Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Dusting off my French with Arsène Lupin

I have talked in the past about how, to Italian kids of my generation, Arsène Lupin, the character created at the turn of the last century by Maurice Leblanc, was a timely and much welcome introduction to tongue-in-cheek adventure and good-natured rule-breaking, jazz, sophistication and beautiful women, thanks to a wonderful TV series featuring the excellent Georges Descrières in the role of the gentleman thief.
Indeed, Descrières as Lupin and Patrick Macnee as John Steed have a lot to answer about how I turned out as a person.

Later came the Lupin books, often in strange translations and abridged editions to make them suitable for young readers, and later still the movies, but everything started with the TV series. Re-watched today, the series is slow-paced and suffers from an almost theatrical construction of certain scenes, and yet the acting, the production values and the locations (episodes were shot all over Europe) are worth alone the price of admission.

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Two nights in Arkham

Lovecraft purists often frown at Lovecraft-inspired fiction. The main charge raised by these people is, other writers are either too much like Lovecraft or not at all like him, often at the same time. The second most common accusation is that certain stories are too action-centered and adventure-oriented, filled with guns blazing and chanting cultists. They usually blame Lovecraft’s popularity with the gaming crowd as the main reason for these degenerate pastiches, in which Indiana Jones or Doc Savage seem to exert an influence stronger than Nyarlathotep’s.

But I do like a bit of Lovecraft-flavored pulp adventure – and I do not mind action, gun-play and tongue-in-cheek name dropping.
I guess I am not a true Epicure in the terrible. So sue me.

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Along the Silk Road on a Rolls-Royce

There’s a story of mine, called Queen of the Dead Lizards (you can find it in Pro Se Press’ Explorer Pulp, together with three other fine stories by three excellent authors). I will not spoil the story for those of you who might like to check it out, but let’s say that part of the action in Queen of the Dead Lizards hinges on a trip along the Silk Road on a Rolls-Royce … an accident in the real life of the last Khan of Bukhara.
And what can I say – it felt like a good idea at the time.
But through one of those curious series of connections that come up during rambling conversations, I just stumbled on another Rolls Royce ride across the steppes of Central Asia, in a book by an author that’s not often remembered today, and that’s a pity.
So, let me take a rather circuitous route here…

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Quarantine reads: Cherryh and Hodgell, and Block

I decided I will devote some time in this quarantine period to read three series that have been on my radar for ages, now, and I have always kept for later – one of them, indeed, comes from one of my emergency boxes, the stashes of paperbacks I sometimes buy (especially when I find a good special offer) and save for the hard times.
Well, the hard times are here, so here we go.

I normally don’t like series anymore – as I grow old, I found out I prefer standalone novels, novellas, or series of short stories. But these cases are different. These are three series of which I have already read the first volume, and they are the work of three authors I greatly admire – so, no risk there, right?

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Volcano Goddesses, Golden Dawns and Sorcerer Popes

It’s Sunday, the countryside is silent and dreary, yesterday people in decontamination suits walked the streets of our village decontaminating the area – a scene out of too many SF/horror movies – and today I decided I’ll be lazy, recharge my batteries and go through a collection of Athena Voltaire comics a friend sent me – I’ve been through Athena Voltaire and the Volcano Goddess this morning, I’ll devote the afternoon to Athena Voltaire and the Sorcerer Pope, leaving Athena Voltaire and the Golden Dawn for the evening
Because I meed a little of high-octane pulp adventure in my life.

And here’s a gallery of covers, for your entertainment (If you’ve not read the Athena Voltaire comics… you should)


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Magic by numbers: Fifty-two

Today is Friday the 13th. The countryside is silent and deserted, and there is not a soul around. We are all sitting tight waiting for the second shoe to drop. At five pm my weekend will begin, and I will have a cup of tea and start a book. I have allowed too long external circumstances to spoil my everyday life. Like Steve Perry said, we’ve got to be good to ourselves.

A few days back I spotted a special offer on Amazon, and for less than three bucks (including delivery) I got me a paperback copy of The Magic Toyshop, by Angela Carter, in the classic Virago Modern Classics edition.
I have so far missed this novel, and what struck me was this: this book came out in the year of my birth, ergo we are both 52 at the moment – and for a strange coincidence, Angela Carter died at 52, in 1992, when I was 25, and living in the UK.
Not bad, as the premise for the decision to read a book about magic and reality.

Which is meaningless, of course – we can find patterns everywhere, but I liked the idea of reading Carter again, I liked the cover, the price, and I always found Carter’s language incredibly compact and yet light – so this will be a good opportunity to learn something new.
And read a good book.
WE should always have a good book to read, or a good story to tell.


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Gunthar, Warrior of the Lost World

In the last few years, lovers of sword & sorcery had the opportunity to meet Gunthar, Steve Dilks savage adventurer, as he started in the footsteps of older and better known barbarians in three action-packed adventures. We saw him meet the Purple Priestess of Asshtarr, and then turn his attention to the Jaguar Queen, before he finally tackled the Devil from Beyond.

A muscular hero that still shows intelligence, cunning, and a sort of grim humor, Gunthar is a classic sword & sorcery hero, and manages to capture the old excitement of the pulps while bringing to the table a few more modern ideas. And right now, fans and newcomers can get their fix of s&s action in the character’s first collection, Gunthar – Warrior of the Lost World, published by Carnelian Press, that brings together Priestess, Queen and Devil, and throws in The Lord of the Black Throne for good measure. Three hundred pages of solid sword & sorcery, in a nicely illustrated volume with a beautiful cover.

While the shadow of a certain Cimmerian adventurer looms obviously large over Gunthar and his world, it is quite possible that a notorious Lemurian barbarian is also keeping an eye out for the young lad – and yet Steve Dilks is his own writer, and he gives us more than a mere pastiche or homage. One feels his many influences, but also appreciates his steady hand. His stories are fun, smart, and travel at a furious pace, filled with blazing swords and dark magic and beautiful, dangerous women, and he manages to bend the rules enough to do something original, while not breaking them. You’ve got to be good to manage that.

I got my copy as a gift from one of my Patrons (thank you!), and it’s been a pleasant diversion in these busy, surreal days. Indeed, it jumped to the top of my to-read pile, and it forced me to find the time to give it my undivided attention. It’s been refreshing, like taking a much-needed vacation.

An excellent addition to any sword & sorcery fan’s shelf.
We want more.