East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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?)

Continue reading


Finding a Title

aculeo&amunetNobody appreciates the problems of a sword & sorcery writer.

Right now, I’m putting the finishing touches on the next Aculeo & Amunet book.
Granted, two stories still need to be edited, but I see the finish line, and I’m pretty happy: after two novelettes published as stand-alone ebooks, I’m going for a collection – the next A&A outing will include four stories

  • Mirror of Amunet
  • The Witch with Green Eyes
  • Island of the Goat
  • The Crypts of Eskishaar

Three short stories and a novelette. Continue reading


Diversity in fantasy stories

This post takes its lead from what Unicornblues published on Way Too Fantasy.
Take a minute and please check it out.


Cover of Weird Tales (November 1935): The feat...I agree absolutely with the fact that given the wide choice of possible settings – historical, psaeudo-historical and completely made up – the matter of diversity in imaginative fiction and in fantasy in particular should be easily settled.
Heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery, in particular, play on elements which include globetrotting, clashing cultures and mixed, bazaar-like settings.
I could simply point at the Hyborian world Robert Howard created, and consider the matter settled.
Howard put Conan through the grinder in a variety of cultural environments, from quasi-Roman Aquilonia to the Harold Lamb-influenced horse tribes of the eastern steppes, all the way to the Black Kingdoms and the native-american-influenced Pictish forests of the north.

Granted, the Cona stories are not the model I would suggest for a multi-ethnical fantasy – but the setting does provide the tools for it.
Our modern sensibilities provide the need, and the spark, so to speak, to tell such stories.

But also, our historical past was much more multi-ethnical than we are normally led to believe.
Vikings raided the Mediterranean shores, the Chinese probably reached North America (and met the Aztecs? Wow! That’s a start for a good story! Or were they the Mayas? Ah, it would be great anyway!)
And obviously the Silk Road (you knew I was heading in this direction!) was a melting pot of cultures, genes, stories – witness the variety and diversity of the so called “Arabian Nights“.
No historical empire worth its name was ever a single-culture, single-ethnicity thing.

But let’s look at the whole thing from another side, shall we?

When I write fiction, everything in my story should be in the service of the story.
So, does diversity serve my story?
I think in most cases the answer is yes.
A well-varied, multi-ethnical or multi-cultural world simplifies a lot of things: it creates conflicts, hints at deep history, provides colour and wonder.
Avoiding such a powerful tool for the sake of some supposed “historical accuracy” is, in my opinion, not very wise.

All in all, using diversity in fantasy does not mean placing tokens in my narrative, but actually using characters and setting to make the texture of my narrative deeper and more satisfactory.
So, why not?