East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


Two good ideas at the same time

Don’t you hate it when it happens?
Here I am, with tons of stuff to do, and two huge ideas that push on my brain to get to my fingers and through my fingers and the keyboard on a page and then get printed, and published, and read.


Two ideas.
Two whole worlds.
Two potential new series.
Heroes, or at least a decent substitute for heroes, already there, ready to have a go at whatever I will throw at them.
So now what? Continue reading


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The 6 Biggest Fantasy Blunders

selection_555Another good one from the Portent Content Idea Generator.
Because let’s be serious – we all have read some very bad fantasy in our day. And I use the term fantasy in its broader sense, from sword & sorcery where mighty-thewed barbarians roam to the shaded forests of high fantasy in which elves of all stripes can be found, to the slithery shadow of horror, to the dusty and sun-baked landscapes of planetary romance.


There’s some excellent stuff out there, but there’s also a fair amount of duds.
And if reading the good stuff is essential to write good stories, reading a fair amount of drivel – as long as we recognise it as drivel – is also useful, because we all learn from mistakes, and when it’s other people’s mistakes it sort of feels good, doesn’t it?

So, having read my more than fair amount of fantasy drivel, here’s my list of blunders, ugly choices and bad ideas behind some of the worse fantasy I ever read. Continue reading

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Magic, art & science in the city: Passing Strange

41jzvod73kl-_sy346_And then something happens that disrupts all your plans and your timetables, and it0s OK like that.
In this case, the something was a quick message from my friend Marina, that suggested I check out a book called Passing Strange, by author Ellen Klages.
The book, Marina said, came with the recommendation of Caitlin R. Kiernan.

If the recommendation and the gorgeous cover weren’t enough, I then checked the blurb on Amazon…

San Francisco in 1940 is a haven for the unconventional. Tourists flock to the cities within the city: the Magic City of the World’s Fair on an island created of artifice and illusion; the forbidden city of Chinatown, a separate, alien world of exotic food and nightclubs that offer “authentic” experiences, straight from the pages of the pulps; and the twilight world of forbidden love, where outcasts from conventional society can meet.

Six women find their lives as tangled with each other’s as they are with the city they call home. They discover love and danger on the borders where magic, science, and art intersect.

Inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy, Passing Strange is a story as unusual and complex as San Francisco itself from World Fantasy Award winning author Ellen Klages.

Yes, inspired by the pulps, film noir, and screwball comedy.
Could I not invest two bucks and a half in this book?

And a great investment it was, just as it was a good idea spending a few hours in these two nights to read the book and enjoy its mix of class, elegance and ideas.
Part of the (excellent) series of Tor.com novellas, Klages’ book is a historical fantasy1 set in 1940, and touches on a number of subjects, from topology to weird menace pulps, while tracing the lives of six characters in the shadow of the incoming war and in a society i n which they have a hard time fitting.
Elegantly written, with great dialogue and great characterization, Passing Strange reads like a breeze, and is hopefully a sign that 2017 will be an excellent year for fiction, if nothing else.
Highly recommended.

  1. remind me to do a post about why lots of current fantasy fans wouldn’t recognize Klages’ story as a fantasy, and why this is an absolute tragedy. 

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Circle of Iron/The Silent Flute (1978)

My friend Dalmazio reminded me yesterday of a movie that I re-watch usually once a year, and that would fit my highly hypothetical guide to sword & sorcery movies, despite the fact that it does not feature any sword that I can remember, nor is the sorcery so prominent.
The movie is called Circle of Iron, but is also known as The Silent Flute, and was originally written by Bruce Lee, that would have starred it.
The movie was planned for 1969, and should have featured James Coburn (who also had a hand in the original story) as a co-star, but then the project fizzed.

It was produced nine years later, with David carradine in the role that should have been Lee’s, and Jeff Cooper in the role that had been imagined for James Coburn or Steve McQueen.

The first mystical martial arts adventure… well, it is a way to put it. Continue reading

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On the joys of being an avid reader

92324624c6d8489f3ea8c99ff0865f30There was a time when I was a genre reader.
A single genre reader.
Which means I read mostly genre fiction, and mostly a certain genre of fiction – to wit, science fiction and fantasy (in their broader sense).

This changed, dramatically, when I was about eighteen years old.
There was no great epiphany, no great watershed moment, no single book I can nail as the one that opened the floodgates, but basically, when I was eighteen or thereabouts, I simply found out that I loved reading.
I loved stories, I loved the possibility of exploring different places, different characters, different situations.
Who cares about genre labels? Continue reading

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Tracks in the Snowy Forest

41msnsIInOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I’ll ramble a bit, if you don’t mind.
I’ve been looking for Tracks in the Snowy Forest for a while, now, without any luck.
I read a lot about it, summaries, criticism… but I still miss the real thing.
The book, written by Chinese author Qu Bo and published in 1957, was apparently published in English in 1962 – and never reprinted1. Alas, I can’t read Chinese.
The book – a thick affair over 500 pages long – is a historical novel. Or maybe not.
Based on true fact – to wit, the operations of a small unit of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army against warlords and bandit chieftains in North-Eastern China in 1946-1947 – it is nonetheless a novel, a work of fiction, and it was published ten years after the events. The author Qu Bo, took part in that PLA campaign, and the story is therefore based on his first-hand experiences.
Does it count as historical fiction?
Or is it something else – fictionalized autobiography?
Non-fiction novel?
I don’t know.

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Eating the Dragon

51upa6Uj-OL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I’m having lots of fun reading “Heroika – Dragon Eaters”, a massive, highly entertaining collection of fantasy stories edited by Janet Morris and published by Perseid Press.

I like very much the central concept of the anthology – collecting stories in which men (and sometimes gods) pit their strength, spirit and wits against the power of dragons.
This is a welcome return to stories in which the dragon was the adversary, an expression of power hostile (or alien) to our mindset and civilization.
After so many stories of good dragons portrayed as an endangered species1, it’s good to have the dragon back as the bad guy.

Continue reading