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Alexander the Great and Ancient Greek Warfare


Postby annis » Wed May 19th, 2010, 6:56 pm

I did get your meaning the first time, Kallithrix, though I'm pleased to see you back up your original throwaway comment with some reasoned argument. You're perfectly entitled to your own opinion, as are we all. However, you appear to have mistaken my previous response for some sort of justification – it’s not. As far as I’m concerned I’m under no obligation to justify myself to you whatsoever.
Last edited by annis on Thu May 20th, 2010, 6:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.


No need to get defensive

Postby Kallithrix » Thu May 20th, 2010, 7:12 pm

Annis, I never asked you to justify yourself, I merely expressed my opinion. I make no apologies for doing so, and it appears neither do you, so we should understand each other. Getting petulant gets us nowhere.

Perhaps what I should have said was that I was disappointed not to see your critical thoughts on Christian Cameron's books, as you are obviously someone with a keen analytical eye and I would trust your opinion above the reviews on Amazon, for example. I have looked at his short stories online and find his style (not to mention his historical accuracy) somewhat disappointing. I don't know if that is because they lack the benefit of an editor's touch, so was wondering if his published novels are any better. Any thoughts?



Postby annis » Thu May 20th, 2010, 7:41 pm

By all means let's call the truce of the games. I'm a bit ancient for petulance, btw, more into the grumpy old woman territory :) Nice touch with the flattery-- never goes astray - though I think my eye (alas not as keen as it was) tends more to the intuitive than the analytical.

I'm dashing off to work now, but will get back to you with some thoughts about Cameron's work later.
Last edited by annis on Fri May 21st, 2010, 5:23 am, edited 1 time in total.


Further thoughts on "Tyrant"

Postby annis » Sat May 22nd, 2010, 4:11 am

Given that fewer people these days get to study the classics, or even much in the way of history at school, a common element I’ve noticed in many modern adventures set in antiquity is the dilemma for the author about how much detail to give the reader. Attempting to pack in historical information, however, can lead to a rather clunky wordiness which impedes the flow of the story.

This element is ioccasionally apparent in Cameron’s “Tyrant”. It certainly doesn’t have the fluidity to be found in novels by earlier authors like Mary Renault, George Shipway or Henry Treece. These authors knew and totally inhabited the Ancient Greece they described and took the reader with them without any need for explanation. Cameron freely admits that he’s still learning, and discovering more as he goes along. However, I found “Tyrant” genuinely compelling. It wasn’t long before I realised that I was absolutely absorbed in “Tyrant”’s world and that any stylistic awkwardness had ceased to be an issue. Whether this would also be the case for you I can't tell. For me, Cameron’s greatest skill lies in his ability to create characters I could really care about, and as he’s quite ruthless with them, anxiety about their fate added an undeniable edge to the story. Cameron also excells in capturing the warrior spirit, and in recreating dramatic yet realistic battle scenes. His depiction of the shamanistic dream world that increasingly haunts his main protagonist, Kineas, is particularly powerful.

I loved the first two books, but Cameron’s ruthlessness with his characters is also perhaps a weakness. I found that by the time I started the third novel most of the people I’d become attached to had gone, and so “Funeral Games” felt quite flat in consequence.


Postby Kallithrix » Sun May 23rd, 2010, 12:10 am

Thanks Annis, that was really useful to get your view. And you instantly hit upon my greatest niggle with Cameron's style, which is the constant expositional asides in his narrative. The information he gives us is useful and to an extent necessary, but it is conveyed in such a clumsy way that it grates on me. It's as if he is citing his historical research as supporting information rather than using it to emerse his readers in the historical setting. What's more, it is information that his POV character would never feel the need to explain to his contemporaries because it would be common knowledge, so it's as if Kineas knows that his audience is in another time and culture from him, exposing the narrative device for what it is. It's letting the curtain drop and giving us a peek at the wizard behind it. Unfortunately, this fact dropping is very much a characteristic of academics and reenactors (and I fall into both camps - in fact I have been in touch with Christian about organising a reenactment event in Greece next year!)

But I'm pleased that you say after a while you became so absorbed in the story that you overlooked the stylistic faults. To a degree you can forgive an author's lack of polish if they know how to spin a really good tale. I imagine his own military experience is the reason for his ability to portray the warrior spirit so well and create vivid battle scenes - it certainly worked for Steven Pressfield (love his novels). So, I might pick up Tyrant and have a read after all :-)

However, like you (and I suspect most readers) I feel a little disappointed when authors kill off the characters they have made us love and root for - I still haven't psyched myself up to read Wilbur Smith's last Egyptian novel because I'm scared that he's going to kill the main character from the last 3 books! And when I watched Rome, I thought the second series was lacking something without Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar. Can't do much about that though - you can't exactly have Caesar survive the assassination attempt and go on to live to a ripe old age as the first emperor of Rome -

Well, not unless you're writing alternative history ;-)

Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to write your thoughts down. If I ever get round to finishing this ruddy Pauline Gedge novel (which has actually got sort of interesting finally - after 300 pages) It'll be next on my reading list :-)



Postby annis » Sun May 23rd, 2010, 4:51 am

Well put, Kallithrix, and I think you may have hit upon it - it’s a control issue. Authors I’ve noticed indulging in this deus ex machina-style over-information (and Cameron is by no means the only one) probably need to let it go and accept that readers can take responsibility for informing themselves if they feel it’s necessary - they don’t need to be spoon-fed.

It now occurs to me that where Tyrant really took off for me was with the introduction of the Scythians. Since we don't really know all that much about the Scythians (apart from Herodotus' reports), it seems likely that Cameron may have felt less constrained at that point by the need/compulsion to add historical detail, thereby freeing up the story's flow. It didn't strike me at the time, so that's an interesting insight brought about by our discussion. I really missed those Scythians in the third book, too.
Last edited by annis on Sun May 23rd, 2010, 8:23 am, edited 3 times in total.


Scythians ex machina

Postby Kallithrix » Sun May 23rd, 2010, 12:31 pm

Hey Annis, your observation about Cameron's portrayal of the Scythians is really interesting, and you're probably right about it freeing up his creativity to let the story flow better. In some ways the little we actually know about the Scythians is a blessing and a curse, because by interpreting the scant evidence we do have and extrapolating it to likely conclusions we can never be completely 'wrong', but on the other hand we will never know if we are right either.

This is something that constanty plagues me when I try to explain to the public at reenactment fairs about the Sythian warrior I portray (I'm playing a Scyth for now until I can assemble my Greek panoply - bronze is not cheap ya know!) I can talk 'til their ears bleed about the Spartans or the Athenians, but when they ask what the Sythians were like, I feel like I'm not so much reciting historical sources as staring at a blank page and trying to fill it with my imagination!

This is probably also why so many reenactors end up writing novels - myself included :-)


Postby annis » Mon May 24th, 2010, 7:58 am

Are you currently writing a novel, Kallithrix? Is it set in Ancient Greece?

I agree that Pressfield's balance between dynamic story and meticulous detail is pretty much as good as it gets, especially with "Gates of Fire" "Tides of War" is another favourite of mine, though it's a toss-up for me whether I prefer Pressfield's interpretation of Alkibiades or Rosemary Sutcliff's in "Flowers of Adonis" I guess on an emotional level I'd probably have to go with Sutcliff.


Just for the novelty value...

Postby Kallithrix » Mon May 24th, 2010, 12:26 pm

Hey Annis

Yes, I am writing a novel, which dominates most of my waking thoughts, so I had to mention it sooner or later! It's actually set in ancient Egypt, which for some reason captured my imagination while I was at Uni doing my Classics degree (perhaps because I was living with an Egyptology student!).

I submitted the manuscript to an agent at the beginning of the year and got some really positive and useful feedback - she said she enjoyed the story, thought my characters were strong and my writing/storytelling up to scratch, but that the story itself wasn't quite 'high concept' enough to market to a UK publisher. Basically there are no famous historical figures or events in it to hook the casual browser, so I've begun a major rewrite to develop the plot and extend the story to encompass the wider political context, i.e. Exodus and the persecution of the Hebrews (my main character is half Hebrew, his wife an Egyptian noble).

Anyway, that's what I spend the rest of my time on when I'm not dressing up as a Scyth and running around fields shooting rubber tipped arrows at people ;-)

Got some ideas for novels set in Greece as well - one about the parallel relationships between Alexander and Hephaistion and a pair of Theban immortals, culminating with them meeting at the battle of Cheronaea, and one about Demosthenes and Philip, taking the Philippics as a narrative framework. No idea when I'll get round to those though...

Pressfield's GoF and ToW are two of my favourite ancient Greek historical novels (another is Olympiad by Tom Holt). Never read any Rosemary Sutcliff, but will look her up if she comes by your recommendation :-)


Postby annis » Tue May 25th, 2010, 5:24 am

Your novel sounds intriguing, and it must be encouraging to have interest expressed in it. I like the idea of a novel featuring Philip II of Macedon, too. He's a character sadly neglected in HF - he always gets overshadowed by Alexander.

Rosemary Sutcliff was a British author who mostly wrote fiction for older children, frequently with a setting in Roman Britain. Her best-known book would probably be Eagle of the Ninth. A movie version is currently in production in Scotland, though I'm a bit nervous about the casting of Channing Tatum as Marcus Flavius Aquila - I suspect he might be another pretty-boy like James Franco in Tristan and Isolde -all looks and little acting skills, though I may be being a bit harsh :)

Rosemary Sutcliff did write a few adult novels - amongst her best are Flowers of Adonis and Sword at Sunset, one of the first realistic novels depicting King Arthur as the Romano-Celtic warrior-prince he might really have been.

We have got a thread about Sutcliff running on this forum if you're interested:

I was watching an episode of the Spielberg/Hanks production The Pacific last night, and blow me down, one of the soldiers turns to another and tells him in some detail about something which he would have been more than familiar with - this technique for adding information must be epidemic!
Last edited by annis on Tue May 25th, 2010, 8:27 am, edited 3 times in total.

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