Good Bad Books by Alma Boykin


Good Bad Books by Alma Boykin

George Orwell talked about good-bad poetry, most notably Rudyard Kipling’s works. According to Orwell, the poems were memorable, well-written, and enjoyable to read and recite. Alas (for Orwell), the poems supported the Empire and King, failed to teach the proper social message, and distracted people from the real problems of the empire and of society as a whole.

In history we occasionally talk about good bad books. Now, these are not “well-written books with a bad message,” pace Orwell. Nor are they the books you sneak-read when no one is looking, adult Westerns or steamy romances, Aga sagas (a British sub-genre), or those books that used to arrive “tastefully packaged in plain wrappers for your privacy” according to the ads in the back of the magazines. Nor are they the so-bad-they’re-funny. No, these are the books that are so strikingly shockingly appalling that a herd of historians rear back on their hind legs and say “oh h-ll no! I’ll show you,” and a surge of really useful, good, insightful literature appears.


One of the clearest examples of this is the historiography of the history of chattel slavery in the US. In 1908 U.B. Phillips wrote a book, American Negro Slavery arguing that slavery was not an entirely bad thing, that it had problems, but it was a civilizing force and that the Yankees had done terrible things by the way in which they eliminated it. It developed a regional following and some rebuttals, but lingered in the background for a while, until WWII exploded, bringing about a new generation of historians. In 1956 Kenneth Stampp argued that slavery was evil and that it was not paternalistic at all, but was all about economic control and domination. And then Stanley Elkins published, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life in 1959 and everyone went, “whoah. That can’t be right.” Elkins argued from a psycho-historical standpoint, comparing slaves to Holocaust survivors, and introducing the idea of “sambos,” of African-Americans infantilized by the brutality of slavery, making them all immature victims. Yeah, you know what’s coming next.

1976, Eugene Genovese published Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made and showed that slaves had been actors in their own right. Not infantilized, not made voiceless, the slaves created a rich culture with regional variations, one that encouraged strong family and community ties and that provided a foundation for the freedmen communities that followed. (And it’s a really well-written book, too. Highly recommend all his stuff.)  Peter Kolchin looked past the Atlantic to compare American slavery with Russian serfdom and demonstrating the complexities of both. In 2000 Ira Berlin’s book Many Thousands Gone covers the entire experience of slavery in North America, looking at how it varied in place and time. Phillips and Elkins two books, by now completely discredited, spurred a flurry of very good and useful research that added a great deal of personal story to the field of Southern History and slavery history.

How do you spot good-bad history? Well, for one, is the author proclaiming some new thesis that no one has ever considered, or applying a new technique in a way that perhaps doesn’t make sense. I consider John Demos’s book Entertaining Satan an example of this. He used Freudian analysis on the girls involved in the Salem, MA witchcraft trials. Now, there’s a big problem with trying to get inside the minds of people who left no written records. And a bigger problem with trying Freudian analysis on pre-modern minds. Yes, some things are pretty universal through the ages. Some, on the other hand, are not. Where Demos uses maps and demographic and economic studies he’s pretty good, but Freud doesn’t fit. And several books have come out that do a better job of discussing and describing the events, the whys and wherefores.

I also look for sources. There is a well known popular historian of religion who produces a number of books about different major faiths, including a recent comparison volume. This author never uses original sources. And some of the claims made really need primary-source support that the author does not provide. That sets my “bad history” needle twitching – a claim that lacks supporting evidence. “Trust me” is not a good historical argument. If I pick up a new environmental history, I go to the bibliography and start reading. If certain books and sources are not there, even just as passing mentions like “in contrast to So-and-So, my work shows that,” I get concerned.

I suspect we can find similar stories in fiction. Someone ventures forth with a horrible treatment of an original or useful idea, and a bunch of other writers go, “hey, I can do that, but better.” I know John C. Wright took the key scene of the award-winning dinosaur short story and produced one far better written, and more thought-provoking, using a very similar starting point. I’m not certain what one could do with Empress T, although the idea of someone being anointed by a mysterious force to be ruler of the galaxy has been used a few times. And IIRC it usually ends poorly for the galaxy. You could have some fun with the original Glittery Hoo Hah ™ trope, wherein, say, a spaceport workin’ gal has a fling with an alien and to her chagrin discovers that he’s fallen deeply in love with her and wants to be with her for the rest of their lives. She just wants to get the money so she can move on to her next client and pay her bills.

There are some historical (pre-historical novels, really) that took Jane M. Auel’s work, applied archaeology and serious anthropology, and came up with more plausible versions. Minus the naughty bits, or at least the most explicit naughty bits.

I’ve looked at the blurbs for a few feminist pacifist sci fi or fantasy books and thought, “Hmm, there’s an interesting idea there, but not worth my paying $35 and a lecture about the evils of war and how One Good Woman can bring Everlasting Peace and Harmony by the strength of her . . . ahem, moving right along.” But the idea that places do not exist until they are mapped has a lot of possibilities.

Something I’m exploring in the current free draft, Language of the Land, is what would happen if women really did run everything, a world where feminists run the show and men are legal minors all their lives, unless they are able to purchase manumission. And even then their rights are curtailed. The idea came in part from skimming a chapter of a really, really bad fantasy that I’m not going to bother naming, where this was presented as a good thing. I added an element of magic that levels the ground (literally) between men and women.

There are people who love any book. I’m sure somewhere, someone thinks Empress T. is a wonderful story with a fantastic plot. There are people who think Elkins had something in his hypothesis, even if he didn’t approach it correctly. I know Kris Rusch’s blog generated a heated discussion of “good and bad books,” with some useful ideas batted back-and-forth. There are also badly written books that are their author’s pride and joy. But those are not good-bad books, by Orwell’s definition or by mine.

[The inestimable Mizz Boykin has a non-bad book out.  Strangely Familiar: A Familiar Tales Novella.  Go and give it a try. – SAH]


110 thoughts on “Good Bad Books by Alma Boykin

  1. “ a spaceport workin’ gal has a fling with an alien and to her chagrin discovers that he’s fallen deeply in love with her and wants to be with her for the rest of their lives. She just wants to get the money so she can move on to her next client and pay her bills.”

    Sounds interesting. Is this an available story or a plot line?

    I’d buy it.

      1. What if that alien is somebody very important in his society? But does not have what might make make a working gal consider a permanent deal, no palaces and riches are in offer and a life with him would be a rather ascetic one. However his is very much needed for something, and more, needed right NOW!

    1. It’s available as a free idea to anyone who cares to take up the challenge. I’ve got enough plot bunnies (in one case literally, thanks to Cedar Sanderson) at the moment, thanks.

  2. “the idea of someone being anointed by a mysterious force to be ruler of the galaxy has been used a few times. And IIRC it usually ends poorly for the galaxy.”

    Ha! I’m actually doing that one right now, it’s part of my Robot Girlfriends universe. Not the most important part either, as I find these types of issues detract from the use of huge gun to create spectacular explosions. Blowing shit up is much more fun that ruling the universe. ~:D

    I used Sun Tsu and Lao Tsu as my templates for how to make things turn out. “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” That should drive some Lefties into a frothing fit, I imagine. >:D

    1. Good ol’ Calvin Coolidge, who listed the greatest accomplishment of his administration as, “Minding our own business.”

        1. Coolidge was already being made fun of in 1930s Hollywood movies, and afterward, was spoken of as a boring non-entity, if he was spoken of at all.

          From what I can tell, the 30s is when the media became one party propaganda supporters, and I don’t think it’s ever changed back.

      1. There is a lamentable dearth of swatches, el-cheap-o tee shirts, hats, and bumper stickers sporting the inimitble phrase, “WWCCD?”

        1. Seeing as how old Cal is dead, he would/could do…nothing.
          Hate to be so blunt, but i am a blunt instrument, as my band leader keeps telling me.

    2. I don’t know whether the Arisians qualify as “a mysterious force” but if they do the idea’s been done. I suppose one could retell the story from the Eddorrans’ viewpoint, some genocidal, uber-fascist military/police force dedicated to taking over the galaxies and ruthlessly leaving folks alone. The very idea that people could be happy living in chaos, ruled by some mysterious “invisible hand” rather than wise, enlightened leaders should be horrifying.

      1. The Lefties seem to find the idea of a “human nature” terrifying. That humans are a certain way, and if you stop pushing them around and let them be that way you get the best results. They can’t deal with it.

        The problem with Lefties is not that they do central planning badly, and that if someone competent could get in there then everything would be fine. The problem is that central planning is a stupid, stupid idea, and it can’t work even in principle.

        Even Walmart doesn’t attempt full-dress central planning. Their inventory control is a network of peers informed by the choices of their customers, which they follow as closely as they can. Decisions in the company are made as much as possible based on measured customer behavior. That’s why there is always baby formula on the shelf. 24/7/365 availability of everything.

        Compare with Cuba, where there is baby formula once every two years, for the first 200 in line. That’s central planning.

        Hence, heroes who can do anything, but what makes them heroic is what they restrain themselves from doing.

        1. Benevolent smart kings/dictators with absolute power can, at least in theory and a few times in history, rule pretty damn well, but when that is the system your country is going to spend most of its history waiting for the true Lionheart to return or be born again or gain power or whatever while some equivalent of Prince John wreaks havoc (talking about the Robin Hood versions, not the actual historical ones).

          Most times Lionheart will keep them waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Best to hope for can often enough be merely some just better enough to seem almost good at least when compared to the last version Prince John.

          1. And that is the problem with that system. A good king with absolute power could give his subjects a better world to live in than almost any other system. But they are once in a blue moon occurrence. Can happen, most times doesn’t. Most of them will be from mediocre to bad, one way or another (means well but has no idea how to rule, good but stupid, very smart but selfish as hell, bad and stupid and so on…).

            And then the system very easily can go from bad to the absolutely worst world to live in.

            1. One irony is that often the best dictators are the ones that let individuals do their own things…

                    1. “And I left my views on Art, barbed and tangled, below the heart/ of a mammothistic etcher at Grenelle.”

                      Kipling, “In the Neolithic Age”

              1. Exactly. A good king would be the one who orders his lackeys to do nothing – even when the people keep asking him to get involved in this and that and to do at least that – and gets involved only with a very few things, and not very often, and makes sure his underlings obey. But if the system itself stays the same – the next ruler also has absolute power – not that many can keep their hands off. They will like the power and want to use it, they want to create heaven on Earth and keep trying harder and harder, they think it’s their duty to micromanage everything or they succumb to their subjects’ demands to fix this and that… something or other will get most of those rulers. And then of course there are the ones who don’t get involved because they just want to have fun, but give free rein to their underlings to manage things.

            2. As one author (I forget who) pointed out, the Leader may be wonderful, but what about his subordinates? Or their subordinates’ subordinates? How far down the power structure until you run into someone who is either incompetent or just a little evil?

        2. I think most hard core lefties were the smart-ish kids in high school who despised their fellow students, and never got over it.

          The softer, moderate lefties I know are the children of Greatest Generation parents who grew up with all the FDR propaganda, and vote Democrat for the same reasons other people are football team fanatics.

    3. Even Machiavelli was a fan of the Lawgiver type- the man who set up a system of laws and governments, then turned that power to others and stepped down.

      1. Oh, you mean like that eeevile white guy George Washington who refused to be made a king.

        Those guys -really- understood the principle. Free men don’t need or want the “Great Leader” around after the war is over. Also, I don’t know if Lefties ever notice this, but the structure of the US government is very deliberately designed to make it hard to get anything done. Its not supposed to do things.

        You’d think they’d take a clue from that…

        1. Separation of Powers is an utterly foreign concept to too many Americans, sad to say. Too many have been sold the idea that all those laws and stuff is holding back their man from making real changes! If he only had full, unrestrained power, he could turn this place into a paradise!

          1. But “your” paradise is “my” hell. So why should “I” make it easier for “you”?

            For various degrees of “your/my”, “I/you” … Ex: Which is paradise & which is hell? “Only the military should have access to guns stored in armories.” OR “Guns are evil. Lets raise our hands & Sing ‘hey deity come save the world’/’Peace to you (because there is no deity)’ at those who will do us harm.” OR “Keep your filthy hands off my guns (if I have any).” I know what my answer is. I can guess, but I don’t “know”, what this collective group’s answer is.

            FWIW or FTWC: Ans to ex: Hell, HELL, & paradise (i.e. not hell).

    1. I haven’t read “Arming America”, but I loved reading “Armed America” by Clayton Cramer to refute everything said in the original.

      I had to roll my eyes at a review that said it was a good book, but spent too much time complaining about “Arming America”. Did the reviewer not notice that that was the entire purpose of the book?

    2. It’s not bad, if you read it as a work of historical fiction. Because that’s what it is, fiction in a historical setting.

      1. I liked the part where the trans-dimentional historian had access to records that had been destroyed by earthquake and fire (and famously so) in our timeline.

        1. If I recall, he also had access to various documents from alternate realities, which had never existed here at all…

    3. Hell, ARMING AMERICA was a BAD bad book; it took a frankly stupid idea (that pioneers who needed to hunt to live didn’t have many guns) and executedmit badly, by lying about sources that were easily checked.

      How do we know pioneers needed to hunt to live? Well, for one thing there was the recent recreation done in one of the prarie states, where families tried to live on homestead farms as the originals did, but due to excessive PCism they weren’t issued guns.

      The experiment had to be stopped before they starved.

      1. I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, and her father spends evenings melting lead into the bullet mold for his rifle.

      2. And let’s face it, the pioneers were often living in areas that the Indians hadn’t quite vacated yet, and were often feeling quite sore about the new competition for food, arable land, ect.
        Then there’s the various 4 legged critters thinking that the other critters in easily accessed cages and pens would make for a much easier meal than the free range critters.
        The plants you can eat aren’t there like the produce market at the Whole Foods- they’re pretty much a spring or fall only seasonal item, and again, there’s competition from the other inhabitants to get those plants.

  3. The story I’m currently wrestling with (I hope it turns out well enough to publish!), is a direct response to deleting several books in disgust off my kindle because “That’s not how the world works! I know you’re trying to write Strong Female Protagonist, but it’s coming out emotionally abusive and terminally clueless! And people in other cultures don’t act like that! No, that’s not how that works!”

    If I can wrestle it long enough to pin it with the beautiful words: “the end”, then I’ll pass it off to my best and toughest alpha readers: guys who’ve actually been in the crowd when the car bomb (or trash can bomb) has gone off, and been on the city street when it became a two-way range. Because darn it, even if it is science fiction, a souk is a souk, and useful idiots are useful idiots, and mobs are dangerous, stupid creatures.

    1. It’s more a low-grade but constant annoyance that sends me to producing Feminine Female Protagonists because, in fact, femininity is not a requirement to sit around waiting to be rescued.

  4. I don’t know if good scholarship has fallowed but Gavin Menzies’ 1421 was bad history. I remember reading 1421 in 2002/2003 and checking the then burgeoning internet to find out more about these interesting Chinese explorations and that is how I learned Menzies thesis was made out of whole cloth. It was one of my early experiences with the internet and I thought this www thing might just be useful yet.

    1. Yeah, the real story of Zheng He is interesting enough without embellishing it.

      1. Indeed. I had only studied the Royal Navy before reading 1421 and internet opened my eyes to other countries having navies/explorers. I don’t know if good scholarship has followed from Menzies bad book but it had positive influence on me.

    2. I don’t know, because the difficulty is getting into the Chinese sources, such as they are for that time period. There are more and more well-researched books coming out in English, but I have not looked for that particular rebuttal yet.

  5. `Trust me` is not a good historical argument.

    And yet it seems to be perfectly suited as a contemporary political argument, at least when the person making it is appropriately endorsed.

    1. Reminds me of the cartoon where there’s lots of mathematical notation to the left, a lot to the right, but the professor is staring at a spot in the middle that says “and then a miracle happens”, with the professor saying, “I think you need to be a little more explicit about this step”.


          I’ve always like the computer design ones. The really funny ones add: “It worked. Was done quickly, on time, & on the (inexpensive) budget”.

          What’s the saying? Oh yes: You can have it cheap, fast, & correct, pick two.

  6. And even if a writer claims to have primary-source support they may be lying. Alma, I’m sure you’ve run into this little trick too: Historian writes paragraph containing five separate assertions, four of them fishy and one obvious. Historian gives one primary citation for entire paragraph. If you check the source, it supports Obvious Assertion Five and says nothing whatsoever about Fishy Assertions One through Four.

    Not to mention that some writers copy somebody else’s primary-source footnotes without actually checking them. I once did a citation-check and discovered that the author had a real citation – the passage actually existed and supported the statement – but had a near-fatal typo: gave the wrong volume of Pat. Lat. (Yes, I was able to figure out the right volume. Not being obsessive at all)

    That citation, typo and all, recurred in five or six subsequently published books on the same topic; so I know none of those writers actually opened Pat. Lat. to read the passage for themselves!

      1. Patrologia Latina: 19th century collection of Latin texts from 2nd to 13th centuries, mostly writings of the Church Fathers, hence the name. More than two hundred volumes; there exist more recent and more carefully edited versions of the major works, but this is the only source I know of for some minor documents. Fortunately they’re in more or less chronological order, so since I knew what I was looking for it wasn’t too hard to figure out which volume it ought to be in.
        Still, ouch! I cannot skim medieval Latin – it’s more a matter of hacking my way through with dictionary and handsaw – and I still resent the amount of work it took to track down that damned reference.

    1. It sounds like some historians need to take a look at some family history/genealogy resources and classes. It is drummed into the heads of anybody taking family history seriously to check the sources. There is a book called _Evidence Explained_ that takes you through the best methods for evaluating what you have and helping you figure out whether it supports your hypothesis. There is another book by the same author about how to make proper citations since with the digitizing of lots of primary sources, url breaks, and republications those can be moving targets trying to find something again.

      1. I will confess to copying footnotes. After I checked the microfilm in question and saw that the document was indeed there. I didn’t read the document, because it wasn’t germane to my topic, but its existence needed to be mentioned.

        Many historians won’t give genealogists the time of day, I’m sorry to admit. One prof I worked with referred to them as “old people in tennis shoes who take all the microfilm readers.”

        1. NYT Review article this week had a “historian” give a nod to genealogy that has many professionals up in arms. I put it in quotes because he is “a journalist, novelist, memoirist, and biographer” in his own description. The article is very condescending and while he appears on one hand to be saying family history has value, he constantly puts it down with statements like “In my defense, she is a figure of genuine historical interest.” and “I should cop to having my own genealogical interests. . . .” Stupid thing is, he claims that genealogists are after only what interests their own lines and they are after famous ancestors. But the whole reason he wrote the article is that he discovered, while researching and writing a book about two Cherokee leaders around the time of the Trail of Tears, that one of the side participants closely associated with those two leaders is his relative. So he only figured out genealogy has value because of a famous relative but he denigrates those who search for their ancestors to find famous ancestors.

          Archives today justify their budgets because the genealogists/family historians are the ones using them, not the historians. Original sources are getting digitized because the genealogists are the ones pushing for it and providing the volunteer work needed to digitize, transcribe, catalog and organize the holdings.

          Professional genealogists are constantly pushing to educate the dillettante genealogists in ethics, research methods, proper citation methods, and how to judge a document’s reliability. (Can you tell this is my thing?) And if the size of genealogy conferences are an indication, it is working. (Rootstech, the main technoogy genealogy conference started 8 years ago and had 30,000 in-person attendees and more than 100,000 video linked attendees.) Those same goals show up in mini conferences on the very local level too.

          1. I profited greatly from several genealogists’ work, and give them full credit in my dissertation. They did research in private document collections and found things I would never have located in “standard” sources, because the sources no longer exist (1890 US Census for starters). I suspect the “problem” is 1) peer review being the ne plus ultra for “real histories,” and 2) self-publishing [see #1], and 3) the lack of PhD credentials among genealogists.

            Ah, gatekeepers, not just in trad-pub.

            1. and 4.) Being beholden to the geneologists for keeping the archives open & research available. There’s nothing like perceiving other people as having the money and power to incubate bitterness and envy, and its manifestation as flaunting the credentialing as “better” than the more popular, better funded, and better-loved section of the field.

              …kind of like some “literary” authors toward the popular fiction, eh?

    2. I’ve definitely run into that in the sciences. I run into an assertion that strikes me as BS, I go check the reference, and it turns out that indeed, the paper doesn’t say anything like that.

      Now, that particular one was caught in the review process and so the paper never saw print, but given that I was the only reviewer who caught it, and the only reason I bothered to check the reference was because the assertion was so far from what I’d always been told, I’ve got to figure there are published papers out there with similar made-up stuff.

      1. “I’ve got to figure there are published papers out there with similar made-up stuff.”

        See Retraction Watch at work with this sample.
        Brian Wansink, the beleaguered food marketing researcher at Cornell University, has already earned a retraction — two, if you count the fact that a retracted and replaced article was then retracted — and a correction from JAMA journals. Today, JAMA and two of its journals issued Expressions of Concern for six articles by Wansink and colleagues — all of those by him that have not yet been retracted. One of those paper has been cited more than 100 times.

        1. The major problem with the replication crisis is that if you check the original paper it says just what it needs to say — but it’s wrong.

    3. When my advisor (a mathematician) gave me a paper to read to kick off my dissertation research, he told me to check all the footnotes, but not the footnotesof those papers…most likely because he didn’t want me to drill all the way down to the very foundations of mathematics (which, as Gödel proved, are somewhat arbitrary anyway….)

      1. I thought that footnotes-of-footnotes was part of how you were supposed to do a literature search….

          1. But having access (and knowledge of, and having read the-) first sources is just good practice. Because there are times when reading the analysis of the analysis of (you get the idea) is more like a game of telephone than actual research…

            1. Tell you what. You find me $35,000 and four or so grad students who have some survey experience, and we’ll go out to the first sources and re-do some of the research I used, second-hand, for my dissertation. Oh, and money for the permits to do the work on tribal as well as federal and private land. 🙂

              As I said, it depends on field. 🙂

              1. And you are absolutley correct.

                *grin* I would love to re-do some of the research I had to use for mine, but as my first anthropology professor told me, the two things restricting research are primarily time and money. War, politics, and religion take a third spot to the first two. *chuckle*

    4. I have found that sort of thing in various automotive engineering texts and papers. I was never sure if it was just blindly copying citations from sources, or if it was deliberate misinformation…

    1. You mean Empress Therasa? If you fast-forward her a couple hundred-thousand years, that’s my bad guy du jour. She’s not evil, just a little too focused on making everything and everyone work together nicely. Earth and its squishy biocreatures (us) are disturbing the perfection of her empire…

      1. Now ya went and done it… Alma was very deliberately trying not to say the name.

        I don’t see any need to fast forward it, i’d be doing a SF action thriller about the people resisting her *now*.

        Or, her horror after she brings Earth to peace just in time for the aliens that put the AI in her head to arrive to take their prize.

        1. It really has become the real-life Voldemort. Not only does everyone have to say “You-Know-Who,” but if you don’t, the jinx on the name will cause her agents to appear…

        2. Oh, this guy is like The Blog Which Shall Not Be Named that is most famous for Chinese bots?

          Its funny, I’m not really mocking him or his book, more the notion of the Woman On The White Horse who rides in and saves the day, and makes the world nice and safe and cozy with very attractive lace curtains. Those are the people f-ing everything up these days.

          I was thinking that if you had AIs running in computer hardware-ish things, they wouldn’t be human, and a regimented structure might -mostly- work for them. But again, self-interest wars against common interest, and as soon as you have scarcity of resources you’ll have competition, winners and losers. And in an AI world, reputation metrics might make the difference. Reputation and peer approval is the one resource that is always scarce. Winners and losers again. Losers tend to be cranky, and desperate to win. That’s enough to hang a mutiny on.

          Then there’s the times when the Empress is just flat wrong about something, like the inherent uselessness of squishy biocreatures. She’s not a bad empress, she just likes it when all the pencils are lined up on her desk.

          1. No, this author insists on defending the book and complaining vehemently about any criticism of such a masterwork of fiction, genre or literary. To put it mildly. Said author is probably still wondering why it has not won the Hugo, Nebula, Dragon, Pulitzer, Man-Booker, and any other book awards.

            1. It is only because those awards are a) popularity contests controlled by neanderthalic cretins who wouldn’t know a good book if it fell off a shelf onto their heads b) “insider” awards, controlled by a cadre of narrow-minded jealous back-stabbers who will vote against any truly we;;-written book because it reveals the comparative callowness of their work c) all of the above.

    1. Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear have several series, but you might start with The First North Americans.

      1. Thanks — I have all of those (and they’re very enjoyable). Just wondering if there was anyone else. 🙂

        (Hard to find a good neolithic tale…)

    2. “William Sarabande” (actually Joan Lesley Hamilton Cline) did a really good series called The First Americans a while back.

  7. And you didn’t even mention military ‘histories’… 🙂 Those can get ‘interesting’ when you start digging into the references… Sigh…

  8. There is a well known popular historian of religion who produces a number of books about different major faiths, including a recent comparison volume. This author never uses original sources. And some of the claims made really need primary-source support that the author does not provide.

    Can you be a little more specific? I’m curious who this is.

  9. Someone ventures forth with a horrible treatment of an original or useful idea, and a bunch of other writers go, “hey, I can do that, but better.”

    Some of us can get quite impish. The Witch-Child and the Scarlet Fleet ? It’s half inspired by a dreary and depressing story where the main character didn’t even try some of the time. Alik, with all his faults, always tries.

    OTOH — the other half? Someone else’s complaint that Conan the Barbarian world-building doesn’t work: the pirate strongholds are not near shipping lanes. In this story, the pirate strongholds are not near shipping lanes. In fact, that’s the center of the tale.

    1. But it produces philosophical musing. Many stories jump sideways from the original idea. A Diabolical Bargain sprang from a story where a character’s backstory struck me as too interesting to be dashed off like that. Where There Is Smoke from a story where a character lied — and I based a story on its being true. Witch-Prince Ways from a background detail thrown off where I was unhappy with a character’s attitude and deed.

  10. It’s dirty pool, invoking the ACW in a forum where we’re forbidden from discussing it.
    Shame be upon ye.

    I’m imagining the shrieks of outrage if some of our modern scholars encountered arguments that slavery wasn’t entirely evil.
    (Stating the obvious, I find the “peculiar institution” to be abominable. But something doesn’t survive virtually all of history without having benefits.)

    1. The benefits a) accrued to the conquering tribe. Since all the women started breeding new tribe members, they multiplied vastly.
      b) before the industrial revolution there were, to put it mildly, tasks no one would do unless forced. And those tasks rebounded to the profit of the slave masters.
      It is however — in the industrial age when it can easily be avoided — a demeaning, wasteful and evil institution.

    2. It gave you a way to avoid butchering prisoners of war. You couldn’t let them go — they would attack them — and your subjects were too busy supporting themselves to be able to support them too. Make them work, and they can live.

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