Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Two evenings with the Queen of Zamba

I have always loved Lyon Sprague De Camp’s books – both alone and in tandem with his pal Fletcher Pratt, both as a writer of fiction and non-fiction. De Camp & Pratt’s Castle of Iron was the very first fantasy I read, and then I tried to track down and read any book that had Lyon Sprague De Camp’s name on the cover.

This hunt for books was not helped by the fact that Italian SF/fantasy editors did not share my enthusiasm for Lyon Sprague De Camp’s work, or for him as a person – one of them actually celebrated De Camp’s death, and later would say that he “spat on the man’s grave”.
Because, you know, Lyon Sprague De Camp desecrated the purity of Robert E. Howard’s Conan. Or something.
Wankers.

(full disclaimer – while I believe that Howard’s work at his best was impossible to emulate, and think De Camp’s Conan pastiches are well below par, I also believe that without De Camp’s work to keep Conan in print, Howard’s work today would be a niche interest for very few connoisseurs – like it happened to many other pulp writers)

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And should the Winter never come? What then, uh?

I am not a fan of Game of Thrones, and I did not like the books by Martin when I read them. So sue me.
I still appreciate Martin as a writer (mostly because of Fevre Dream) and I like what he’s trying to do with his books, even if I don’t care for the way he’s doing it. The Wars of the Roses? Really?

But I have watched with mixed emotions the evolution of the Game of Thrones fandom, their reactions at the way the show and the story were developed and all that. Always good watching how a pro does his thing, and how the punters react.

Yesterday I read somewhere that George R.R. Martin explicitly said that the whole “winter is coming” thing in his books was intended a metaphor of climate change. Now … yeah, I know, I told you already, I am an environmental scientist… this sort of intrigued me.

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Five books that got me started

Over at her place, my friend Jessica Bakkers posted a list of the six books that made her what she is, as a writer. Great idea. It’s fun, it’s easy to put together in the form of a post, and we are always ready to learn more about the writers we follow, and maybe find out a few new books to read.
So, why not steal Jessica’s idea?

Now, I actually already did something similar, a while back, listing the authors that had most influenced me. The ones I wish I was as good as. A shortened list, one that I could (and maybe will) expand.
But let’s look at this thing from another angle.

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A visit to Goblin Tower

Goblin_towerThe Goblin Tower is a 1968 novel by Lyon Sprague de Camp, first in the series known as the Reluctant King.
The novel follows the adventures of the reluctant King Jorian, in fact an engineer and watchmaker, that by chance finds himself in the shoes of the king of Xylar. But tradition has it that the career of the king of Xylar has an expiration date – expiration being the proper word, as it ends on the hangman’s stock.
The frantic activity of our hero to abandon the title, the throne, and the country, before his position becomes too compromising sets the pace of the story. It is not that abroad things are any better, since all the nations of the continent are prey to a political and social eccentricity that slips into the grotesque.
And in the utterly lethal. Continue reading


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On my (old) radio – A Gun for Dinosaur

Sunday!
Time to relax and listen to the radio.

Here’s a little masterpiece – the X Minus One adaptation of Lyon Sprague de Camp’s classic A Gun for Dinosaur.
The show was recorded in 1956.
Time travel and big game hunting – now those are manly pursuits!

Enjoy!


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Some notes on Dinosaur Hunting – part 1

Two years ago, a friend asked me about those B-movies in which Army types face rampaging dinosaurs, firing tons of bullets to no avail.
Were the dinosaurs really so hard to kill?

I wrote a post on the subject, on my Italian blog, which sparked a long discussion with further Q&A.
This led to a series of articles about dinosaur hunting.

I’m currently translating and re-editing that material, planning a small ebook for the curious – what follows is the first part of a this revised stuff.
More will follow.
But for starters… let’s talk weapons.

First idea: military-grade personal weapons can be a match for dinos.
A bit of metal accelerated to ultrasonic speed (such as a P90 bullett) carves a cavity in the target as large as a basket ball, so you can be a dino, but a burst from a modern automatic weapon hurts all the same.

But it gets better, and more complicated than that.

The idea that dinosaurs had thick, armored hides comes from the early years of paleontology – working by analogy with modern pachiderms, the first fossil hunters imagined dinosaurs to be thick-skinned like rhinos and elephants
Modern studies on fossil dinosaur hide tell us a different story – dinosaur skin is just reptile skin, often revealing clear signs of bite from predators.
Tough, but not enough to shrug off a direct hit from an automatic weapon.

Does this solve the T. rex vs AK47 debate?
Not exactly.

First of all, underneath the often garishly colored, supple reptile skin we find thick bands of compact muscle.
And then there’s the matter of bone plates – normally found on herbivores, on the back, rump and neck areas.

Both can somewhat soak the impact damage from our bullets.

And with really big beasts, it can take a few seconds, from the moment the bullet impacts to the moment the pain and damage registers in the brain of the animal – due to the distance the electric signal has to cover from the periphery of the body to the head.
And a charging dinosaur can do a lot of damage in a few seconds.

Which leads us to the old problem of the riunning dinosaur…

An elephant weighs—let’s see—four to six tons. You’re proposing to shoot reptiles weighing two or three times as much as an elephant and with much greater tenacity of life.

The quotes comes from the basic required reading on dinosaur hunting, Lyon Sprague De Camp’s A Gun for a Dinosaur – which you can find and listen to, here in the X minus One archive, as an mp3.

The bottom line of the charging dino problem – you can kill it, but before it realizes it’s dead, he can still rush you and squash you.

So what?
Sprague De camp offers a classic solution

Here you are: my own private gun for that work, a Continental .600. Does look like a shotgun, doesn’t it? But it’s rifled, as you can see by looking through the barrels. Shoots a pair of .600 Nitro Express cartridges the size of bananas; weighs fourteen and a half pounds and has a muzzle energy of over seven thousand foot-pounds. Costs fourteen hundred and fifty dollars. Lot of money for a gun, what?
I have some spares I rent to the sahibs. Designed for knocking down elephant. Not just wounding them, knocking them base-over-apex. That’s why they don’t make guns like this in America, though I suppose they will if hunting parties keep going back in time.

Holland & Holland Nitro Express .700 (in the ’50s, when Sprague De camp wrote his story, H&H and Continental only manufactured a .600).
Because we don’t want just to kill it – we want to drop him on the spot.

Of course, we are talking a 7kgs (15 lbs) weapon, that kicks like a mule – not the most confortable weapon to carry around Dinosaur Valley.

We can find today even better calibres – JDJ .950 and such.
There’s even a thing called Tyrannosaurus Rex.
But the .600 and .700 Nitro Express are still the discerning dino hunter weapon of choice.

Note that we are talking single, large dinosaurs.
Dealing with velociraptors – which are small and attack in coordinated groups – is quite another story.
In these cases, suppressive fire fropm full-auto weapons might be the only choice.

We close this first article, by reminding our readers of the Servadec Principle (thus called from the classic Jules Verne novel) – accustomed tothe rumblings of the savage wilderness around them, the dinosaurs might not be scared at all by explosions, and rather react with curiosity to the bangs of our weapons, coming closer to investigate.

In the next installment – Bring ’em back alive!