Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes

The cover was what did it for me at the time – in a game shop filled with Larry Elmore’s buxom fantasy heroines and Chaosium’s tentacle monsters, the cover of Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes promised the sort of fun that I expected from a roleplaying game. I mean… Classy dames in fur? French-looking guys with silenced UZIs? Scarred evil masterminds? Explosions and brawling? Humphrey Bogart?!
Come on, shut up and take my money!

So I bought it.
Twice.
The second time around, maybe five years later, my first box having been… ehm, borrowed and never returned (curses!), I ordered directly from Flying Buffalo Inc., taking advantage of an incredible special offer. I still have the box here on my shelf. Now that I think of it, this was probably my first ever online purchase. I used my Mosaic browser to access the Flying Buffalo web page.

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Old Mars!

Color me happy. After literally ages I’ve been able to complete the trilogy of Martian adventures that Michael Moorcock wrote in the mid-60s using the pen-name Edward Powys Bradbury. I read the first book in the series, City of the Beast (also known as Warrior of Mars), back in the mid ’80s, having found a battered copy of the NEL edition on a bookshelf in a bookstore long gone now. I was just out of the Barsoom series, and I wanted more of the same, only different – yes, it’s a bit confused.
In the span of a short summer I read Leigh Bracket’s Martian novels, C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, a sampling of Lin Carter’s Callisto books, a few Dray Prescott Skorpio novels, and then Michael Kane’s Martian adventures.

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Untethered

Back when I was a kid there was this poster, which read “All I needed to know in my life I learned from Star Trek”, and listed a series of life lessons from the old series, the one with Captain Kirk, that at the time was the only one. At the time it was considered a nerdy thing, and nothing to be proud – the poster was an in-joke for the members of the community.

A few days back I jokingly said to a friend that is a game designer that I’ve been using Shadowrun: Attitude as a lifestyle guide to navigate these strange years, and it works just fine. We had a laugh.
But then I took my copy out and started browsing it and realized that something must have been sitting at the back of my mind when I made that joke – because Attitude does in fact work as a good starting point to survive in this moment.

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Two types of adventurers

Pierre Mac Orlan was a Frenchman, his real name Pierre Dumarchey. He wrote novels of adventure and crime and, under a variety of aliases, pornography. Visitors of Karavansara might know him at least for one book, La Bandera, one of the early epics of the Foreign Legion, which was filmed in the ’30s starring Jean Gabin – and that tangentially influenced a a later movie called March or Die.

A surrealist and a satirist and not just a pornographer, Mac Orlan also wrote a tiny little book called Le petit manuel du parfait aventurier, or The Little Handbook of the Perfect Adventurer. It was published in 1920, and it’s a nasty little piece of work – as one might expect given the subject matter and the author. If you want, there is a copy of the French original in the Internet archive – me, I got me the Italian version, because it’s got a ribald photo of Gary Cooper on the cover, and because Amazon was having a sale with a 25% discount on the publisher’s catalog.

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That was seventy years ago

Black Narcissus is a movie by Powell & Pressburger, the British film-makers also known as The Archers. It is a gorgeously-filmed psychological drama set during the last days of the British presence in India. It is my favorite Archers movie (with A Matter of Life and Death coming a close second) and it’s the sort of movie about which I can bore you to death forever (did I already do a post about it? If I didn’t, I should). The film features Deborah Kerr and the often overlooked but absolutely stunning Kathleen Byron.

I was boring some people to death about this movie last night, and I got an observation that caused me to pause.

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The other Van Helsing

I was watching Brides of Dracula last night. The 1960 Hammer movie directed by Terence Fisher does not feature Dracula at all – the Count is name-checked in the title and in the spoken intro – and given for dead – and the main vampire in the picture is Baron Meinster (David Peel), on the rampage in search of young women’s blood in an out-of-the-way corner of Transylvania. It’s a good fun movie, with a lot of original touches, despite the presence of a very dodgy bat. And of course there’s Yvonne Monlaur, that is absolutely gorgeous, in the role of student teacher Marianne Danielle – the damsel in distress of the piece, all the way from Paris to Transylvania to get in a whole lot of trouble.

And we get Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Doctor Van Helsing. Maybe.

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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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