“Don’t overestimate me.”
The official version states that the character of Felice Sabatini came to me after I found out about the Chiang Kai-shek government contracting a squadron of Italian fighter pilots in the 1930s, in a strange dress rehersal of what would be the adventure of Claire Chennault‘s Flying Tigers.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it – but it’s only part of the story.
True – the Fascist Regime and aircraft manufacturer Breda were paid to provide eighteen planes, delivered only eleven, the mission went to hell in a handbasket and (possibly) some Italian pilots and mechanics were left behind.
But there’s more than just that, to Felice Sabatini, and the character had been with me for quite a long time *before * I started writing The Ministry of Thunder – and his adventures were somewhat defined in my mind.
The monks smuggling adventure1.
That affair with the head-hunters. The Sarawak incident with the midget wrestling team and the royal princess.
Lawrence of Arabia and the Empty Quarter.
The Ghost of Tientsin.
The brushes with the Black Dragon Society.
Most of these were like pulp magazine covers in my mind, little more than a title and a lurid (imaginary) cover.
Sabatini is equal parts Indiana Jones (especially the one in the original movie), Pat O’Malley from High Road to China, and possibly Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China. And Harry Flashman, not so much for the character, but for the mix of history and fiction I wanted to do when I thought about the stories.
Plus various odds and ends – including an awful lot of adventure stories, old and new pulps and my personal take on what a hero should and should not be/do/think.
And real-life adventurer Leonard Clark.
And yet, I always thought of Michael Keaton when thinking about Sabatini’s face, and attitude.
The short version being, “Sabatini is Michael Keaton playing Jack Burton”.
So, what do we know about Felice Sabatini?
We know that he’s a pragmatist and an underachiever, with his own strange sense of chivalry and a problem with bullies.
We know he’s around 40 years old, and was born between May and June. He’s been a fighter pilot in the Great War, but was cashiered and recycled himself as a mechanic (or maybe not – he just shifted role).
He is often referred as Captain Sabatini, but for all we know he never made it that high in the Air Force hierarchy. So maybe it’s just a honorary title, what with him being a freelance pilot.
He’s been in China for quite a while (some hints seem to suggest he was in China before the Italian fighters debacle).
We know that he and Helena have a past2, that he’s not particularly hot with the Italian administration both in China and back in Italy.
He has a brother in Italy that works as a stationmaster3, and might be involved with the Communist Party.
He reads pulp magazines, is the only man in Shanghai that does not smoke (or so it seems to him at times) and he might actually be a lot smarter than he seems.
He likes fried rice.
And this is more or less it.
Will there be more stories about Felice and his supporting cast?
Well, I’d love to do more – and it would be in line with the pulp origins of the character.
Ideas, as I mentioned above, abound.
While we wait for future developments, why not talk about it at our forthcoming party?
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- in the sense that yes, Sabatini and his pal La Fleur actually smuggled monks out of Tibet, for money. ↩
- see about this the forthcoming Cynical Little Angels ↩
- there’s another Sabatini brother that has yet to get a mention. And he might be in the Far East, too. One of these days I’ll start doing a Sackett-style saga. ↩