“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.”
– Emperor Marcus Aurelius
It all started with Marcus Aurelius — a warrior, philosopher and emperor whose Meditations are still pored over by readers who seek out ancient wisdom to help make sense of modern life.
Marcus’ idea, that by looking backwards we can see forwards, made us wonder. What if we could craft, not only a gripping and credible space opera about a Rome that never fell but instead expanded into space, but also a book that would speak about the nature of civilizations, how they’re driven forward on the shoulders of giants, why they collapse, and how, if a hero appears at the right time, she can make the difference between an empire’s survival or destruction.
We chose as our hero a young noblewoman turned gladiator. Accala Viridius breaks free of the constraints of tradition and enters the arena to take revenge upon the men who murdered her mother and brother. Accala is brilliant, trained in philosophy by her mother and martial arts by her father, but she’s also flawed — headstrong and determined to have justice at any price. She doesn’t start out a hero, she must first walk a dark path, willingly enslaving herself to her enemy’s gladiatorial team to earn her shot at revenge, only to find that her choices lead to addiction, madness and destruction. She even loses her head (but thanks to the intervention of mystical alien beings, not her life).
As Cicero says, “where there’s life, there’s hope”, so with her new alien allies assisting her, Accala — as a woman with a destiny and the aid of the gods — gets a second chance to set things right. Can Acccala work out how to be the hero the empire needs before her enemies win the gladiatorial games and seize the imperial throne for themselves?
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We started collaborating on what would become the first Wolf’s Empire novel in 2009, working on sample chapters, experimenting with what a “future Rome that never fell” would look like. We developed the history of the Galactic Empire, what had come long before and how it shaped events in the story’s present. Slowly the characters took on form, their distinctive qualities, the noble houses they owed allegiance.
Throughout this process we engaged in years of research, reading source material, textbooks and novels about Rome and its history. Gibbon’s Decline And Fall and Robert Graves’ I, Claudius were invaluable resources. Slowly, we built a future Rome that contained enough of the ancient world tropes that readers would be familiar with and combined it with science fiction elements that would feel familiar to fans of Star Wars and Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Integrating the external elements of sci-fi with the ancient world to give our future Rome the right “look” wasn’t the main challenge though. We decided early on that the trick to making the whole thing work would be to capture the right “feel”, the spirit of the ancient empire set against futuristic problems that would seek to test our characters.
Hellenistic philosophy challenged by the use of genetic engineering and mass chemical addiction. The bravery, ingenuity and honor of Rome’s warrior heroes contrasted against the overwhelming power of technology. The Twelve Tables Of Roman Law versus the lawlessness of the galactic arena. Challenging the righteousness of Roman citizens by putting them in a position where they would be forced to comprehend the perspectives of alien barbarians.
These were big themes revolving around a central question — how could a young, disenfranchised woman overcome her inner darkness and rise up to become the hero that could save an empire in decline? As we worked to answer those questions the pages started piling up and by the time we were done we had a much bigger book on our hands than anyone, including us, had anticipated.
The initial contract for Wolf’s Empire was for a 100,000-word book about a Galactic Roman Empire to be delivered in a year.
What started out as the adventure of Accala seeking personal revenge, expanded in vision so that the gladiatorial games she fought in featured the greatest warriors from all the galaxy’s noble houses, competing to determine the fate of the empire itself.
Our publishers were very patient and the end result came in at over 250,000 words, took two years to write (not including the years of preparatory research and world building), and featured a cast of over one hundred characters.
Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator is the first book in a trilogy that follows Accala’s odyssey in the Galactic Roman Empire. By the time we’ve completed our story readers will have joined us on an epic journey — one hero’s struggle to save the civilization she loves. Whether Accala succeeds or fails, we can be sure that whatever challenges confront her, Accala will embody Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ maxim that “what we do now echoes throughout eternity.”
Claudia Christian is an actress, writer, singer, songwriter, director, producer, and voice-over artist. She has starred in studio pictures such as Clean and Sober with Morgan Freeman and Michael Keaton, and in TV shows such as sci-fi megahit Babylon 5 and the new Showtime series Look. She lives in Los Angeles. ClaudiaChristian.net @ClaudiaLives and ClaudiaChristianFanPage on Facebook
Morgan Grant Buchanan is an Australian writer of sci-fi and historical fantasy. He writes comics, film, and short stories.