Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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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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Gloriana

Today marks the four-hundredth and sixteenth anniversary of the death of Queen Elizabeth the First, one of the historical characters that always fascinated me the most. It probably comes from watching at a tender age the old TV drama featuring Glenda Jackson, Elizabeth R. And yes, I have already mentioned, when I was a kid, my parents allowed me to watch all sort of adult stuff on the telly.

As a result of this fascination, I have a shelfload of books about Elizabeth and Elizabethan England. Biographies, guidebooks, tomes on specific subjects such as magic, espionage, the criminal underworld.

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Old Mars!

Color me happy. After literally ages I’ve been able to complete the trilogy of Martian adventures that Michael Moorcock wrote in the mid-60s using the pen-name Edward Powys Bradbury. I read the first book in the series, City of the Beast (also known as Warrior of Mars), back in the mid ’80s, having found a battered copy of the NEL edition on a bookshelf in a bookstore long gone now. I was just out of the Barsoom series, and I wanted more of the same, only different – yes, it’s a bit confused.
In the span of a short summer I read Leigh Bracket’s Martian novels, C.L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories, a sampling of Lin Carter’s Callisto books, a few Dray Prescott Skorpio novels, and then Michael Kane’s Martian adventures.

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In London with Jerry Cornelius

On the 7th of January 1992 I landed in London, nursing a bronchitis and a few lines of fever. I rode a taxi to my hotel, then went looking for a place to eat a bite. Along the road to a pub, I stopped in a bookshop and bought two books by Michael Moorcock: Mother London and one of the Jerry Cornelius books. Both had the dome of St Paul on the cover. I still think those two books set the tone and the rhythm of my year spent in London.

Now I’ve been commissioned an article about Michael Moorcock. It’s a pro bono job, and I’ve been given total control on the subject, the word-count, the style. And I’m thinking I will do a piece about London in the works of Michael Moorcock.

And what better occasion to finally get me a copy of Modern Times 2.0, a Jerry Cornelius adventure which comes bundled with an interview to the author and an article in which he reminisces about London.
One of those cases in which doing research is a good opportunity to have fun.


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Leigh Brackett’s Birthday

Today is the birthday of Leigh Brackett, one of the most influential authors in the field of space opera and planetary romance, or if you prefer of sword & planet, a hard boiled writer and screenwriter, and the wife of Edmond Hamilton.

I first discovered Brackett in the mid 80s, with an Italian translation of The Sword of Rhiannon. Only twenty-odd years later I’d find out that the translation was heavily manipulated, but even in that unfaithful version, I was hooked.
The Skaith books followed – in English, the three Ballantine-Del Rey volumes. And then anything else, in whatever form I was able to find.

It is reading Leigh Brackett that I was made aware of the connection between pulp science fiction and hard boiled fiction. Someone observed that all of Brackett’s heroes were, in the end, Humphrey Bogart, even when they walked the alien dust of distant planets. And this is not a bad thing. By coupling the sense of wonder of the Golden Age of Science Fiction with the melancholy and cynicism of hard boiled, Brackett created a universe that had an incredible stopping power, and feel fresh and exciting seventy years on.

But instead of reading my ramblings, check out this article, called Queen of the Martian Mysteries, by the Michael Moorcock.

And afterwards, check out Black Amazon of Mars, and judge by yourself.


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Inspirations

There are two questions that usually pop up during interviews, and they are

  1. Where do you get your ideas?
  2. What authors inspired you to become a writer?

The answer to the first is, of course, Schenectady.
The answer to the second, for me, is a little more complicated – or at least lengthier – because I am convinced that if we are readers – and writers can’t not be readers – then everything we read is a source of inspiration.
This kind of answer usually is interpreted as evasive by interviewers, so I usually have a list of authors I recite like a mantra.

And I thought it might be interesting to write a list, not only of authors, but also of the books by those authors I found inspiring. The books that made me say

THIS! This is what I want to write.

Who knows, maybe you need some reading suggestions for what’s left of summer. Here we go. Continue reading


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Serendipity of sorts: the Thirty Years War

“See you in Prague,” Graham Nash used to say – and today marks the 400th anniversary of the Defenestration of Prague, a rather obscure to most but pretty violent episode of European History that traditionally marks the start of the Thirty Years War.

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Now, I am quite fond of the Thirty Years War, and this despite the fact that Continue reading