WWW Wednesday — 10-15-2014

It’s WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.

by Brenda W. Clough

• What did you recently finish reading?

I am still deep in the throes of reading for research. To this end I have plowed through the two Dover volumes of Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, (1841) by John L. Stephens with illustrations by Frederick Catherwood. Stephens was actually the American ambassador to Central America, but although he was conscientious in trying to present his diplomatic credentials (and unsuccessful, since the region was convulsed by civil war and he never could find anybody in authority) his main interest seems to have been finding and exploring Mayan ruins. To this end he did some truly loony things, including buying the entire site of Copal from a local landowner, and living in another ruin until insect bites nearly took his leg off. Catherwood had to dig the larvae out for him with a pen knife. He recounts these hair-raising activities in a tone of wry calm — very Victorian.

It was this account, and more importantly Catherwood’s highly detailed drawings of the Mayan bas-reliefs, that made it plain to Western archaeologists that the Maya were not renegade Egyptians, nor some of the twelve tribes of Israel, or anything Western, in fact. So this is an important historical account. All the Mayan sections are thrilling, but there are large dull travelogue sections where he travels to towns in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico suffering privations, eying local maidens, and getting threatened by revolutionaries. These sections are all skippable, so much so that editions of the original volumes have been published with only the fun bits. However, the Mayan sections are so exciting that, in an excess of enthusiasm, I found someone on Ebay selling Catherwood engraving copies for a mere $3, and instantly bid on them. And I won, so now what am I going to do? I will have six engravings of Mayan ruins!

• What are you reading now?

A Voyage in the Sunbeam, by Lady Annie Brassey. I picked this volume up at the used-book stall under Victoria Bridge in London. More almost-incredible Victorian travel accounts. Lady Brassey did this in style: none of this sleeping in buggy ruins until insects start laying eggs in your flesh for her. She and her husband had a yacht built, big enough for them, their three kids, their many pets, and forty servants. They all piled in and sailed around the world. Again the things that she is calm about are remarkable, including nearly losing the kids over the side to a large wave and losing a tank of drinking water on the way from South America to Tahiti. There are lots and lots of things you could do then that you could not do now!

I also read How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. She did one of those live-in-the-past TV shows, and has garnered enormous hands-on experience with things like reaping wheat while wearing a corset (doable!) or living for months washing in nothing but a basin. Better her than me! I would love to know how accurate some of her material is.  Is this another What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, a less-than-accurate compendium of factoids?

• What do you think you’ll read next?

I need to get my head out of history, and read something completely different. I am thinking of Anne McCaffrey. It has been years since I have reread Dragonflight. Will the suck fairy have got to it?

The ebook version of my novel How Like a God is now available from Book View Cafe.

How Like a God, by Brenda W. CloughMy newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.

I also have stories in Book View Café’s two steampunk anthologies, The Shadow Conspiracy and The Shadow Conspiracy II, as well as in BVC’s many other anthologies, including our latest, Beyond Grimm.

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WWW Wednesday — 10-15-2014 — 8 Comments

  1. Would the Mayan sketches be good for a layered cover? A collage to bring to autographings?

    Although I loved the Dragon books, F’lar was a bastard (personality) and his initial relationship with Lessa upset me on the first reading in the seventies. So I don’t know how the books will have weathered. We time travel, and the books do not. The question is, do we still want to go to Pern, as regressive as they became after being stranded there?

    • I suppose, since they were made in the 1840s, that these engravings are public domain. I must say I do have in one of them very nearly the perfect cover for this book. But while I finish writing them I have framed the prints in matching frames and hung them on the wall. Easy enough to disassemble the frame at any point and get a scan of the image.
      Over on Goodreads we had an energetic discussion about the various creepinesses of Pern. (Here is a link: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1966858-september-october-2014-dragonflight-just-starting-hide-the-spoilers ) I don’t believe that McCaffrey really thought through her worldbuilding. She was simply gunning for Cool, a perfectly allowable strategy that got us a couple great novels. And then, when the thing took off and she had to write many more volumes, she kept on adding software patches to make it hold together.
      The entire issue of whether dragons are really a date-rape tool is discussed with energy.

  2. Read:
    All Is Grist: A Book of Essays by G.K. Chesterton
    Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
    Mirkheim by Poul Anderson
    Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke
    Reading:
    Imperfect Sword by Jack Campbell
    To Read:
    PathFinder by Angie Sage