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David Drake

"To bring the light"
In: de Camp, Lyon Sprague: Lest darkness fall. Ð 1. pr. Ð S. 269Ð336. Ð (Baen science fiction)


When making up the list of advantages given by Sprague DeCamp in Lest Darkness Fall to his hero Padway, I originally included his being male. I have had to remove this particular advantage, however, because Drake has written a short story on the same theme and located in the same shared universe and the hero happens to be a heroine. The plot is that a third century female Roman aristocrat is hit by lightning one thousand years after the founding of Rome and is thrown back to the time of Romulus and Remus. Naturally the author has to cook the odds. He does it by dumping the heroine, Herosilla, into Rome next to Romulus and Remus just as they are performing a sacrifice. This makes her a goddess or a messenger from the gods or at least a holy woman. She is also dressed in silks and jewels far beyond the experience of Italy in those days, clearly a sign of importance. Herosilla is a bluestocking's bluestocking, very very learned and also very very intelligent. She is also a hardened sceptic (more so than Padway perhaps). I did not know that they had such in the third century especially among the women, but there she is. She gets her bearings very promptly, sorts fact from fable in a few days and with that advantage she founds Rome. Romulus tries to do a Cain&Abel but Herosilla, who as a good Roman aristocrat does NOT back off and DOES back her friends to the hilt (literally) , puts a full stop to this unedifying sibling rivalry. Romulus is just bright enough to back off. Finally she leaves for Cumae to become the Sibyl taking Remus with her. Empire builders are of course very glorious and all that, but their brothers make much better husbands. Padway and Herosilla are both survivors. When the going gets tough the tough get going. Herosilla and Padway are both very intelligent and very well educated. But there are significant differences. Padway is technologist first and politician second. With Herosilla it is the other way around; her bag of technology consists of draining and literacy. But she is a trained orator with a trained voice, which is an unheard thing there and then and it comes in useful. A little knowledge of wrestling also comes in handy once or twice, but essentially farming and people management is what she has to offer. Another important difference is that while Padway is a nice person and a dogooder, Herosilla is hard as nails; stepping across a few corpses means nothing to her. To succeed and to survive she has to be this hard, so The Author makes her that way. So OK, it is possible for a woman to succeed, with luck, The Author and a following wind. I have only a few historical quibbles: 1) Romulus is described as a thug. He does not found Rome (Herosilla does) and there is no way he could possibly have stayed in power for long after he has grabbed it from Herosilla and Remus, for such intelligence as he has is entirely in his fists. A founder is of necessity a builder and a diplomat. Herosilla has people skills and could be a builder, but Romulus as described simply doesn't measure up . 2) I don't think a woman with Herosilla's mental makeup could exist until 18th century Europe. In a Parisian salon in the second half of the 18th century she would have been right at home though. 3) Wheelbarrows were a Chinese invention. No way they could have them in 7-800 BC Italy. 4) Drake's early Rome has a market with a money economy. Sorry, The Romans did not strike coins till the fourth century BC. 5) Herosilla knows modern Arab arithmetic with zeroes!!! But don't let these grumbles keep you from reading the story. The only other story on the Herosilla theme that I can remember is Phyllis Eisenstein's Shadow of Earth. Dell Publishing Co. 1979. This too is a good story. - Jens Guld 11/99

- Jens Guld , 11/1/1999

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