Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Rough & Cheap

I’ve just left a conversation in which the works of Robert E. Howard, and his Conan stories in particular were described as rough and cheap.
Now, I beg to differ.
Granted, at his worst Howard was basically a competent storyteller, compensating with darkness and pathos his lack of a good story. But at his best, Howard’s Conan was not cheap, and was not rough.

people-of-the-black-circle

Being notoriously incapable of letting a matter rest when it peeves me, I’ll summarize my points here. Continue reading


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49 cents worth of Pulp

Last night I completed a long and heavy writing job (because sometimes insomnia is good for you), and to celebrate a job well done I invested 49 eurocents in a 1200 pages ebook.
Because I’m cheap.
But who said that expensive ebooks are better?

51TTaxtf7NL._SY346_The book I gave myself as a good job, old man! gift is called SCIENCE-FANTASY Ultimate Collection: Time Travel Adventures, Sword & Sorcery Tales, Space Fantasies and much more.
Which seems to be just the sort of stuff I like.
And sure is, because the guy that wrote all that stuff was Otis Adelbert Kline – pulp writer, amateur orientalist and frequent contributor to ArgosyWeird Tales (of which he was the editor for one issue) and Oriental Stories.
He was also Robert E. Howard’s literary agent.
Great catch! Continue reading


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The wisdom of the hack

81sjDZU2pxLI’ve been asked by a friend a few suggestions about setting up a pulp-themed scenario for a roleplaying game.
And who am I to deny the masses my wisdom?
Especially when the masses acknowledge me as a pulp guru?
So here’s what I wrote him…

Writing pulp means pleasing your audience by giving them what they do not expect while promising them what they expect.
In roleplaying, your players are your audience, so the first thing is to know your players, their tastes and expectations. And then surprise them.
Easy, right?

The balance between familiarity and surprise is mainly achieved through the manipulation of clichés and tropes, with a few gimmicks to put the pressure on. Continue reading


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Karavansara Free Library: 7 books by Sven Hedin

sven hedinThe Karavansara Free Library does Sven Hedin, and it’s quite a feat.
A true explorers’ explorer, Hedin had a colossal output of writings, and he is certainly one of the essential authors when it comes to Central Asia and the Silk Road.
“Geographer, topographer, explorer, photographer, travel writer, and illustrator of his own works”, to quote Wikipedia, Hedin did more than anyone else for the exploration of Central Asia, and his accounts are a collection of sharp scientific observation, anecdotal narrative and adventure.
Sometimes more academical than the works of Rosita Forbes and Emily Hahn, Hedin’s books can sometimes sound a tiny little bit self-celebratory, but really, the man was all over Asia and really went where no man had gone before. Well, no European man at least.
Granted, he sometimes sounds like he was too much in love of his own myth, and certainly being chummy with Hitler (that was a fan of his) did not do any good for his post-war popularity, but in all fairness he soon found out what monsters he was being chummy with, and he did what he could to stop their madness.

“He was a pioneer and pathfinder in the transitional period to a century of specialized research. No other single person illuminated and represented unknown territories more extensively than he.”

The Internet Archive holds a wealth of his books, but here we will only list a few titles, let’s say Sven Hedin’s Essential Bookshelf. Continue reading


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The Karavansara summer reading list for students (and everybody else)

I don’t know how it is there where you are sitting, but hereabouts schools are about to close for summers, and teachers are busy assigning homework and projects and stuff.
One of the things that hit the kids every year is the dread read at least five books from this list list.
I always hated that when I was in high-school – I usually approached summer with a stack of a dozen big books I wanted to read, and here I was forced to slip more dull novels in the mix. And now I’m told that with the lowering standards of our school they are reducing the required reads to three, but you get the idea.

SummerReading

And I thought, why not put together my own suggested reading list?
For kids out there, high-school level, to broaden their horizons, and provide some much-needed food for thought.
I’ll also do a list in Italian for my blog, as a form of service – but putting together a list of English-language titles is easier, and I’m told list posts are quite popular.
But with a twist: I’ll focus on a list of books in theme with the usual topics of this blog. Books that talk about science, nature, philosophy, literature, history and imagination.
With an eye for adventure, exploration, and a modicum of swashbuckling – because this is, after all, Karavansara!
Continue reading


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Planning a Silk Road adventure with (and without) Google Maps

I chanced on one of those things that happen on Facebook, a guy asking his followers

If you cold go on a big adventure, what would it be?

Or something to that effect.
Now I don’t have to think a lot about it – granted, it’s a big world and there’s adventures everywhere, but my first, instinctive response is the usual

From Paris to Shanghai by car, following the Silk Road

If you’re here, you know I love the Silk Road, its history, its stories – going along the old road, driving leisurely in my car, would be a dream come true. Stop to look at the landscape, take a few photos, eat a bite…

Fiat_panda_1_v_sstAnd when I say car, I’d mean my old reliable Panda – a tin can on wheels if ever there was one, so basic and stripped down it did not even come with a radio tuner, but in my experience the best, most reliable, more easily maintained ride I ever had.

But alas, Google Maps at this point lets me down

Sorry, we could not calculate driving directions from “Paris, France” to “Shanghai, China”

But please!
Google can provide me with a flight from Charles Degaulle Airport to Shanghai, for as cheap as 80 euro, but its Maps/Earth tools won’t calculate my route by land.
OK, let’s do it the old way. Continue reading