Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Providing continuity

Today I’ll mix nostalgia with hype, if you don’t mind.

conan l'avventurieroWhen I was a kid, say 15 years old, I discovered Robert E. Howard and Conan the Barbarian through the Italian editions of the Lancer Books collections edited by Lyon Sprague de Camp.
My first was Conan the Adventurer, and I was hooked.
Also, I decided this was the sort of stuff I wanted to read, and possibly to write.

The little hardback book had a wonderful dust jacket (by Dutch artist Karel Thole), and it came with a gorgeous map of the Hyborian world.
Then there was a fun introduction by Italian critic and translator Riccardo Valla, and then the stories.
And each story was introduced by a snippet of text by L. Sprague de Camp, providing some sort of continuity to the series.

Stuff like…

After escaping from Xapur, Conan builds his Kozaki and pirate raiders into such a formidable threat that King Yezdigerd devotes all his forces to their destruction. After a devastating defeat, the kozaki scatter, and Conan retreats southward to take service in the light cavalry of Kobad Shah, King of Iranistan.

It was fun, it gave me a sense of history. Continue reading


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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.
Done?
Fine.

Now.

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?