Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

52 Books, #3 – Queens Walk in the Dusk

Queens walk in the dusk
Thomas Burnett Swann, 1977

What an unusual book!

Thomas Burnett Swann was a critic, a poet and a writer of fantasy. He used classic mythology and history in his stories, and Queen walks in the dusk, while the first of the Latium Trilogy dealing with the origin of Rome, was in fact is last book, published posthumously – Swann died in 1976.

Swann’s name had been on my radar for ages – mentioned in articles and essays, sometimes compared to Jack Vance for his prose. That’s high praise indeed, and reason enough to check this guy out. It was a while now I wanted to read his books, and I decided to start from this one. And I was impressed, baffled, and utterly fascinated.

Queens walk in the dusk is a retelling of the story of Dido and Aeneas. I understand that to English-speaking readers, the story is familiar, if at all, through Henry Purcell’s opera, but to us in Italy, it is part of the school curriculum, and as such we know it well, and hate it (because we often hate what is imposed on us by school programs).
So there is this sense of deja-vu, in the story Swann is telling us.
But the strangeness and the charm of this book is not in the story itself – that is good, mind you – but in the style.

The world in which the story is set is the one of the ancient Greeks and Romans – a world peopled with monsters and gods that enter the everyday lives of the inhabitants, a world in which you can hold a conversation with a ship’s spirit. The sense of wonder of this state of affairs lays not in the extraordinary, but in its commonplace status. This is a wonderful world because everywhere is magic, and power. It is also quite cosmopolitan, the characters being aware not only of the various kingdoms and peoples of the Mediterranean, but also of far-away India (we visit an elephant town in Africa in which Ganesha is worshiped by the elephant population).
And the story is told in such a world in a way that reminds one of the ancient epics – not for its bombast, but for its straightforward manner in which wonders and magic are presented, and for its economy.
Dido loves Glaucus. He is killed by her brother Pygmalion.
She flees Thyre, stealing half the fleet, and builds Carthage.
Aeneas flees the burning Troy and seven years later lands on the coast of Carthage.
All this, in thirty, forty pages. Not a word is wasted, and yet at the same time the language is rich, with a tempo that recalls a ballad or an oral tradition more than a book, a modern novel.
The thoughts and the actions of the characters are thoughts and actions from the ancient world, guided and informed by different mores, and a different morality. This makes some situations particularly grating – Ascanius, Aeneas’ ten-years-old son is appalling in his role as a sex-obsessed smartass who tries in the bluntest of ways to get his dad a woman to replace his dead mother. But the character is historically realistic and true to the version in the Aeneid – and let’s admit it, we hated the little runt even in Virgil’s original, back in high school.

And yet, for all of these classically-derived elements, Queens walk in the dusk is a thoroughly modern tale, and one that gives us characters with complex and fully-developed psychologies.

The final result is strange, but highly entertaining and quite good.
I will read more of Thomas Burnett Swann’s novels, and I fully understand why, while many seem to have forgotten him, those that remember his work cherish it and consider it a classic.

(WAIT! What happened to Book #2?!
Apparently, WordPress decided to lose the programmed post – I will reload it in a few days. Sorry for the inconvenience)


2 Comments

The man who sculpted Cthulhu: Stephen Hickman (1949-2021)

I first became aware of Stephen Hickman’s work when I saw the Cthulhu idol the artist sculpted, and that has become to many the definitive look of Big C. In fact, Hickman’s work had been under my eyes for ages, starting with the Dragaera covers he did for Steven Brust, to illustrations for Tolkien and Conan comics and an iconic Harlan Ellison cover.

As a person severely impaired from a graphical point of view, I am forever fascinated by the ability some people have to express themselves through shapes and colors.
Stephen Hickman, who passed away this week, was a great artist and a visual storyteller.
Here is a small gallery of his works (click on the images to enlarge).


2 Comments

Trying a different approach

I’m trying something different for my next story, and I thought I’d tell you about it because… ah, because as usual, doing these things in public forces me to go through with them, can’t make any excuse and waste my time watching Youtube videos and stuff.

So, I am about to write a fantasy story set in a world without gods, in which magic is devastatingly dangerous, and in which life conditions are harsh.
Really harsh.
Blunder-and-you’re-dead kind of harsh.

Continue reading


2 Comments

What we learned in Lankhmar and Shadizar (and other places)

About two years back – if memory serves – when a lot of kids started manifesting and asking for better environmental policies and immediate action, someone observed that it wasn’t surprising if a generation that had grown up with fantasy novels in which kids confronted authoritarian governments now wanted to take direct action to right what they perceived as wrongs.

And indeed, I have always said, when talking about the positive effects of roleplaying games, that you can’t spend one afternoon every week, for years, playing a hero, without some of the principles rubbing off on you.
Yes, we’ve all played rogues and adventurers, but in the end we were the good guys and – if the master was worth their keep – we never went off the rails.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Escaping the pull of the past

A lot of people I know are re-reading old books. About two hours ago, I caught a vlog from an old friend, about how he’s re-reading some old Terry Brooks, because there’s nothing new that he finds attractive.
he probably read too much fantasy way back when, he said, and today’s offer is only urban fantasy or paranormal romance, and he does not care about that.

And I thought… really?

And do not get me wrong – I am pretty sure much of what’s being translated in my country right now is drivel, but the idea that “there’s nothing new” still makes me cringe.
There is good stuff out there – like, in cartloads.
And of course, as my poor mom used to say, “if you never read it before, it’s new”, and I’m all for reading what we missed in the past, and enjoying it.
But re-reading because there is nothing new?
Sorry, no.

We must resist the pull of the past, because I think that’s a sure sign we are getting old and losing our curiosity and our spirit of adventure. Maybe it’s because as we age, we do not feel like wasting time anymore, and we are scared at the idea of sacrificing a week for a bad book – a week nobody will ever give us back.
But being alive means looking for new things.

So I thought I’d point out a few titles I found very interesting recently.
Just for the sake of discussion.

  • Linda Nagata – Stories of the Puzzle Lands.
    Two novels in a single volume, that put a nice spin on a lot of classic tropes, and might take you by surprise, but in a very pleasant way.
  • Gareth Hanrahan – The Gutter Prayer.
    First in a series, good if you want to find the thrill of those old D&D games, and you like intrigue and urban settings.
  • P.W. Lewis – Kung Fu Fighting Vampire Mermaids.
    You know you are going to read this one just because of the title. And the cover art. But it’s fun, and weird and… weird.
  • Rob J. Hayes – Never Die.
    One of the best books I read this year. Oriental sword & sorcery, great characters, great story.
  • Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda – Monstress.
    This is a comic book, but it’s absolutely amazing.

So there you have it – fantasy is alive and well, and says Hi! to us all.


6 Comments

My very own canon

There’s been a lot of talking about “the canon”, after the recent meltdown at the Hugo Ceremony. You know, this idea that there is a big fat backlong of science fiction and fantasy books you just have to read to “get into” the genre. Books that act as gateway, and form the backbone of our genre of election.

The problem with all canons is that they tend to fossilize, and also can exert a sort of gravitational pull. There’s “canons” for everything, from jazz and rock’n’roll to movies to recipes and comic books.

Continue reading