven's Descent, Cyprus Reborn tells a story set in the little known Kingdom of Cyprus, a last foothold in the near East by the Crusaders, all that was left after the fall of Acre. There is a larger cast of starting characters, including a bishop named Philip, King Jaques, his son and heir, prince John de Lusignan and his sister princess Marie de Lusignan. They are facing an enormous task, if they are hoping to revive the Kingdom of Jerusalem in what has become an Islamic tide that has swept all before it. The only potential allies in that quest are the tiny isolated Kingdom of Georgia and the remaining ruins of the former Roman Empire, an unrecognisable shadow of its former self. Even making contact with these remote islands of potential help seems a task in itself, part of the “extraordinary journey” that we are told the characters are poised to make. If allies can be found, our heroes will certainly have to use every trick in the book, military or diplomatic, to avert the impending doom.
Serving Your Oppressor by James Boyd tells a story of Roman auxiliaries fighting for the Roman empire. “What is it to be in the service of those who kill your kindred, who take your land and your freedom and to serve them as if they were your own chieftain? “ – so asks the author and indeed it is an interesting question considering no slave warriors or even auxiliaries of the time left us their memoirs. In the absence of such, one was invented, Marcus Laenas, a man so nameless that he is using as a surname the name of the linen material his cloak is made of. A Dacian, one of those “sons of the wolves”, an epithet which the author enigmatically does not explain. The well written story reads somewhat like a personal diary, giving along its lines many details about the army Marcus was a part of and the state of the empire at the time while introducing characters we are likely to meet at a later point. We are also introduced to curious customs, seemingly genuine, such as to the unusual cult of the god Zalmoxis. Certainly the historical detail is intriguing and the future is promising
J. McKean, also going by the pen name Schroedinger, has embarked with Restoring Rome on recovering the old glory of the fading Roman Empire. At the helm of the empire is Ioannes Komnenos and he leads a large cast including a member of the Varangian Guard called Yaroslav Wladimirovic, a wise adviser called Taticius, a young lady under the name Dimitra Balgariotes, Iakovos Philippus, the governor of Thessalonike, his lieutenants Michael Philippus, bishop Kristophoros and Mark Zigopoulos, a villain named Savvas, a mysterious cloaked figure with a golden nose and the predictable enemies of the state – chief among them “Guiscard and his Norman bastards”. With such a cast there is likely to be more than battles, indeed we are forewarned of intrigue, what Schroedinger euphemistically calls “the complexities of Byzantine politics”.
The vagarities of the AI are likely to be more evident in some of these stories while those other five elements are receiving different degrees of emphasis in the six different AARs, which make this a good selection both in style and in terms of the periods being covered - and overall an interesting project.
(review of free book)
on May 21, 2012 :
As a fellow AARist, I am glad to see something like this come to fruition. Each story contained in this volume is excellent example of the type of quality stories being written in the AAR world.
I highly recommend this anthology for avid readers of AARs and to those who my be reading one for the first time!!!
(review of free book)
on May 21, 2012 :
This first edition has turned me onto a great many AAR's that I've not read on the forum before, this is the way to get the genre out here and bar a few errors in formatting which are easily fixable, this is a great piece of work.
The anthology includes work from writers all over the globe at a level which is often ignored, the variation of the works is it's strength as well as the quality of it's writing. The foreword/introduction in particular is very good and illustrates why the AAR is my favourite genre of literacy and deserves a much wider audience.
I hope to see more in volume 2.
(review of free book)
on May 20, 2012 :
I've had the pleasure of reading all of these AARs before, and now that there here, available to the public, I'm overwhelmed with the sense of how far these have pieces have come. It has been a pleasure to see all these works grow over time, and watch as more and more treachery unfolds.
One of the best bits about this book is the variety. I loved journeying from the plains of Japan to middle-age Rome, and then getting launched back into the hey-day of the Roman Empire. Also, due to it being an anthology, the different writing technique of the original authors is amazing to see, and how they contrast really stands out.
I must congratulate Steve, Sébastien, Robin, Gilberto, James, and Mr McKean (of course that is not how I know them) for allowing their AARs to be published, writing them,and being the pioneers of the new type of AAR, the 'official' type of AAR. Of course a huge thanks also needs to go to Francis, who I've come to know over this process, for he is the one who has made our dreams a reality, the Shepard of our flock so to speak - thank-you mate, and I wish you success in this venture.
I'll no doubt be in contact with most of you beforehand for a variety of reasons, and I'll enjoy to continue to read your works, now and in the future
Good luck guys, and I'm looking forward to Volume 2 - the old AAR is dead, long live the AAR.
Jack, a fellow AAR writer, and an avid fan of most of yours.
(review of free book)