Monday, September 26, 2011

Impossible Odds: From Masada to Talisman

"Whether it's the Trojan War, the Battle of Thermopylae, or the Last Stand at the Alamo, many of the famous battles in history were sieges in which small forces took on much larger armies. Unfortunately, sieges don't make good stories because the smaller force won. They make the history books because the little guys fought well, before they died." ~Michael Westen, Burn Notice. Last stand, Ep 4.18
I like thousand to one odds.  Love 'em.  Can't get enough of them. Make it an intelligent war, I'm with you all the way.

300 Spartans (with about 10,000+ other Greeks) versus one hundred thousand (or a million, depending who you ask) Persian Imperial forces?* I'm there.

Nearly seven hundred Jewish rebels vs. a Roman legion at Masada?** I'm with you ...

The Alamo ... Okay, not so much, but I'm more familiar with the players involved, and I can't say that I liked any of them, on any side.

A hundred thousand Orcs of Mordor versus Gondor? That's at least worth an Academy Award....

In my own writing, I have a tendency to give the bad guys the upper hand as much as possible.  I try not to leave it as a matter of "evil badguy gains upper hand because he's using underhandd methods, while virtuous goodguy never sinks so low." Anyone who had read even one my self defense articles knows better.  When in doubt, bite a nose off, pull at an ear, gouge the eyes, and, of course, kick 'em in the groin, whenever possible.  My characters fight like their lives depend on it, usually because it does.

No, when I give the bad guys the upper hand, it's because they either have better training, better equipment, more people, or all of the above.

That's when I whip out The Anarchist's Cookbook, and go to work.  Because when my characters are out-manned  outgunned, outmaneuvered, and when things have stopped looking grim and have moved on to "we're all going to die" ....

That's when my characters get smart, get sneaky, and become very, very dangerous.


I've done it a few times in my books.  In A Pius Legacy (book three, should book one ever be published), I've practically got the army of darkness on our heroes' doorstep, and not one of my heroes even looks like Bruce Campbell.

I've got a murder mystery series on my hard drive that involves a writer, and a nerd, who's being hunted by assassins .... however, he got very good grades in chemistry, will hit people with everything and the kitchen sink, and he knows how to kill people with a pen.

The list goes on.

Besides, if it's a fair fight, you know how things go in fiction: the protagonist wins ...

However, when you have lopsided odds, and an author who has shown s/he's quite willing to assassinate any of his/her characters at will ... well then, that's when things get interesting, now, isn't it?






*Everyone by now should have at least heard of the story of Thermopylae ... aka The Hot Gates ... aka "The Gates of Fire" (which is my personal favorite translation) ... You may have seen the ads for the film 300.


**If you've never heard of Masada, in 70 AD, you had Israelites versus the Roman Empire. Only this wasn't Mossad or the IDF, but the sicarii, or knifemen. By 73 AD, the war was lost, and the last of the sicarii were held up in an old mountain fortress called Masada.

Originally, it was a story of how 700 rebels held out against the siege of a Roman legion, until the Romans finally breached the walls, only to find everyone had committed suicide, rather than be taken hostage again.

Recent research has concluded that the tale is a little different than originally reported -- the sicarii of Masada fought to the last man, woman, and child.

To this day, the Israeli Defense Force takes an oath: "Masada Shall Not Fall Again."

***Isn't it sad that this blog needs footnotes? :)

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