Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: The Phantom (1996)

After The Shadow fizzed at the box office, the hopes, for lovers of old time adventure and pulp-ish entertainment, rested on the Paramount production of The Phantom, based on the classic comic strip by Lee Falk, featuring a stellar cast: Billy Zane, Treat Williams, Kristy Swanson, Catherine Zeta-Jones, James Remar and Patrick McGoohan.
What could ever go wrong?

And really, based on the trailer, one could dream…

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The most cynical of anti-romantics

The title is a definition I read somewhere of James Branch Cabell. I have been a fan of J.B. Cabell for over thirty-five years now, thanks to Fritz Leiber. And Cabell is yet another one of those authors that make me say “it would be great to write like he did, but I’d never make it.”

And I have just read a nice piece about Cabell on the DMRBooks Blog and I thought I’d link it here. Deuce Richardson is right when he notes that the younger generations have forgotten Cabell, and what a loss is theirs!

“There were how many dynasties of Pharaohs, each one of whom was absolute lord of the known world, and is to-day forgotten? Among the countless popes who one by one were adored as the regent of Heaven upon earth, how many persons can to-day distinguish? And does not time breed emperors and czars and presidents as plentiful as blackberries, and as little thought of when their season is out? For there is no perpetuity in human endeavor: we strut upon a quicksand: and all that any man may do for good or ill is presently forgotten, because it does not matter.”

James Branch Cabell

And in case you are curious, on The Faded Page you can find free ebooks of four of Cabell’s works, including my own favorite, The High Place, Robert E. Howard’s favorite, Something About Eve, and everybody’s favorite, The Cream of the Jest.


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Italian Airmen in China, circa 1933

This morning I was asked a short piece on the Italian Concession in Tientsin, to serve as a bridge between two history articles of mine that are being reprinted. It was a fun job, 700 words in one hour. Thanks to all the research I did for my books,The Ministry of Thunder and Cynical Little Angels, I have tons of material on the Italian presence in China between the wars.

But I did a little web search anyway, and unearthed some stuff I had never seen before, including a photograph.

These are Italian airmen, photographed in China in the early ’30s, at the time of the Breda Ba.27 debacle that is at the start of Felice Sabatini’s adventures in China. The photo is badly colorized, but you get the idea.

“And who’s Sabatini?” my brother asked me upon seeing the picture.
Nice question.
I have of course my own candidate for the role.
But what do you guys say?


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In the dark

This is probably one of those “funny and surreal” things that happen in the everyday life of a writer and that I was told I should share to further my platform and extend my reach or something. So, here goes.

In the last two months we have been exchanging a lot of very frustrating mails and calls with our power provider – a power bill we were expecting in January never materialized, lost who knows where, and we wanted to know how much was the amount we were supposed to pay.

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Monkey Punch, 1937-2019

And the bad news keep coming, so much so that this blog is beginning to look like the obituaries page on some newspaper. I have learned only today of the death, on the 11th of April, of Japanese cartoonist Kazuhiko Katō, better known as Monkey Punch, the author of the 1967 Lipin III manga series on which the animated series and movies (and video games and what else) where later based.

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A magic primer

I have just delivered the last chapter of a big job to the editor, I have spent one hour revising a translation (more work on it tomorrow), and tonight after dinner I will try and write a 1500-words flash-fiction to answer an open call. Maybe.
Maybe I will just go on and follow up on my before-dinner reading.

To celebrate the closing of the big one, I have cracked open a book I have had here for a while, Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate’s The Book of English Magic, that I bought a few months back and has been here tempting me all along.

The volume covers what it says on the tin: magic, as traditionally practiced in England. No Wales, no Scotland.
Only Ye Merrie Englande and its magickal history find a place herein.

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Gene Wolfe, 1931-2019

We have lost Gene Wolfe, the author of The Book of the New Sun and many other masterful novels and short stories. He was 87.
The Book of the New Sun is one of the books that made me what I am, and an endless source of wonder and surprises – I was about to start my re-read, a tradition I have been carrying out every other year for these last ten years.
This time around, it will have a further meaning.

And for the rest of this year 2019, I will do all I can to get the volumes that I still miss to complete my Gene Wolfe collection.
We have lost a master, I have lost a teacher and an inspiration.