RogerBW's Blog

An Oblique Approach, David Drake and Eric Flint 17 June 2020

1998 alternate-history war story, first of six books. In 528 AD, the young Byzantine general Belisarius is given a message from the, or a, future: a powerful enemy is rising in India, and will subjugate the world with massive armies and devastating weapons if not prevented. And he's the man to prevent it.

Let's face it, this is feelgood rubbish. But it's well-executed feelgood rubbish. The bad guys are into rape, paedophilia, religious intolerance and torture (and, worst of all, military indiscipline), while Belisarius hangs rapists and looters from his own army, and he and his allies have respect for women (they even include them in their counsels) and heretics. Belisarius himself is of course a tactical and strategic genius, but also an entirely faithful husband and a good father; aided by the plot device, he can fight well enough to kill eight men without taking a scratch even when they've attacked him from concealment, understand a new language in seconds, see in the dark, and if he can't yet leap tall buildings in a single bound, well, this is only book one of six. Everyone thinks he's wonderful, except the bad guys.

If you know the history you can see where the crowbars have been worked in (in particular, the way that the untrusted Procopius is led to believe that Belisarius' wife Antonina is having multiple affairs, so that she'll have an excuse to meet various key people in the conspiracy to save the world, while preserving his historical account of her). This is historical inaccuracy done right, with the authors saying "yeah, I know roughly what it was actually like and I'm explicitly changing it" rather than "eh, who cares about research".

Given the way "co-authorship" usually works, I suspect that Drake wrote the outlines and Flint wrote the actual words; and Flint can write good solid prose, and people who feel as though they are more than a collection of character traits.

Names of places and people are mostly plausible ones of the time, though a passing reference to "Ceylon" rather threw me; that's a transliteration of Ceilão, the 16th-century Portugese colonial name for the place, and a Byzantine would have been far more likely to call it Taprobanē.

Sometimes I'm in the mood for good and clever people overcoming powerful but stupid evil. This is a good book for that sort of mood.

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