Waterloo It Ain’t

by wjw on August 14, 2014

Pintura no castelo de Edimburgo comemorando a tomada de uma bandeira francesa pelas tropas escocesas na batalha de WaterlooMy short novel “Wall, Stone, Craft,” which was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award, is now available for your reading pleasure at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Baen, and soon at various other locations throughout the eReaderSphere.

The story appeared in an Axolotl chapbook back in 1993, and saw magazine publication later that same year.

It was a story that I wrote purely for myself, but like many of the works that I wrote for my own enlightenment (like Hardwired), it seemed to have found an audience anyway.

“Wall, Stone, Craft” belongs to my “Dead Romantics” series, and thus is alternative literary history, along with “No Spot of Ground” (Poe), “The Boolean Gate” (Mark Twain), and “The Last Ride of German Freddie” (Friedrich Nietzsche).

Originally the story was conceived as a sort of crazed, inverted Regency romance, in which the straitlaced social novelist Jane Austen ran off with the hot young poet, Byron, in a mutual frenzy of high wit and extravagant sexual passion— but a quick glance at the timeline showed that was impossible, since at the time that young Byron was waking in London to “find himself famous,” Jane Austen was dying of Addison’s disease in Winchester.  They really are too many generations apart.  A signpost pointing to my original idea is the appearance in the finished work of Jane’s brother Captain (later Admiral of the Fleet) Frank Austen, who I portray as the decent stick he seemingly was.

Shortly after the death of my original idea, it occurred to me that Byron was present, as it were, at the birth of science fiction, in the famous night at the Villa Diodati when Mary Godwin recited the story of Baron Frankenstein.  Would an alternate Lord Byron, I wondered, result in an alternate paradigm for science fiction?

Well, hell yes.  Of course it would.

Now it should be pointed out that I know far too much about the period of Napoleon, the English Regency, and the War of 1812.  I can discourse on the politics and diplomacy of the period, I can diagram the battles of Trafalgar, Borodino, and Waterloo, and I can cook you a damn good Chicken Marengo (though it’s better with veal).  I can talk about uniforms, fashion, fans, boots, and horses.   I can tell you who made the pistols used in the Burr-Hamilton duel.  (Wogdon & Barton, London)  I can tell you how to set up a pair of shear legs to step a jury mainmast.  And I can quote the dialogue between Talleyrand and his valet when they found themselves lost in Maine.  (The province in New England, not the one in France.)

Put it down, if you like, to reading War and Peace at too impressionable an age.

So I created “Wall, Stone, Craft” with the intention of making as much use of this body of knowledge as possible.

Since Byron wrote that, if he hadn’t suffered from a clubfoot, he would have become a soldier, I got rid of the clubfoot and made him the Hero of Waterloo.  (Since he eventually became a decent soldier in spite of his disability, I felt reasonably firm on this ground.)  He describes the battle in the story— it’s a character moment— though how he alters the outcome is probably best left to people very familiar with the history.

The Shelleys found the historical Byron far too aristocratic, arbitrary, and grand for their tastes, and I figured making Byron a war hero would make him even more insufferable.

I confined the point of view strictly to Mary Godwin, because (being female, I guess) her POV tends to be diminished by literary scholars of the period; and because she, after all, is the person who went and invented science fiction (likewise diminished by scholars, I should point out). Because she’s seventeen, intelligent, and has no reputation left to lose, she’s actually in a position to speak the truth, which is refreshing in a protagonist.

As with other of my historical works, practically every named person is a real historical character.  (The exceptions are the sturdy Swiss farmer Fleury and his family, and Byron’s fencing master.)

The boating accident on Lake Geneva, in which Ariel is capsized and Byron engages in saber combat with the rigging, actually happened just as described.  It is not to be confused with the other boating accident, involving a schooner also named Ariel, in which the historical Shelley and two friends were killed.

Mary’s miscarriage in Switzerland, involving a bucket of ice, happened more or less as described.

Adam von Neipperg, the Austrian cavalier, actually was ordered by Metternich to seduce the “Countess Laufenberg,” with rather different results from those in the novel (if somewhat happier for the principals).

And how the story’s new paradigm for science fiction would affect subsequent literary history, I leave as an exercise for the reader.


Clyde August 14, 2014 at 2:18 pm

Got it from Smashwords. Thanks for the heads up.

Clyde August 14, 2014 at 2:57 pm

FYI. The Smashwords .mobi file of “Wall, Stone, Craft” is quite large (757,554 mb). As I am curious about such things, I converted it to another format and then back to .mobi just to see what would happen. The size decreased to 279,174 mb. Quite a change. Nothing seems to be missing, but I wonder what Smashwords does with all that extra space?

Clyde August 14, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Oh evil man. I opened it in the Calibre ebook reader and consumed it in one sitting. Never even got on my Kindle.
I have this monster editing job to finish this month and you cost me sleep. Good job.

wjw August 17, 2014 at 3:56 am

No idea why the Smashwords file is so large. Their Meatgrinder program just does what it does.

My own homegrown mobi file on Amazon was a good deal smaller.

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