Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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“A bland book most suitable for female readers”

The Tar-Aiym Krang was a great way to spend a couple of afternoons reading old science fiction: adventure, intrigue, strange aliens, mysterious technology, a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist that manages not to be irritating despite being so damn good at everything… great. Also, it was like making an acquaintance again with an old friend. Two, actually, both Pip and Flinx.
The idea at this point was to go through another Alan Dean Foster book recovered from one of my emergency stacks, but then something interesting happened.
Well, interesting…

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Barry Hughart, 1924-2019

I have just learned of the death, at the age of 95, of American writer Barry Hughart, whose Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox is easily one of the series of books that had the strongest impact on me as a reader, as a writer (for what I am worth) and as an individual.
Looking back, I can see the roots of a lot of my interests and passions to the first meeting with the wonderful strangeness of Bridge of Birds, the fist Chronicle of Master Li.

With its strange mixture of fantasy and history, its roots in folklore and legend, it sometimes science-fictional twists, and it humor, Bridge of Birds remains one of my favorite fantasies, and it’s the sort of thing I have in mind when I start writing a new story.
I’ll never be that good, but it’s all right – it’s good to aim high.

Barry Hughart interrupted his series after three novels, because he was displeased at the way his publisher was handling his work.
That was a terrible loss for all of us – a loss that Hughart death seals forever.
He will be sorely missed.


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Just like when I was in high school – a long reading weekend

Back when I was in high-school I spent a lot of time reading, and the summer was a particularly intense time. Indeed, I started reading in English because books in English lasted longer, and I had been reading through all of the readily available fantasy and science fiction on the bookstore shelves.

My teenage summers were filled with stories by Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, Gordon R. Dickson, C.J. Cherryh, Tanith Lee and Anne McCaffrey – to name just a few, that I still read and enjoy today.
Then, this morning, I chanced upon a conversation on Facebook about the literary merits of Alan Dean Foster – another staple of my young diet as a reader. These days Foster is known in my country mostly because of his novelizations, but back in the days his Pip & Flinx stories and his Humanx Commonwealth novels were very popular. Then things changed, and today the only books by Foster that get translated are his movie tie-ins.
This got me thinking.

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Practicing the True Secret of Writing (or at least trying)

I think I already told you part of this, so bear with me if I repeat myself.
I started dabbling with Zen in high school: our teacher was convinced the Ministry-approved curriculum for History and Philosophy was limited and incomplete, and so he assigned us to write essays on subjects that were not part of the program. I already had a passion for the east, and so I chose to do a paper on Zen philosophy.
My teacher provided a few titles, and then I discovered Thomas Hoover’s Zen Culture, and I was thoroughly fascinated. Incidentally, Hoover’s book can be downloaded for free – together with many of his other fine fiction and non-fiction books – from the author’s web page.
My essay got top marks, my schoolmates concluded I was even more of a crackpot and a geek than I appeared to be, and I started what was to be an on-off interest for the rest of my life.

The crackpot part is significant – there was another thing I did, back in high school, that marked me as a weirdo. I wrote stories.
They were very poor stories, mostly fantasy and science fiction, hammered out on my mother’s Olivetti typewriter, but I liked it as much as I liked reading. Possibly more: because I’d be able to write stories I did not find around, and I would have loved to read.
It was a start.
My schoolmates looked at me and shook their heads.
Not all of them – a few were quite supportive – and one of them even said “You’ll end up being a real writer.”
I wished I had his faith in my skills.

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A morning among the rude mechanicals

I took the morning off. My brother was to see the doctor, and I went along, basically to enjoy the air conditioning in the doc’s waiting room. I brought my Kindle along (about which, more later) and settled in one of the wonderfully uncomfortable chairs.
The air conditioning was on to Alaskan Winter levels – I guess the doctor is trying to increase his workload by causing his patients pneumonia or, who knows, maybe decrease his workload by offing the weakest.
And I had the opportunity of spending two hours surrounded by the nice villagers.

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Getting at least the basics straight

A few months back, I was the witness of a surreal discussion among (male) writers about how to write (female) characters.
It was one of those things that REALLY make me feel like a rude mechanical that gatecrashed a party of fine intellectuals, because the guys brought up literary theory, polling the feedback of female beta readers and conducting interviews with control groups to be sure of “getting it right”, and then of course Jung’s theory of the Animus and Anima, yin and yang, Freud’s letter to his chiropractor and what else.
Real heavy stuff.

Now, I usually think about the women I have known in my life – friends and lovers, relations and acquaintances, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, strangers overheard on the train and at the supermarket.
Characters in books, films, comics.
For certain bits – like the name of certain items of clothing, current or past fashion trends, make-up and grooming, I do a spot of research.
The rest I make up.
So far nobody complained about my female characters.

But then last night, I was shown this…

And I think we need to talk.
So take a deep breath, stop laughing, and let’s talk.

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Books for August – a list of five

My brand consultant (yeah, I’m just like the pros, see?) tells me I should do what everybody else does, and post a list of suggested books for my readers to pack as they go on vacation.
Make it a five points list, he said. People love five points lists.
And who am I to ignore my brand consultant on such matters?
So, here we go… a few books you might like to pick up for your summer reading, provided with handy Amazon link and all.
Many of these I have already mentioned, because I don’t like suggesting stuff I have not read myself.

Let’s see…

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