Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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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)


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Getting ready for 2022 (if possible)

So, it’s the end of the year.
Today we celebrate St David, so I’ll have a bit of a celebration, here alone in the fog-shrouded countryside, and then I’ll take a while off.

I will take this time to r4echarge my batteries before I dive into my writing work again in January, and I will also put the finishing touches on my silly projects (aka “good propositions”) for 2022.

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The last book of the year

I should be writing, but I am reading instead. It’s very cold, the countryside is still and dreary, and I need to recharge my batteries. I have stories to write, stories to translate, work on two games over which the deadline looms closer and closer. But like I always do, like I have been doing ever since I was eight, I got a new book for Christmas, and I am reading it.

The book is Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1980, and it is a multi-faceted, in-depth survey of what I grew up calling “New Wave”.

Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, this is part of a series, and I should get the other two books – about counterculture and youth culture in pulp and popular fiction respectively.

It will be a while, I am afraid, because as I have explained elsewhere, one of my good propositions for 2022 is to stop buying books until I’ll have been through a substantial part of my ever-growing TBR.
I will also cut all unnecessary expenditures, in an experiment whose purpose is trying to stop compulsive (and meaningless) buying.

This sounds a lot more radical and political than it really is, and goes well with the book I am reading – because here we have the highs and lows of the revolution, the Swinging London of Michael Moorcock and the savage fury of authors like Ellison, Disch, Farmer.

The volume is a collection of monographic articles, nicely illustrated with covers from the books of the time. For someone like me, that grew up reading SF in the late ’70s and through the ’80s, this is like browsing an old school yearbook, and catching photographs of old friends.

It is also a dire menace to my promise of not buying books in 2022 – because a lot of the titles discussed I read, but a lot I only know through word of mouth, and now, after seeing them so intelligently analyzed, I want to read them.


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Next summer, in Bloodwood

Today I took a day off from the web. I shovelled some snow off the courtyard and then went with my brother for a supply run. In the next weeks, we will hole up in our house and crawl under a stack of blankets.

And while I was away from my PC, the news dropped about the Summer of 2022 release schedule from Aconyte Books … and lo and behold, there is my name on the list!

I am therefore happy to announce that next year my novel The Raiders of Bloodwood will be released by Aconyte, as part of their line of novels supporting the Descent, Legends of the Dark tabletop game.

The novel is a sprawling high fantasy romp, featuring a mismatched band of common people that will find themselves in a tight spot, and will have to learn to be heroes. It is going to be fun.

I am very proud of being part of the Aconyte team, and I am very happy with the opportunity they gave me to write a big fat novel filled with monsters, escapes, battles, magic and strangeness.

And here is the cover, by the excellent Asur Misoa.

More news as stuff hapens.


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52 Books

So, here is an idea.
I have put together a list of 52 books.
Of these 49 I have here, either on my shelf or on my e-reader. The other three I’ll get as soon as possible (one comes out in April, I’ve pre-ordered it already).
So the idea was – I can read (and in a couple of cases, re-read) one per week, and then do a post. The list is pretty eclectic – it features novels and short story collections, a couple of comic books, a lot of non-fiction (science and nature, history, politics & economy).
Some books are well known, a lot of others are not so widely popular.

I thought about doing this as a podcast but came to the conclusion that
a . I hate my voice
b . I don’t like talking to myself
c . writing is faster

Also, yes – d . a blog post is cost-free, while a podcast archiving space costs money.

I would add that at this moment my desire to communicate with the people out here is VERY close to zero, so I am thinking about doing this for my Patrons, but I will also devise a way to post out here too – without short-charging my supporters. I have an idea already.

So, what do you say?


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Kickstarting the Bad Guys

The Nefarious Villains of Sherlock Holmes is a two-volume anthology of new original stories featuring… well, the nefarious villains of Sherlock Holmes. The anthology is currently being launched on Kickstarter, and it features, among many fine stories, a piece by yours truly, featuring (not yet) Colonel Sebastian Moran, and with a notorious pulp psicopath as a guest star.
Check it out.