East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai



I’m taking a moment for a brief shout-out to my friend (and sometimes accomplice) Umberto Pignatelli’s latest game, Scheherazade, a roleplaying game that allows you to play into the Arabian Nights.
I’ll post a review here as soon as the game is released, but in the meantime, check out the gorgeous cover…

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The true story of Sinbad the Sailor (sort of)

captain-sinbad-graham-diamond-paperback-cover-artI’m a sucker for a good novel with an Arabian Nights twist.
So I’m currently reading Graham Diamond‘s Captain Sinbad, a smart, highly entertaining historical fantasy adventure which supposedly tells us the “true story” of the Arabian Nights character and his travels around the Mediterranean, Medieval Europe and the Near East.

Now, I’ve always loved Sinbad – first discovered in old Technicolor adventure movies (Douglas Fairbanks!), the Fleischer Popeye cartoon (wonderful!) then through repeated readings of the Arabian Nights*, and Tim Severin‘s The Sindbad Voyage.

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Super Heroes

250px-BadroulbadourYes, it’s Friday, and I should be posting a picture for you out there to use as a writing prompt.

But today, I’m going for something a little diferent.
I’m posting here a link, to a wonderful website called Public Domain Super Heroes.

Which contains a long list of – you guessed it – super heroes and comic book characters that happen to be in the public domain.
And not just super heroes…

Badroulbadour (“full moon of full moons”) is a princess from the far east to whom Aladdin was married in The Story of Aladdin; or, the Wonderful Lamp (the full moon as a metaphor for female beauty is common throughout the Arabian Nights).

You can browse the website – hosted by Wikia – for its documentary value, or just pick a character, and write your own story.
Or draw your own comic.
Beats churning out crappy fanfiction every day of the week.


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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.


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?


O’Neill’s Scheherazade

n320056I’ve a thing for the Arabian Nights.
I’ve collected different editions, read essays on the subject, discussed it with friends until I scared them off or bored them to death.
So yes, now it’s your turn.

As one of the founding texts of fantasy, the Arabian Nights have been to me a source of endless discovery and fascination.

Now, I’ve found another piece of this personal puzzle of mine in Anthony O’Neill’s Scheherazade, a novel published in 2002 which is a sequel of sorts to the classic tales.
And much more.

The cover blurb says it all

It is nearly twenty years since Scheherazade spun her tales for a thousand and one nights; the tales that saved her life and immortalised the city that she had never seen — until now. Scheherazade and her husband, King Shahriyar, arrive in Baghdad to a rapturous welcome from the Caliph and his people, but within hours the Queen is kidnapped from her bathhouse, and disappears. An ancient prophecy leads the Caliph to despatch a motley crew of sailors on a rescue mission. As the seven unlikely saviours venture deeper into the unforgiving desert, losing camels, supplies, and all sense of direction, Scheherazade must face her abductors alone. And once again she begins to spin a tale to save her life…

But it’s much more complicated than that – and therefore, to me, much more satisfactory.

Scheherazade is not just a fantasy and an adventure story, and it’s more than a literate and literary game.
It’s a book about how stories change not only those that read or listen to them, but also those that tell or write them – which is a subject very dear to me in this moment.
By being writers, by being storytellers, we write ourselves, we narrate our own existance.
And by doing so, we can make ourselves better – or let our stories make us different.
Anthony O’Neill’s book brings that idea to its extreme consequences – and it is both a fantasy and a historical novel, a comedy and a tragedy, a phylosophical novel and a sexy romp, a tale of friendship, betraial and sailors away from the sea.

Scheherazade is a good, complex read, filled with characters and stories.
It starts low and grows slowly, but there’s nothing out of place in its pages.

A novel I’ll have to re-read once in a while, as it does promise new discoveries.

PS – I have to thank my friend Marco Siena, of Vanishing in the Mist, for suggesting me this great book in the first place.
Grazie, Marco!