East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Quiet, rest and some Flat Earth

It’s the 23rd of December.
I have mailed my latest novella to my Patrons, and sent an ebook to a friend as a better substitute for a greeting card. The pantry is stocked, the menus decided for the next days. All the bills have been paid (well, OK, most of them), and there’s money (not much) in the bank. I’ve even bought a sack of treats for the feral cats that will come and sleep in the big box we’ve placed outside.
Now I can sit back and relax for a few days.
Read a good book, or three.

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John Brunner's Traveller in Black

For many years the John Brunner stories featuring The Traveller in Black were very high in my Need to Read list. John Brunner was more famous as a writer of science fiction than as a fantasist, and he wrote some of my favorite SF novels (in particular, The Squares of the City and The Productions of Time). I often read about the series, and there was an edition in my country in 1996 – but I actually never saw a copy of that one, and I always considered missing these stories as a grave hole in my CV as a fantasy reader and writer.

So I was quite happy when a gift from one of my Patrons brought to my Kindle The Compleat Traveller in Black, a volume that collects the five stories of the cycle: “Imprint of Chaos“, “Break the Door of Hell“, “The Wager Lost by Winning“, “The Dread Empire“, and “The Things That Are Gods“.

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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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