East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Ancient Masters – Peter Kolosimo

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KOLOSIMOMy generation was primed for adventure by Thor Heyerdahl and Folco Quilici, for space exploration by Carl Sagan and yes, for mystery and deep time by Peter Kolosimo.
We were the lucky ones.

So I thought I’ll do a series of posts on these maitres a’ penser of our own.
Books fitting in a pulp hero’s library.

And I’ll start with Peter Kolosimo.
I miss Peter Kolosimo.

His real name was Pier Domenico Colosimo, and he was born in Modena – but grew up in Bolzano (Bozen).
He was a soldier in the Whermacht, deserted to become a partisan in what was then called Yugoslavia, and was a life-long member of the communist party.
He covered science for the Communist Party newspaper L’Unità, in Italy.
A journalist and a popular science writer, he became the main author in the field of mysterious archaeology in Italy, between the late ’50s and early 80s.
He was also, briefly, a science fiction writer – under the alias of “Omega Jim”.

He wrote a number of bestsellers and when I grew up he was hugely popular with us kids.
Easter Island, Nazca, Stonehenge…
Time travelers, aliens, alchemists…

If his main field was astroarcheology and ancient spacemen, Kolosimo did cover every possible aspect of the mysterious and the unusual.
19caf4fba375da39250cb645ddade66f_bigThe first book I read of his was called Cittadini delle Tenebre – Citizens of Darkness – a collection about hauntings and paranormal investigation.
This was something like, probably 1976, or 1978.
I became instantly a fan.

With hindsight I can say the strong points of Kolosimo’s writing were his subject matter (obviously) and his writing style.
Kolosimo’s prose, at its best, was crisp clear and engaging, with a fine ironic undertone which never turned into a wink at the reader, but always appealed to the reader’s intelligence.

In a time when Charles Berlitz and Erich von Daniken were top sellers, Kolosimo played at their game and won – his book Non è Terrestre won high profile awards and was translated in 60 languages. And he won playing by his own rules.

kolosimonotofthisworldIt has been said that Kolosimo mixed freely fact, speculation and all-out fiction – that in this way he sidestepped the age-old diffidence of the Italian market for science fiction, and became a SF bestseller by sneaking his books in the Non Fiction list.

This is correct but limiting (and somewhat unfair).
If the intelligent mix of fact and fiction was certainly a strong selling point of Peter Kolosimo’s books, it is also true that he never presented fiction as fact.
In his best books, each chapter opens with a short dramatization of the idea the author is going to explore – a powerful tool to fire the imagination of the reader.
But then Kolosimo steps back – he tells us, ok, kids, this is science fiction; now let’s see what things look like in the real world.
The fictional intro is followed by an exposition of facts and then by the formulation of hypotheses.

And granted, he quoted a lot of fringe research, stuff culled from unlikely Russian and Chinese journals and the sort of learned essays one expects to find in the library of the Miskatonic University, but it was ok.
And even when he ranted about the stuffed shirts of academia… well, that was ok, too.

9271190773_e0fd0ea4dePeter Kolosimo died in 1984.
At that time he was holding a weekly feature during a popular TV program – and was probably as popular as ever. Speaking live to a generalist audience, Kolosimo turned out to be a soft-spoken, ironic storyteller, a natural communicator.
At the time he still directed his own magazine, PiKappa, and his books were being reprinted for new readers.

After his death, his wife and co-author on many projects, Caterina Kolosimo, continued his work for a while, but times were changing…

Today his books are being reprinted but get very little exposition.
His most famous work remains Non è Terrestre, from 1969, but I’d suggest to any interested party to check out his earlier work, Terra senza Tempo, from 1964.
Both books were translated in English, as Not of This World and Timeless Earth respectively.

It was certainly a more naive age, and dynamics were different.
But for us, back then, ancient astronauts and mysterious artifacts were what we wanted as a job, when we grew up.
That, or become astronauts, or explorers.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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