L. Sprague de Camp and the uses of history

Recently I was listening to Garrett Fagan's lectures on Great Battles of the Ancient World (a Teaching Company class--I recommend them highly for light education while sweating), when I learned that Assyrian methods of siege warfare entered the Greek world through encounters with Carthage, during the wars over Sicily.  A fun topic for a historical novel, I thought.

Then I did a little research and realized I had been beaten to the punch, by L. Sprague de Camp, a youthful favorite I had not thought of recently.  In his novel The Arrows of Hercules, he deals with exactly those events, through the person of an engineer in the employ of Dionysios I of Syracuse.

De Camp wrote science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and historical nonfiction.  He was one of those debonair globe-trotting polymaths that sometimes find a congenial home in genre fiction.  His historical novels are the complete opposite of bodice rippers--they are more about bodice inventors ("hey, do you think we could take that baleen stuff and use it to....?")  Like most of his books, TAH is episodic and doesn't have a strong plotline.  Like real history, this happens, and then that happens.  Sometimes there's a connection, and sometimes there isn't.

Even the characters described as passionate and impulsive are quite measured in their emotional reaction.  And de Camp's attitude is that engineers are pretty much engineers, now matter what era they turn up in.

So don't look here for a Stephen Pressfield-style description of maggoty corpses.  There is some brutal violence, but it is over quickly.  I'm not sure there's a spot in the market for de Camp's  charming, informative witnessing to interesting events, but something like it should still do.

Most historical novels where someone experiences great events or a specific culture are told from the point of view of a time traveler, even if he is not literally that.  Blackthorne in Clavell's Shogun comes easily to mind--he's described as a seventeenth century Englishman, but he's clearly from the twentieth century.  Similary TAH's Zopyrus.  In Lest Darkness Fall, one of de Camp's best books, it is explicitly a time traveler who pops into the Rome of Late Antiquity--the period I've recently been reading a lot about.  My interest in it might actually stem from that book, which made a big impression on me in my youth.

I've never written a historical novel, but I think this era, between the great era of Sparta and Athens and the advent of Alexander the Great, has some promise as a setting.