East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Binge watching

Almost everybody out there, if I must trust (and I shouldn’t) what I get through mi social media, is using the lockdown time to catch up on movies, TV series, books, comics and videogames. And really, why not?
We live in a media-rich landscape, and our old life forced us to leave behind a lot of stuff.

And while I was never a fan of binge-watching, as I mentioned previously I’ve been supporting myself on a steady diet of Chinese horror/adventure web series these days, courtesy of a Youtube channel that streams subtitled episodes. And I must say that in general I am impressed by the quality of the products I’ve seen so far.

So, the twenty episodes of The Weasels Grave gone in two nights of insomnia, I am now getting ready to start with The Wrath of Time.

Once again a story of grave robbers, monsters, curses and two-fisted archaeology, and being part of a franchise whose instalments apparently go back in time, this time the story is set in Chinese Republican times – back when warlords ruled and the China was in chaos.
I mean… it’s got to be fun, right?
I’ll keep you posted (especially considering that watching these series has given me a few ideas about writing I need to digest).

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A Grave for the Weasels

Two weeks ago I spent a weekend binge-watching Candle in the Tomb, a Chinese web-series about the exploits of a team of grave-robbers trying to find (and loot) an ancient lost city in the Gobi Desert. Despite the sometimes rough humor and the clunky SFX, it was a great fun – and for this reason, I moved on to the follow-up series, Candle in the Tomb: The Weasel Grave.

A long weekend approaches, and this is just what I need to keep my spirits up during my long sleepless nights.

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A photo from 1939

On the joys and the pains of doing research: I am currently putting the finishing touches (hopefully) on a book about Piedmontese travelers around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries. And one of the perks of this job – that for reasons long to explain I am doing part-time and under less-than-optimum conditions, is that I get to go back to the library and the web, doing a final pass of research.

When the book turns its gaze to China, it’s of course like coming again back home – how many stories I have set in the Middle Kingdom? Ah!
But while I was trying to decide what to quote from Peter Fleming’s book about the Boxer Rebellion, I chanced on a photo that got me off on a tangent for about half an hour.

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Doing research on the Frontier on a 10 bucks budget

Of the 200-and-odd books I read over four years while working on Hope & Glory, India – A History, by John Keay was the first stop. I had tried approaching the textbook for my brother’s course on History and Civilization of India and the Far East, but found it too massive, and written in a language unknown to the living. Keay’s book was fun, well documented, and it was in a language I understood.
I had to start somewhere, and I started from there, and later I also read (and enjoyed) Keay’s book about the East India Company.

So now that I am doing a bit of in-depth background research for my work on the Frontier RPG, I decided to splurge on research books all of 10 euro: the price of a night out for a pizza at Casablanca’s, what passes for a night on the town here in our house.
And half of my budget went for John Keay’s China, a History – that is a lot heftier than its Indian counterpart, but hopefully just as fun.
Once again, my brother’s university books about Chinese history are there on the shelf, but what the heck, for starters I want something as user-friendly as possible.

I will also throw into the research pot another of Keay’s books that’s here on my shelf, his old but wonderful When Men and Mountains Meet: The Explorers of the Western Himalayas, 1820–75, because it’s certainly on topic.

The other half of my budget went for Abraham Eraly’s The Mughal Throne, that I had missed in my previous book haul when researching Hope & Glory.
Amazon Italy has a few copies of the Italian translation, by a very high-end “serious” publisher, discounted to half price because they are a little worse for wear.
This way, I got my copy for six bucks, including delivery, and the volume is perfectly fine (the white cover is a little dirty, but really, that’s not an issue for a reading copy).

Thus armed, I’ll spend the next four weeks reading and taking notes. So far I’ve played fast and loose with my Stories of the Frontier, but now it’s time to start doing things properly.
And as I often repeat, I like doing research.

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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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Karavansara Free Library: Arnold Wright (and Hope & Glory)

The Internet Archive is a treasure trove. Right now my browser informs me it is undergoing maintenance, but when it’s up (it should be up briefly), you can listen to Old Radio shows, you can peruse pulp magazines, and you can find a number of excellent resources for your writing and your games.

For instance, let’s consider the catalog of books by Arnold Wright, former journalist of the Times of India and then London editor of the Yorkshire post, who made a nice career for himself as an author of reference books about the East. Continue reading

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A Waiting Game – the wait is over

And so it’s out, my friend Shanmei’s A Waiting Game, which I translated in the past weeks.
If you like mysteries and the east and the early 20th century, this might be your cup of tea.
The story is very loosely based on a real character, but the story is entirely fictional – a small mystery, with a touch of espionage.
Hopefully, more is to come, with Shanmei already working on a new story, and plotting a full-blown novel.


In the meantime, A Waiting Game goes for one buck and a half, and it reads like a breeze.
Check it out.