Monday, October 22, 2012

Crossing "Gates of Vasharia" with HBO's "Rome"

A year or three ago, I brought several chapters of my unfinished novel The Gates of Vasharia to my Kennesaw writing group. The story is set in the world of Vasharia where over the course of millennia various human cultures have come in through permanent Stargate-type gates or wild tears in space-time, leading to a patchwork of different nations.

(The dominant political force is an empire founded by a lost Roman legion, while other cultures are descended from Viking expeditions or Nestorian missionary endeavors.)

The story takes place during a civil war between the Imperator Marduk Kabon and his father's former general Patrick Rassam, the latter of whom was cast into the dark spaces between worlds (inspired by the "Todash Darkness" of Stephen King's Dark Tower universe) and has returned with demonic forces from said realm. Adding to the fun is an invasion from a parallel world by a gigantic cyborg Russian despot.

The technology of this world is roughly at the level of the Persian Gulf War. However, all of the point-of-view (POV) characters (protagonist Calvin Grenville, anti-hero Patrick Rassam, the antagonistic Czar, and on-the-protagonist's-side-but-still-a-tool Marduk) who participate in battle are very high-ranking--they're either corps commanders if not outright commanders-in-chief. In a Gulf War-type setting, someone of that rank is not going to be participating in active combat unless something has gone very, very wrong.

I've tried to "hang a lampshade" on that issue by depicting Cal only participating in direct combat twice (once leading the reserve forward at a critical moment in person to inspire his men--and being chastened by Marduk for unnecessarily risking himself--and later when the Czar's army overruns his headquarters), depicting Patrick and the Czar as both being Blood Knights who simply don't give a rip, and Marduk getting caught in a Czarist raid on his headquarters rather than anything he sought out himself. However, some members of my writing group suggesting leaving the combat scenes to lower-ranking characters.

Although I was resistant to the concept because that would require rewriting much of what I've already written, I just had a realization that HBO's television program Romeoperated on the same principles. Legionaries Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus are the ones who, most of the time, are the ones getting their hands dirty. You might see someone like Mark Antony and Marcus Agrippa dusting it up, but even at that level of technology, they wouldn't be part of a shield wall like a common soldier would be.

Perhaps the revisions wouldn't be as radical as I fear. Like Rome, this can be a "buddy story" of two lower-ranking guys who keep finding themselves involved in power politics. This way I can save most of the already-written material and just add new stuff.

*GOV begins with Cal awarding medal to survivors of a failed campaign across the Inner Sea against Patrick's stronghold in the western continent of Mahonistan. One of them can be a low-ranked POV character. I can keep the first scene where Cal and his entourage are heading to the arena on a train and have the second half of the scene from the low-ranked guy's POV.

*The other low-ranked POV character can be present when the Czar invades the eastern continent of Trydonia and be among the survivors that retreat. That would require redoing about the first two-thirds of the chapter.

*At the first big battle with the Czarist forces, the two characters can get thrown together. Maybe they're part of a mishmash of survivors that are about to get curb-stomped by the Czar when suddenly Cal and the armor reserve have a Big Damn Heroes moment and kick the Czarist forces in their metaphorical groin. The chapter begins with Cal POV doing the battle-planning and high-level management stuff, then the actual combat can be from the lower-ranking guy's POV. We switch back to Cal's POV for the aftermath of the fighting and then back to the lower-ranking guy's POV for some post-battle leave.

*A major part of the story involves Marduk dispatching Cal (and his wife Eva, who has a bit of a history with Patrick) to territories under Patrick's control in hopes of negotiating an alliance against the Czar. One of them is assigned to be part of Cal's escort, while the other stays behind to fight the Czar. The one who travels can provide a lower-ranked POV (while Cal parleys with Patrick, he can see the armies building for Patrick's planned invasion of Trydonia and the reader will think Patrick will stab Marduk in the back), while the other can be part of the breakout where the bloodied Czarist forces shatter part of the Imperial army and march for the sea, toward the area Patrick's planned invasion will land.

*When Patrick's army lands and Cal returns to command of his army, the two characters are reunited. They'll be part of the counteroffensive that pushes the Czar back toward his incursion zone. They can be present when the Czar overruns Cal's headquarters and is about to personally dispatch him when he's set upon by Patrick. That particular fight would be a seven-alarm SNAFU--three corps commanders, their respective bodyguards and whatever equivalent to "household troops" would exist in this world (I'm thinking Patrick would have a force nicknamed "Rassam's Fist" in the style of the 501st Legion), and significant quantities of three armies' air power going at it in an area maybe about 1-2 square miles.

You all probably won't be seeing this anytime soon. This story deals with issues that I don't really have a lot of personal experience in, so I figured I'd set it aside and return to it once I've written some more books and have lived more.

(There's also the possibility I might simply put together the Patrick-POV parts of it into a new first-person fake-memoir entitled I, Dark Lord, but I've written some very good character moments that aren't from his POV and I'd rather not waste those.)

Hmm...if it weren't for the budget costs of Patrick's demonic henchmen, armies of tanks, etc., this might make a spiffy television series. Maybe it could be animated?


  1. I like the ideas you have for the re-write. Let's us see both the power struggles of this society, and how the grunt on the ground is going to be slogging it out.

    The idea of presenting a Gulf-War era technological war on such a grand scale is intriguing, especially if both sides are relatively matched. The brutal slogging match that would ensue would be literally epic.

    Mix that with a cool unique world as this sounds like a good thing for a long term project.

  2. It will be a bloodbath. The Imperials are like the Iraqis if the Iraqis were commanded by competent people, had somewhat better tech (no "monkey model" Soviet gear), and didn't give their enemies six months to build up, while the Czarists are the Coalition with fewer numbers, no satellite reconnaissance, and a major logistics choke-point (it's all run out of one dimensional gate).

    However, it's a very quick bloodbath. I think from Patrick's return from the Void to the final peace settlement, it's less than a year.

  3. Seems like a lot of world building and plot, but other than a big damned battle what is your story about?

    I've started writing query letters when I get past the first few chapters. You'd be surprised how effective that is at exposing faults in your story. Have you joined yet?

  4. If you're talking about themes as opposed to plot, I think a big thing is duty.

    Patrick-His duty as an Imperial officer is to defend his nation and world against outside enemies like the Czar. However, Marduk is in a death battle with the Czar and has a nice unguarded back to stab. Duty vs. desire for revenge.

    Cal-Cal's dilemma is roughly the same, but it comes to the fore in the second planned book, once the Czar is killed. Patrick kills Marduk and unilaterally declares himself Imperator and offers to make Cal his Dux Primoris (supreme commander) to bring the civil war to an end. Cal just wants to do his 20 years and retire, but chooses instead to accept the mantle of Imperator to face an old friend he thinks has gone mad and is trafficking with evil forces. Duty vs. desire for peace.

  5. Good idea about starting query letters early. I've never thought of them as a story-refining exercise before.

    About absolutewrite, I have other query letter resources and joining another discussion forum strikes as something that risks distracting me from work. I've already had to have myself kicked off my alternate-history forum for a month.

  6. By "roughly the same," it's "duty vs. desire," but the desires are different.

  7. Have you watched any of Rome? You view of it sounds weird.

  8. I have watched all but maybe one or two episodes, since the University of Georgia was so kind as to provide HBO in the dorms.

    You have the stories of the lower classes (Titus Pullo, Lucius Vorenus) and the upper classes (Caesar's family) and they intersect--Pullo unintentionally sets off the final crisis that ends the Republic, while Vorenus's abandonment of Caesar to confront his wife over her affair allows Brutus and friends to kill him.

    (And that's just Season One.)

    I was envisioning something similar for my own project.