Thursday, May 27, 2010

On the pleasures of antiquity

I should like to rise and go
Where the golden apples grow -
Where below another sky
Parrot islands anchored lie…
…Where among the deserts sands
Some deserted city stands…

R.L. Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses was the first book I ever owned, and it inspired a life-long fascination with exotic, far-off places. My tattered copy has survived to this day, along with A. Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar and L.Sprague de Camp's Lost Continents. Long vanished are the hand-me-down copies of Weird Tales. In those faded 1930's pulps, Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard wrote about worlds where (to quote Sprague de Camp) "gleaming cities raise their shining spires against the stars; sorcerers cast sinister spells from subterranean lairs; baleful spirits stalk crumbled ruins; primeval monsters crash through jungle thickets; and the fate of kingdoms is balanced on the bloody blades of broadswords…" Worlds of mystery, lost in the deepest reaches of antiquity.

The fall of the Indus valley civilization is one of the great unanswered questions of archaeology. Were the cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa destroyed by climactic change? A shift in the course of the Indus River? Invasion? Over-grazing? As far as I can tell, few writers of fiction have explored the subject. Here was a world lost in antiquity, and an unsolved mystery. I had the subject for a novel – and the motivation for a great deal of research.

Alternate histories ask "What if?" Those of us whose fantasies play out in real historic time like to explore the "how" and the "why" - always keeping in mind that if you travel far enough back in antiquity, you may find sorcerers, baleful spirits, magical kingdoms and spells that actually work.

Winter on the Plain of Ghosts: a Novel of Mohenjo-daro was published in 2004 by Flying Monkey Press, and is available from and