East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Relic/The Relic (1995 & 1997)

Often it’s all a matter of timing. I read Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Relic when it came out in 1995, having read some good reviews. I was in the Air Farce at the time, and that probably did not help me enjoy the book, that I read during one dull weekend while holed up in the switchboard bunker, plus a late-night train ride home. That, and the comparison to The X-Files – a series I did not enjoy very much – did not help putting me in the best disposition. I liked the set up, the setting and the premises, but I found the main protagonist Agent Pendergast absolutely insufferable. I came out of the book with very mixed feelings.

Also, it was pretty obvious one of the authors, that had been an employee of the museum in which the novel is set, had an ax to grind with that sort of environment, and while I can appreciate it – I do have my own set of axes to grind with the world of academia and research – and I certainly approve of using fiction to kill the people we hate, the revenge fantasy element in the novel was to me a little too evident.

So, OK, I sort of liked it but I wasn’t crazy about it – to the point that I have a stack of other Preston/Child books here in my emergency box, and I’ve never been desperate enough to try another – despite the excellent reviews the books had from people I respect.

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Still my favorite song

One day I will write a story. It will be called Still my favorite song, that is a quote from a song by Burt Bacharach, called It was you. I often use old songs to find a title for my stories and my works. My weird western gaming supplement for Deadlands is called Messico & Nuvole, and that’s the title of a song. All the Hope & Glory novellas have a title based on a record or a song, and Hope & Glory itself references Edward Elgar, of course.

One day I will write Still my favorite song, that is a story about a guy that after thirty years still has dreams in which he meets his first love. I could quote Donald Fagen’s The Goodbye Look, given the premise, and call the story An old lover dressed in grey, but Bacharach is more fitting. Fagen is too cynical.

In the story, whenever this guy is going through a rough patch in his life, he gets these dreams, and finds himself in a deserted city, a stark black and white city in a sort of Norman Bel Geddes modernist style, and there he meets his old flame, and they spend some time together, exploring the empty city, and talking. Then he wakes up, and he has only a sketchy memory of what they did, where they went, what they found out, what they discovered. But it feels good.

The dream thing goes on for a few nights, then the affairs in his real life get better, and the dreams are gone, only to return, months or even years later, when something goes wrong in his life again.

This goes on for thirty years. Then one day they meet in real life. She’s happy, she has her own life and everything. They have a cup of tea and a talk, like good old friends would. And talking together, they find out they have been dreaming the same city. They saw the same landmarks, went to the same places, and she has been meeting him there just as he met her.

I don’t know what will happen from that point on, in my story. I want to write it to find it out.

One day or another I will write Still my favorite song. Not right now, but I will, I know I will. After all, don’t they tell us we should write based on our own experiences?



Leiji Matsumoto has been drawing comics and animated features forever, and it makes sense that when Japanese animation was first distributed in Italy, one of Matsumoto’s works was at the forefront of the anime invasion. Space Pirate Captain Harlock hit my country about six weeks before my 12th birthday, and instantly became my favorite Japanese cartoon. No giant robots stomping over the suburbs of Tokyo, but good old fashioned space opera – and it was just what the doctor ordered for a kid that had spent two years reading Jack Williamson and Edmond Hamilton. I mean, come on… space pirate? Where do I sign up?

Matsumoto’s Northwest Smith
Matsumoto’s cover for Shambleau

Only much later would I find out that Matsumoto had been, about ten years before, the illustrator for both the Northwest Smith stories and the Jirel of Joiry stories by C.L. Moore, when they had first been published in Japan. Impeccable pulp space opera credentials, that Matsumoto put to goo use not only in Harlock, but also in other works, and of course in Space Battleship Yamato, from 1974, a military sf/space opera that was the answer to the prayers of anyone grown up (not much, in fact) with The Legion of Space, and that felt trapped in a world in which there was not enough SF on the telly, nor in the bookstores.

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Art for art’s sake

Not necessarily the 10cc song of the same title, but maybe… who knows? I stumbled today on a discussion in which one of the individuals involved claimed genre fiction can’t be as good as literary fiction, because if it’s good it can’t be genre fiction. I oversimplify, but that was basically the gist of the argument, with a twist – genre writing can’t be good because of the way in which it is produced, because of the authorial intent, if you will.

Now the obvious implication of this reasoning is, the moment I sit here and I say to myself , for instance,

now I’ll write me a ghost story

my story automatically looses the opportunity of being good, in a “literary fiction” sort of good. It’s flawed simply because I decided upon a certain form, and contents, that can be slotted into a genre. Mind you, it still exists the odd possibility that the story will turn out so good it will actually be literature, but it’s highly unlikely, and should it happen, it will be despite my intentions.

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Writing from experience

Reader, I did it! About two hours ago – at the time of publishing this – I sent a short story of mine to a literary magazine, my first literary fiction submission ever. Mainstream as hell, no flashing swords, no roaring rockets, no snarky adventurers in this one. Serious fiction, yessir.
There goes my pulp street cred.

The venue to which I have submitted my piece is so classy and literary and posh that they don’t pay the stories they publish, but in exposure – but I was happy to break my rule, never to give away my work for free, because, first, it was a 330-words piece that I wrote in thirty minutes (and edited in two hours, more about that later), second, I considered more a writing exercise than work, and third, because it is a story I want somebody to publish.

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