Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Reading Tanith Lee

It’s the sixth anniversary of the death of Tanith Lee, one of my favorite writers, and one I have a long history with. As I think I have often mentioned in the past, The Birthgrave was the second book I ever read in English, back in 1984. It was the one that got me hooked to reading in the original language, and it made me a Tanith Lee fan. It also dispelled this strange prejudice – that was at the time common in the Italian fantasy community – that Lee was bad, a writer of limited scope and poor ideas, a talentless hack and, worst still, a woman.
“She’s almost as bad as Michael Moorcock, and she’s an ultra-feminist!” a reviewer wrote.
Because thus was in ancient times.

Through the years I have read a lot of Lee’s work, and in the last few weeks I went on a shopping spree (my birthday’s coming, remember?) and started filling the gaps: the books I missed completely, and the books I read forty years ago in wobbly Italian translations, and now I feel like revisiting.
Ebooks are a boon, in this case.

So I got me a copy of Cyrion, a collection of fun sword & sorcery shorts I had given a wide berth to when it had been published in Italian, that ofer an interesting take on a somewhat Mediterranean/Middle Eastern fantasy. Cyrion’s adventures will serve me as a warm-up before I dive into the sword & sorcery collection Empress of Dreams, that has been recently published and collects Lee’s other sword & sorcery tales.
The title of the second collection is particularly apt, as it recalls C.A. Smith, sometimes called the Emperor of Dreams, and Tanith Lee S&S stories are somewhat similar, in tone and spirit, to Smith’s.

Then I’ve got me a copy of Companions on the Road, my old Italian edition being buried in a box here somewhere. I admit I remember very little of the book – I read it after the two-book series Don’t Bite the Sun/Drinking Sapphire Wine (still one of my faves from Lee), and the sudden shift to fantasy had left me cold and not very interested. And as I am at it, I might also re-read those two other novels.

Then, a collection of Indian fantasies (or science-fantasies), Tamastara, that I had completely missed at the time of publication. This one promises to be a nice change of pace – and I’m always interested in non-Western fantasies.

And finally, I got a copy of Dreams of Dark and Light, a hefty collection of science-fiction and fantasy short stories.

Tanith Lee had an unique voice, and an extreme versatility, and is one of the writers one should read to learn how it’s done. It will be a pleasure spending my summer nights reading her stories.


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Storm Constantine (1956-2021)

I have just learned about the death of British fantasy writer Storm Constantine, popular for her Wraethtu stories and for her collaboration with Michael Moorcock on Silverheart. A strikingly original writer, I first encountered her work back in 1992, when I discovered the trade paperbacks of her first trilogy – The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfillments of Fate and Desire.
In a beautiful style reminiscent of some of Tanith Lee’s works, the Wraethtu Chronicles were ahead of their time, in tracing the future history of humanity’s slow but inescapable replacement by a new species of hermaphroditic beings, the titular Wraethtu.

The stories were rich of atmosphere and tackled a variety of ideas and situations not often seen in commercial fantasy – which probably explains why Constantine’s novels developed a sort of cult following.

Constantine would later expand the series (that also came to include a roleplaying game), exploring further aspects of her future history, finally launching a publishing house devoted to her works (including expanded versions of her earlier books) and those of other writers she supported.
She published other series – most notably the Grigori sequence – and she also wrote a number of essays on magic, including a few spellbooks.

Often described as a writer of “shadow fantasy”, Storm Constantine was an impressive writer, both for her bold ideas and her sophisticate style, and she was also that rarest of creatures, a fantasy writer that would have been perfectly at home in one of her imaginary worlds.
She’ll be sorely missed.


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Back in the saddle: the return of the Horseclans

Back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth – i.e., the early ’80s – I was for a while a member of a science fiction and fantasy fans club. Apart from regular meetings that I was not able to attend, because they were held 500 kms from where I lived, and I was fifteen, and broke, I received a bi-monthly magazine that featured stories, art, articles and reviews.
The most interesting part for me were the reviews – especially the three or four pages devoted to a roundup of what noteworthy titles had been recently published in the USA. The plots, the titles and the covers were the stuff that dreams were made of.

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Five reasons for reading Fritz Leiber

Mondadori, the major Italian publishing group, will hit the shelves this week with a massive 1300-pages volume featuring all the Lankhmar stories written by Fritz Leiber.
To celebrate this, I did a piece on MELANGE, the independent magazine of fantasy and culture – and because I was asked by some friends that do not read Italian, I’ve translated the piece, and I’m posting it here.
Enjoy.

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Charles R. Saunders (1946-2020)

I have just learned of the passing away, early last week, of Charles R. Saunders, the author whose Imaro was the first character in a fantasy genre that would come to be known as Sword & Soul, and whose catalog included some of the best fantasy produced in the second half of the 20th century.

I am absolutely devastated – no more than two weeks ago, I was suggesting Charlse Saunders’ books to a contact that was looking for some different take in sword & sorcery – and the recent reprint of the first Imaro book was just what he needed.

For me, Imaro was, with Elric, the first sign that there was life beyond Conan, and I still have my trade paperback of the first volume.

It’s time for a thorough re-read, in remembrance of a great writer.


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You must be a f#cking moron or, how I liked the Sword of Shannara

In my long and somewhat undistinguished life so far, only three times I have been called “a f#cking moron” because of my tastes (or lack thereof) in matters of music and literature. And before you ask, yes, I have a very long memory for certain things.

  • The first time was when I candidly admitted that I’d rather listen to J.S. Bach than to W.A. Mozart.
  • The second time was when I expressed my preference for Jefferson Airplane over Pink Floyd.
  • The third time was when I said I had actually liked The Sword of Shannara.

And this being Karavansara, you will guess what I am going to talk about next.

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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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