Well, this is really about four authors I'm currently reading [or re-reading, as the case may be], and the similarities between some of them.
Harold Lamb is a big favorite of mine, although his is not a common name in literature these days. He began in the era of pulp fiction, back in the '20s and '30s, writing for Adventure magazine, with his tales of Central Asia, especially those about Klit the Zaporovian Cossack, set in the beginning of the 17th century, and progressed to non-fiction, in particular chronicling the Mongol invasions of the 13th century and their impact on the countries they conquered. March of the Barbarians was one of the first books I read --oh, I guess I was 10 or so --from my father's library, and its influence was immense. Not only did Lamb recount the history, he wrote with great insight of all the cultures of the area, and how so much history is dependent on population migrations. Reading his books [he also wrote a history of the Crusades, and fictionalized biographies of numerous individuals of the period that interested him, such as Sulieman the Magnificent, Omar Khayyam, and Tamerlane, as well as Genghis Khan] was like reading novels. His pulp stories, often of novella length, are now available for Kindle; and I just splurged [mea culpa, mea maxima culpa] $40 for a second-hand first edition of "The Earth Shakers", which is a combination of "March of the Barbarians" and "Tamerlane". His biographies of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane are also available in audiobook form [read by Charlton Griffin] from Audible.com. I'm sorry he's mostly out of print these days; I think he'd have quite a following if reprinted.
When talking about exotic places and times, I've got to admit that, for a long time, I avoided reading anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, because, in general, I'm not a fan of the fantasy genre. Well-written, and plotted SF I enjoyed throughout my childhood because my Dad was also a fan, and I got to read his copies of Astounding/Analog Science Fiction magazine when he'd finished [one of the most memorable stories was a serial called "Dune", for example, which has become a classic] but by my teens, and the Apollo missions, technology seemed to have caught up, more or less, with the imaginations of SF writers [except that no one predicted the PC] and I no longer found the genre so interesting. Fantasy often was a bit too twee for me.
However, the customer reviews on Audible.com for Kay's latest, "Under Heaven" were good, and I like Simon Vance as a narrator, so I thought I'd chance it, and now I'm a fervent fan of his. It helps, of course, that the story takes place in an analogue of China and Mongolia several hundred years before the rise of the Mongols, an area and time that already interested me. I just downloaded the two books of the Sarantine Mosaic for my Kindle, and have "The Lions of Al-Rassam" on order [why Amazon, when it begins to Kindlize an author, don't do Kindle editions of ALL his major books, I don't understand, especially if they are a series]. Kay seems to have started out writing much more fantasy into his novels at the outset of his career, and with each book there is less of it, which is fine by me. I'm not sure yet whether I'll attempt "Tigana" or the Fionavar Tapestry novels. When I read the word "magic", I get a little uneasy [although I did like Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon" and "The Firebrand" very much. The sequels and prequels to "Mist" were ghastly, IMO].
And this brings me to Susan Howatch's "historical novels": "Wheel of Fortune", "Penmarric", "Cashelmara", "The Rich are Different", and "Sins of the Fathers", in which she retells actual periods of history by placing the main players [renamed, of course], in other periods. Kay creates analogues --alternate universes, if you will, while Howatch shows how history can be "transferred" to another period as fiction. Both are interesting ideas, and are well done, and rather different than standard historical fiction. Very satisfying.
A.J. Cronin is a different kettle of fish entirely. The only real points of similarity are that, like Lamb, he is largely forgotten these days, and like Howatch, he fictionalized real events in several of his novels, most notably in "The Stars Look Down". However, I find his characters to be honestly written, and persuasive. I've known persons like the protagonists of "The Judas Tree", and "Hatter's Castle". His delineations of the working class -- Cronin was an unabashed social activist --at the beginning of the 20th century ring true. The Second World War and the Welfare State largely ended that kind of subculture. Indeed, "The Citadel" was supposed to have been a big influence in starting the NHS. Cronin manages to say a lot with relatively few words. Recently a number of his books have been made available on Audible, but I think they were recorded in the early days of audiobook production. The quality of the recording of "The Citadel" is abysmal -- the narrator sounds like he's at the bottom of a well -- but "The Stars Look Down" is well narrated [but one does hear pages turning and the occasional throat-clearing], and so is "The Judas Tree". It can be a little difficult at times to understand the dialect in "Stars", the narrator is accurate almost to the point of incomprehensibility [unless you're from Yorkshire, I guess] but I prefer that to having the reader give everyone a BBC accent. I think Cronin, who, like Lamb, wound up in Hollywood writing screenplays, should be re-discovered. He's still got a lot to say.
Hope this provides a bit of thought for those "I haven't got anything to read" moments. It might also excuse the thin blogging, recently.