Empires in the Dust by Robert Silverberg (1963, Chilton)
Robert Silverberg is best known as a science fiction author. He has won an armload of awards in that field and helped develop the genre into something respected in the literary community. This does not mean he has not written about other interests.
Empires in the Dust is one example. In it, the expert storyteller uses his love of archaeology as the launching point for a set of narrations about various ancient civilizations, the discoveries that led to information about their development and eventual ends, and the difficulties involved in conducting ruin exploration in various land masses.
Covered are the Hittites, the Indus Civilization, the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, the Incas and the Egyptians.
As an educated layman, Silverberg does not go into excessive detail about any one civilization but instead works to make the divisions of the book short while simultaneously educating and engaging the reader.
For any serious student of historical civilizations, the resultant book is likely to seem remarkably basic. For anyone else, it’s an interesting, worthwhile read… and unlike most of Silverberg’s work, cheap to pick up on the internet.
The Memoirs of Schlock Homes by Robert L. Fish (1974, Bobbs-Merrill)
The iconic works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been parodied fairly often, but rarely so adeptly as in the Schlock Homes series by Robert L. Fish.
They originally appeared as short stories in the mystery magazines of the 1960s and 1970s. In each story, Homes is presented with a mystery to solve and hurries to determine the culprit. In each story, the answer to the mystery seems fairly obvious. In each mystery, the answer Homes deduces is dependent on dubious interpretations of esoteric knowledge and renders the true villains “innocent”.
There are three components which make the stories work despite their formulaic construction. First is the clever writing and wordplay performed by the award-winning author, Robert L. Fish. Second is the odd nature of the world in the tales. While Homes may come to unreasonable conclusions, those around him are impressed with his absolute brilliance. Moreover, when he is challenged by his version of Moriarty, Professor Marty, Homes’ ridiculous deductions are inevitably accurate when describing the inane plans of his rival. Third is the effort put in by the author to construct logical, if completely unreasonable, story elements.
The combination is enjoyable for any mystery fan in general, and wonderful for any reader of the Holmes stories.