East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


In the company of thieves

Back when I was young and I was trying to read all the fantasy and science fiction I was able to lay my hands on, a holy grail of sorts was the books of the series Thieves’ World, edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and Lynn Abbey. It was one of the earlier shared universes in the genre, and it featured the works of an incredible selection of writers.

The volumes were published in Italy by Fanucci, in a series of hardback volumes that were very expensive if you were a teenager, that featured mismatched covers, sometimes iffy translations, and normally included extra stories by Italian authors that were a little more than iffy.
I think I have two volumes, bought at a discount from a second-hand bookstall by my old high school.

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Gateway Drug: Michael Moorcock’s The War Hound and the World’s Pain

I like fantasy.
I like genre fiction in general – I read it, I write it, sometimes I play evangelist (which sounds better than “sometimes I bore my friends’ socks off talking about fantasy books”).
Like this morning, when a friend told me

I was never able to go beyond Tom Bombadil, and just like with Harry Potter, I think the films were better. I guess I don’t like fantasy so much.

If you felt like a cold Hyrkanian blade piecing your heart at the above lines, if you felt the burn of some obscure Melnibonean poison course through your veins, you know how I felt.

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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.



Notoriously, I am in the habit of re-reading one of two books, in alternating years. Usually in the spring, I either re-read Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, or I re-read Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. This year, following the death of Wolfe, I decided to change my pattern, and re-read something different (while I am also reading some of Wolfe’s stuff I had missed so far).

My only doubt was – what should I re-read?
In the end, I had two candidates: the massive The Wizard Knight, and the three books in the Soldier series. Both are great books, both I have read too many years ago, both are here on my special shelf, and both are books (or book series) from which I could learn something new.
And both are deep stories, multi-layered and full of secret passages, darkened nooks, false floors and hidden rooms. Something new and different is found with each new visit, each new exploration.

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My favorite elves

Roleplaying games are fun, and have two interesting side effects:

Side effect the first: they are good for learning a foreign language: my brother learned English through Dungeons & Dragons, and the little French I know I learned from the Sans Detour French edition of Call of Cthulhu. We talked about that already.

ElfquestSide effect the second: they are a great tool for discovering new books to read and (sometimes) new movies to watch. There is the old Appendix N in Dungeons & Dragons, of course, and the bibliographies of games such as GURPS Transhuman Space, Eclipse Phase and Trinity, that make for an excellent introduction to some of the best science fiction and science non-fiction, but there are also games based on literary works. The already mentioned Call of Cthulhu led a number of people to discover the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Supernatural Horror, and the Elric/Stormbringer games were probably a gateway to the works of Michael Moorcock for a whole generation.
In my case, one of the best things I discovered through roleplaying games was ElfQuest. Because I played the game before I read the comics.
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Rapiers & Goblins

16653Born in 1949, Teresa Edgerton made her debut in her forties, at the end of the 1980s with the first Celydonn trilogy – also known as the Green Lion Trilogy.
Apparently Edgerton is a regular at Renaissance fairs, a tarot reader and a puppet creator – in addition to having worked as a psychic – and her first novels construct a secondary Dumasian world of alchemy and intrigue.
The three volumes come out for ACE types – which in 1991 published Goblin Moon, a stand-alone novel that is probably Edgerton’s most popular and beloved work.
With its sinister magicians, romantic intrigues, a masked hero that recalls the Scarlet Pimpernel and an urban and eighteenth-century setting, the novel belatedly fits into that interregnum of which I have written in other posts – that period when the fantasy it is popular but not yet imprisoned in a standard scheme designed to please an audience who simply wants some variation on the theme. These are the glorious years in which the market was testing the waters, and on the shelves appear different and exciting works that then, mysteriously, disappeared. Continue reading