Saturday, August 17, 2013

what have you read by L. Sprague de Camp?

Funny name, amazing results. He's a writer of fiction (often sci-fi or historical) and non-fiction (usually of the scientific bent, sometimes on the romantic side of science matters).

I have been reading a non-fiction book by him recently on archeological puzzles. I've heard his name for a long time in sci-fi lit circles, but only knew of him particularly as the author of Dragon of the Ishtar Gate, a story somewhat along the lines of Conan the Barbarian, but of a historical not fantasy aspect.

I have been suprised at the sobriety of his "mysteries" books. Most similar non-fiction has a reputation for repeating ill-founded stories of the paranormal. More often than not, de Camp is debunking popular misconceptions and improbable legends.

I started with a collection of short stories about dragons. True to form, his story's dragon was more like a land-crocodile of a fictional mideval land. A cockadrill, as I recall.

I heard he had written a book or two on the Atlantis theme, 'Lost Continents' I beleive but I wasn't interested enough to look it up. That might have been a mistake in light of my improving opinion of him as an author who steers away from needless sensationalism.

They I got a book from the library titled 'Lands Beyond' (published 1952) merely because I admire his co-author, Willy Ley. Although it's only a surmise, Ley didn't seem to have written much of the book, and rightly so de Camp is given the main author credit.

'Lands Beyond' was suprisingly scholarly, and debunked a few of the mainstays of mystery-archeology, such as the origin of knowledge of Mu. Much of the book was a discussion of 'Odessey' and the 'Voyages of Sindbad' and what they tell us of the culture they came from. It also has a well-written chapter of the follies of the search for El Dorado in the South American jungles.

The book I am in currently is titled 'Ancient Ruins and Archeology' (published 1964). I had not heard of the ruins of Ma'rib, nor of Nan Matol. I had never heard Angkor Wat properly described. His description of the ruins of Zimbabwe were also a highlight. The photographs reproduced in this book (some his own, others not) make the book extra interesting. I did not know Zimbabwe had conical towers such as related.

His sober commentary on intelligence among the races, and of the politically-correct coatng of history, and the silliess of so many pseudo-scientists/occultists was a joy to hear.

One of my few critisicms of the books, besides their outdated information (through no fault of their own), is that they take a few certain legendary matters for granted that deserve a mention (at least) of skepticism. Especially the Africa-rounding voyage of Egyptian Pharoah Niku II. Also, they tend to assume an inter-connectedness of contemporary thinkers in history that just isn't realistic at all. The authors both assume that such-and-such writer writes this fact, and so such-and-such later writer built off that information. That's too convenient a idea for the workings of real life.

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