Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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On the couch with Grace

When I flew out of New York City in 1951 for Karachi, Kabul, and Delhi, I planned to write a
book about the famous mountains that stretch across northern India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The Himalayas, the Karakorams, and the Hindu Kush-all geologically one-had long fascinated me.

William O. Douglas – Beyond the High Himalayas

A new, 70-years old book for my collection – I just got me a digital copy of William O. Douglas’ Beyond the High Himalayas. That sounds quite promising.

Douglas (1898-1980), that was a SCOTUS judge since 1939 and a prominent proponent of environmental justice, spent the 1950s traveling in the Middle and Far East, and he wrote a lot of books about his experiences. Beyond the High Himalayas was his second book, published in 1952.

I knew nothing about Douglas and his book, but today during lunch time I re-watched for the umpteenth time Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and there, right at the end, I caught a brief shot of Grace Kelly, sitting on a couch and reading a book.

I always try and spot the titles of books that appear in movies – especially movies I love – and I was quite surprised when I realized the book Kelly’s reading is somewhat connected with my general interests.
A freeze-frame allowed me to get the title, and then I did a quick search – and found out the book’s available for real cheap as an ebook on Amazon.
And I know I said I would not spend more money on books in 2022, but I’ve just got a gift card for my forthcoming birthday and… well, I did it.

One more for the to-be-read book pile.


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A story a day (again)

I’m currently editing a new short story that should come out by the end of the year in a new anthology. And I am waiting for an answer by a publisher about a pitch for a novel that I have submitted. And there are two more stories I plan to write and mai – the deadline being September.

But in the meantime, because life is too easy as it is, I have joined the StoryaDayMay adventure. I did the challenge last year, and one of the stories I wrote not only sold nicely, but it was also longlisted for an award. And really, what I need is a little fun – I have been writing with very specific targets for so long, this runs the risk of becoming a job.

And I guess my long-suffering Patrons will benefit from a sudden burst of short fiction shenanigans on my part.

As the guy said… stay tuned.


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The lady writes the pulps: Nora de Siebert

This is a sort of rabbit hole in which I am about to dive. And why not carry you along?

Science fiction was always considered cheap drivel in Italy – commercial fiction fit to entertain the “technical classes” (that is, mechanics, factory workers and engineers) while “proper intellectuals” (whatever that means) got into the classics. But despite the stigma (that SF shared with fantasy, romance, mystery and any other “popular” literature), for a brief season, between the 1950s and the 1980s, SF was really big in Italy.

In the mid-50s the genre appeared on the Italian news-stands, in the form of “magazines” that were in fact cheap pulp paperbacks. And if Urania was the spearhead of this new invasion, a lot of other magazines popped in and out of existence, lasting for a few months, or a few years.

One of these was Cronache del Futuro (Chronicles of the Future), published by KAPPA Edizioni, that ran for 24 numbers, between August 1957 and August 1958. It was sold for 150 lire a copy. Cover art was mostly provided by Curt Caesar – an Italian comic artist and illustrator of German origins, that had served in the Afrika Korps under Rommel, and who also did cover art for Urania and other magazines. The magazine featured short novels from Italian writers hiding behind an Anglophone alias.
The only writer to appear in Cronache del Futuro with her real name was Nora de Siebert, probably because she “sounded foreign”.

Born on the 22nd of March 1917, De Siebert apparently started writing when she was still in her teens, and by the ’40s had established herself as a very prolific full-time writer, doing romance, science fiction, comic books and photoplays, and scripting a movie (a lowbrow comedy, in 1961). She was a pulp writer, in other words, and a good one – to the point that one of her stories, “Un Sogno Smarrito” (A Misplaced Dream) was the first romance novel published in 1958 in the new “Collana Rosa” from KAPPA Edizioni.

Before that, KAPPA published a number of her SF novels

  • Ora Zero, la Terra non Risponde (Zero Hour, Earth doesn’t copy) – 1957 and serialized as Fuga nella Galassia (Escape in the Galaxy) between 1957 and 1958
  • Umanità immortale (Immortal Humanity) – 1957
  • Il silos di cristallo (The cristal silos) – 1958
  • Trasfusione atomica (Atomic transfusion) – 1958
  • Il Totem dello spazio (Space totem) – 1958
  • Ricerca dell’inverosimile (Search for the Unlikely) – 1958

For some reason, Ricerca dell’Inverosimile was published under a male alias, Norman MC Kennedy – and it was even given an “original title” (Search for the Unknown) and a “translator”, in order to reinforce the illusion this was “proper SF” written by an American man, not by an Italian woman. I was unable to track down any further outing of Mr Mc Kennedy.

Cronache del Futuro also ran a few short stories from De Siebert, as an appendix to other people’s novels.

Many of De Siebert’s SF stories were often set against the background of future societies in which women were relegated to a subordinate, “ornamental” roles – usually by design and with the help of mind controlling techniques, as men had found out that women could beat them at their own game if allowed; the main protagonists in these stories usually rebelled against the status quo. Not bad, for stories written in a backwater like Italy, in the 1950s.

With the end of Cronache del Futuro, De Siebert’s science-fictional output dried up.
In 1962 her novel La porta sull’aldilà (The door to the beyond) was the first – and only – title in a new series of news-stand paperback magazines called I Racconti di Nharadham. The magazine died after the first issue, probably because nobody knew how to pronounce its name.
In 1967, De Siebert also had a story in an anthology called Fantasesso (yes, Fantasex) – an old short known as The female from Antares, and originally published in Cronache dal Futuro, but now reprinted as La femmina inappagata (the unfulfilled female). Because so it was in ancient times.

Nora De Siebert died in Rome on the 23rd of November 1989.

Today, Nora De Siebert is almost completely forgotten, and her SF novels are hard to find collector’s items. They sometimes appear on eBay, and I have half a mind of keeping an eye out and maybe get a couple. They’d make for a fun translation project.
For certain I will continue to search for further information of De Siebert, because she seems to be a woman after my own heart.


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The Spine of Night (2021)

Maybe not the ideal Easter movie, but The Spine of Night popped up on my radar (it is currently running on Shudder), and being in a dark fantasy/sword & sorcery mood (big news), I decided to take a look. I was duly impressed and highly entertained, and that’s all I was asking for.

On the technical side, The Spine of Night is a rotoscope animated feature, in the style of Ralph Bakshi’s Fire & Ice or Heavy Metal. With Fire & Ice shares a certain old school fantasy feeling, and like Fire & Ice it is an anthology movie, the single episodes tying in together into a larger overarching narrative.

In the movie, we witness the rise of a god-emperor thanks to the powers of a mysterious blue flower that is somehow connected with the deeper fabric of the universe. As the god-emperor extends his dominion over the world, we catch snippets of other stories, and get a good look at the underlying mythology of this world.

A good solid movie with a somewhat Lovecraftian twist, The Spine of Night is a very dark fantasy, with a nihilistic edge, and does not shy away from violence, gore and nudity – so if anyone tells you “animation is for children”, here you have your counter-argument.

The movie backgrounds are completely stunning, and while it takes a moment to get used to the style in which the characters are drawn and animated, once we get past that uncanny valley thing that rotoscoping causes, it’s all fine.

The voice cast includes Richard E. Grant, Lucy Lawless, Patton Oswalt, Betty Gabriel, and Joe Manganiello, and they all do an excellent job. The music is fine, and the direction – by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King (who also wrote the script) is quite interesting.

Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s good to see that this sort of movies still get made.


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A new story in a new book

The fine people at Aconyte Books have just announced their next Arkham Horror anthology, Secrets in Scarlet

A secret organization ruthlessly seeks power over supernatural terrors in this globe-trotting anthology of arcane mystery and adventure, from the bestselling world of Arkham Horror

… and there’s a story of mine in it!

At the moment I am not at liberty to divulge any further detail, but it will be here for Halloween, and it’s going to be… interesting.


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Fly me to the moon

I had mentioned this already in the past, but today I got an update, and so you get an update too.
The two volumes of the Unbreakable Ink anthology, edited by Shebat Legion, and featuring two stories of mine, will be part of the Lunar Codex project.

The purpose of the project is to create three time capsules on the surface of the moon, containing a selection of creative works from our home world.

As an arts and culture project, The Lunar Codex has been called the most expansive, international, and diverse collection of contemporary culture launched to the Moon. Significantly, it is the first project to launch the works of women artists to the lunar surface. It is also the first project, to our knowledge, to place film and music on the Moon. 

A long time reader (and sometimes writer) of science fiction, this is an old dream that comes true – from the time I spent my Sunday evenings watching Space 1999 on a small Zenith black and white TV. Granted, 1999 is long gone, and it will only be two stories of mine that get on the dusty surface of the moon, but what the heck, they will be there, and I will be too, and forever.

So, should you happen to be around the Lunar South Pole in the future, you’ll be able to check my stories, and every other story in the anthologies collection.
Or you can go on Amazon, and buy them here on Earth.

And now, a little music…