Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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The Riddle of Steel

I had an interesting and instructive discussion last night, on the Facebook group devoted to my friend Umberto Pignatelli’s Beasts & Barbarians roleplaying game, about John Milius’ 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, and about the riddle of steel in particular.

The Conan movie has been an object of much debate ever since its first screenings, and Howard fans in particular tend to be often quite critical about it. For my part, I’m one of those guys that will tell you “the book is better”, but I do like John Milius’ film. I like its looks and its composition, I like Basil Poleduris’ score, I like Sandhal Bergman a lot (and the poor, late Valerie Quennessen!), I like the characters of Subotai and Mako’s wizard, and most of everything else I like the movie’s structure. The way you can split it scene by scene and see perfectly the story arcs, and the mirror-like pivot points that make the whole narration symmetrical.

And then there’s the quotes, and among these, Conan’s father’s lengthy monologue about the Riddle of Steel.
And be warned, because from this point on there are SPOILERS (but really you never saw Conan the Barbarian? What are you doing on my blog?)

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Stranded on a mysterious island

Tell me if this sounds familiar: a bunch of strangers from all walks of life are thrown together by mysterious events and find themselves stranded on a mysterious volcanic island. They are not alone, there’s monsters and other survivors in the trees, and an underground compound filled with strange tech, a self-destruct mechanism and what else. The main characters have different skills and backgrounds – there’s a doctor, a criminal, a fat nerdy guy, a bald savvy guy, a sportsman, a businessman etc – and they have to find a way to work together to survive, solve the mystery of the island and go back home. We get flashbacks of the characters’ previous lives, and the first season ends on a massive cliffhanger.

And it’s not Lost.
It’s a strange, derivative but cool animated series produced in China, and based on a comic book. It’s called Mi Yu Xing Zhe, or Uncharted Walker in English. It was aired early in 2018 and it is not half bad.

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Boobs

I was never big on superhero comics. Back when I was a kid I retrieved a big stack of Nembo Kid that had belonged to my uncle, from the attic in my grandmother’s house. For the uninitiated, Nembo Kid was the Italian name of Superman in the ’50s – and the magazine printed a number of stories featuring Superman (and various Superboy and Supergirl stories), Batman and the Flash. I was seven or eight, it was good fun.

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Algernon Blackwood

Today marks the 150th birthday of British writer Algernon Blackwood, one of the great authors of supernatural fiction, whose work influenced the likes of William HopeHodgson, H.P. Lovecraft, C.A. Smith, Ramsey Campbell and many others.

Born in 1869, Blackwood was a member of the Golden Dawn, and had a versed interest in matters mystical and supernatural

My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness…. Also, all that happens in our universe is natural; under Law; but an extension of our so limited normal consciousness can reveal new, extra-ordinary powers etc., and the word “supernatural” seems the best word for treating these in fiction. I believe it possible for our consciousness to change and grow, and that with this change we may become aware of a new universe. A “change” in consciousness, in its type, I mean, is something more than a mere extension of what we already possess and know.

Algernon Blackwood

Today, Algernon Blackwood is remembered chiefly for his short story The Willows, that is considered a classic of weird fiction, The Wendigo, that is the definitive story about this creature from Native American folklore, and for the John Silence stories featuring an early occult detective.
All these, and a lot more, can be found on the pages of Project Gutenberg.

To me, Blackwood will forever remain the author of The Valley of the Beasts, another story based on Native American folklore and one that caused me quite a scare when I was about ten or eleven years old.

Blackwood died in 1951, and here is something from 1949, when he related one of his strange stories, on film. Enjoy!
(and lookout – as the opening card says, this is for adult audiences)


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Old Mars!

Color me happy. After literally ages I’ve been able to complete the trilogy of Martian adventures that Michael Moorcock wrote in the mid-60s using the pen-name Edward Powys Bradbury. I read the first book in the series, City of the Beast (also known as Warrior of Mars), back in the mid ’80s, having found a battered copy of the NEL edition on a bookshelf in a bookstore long gone now. I was just out of the Barsoom series, and I wanted more of the same, only different – yes, it’s a bit confused.
In the span of a short summer I read Leigh Bracket’s Martian novels, C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, a sampling of Lin Carter’s Callisto books, a few Dray Prescott Skorpio novels, and then Michael Kane’s Martian adventures.

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From Lemuria to Opar

I am putting the finishing touches on a 12.000 words novella in what I, being old-fashioned (or just plain old) would call the science fantasy subgenre. It’s something long overdue, that I promised to my Patrons a lifetime ago, and that was caught up in too many complications to write here about.
But now here it is. I have a cover, and I am going through a bout of rewriting – which means the story might end up being longer than planned. I hope nobody will complain.

The novella is basically sword & sorcery with a thin patina of science – I took some inspiration from the Recent Dryas Impact Event and some theories about the extinction of the Clovis culture in the Americas, and then threw in a few neanderthals, a few sabretooth tigers (because I like sabretooth tigers), and some evil “Atlantean” ubermensch.
The idea was to tell a story about a primitive man versus a much more advanced but decadent culture.
Being a paleontologist, I had to censor my internal censor – this is fantasy, not a textbook!

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