Wall, Stone, Craft • 1993 • Alternate History novella by Walter Jon Williams

★★★★☆

Synopsis: In this alternate history, Lord Byron wasn’t born with a deformed foot and became a hero of Waterloo by catching Napoleon on the flight.

When Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley meets him for the first time in a hotel near the famous site, she doesn’t like him at all. But her half-sister does, and Percy Shelley is also impressed when Byron shows them the site of the battle.

Byron tries to take up with Mary, but she rebuffs him time after time. But her half-sister falls for him.

They meet again in Switzerland where Byron is on the flight with yet another woman. He asks the Shelleys for help, and they flee with Percy’s ship Ariel towards Geneva.

Review: Williams had a career as a writer of historical fiction. But at the end of the 1970s, the U.S. market for historical fiction disappeared and he moved to the SF genre.

Here, he is back again in his old genre without any speculative fiction tropes at all. In the story notes, Williams declares it as part of a “Dead Romantics” series which was very well received, being second in the Hugo and getting nominations for the World Fantasy and Locus plus Nebula awards.

He speculates that having Byron and Mary Shelley in bed would have won him those awards. But I think that the far tougher relationship that he presented in this story, it had far more charm and won me over.

Part of the fun reading this novel was figuring out where the story deviates from facts – Byron as a war hero just one of them. There are interesting pieces in it where I believed that I caught Williams, but found out that it really happened – like an incident with Shelley’s boat on Lake Geneva. Not that I’m an expert of al those historical persons, but I learned a lot by diving into Wikipedia. Completely new to me was the importance of Mary Shelley’s mother for feminism.

As for the title, I thought that it was a bow to Mary’s maiden name. But Williams gave away that his wife is responsible: “which has to do with the craft of writing, Byron’s stony heart, and the psychological walls between the characters.”

Meta: isfdb. It nearly won the Hugo. I’ve read it it in the collection Best of Walter Jon Williams published by Subterranean.

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2 Responses to Wall, Stone, Craft • 1993 • Alternate History novella by Walter Jon Williams

  1. pdtillman says:

    You liked it more than I recall. But it’s been years! I plan to reread it in the Sub Press ARC — then finish my tardy review! I guess it hasn’t actually published yet?

    Have you tried any of his new comic-historicals? Quilliifer? I liked the, hrm, faux-historical Allowed Burglar ones, kinda sorta prequels to the Sha’a Empire space-ops – though the first didn’t hold up to reread. Or I just wasn’t in the mood? (COVID)

    Liked by 1 person

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