Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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The Devourer discounted

Short public service announcement: because it’s the month of May, and because this is my birthday month, you can get The Devourer Below, the lovecraftian horror collection which includes my short story All my friends are monsters, with a massive 60% discount on DriveThruFiction.

Just follow this link.


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On the couch with Grace

When I flew out of New York City in 1951 for Karachi, Kabul, and Delhi, I planned to write a
book about the famous mountains that stretch across northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Hindu Kush-all geologically one-had long fascinated me.

William O. Douglas – Beyond the High Himalayas

A new, 70-years old book for my collection – I just got me a digital copy of William O. Douglas’ Beyond the High Himalayas. That sounds quite promising.

Douglas (1898-1980), that was a SCOTUS judge since 1939 and a prominent proponent of environmental justice, spent the 1950s traveling in the Middle and Far East, and he wrote a lot of books about his experiences. Beyond the High Himalayas was his second book, published in 1952.

I knew nothing about Douglas and his book, but today during lunch time I re-watched for the umpteenth time Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and there, right at the end, I caught a brief shot of Grace Kelly, sitting on a couch and reading a book.

I always try and spot the titles of books that appear in movies – especially movies I love – and I was quite surprised when I realized the book Kelly’s reading is somewhat connected with my general interests.
A freeze-frame allowed me to get the title, and then I did a quick search – and found out the book’s available for real cheap as an ebook on Amazon.
And I know I said I would not spend more money on books in 2022, but I’ve just got a gift card for my forthcoming birthday and… well, I did it.

One more for the to-be-read book pile.


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The lady writes the pulps: Nora de Siebert

This is a sort of rabbit hole in which I am about to dive. And why not carry you along?

Science fiction was always considered cheap drivel in Italy – commercial fiction fit to entertain the “technical classes” (that is, mechanics, factory workers and engineers) while “proper intellectuals” (whatever that means) got into the classics. But despite the stigma (that SF shared with fantasy, romance, mystery and any other “popular” literature), for a brief season, between the 1950s and the 1980s, SF was really big in Italy.

In the mid-50s the genre appeared on the Italian news-stands, in the form of “magazines” that were in fact cheap pulp paperbacks. And if Urania was the spearhead of this new invasion, a lot of other magazines popped in and out of existence, lasting for a few months, or a few years.

One of these was Cronache del Futuro (Chronicles of the Future), published by KAPPA Edizioni, that ran for 24 numbers, between August 1957 and August 1958. It was sold for 150 lire a copy. Cover art was mostly provided by Curt Caesar – an Italian comic artist and illustrator of German origins, that had served in the Afrika Korps under Rommel, and who also did cover art for Urania and other magazines. The magazine featured short novels from Italian writers hiding behind an Anglophone alias.
The only writer to appear in Cronache del Futuro with her real name was Nora de Siebert, probably because she “sounded foreign”.

Born on the 22nd of March 1917, De Siebert apparently started writing when she was still in her teens, and by the ’40s had established herself as a very prolific full-time writer, doing romance, science fiction, comic books and photoplays, and scripting a movie (a lowbrow comedy, in 1961). She was a pulp writer, in other words, and a good one – to the point that one of her stories, “Un Sogno Smarrito” (A Misplaced Dream) was the first romance novel published in 1958 in the new “Collana Rosa” from KAPPA Edizioni.

Before that, KAPPA published a number of her SF novels

  • Ora Zero, la Terra non Risponde (Zero Hour, Earth doesn’t copy) – 1957 and serialized as Fuga nella Galassia (Escape in the Galaxy) between 1957 and 1958
  • Umanità immortale (Immortal Humanity) – 1957
  • Il silos di cristallo (The cristal silos) – 1958
  • Trasfusione atomica (Atomic transfusion) – 1958
  • Il Totem dello spazio (Space totem) – 1958
  • Ricerca dell’inverosimile (Search for the Unlikely) – 1958

For some reason, Ricerca dell’Inverosimile was published under a male alias, Norman MC Kennedy – and it was even given an “original title” (Search for the Unknown) and a “translator”, in order to reinforce the illusion this was “proper SF” written by an American man, not by an Italian woman. I was unable to track down any further outing of Mr Mc Kennedy.

Cronache del Futuro also ran a few short stories from De Siebert, as an appendix to other people’s novels.

Many of De Siebert’s SF stories were often set against the background of future societies in which women were relegated to a subordinate, “ornamental” roles – usually by design and with the help of mind controlling techniques, as men had found out that women could beat them at their own game if allowed; the main protagonists in these stories usually rebelled against the status quo. Not bad, for stories written in a backwater like Italy, in the 1950s.

With the end of Cronache del Futuro, De Siebert’s science-fictional output dried up.
In 1962 her novel La porta sull’aldilà (The door to the beyond) was the first – and only – title in a new series of news-stand paperback magazines called I Racconti di Nharadham. The magazine died after the first issue, probably because nobody knew how to pronounce its name.
In 1967, De Siebert also had a story in an anthology called Fantasesso (yes, Fantasex) – an old short known as The female from Antares, and originally published in Cronache dal Futuro, but now reprinted as La femmina inappagata (the unfulfilled female). Because so it was in ancient times.

Nora De Siebert died in Rome on the 23rd of November 1989.

Today, Nora De Siebert is almost completely forgotten, and her SF novels are hard to find collector’s items. They sometimes appear on eBay, and I have half a mind of keeping an eye out and maybe get a couple. They’d make for a fun translation project.
For certain I will continue to search for further information of De Siebert, because she seems to be a woman after my own heart.


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While I was away: Richard L. Tierney

I am back online, having scrapped one PC and set up a new one – with the usual corollary of backups, lost passwords and money I would have rather not spent.

And while I was offline, working on my system, I received the news of the passing of author Richard L. Tierney, at the age of 86.
I had discovered Tierney with a book by Fedogan & Bremmer called The House of the Toad – a solid entry in the Cthulhu Mythos catalogue. If that book was what put Tierney on my radar, it was the collection The Scroll of Thoth that turned me into a fan – because in Tierney’s stories about Simon of Gitta I found everything I liked in my sword & sorcery: a historical setting, a cast of intriguing characters, a modicum of Yog-Sothotheries, and a first class style of writing. What else could anyone ask?

Indeed, I usually mention the stories in that old Chaosium anthology as one of the main influences on my own sword & sorcery stories.

Through the years, Tierney became one of those writers whose work I was always on the lookout for, but that seemed to appear only in small press/limited editions, hard to find volumes.

In the last two years, the reprinting of the Simon of Gitta stories in the volume Sorcery against Caesar, and of the massive novel Drums of Chaos had been a welcome opportunity to spread the knowledge of this writer, by giving away ebooks as gifts to my friends.

Richard L. Tierney’s passing hit me like the loss of a loved uncle, the sort that you see only occasionally, but whose appearance is always a welcome occasion.
He will be sorely missed.


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Nefarious

I’ve just got my contributor copy of The Nefarious Villains of Sherlock Holmes, edited by David Marcum for Belanger Books. The volume includes my story “The Tiger and the Bear”, featuring Sebastian Moran.

As for the photo, I can quote the late Leonard Cohen and point out “I don’t usually look this good, or this bad (depending on your politics)”.


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52 Books, #3 – Queens Walk in the Dusk

Queens walk in the dusk
Thomas Burnett Swann, 1977

What an unusual book!

Thomas Burnett Swann was a critic, a poet and a writer of fantasy. He used classic mythology and history in his stories, and Queen walks in the dusk, while the first of the Latium Trilogy dealing with the origin of Rome, was in fact is last book, published posthumously – Swann died in 1976.

Swann’s name had been on my radar for ages – mentioned in articles and essays, sometimes compared to Jack Vance for his prose. That’s high praise indeed, and reason enough to check this guy out. It was a while now I wanted to read his books, and I decided to start from this one. And I was impressed, baffled, and utterly fascinated.

Queens walk in the dusk is a retelling of the story of Dido and Aeneas. I understand that to English-speaking readers, the story is familiar, if at all, through Henry Purcell’s opera, but to us in Italy, it is part of the school curriculum, and as such we know it well, and hate it (because we often hate what is imposed on us by school programs).
So there is this sense of deja-vu, in the story Swann is telling us.
But the strangeness and the charm of this book is not in the story itself – that is good, mind you – but in the style.

The world in which the story is set is the one of the ancient Greeks and Romans – a world peopled with monsters and gods that enter the everyday lives of the inhabitants, a world in which you can hold a conversation with a ship’s spirit. The sense of wonder of this state of affairs lays not in the extraordinary, but in its commonplace status. This is a wonderful world because everywhere is magic, and power. It is also quite cosmopolitan, the characters being aware not only of the various kingdoms and peoples of the Mediterranean, but also of far-away India (we visit an elephant town in Africa in which Ganesha is worshiped by the elephant population).
And the story is told in such a world in a way that reminds one of the ancient epics – not for its bombast, but for its straightforward manner in which wonders and magic are presented, and for its economy.
Dido loves Glaucus. He is killed by her brother Pygmalion.
She flees Thyre, stealing half the fleet, and builds Carthage.
Aeneas flees the burning Troy and seven years later lands on the coast of Carthage.
All this, in thirty, forty pages. Not a word is wasted, and yet at the same time the language is rich, with a tempo that recalls a ballad or an oral tradition more than a book, a modern novel.
The thoughts and the actions of the characters are thoughts and actions from the ancient world, guided and informed by different mores, and a different morality. This makes some situations particularly grating – Ascanius, Aeneas’ ten-years-old son is appalling in his role as a sex-obsessed smartass who tries in the bluntest of ways to get his dad a woman to replace his dead mother. But the character is historically realistic and true to the version in the Aeneid – and let’s admit it, we hated the little runt even in Virgil’s original, back in high school.

And yet, for all of these classically-derived elements, Queens walk in the dusk is a thoroughly modern tale, and one that gives us characters with complex and fully-developed psychologies.

The final result is strange, but highly entertaining and quite good.
I will read more of Thomas Burnett Swann’s novels, and I fully understand why, while many seem to have forgotten him, those that remember his work cherish it and consider it a classic.

(WAIT! What happened to Book #2?!
Apparently, WordPress decided to lose the programmed post – I will reload it in a few days. Sorry for the inconvenience)