East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai



I’m taking a moment for a brief shout-out to my friend (and sometimes accomplice) Umberto Pignatelli’s latest game, Scheherazade, a roleplaying game that allows you to play into the Arabian Nights.
I’ll post a review here as soon as the game is released, but in the meantime, check out the gorgeous cover…

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Karavansara U. – first courses

When you have a good idea (or one you think is a good idea), you better put it in practice as soon as possible. Hesitation is a trap. So, I mentioned my idea to present a selection of courses the readers of Karavansara might be interested in taking, using online platforms.

The rules of thumb (we can’t really call them by-laws) of the Karavansara University are quite simple:

  • free online courses
  • related to the topics we usually cover on this blog: adventure & historical fiction, fantasy & pulp, history, the East, the Silk Road, and the whole wide world

And with this in mind, here’s a first selection of five courses that might kindle your curiosity…

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Sinbad the Sailor

cover_lgPhil Masters is a well known author in the field of gaming, and in particular his GURPS Arabian Nights is in my opinion not only one of the best GURPS supplements, but also a fundamental addition to any Arabian Nights/Oriental Fantasy shelf.
I check it out occasionally, and it’s been very helpful in and out of my gaming life, and was one of the books that started me on my ill-advised idea of collecting different versions of the Arabian Nights.
And this morning the postman delivered a copy of Master’s other Arabian nights book – Sinbad the Sailor, part of the wonderful Osprey Adventures line. Continue reading

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The Vizier’s Second Daughter

Travel back in time to kidnap historical figures for a few days, which then produce neural copies for the entertainment industry. It’s a job like any other, for “Bill” Billings.
A short orientation course, and then a jump in the past, to extract another subject. In Baghdad, in the ninth century, this time, to kidnap Scheherazade, the daughter of the Vizier, the greatest storyteller of her time.
Only, this time it does not work out as expected.
Not only does Bill kidnap the wrong girl, but a failure of his time machine deposits him and his unexpected companion… elsewhere.
Very much elsewhere.
Is it simply a post-human future, as Bill suggests, or is it the land of the Jinns, as claimed by the second-born of the Vizier? Continue reading

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A book for the rest of my life

And in the end I gave myself a gift for my fiftieth birthday.
I wanted a good book, one that I’ll be able to take along for the remaining years of my life.
A book I’ll be able to read and re-read, and that I’ll have placed in my casket when the day comes.

So, I have this mild fetishism for the Everyman Library books. They are beautiful and sturdy and come with this Victorian conceit: a library of classics in classy edition for the common readers.
Now that’s something.

It was conceived in 1905 by London publisher Joseph Malaby Dent, whose goal was to create a 1,000 volume library of world literature that was affordable for, and that appealed to, every kind of person, from students to the working classes to the cultural elite. Dent followed the design principles and to a certain extent the style established by William Morris in his Kelmscott Press.

Despite my fetishism, I only have three volumes in the series: a selection of Flashman Papers by George MacDonald Fraser, and the two volumes containing the complete short stories of Ray Bradbury and the complete stories of Roald Dahl.
So I went on Amazon and browsed the stacks and emerged with a short list of five volumes, and who am I trying to kid here, it is obvious I’ll get each one of them sooner or later1.
But right now, as I said, I was looking for something symbolic – and a good thick book at the same time.
So I bought myself a copy of the Everyman Arabian Nights. Continue reading


Tits & Sand: Popeye’s Arabian Nights

When I was a kid1, the Italian national TV, RAI, featured regularly the original 1930s Popeye the Sailor cartoons. For some mysterious reason, the cartoons were not dubbed, and so we kids simply enjoyed the action and the comedy, missing the word-play and jokes. But we got it all the same.
And indeed, when much later the cartoons were finally dubbed, the dubbing job was so lame, we simply decided the originals were better.


Some of the best originals are now in the public domain, so I put three of the best on a DVD and used them as Christmas-card substitutes for a few kids I know.
bca64gqc8And a friend told me she won’t show Popeye cartoons to her kids, because these cartoons are violent and racist, and also encourage smoking, and her boys would grow up as little fascist pipe-smoking punks should she submit them to such a bad influence.
I was basically treated like one peddling spinach-stuffed neo-Nazi propaganda.
Which sort of made me go “Uh?!” and started a long (and in the end, useless) discussion about historical perspective and the fact that kids, being usually smarter than parents often credit them, usually are quite good at telling make-believe, funny violence from real-world, the-hurting-kind violence.
I don’t know anybody that ever got into a fight because of the nefarious influence of Popeye the Sailor.

But the three cartoons, now… Continue reading

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Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic

strangermagicsbookscanWell, this is the week dedicated to the Arabian Nights, or so it seems.
So why not go on and talk about another good book I will be quite happy to find the time and re-read, not just because it will be fun research for the Mana Bros Alam al Mithral project, but most of all because it is one of the ten best literary essays I ever read. And I kid you not.
The book is Marina Warner’s Stranger Magic and I have bored to death all my friends, trying to push it on them, and now I guess it’s your turn. Continue reading