Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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The lady writes the pulps: Nora de Siebert

This is a sort of rabbit hole in which I am about to dive. And why not carry you along?

Science fiction was always considered cheap drivel in Italy – commercial fiction fit to entertain the “technical classes” (that is, mechanics, factory workers and engineers) while “proper intellectuals” (whatever that means) got into the classics. But despite the stigma (that SF shared with fantasy, romance, mystery and any other “popular” literature), for a brief season, between the 1950s and the 1980s, SF was really big in Italy.

In the mid-50s the genre appeared on the Italian news-stands, in the form of “magazines” that were in fact cheap pulp paperbacks. And if Urania was the spearhead of this new invasion, a lot of other magazines popped in and out of existence, lasting for a few months, or a few years.

One of these was Cronache del Futuro (Chronicles of the Future), published by KAPPA Edizioni, that ran for 24 numbers, between August 1957 and August 1958. It was sold for 150 lire a copy. Cover art was mostly provided by Curt Caesar – an Italian comic artist and illustrator of German origins, that had served in the Afrika Korps under Rommel, and who also did cover art for Urania and other magazines. The magazine featured short novels from Italian writers hiding behind an Anglophone alias.
The only writer to appear in Cronache del Futuro with her real name was Nora de Siebert, probably because she “sounded foreign”.

Born on the 22nd of March 1917, De Siebert apparently started writing when she was still in her teens, and by the ’40s had established herself as a very prolific full-time writer, doing romance, science fiction, comic books and photoplays, and scripting a movie (a lowbrow comedy, in 1961). She was a pulp writer, in other words, and a good one – to the point that one of her stories, “Un Sogno Smarrito” (A Misplaced Dream) was the first romance novel published in 1958 in the new “Collana Rosa” from KAPPA Edizioni.

Before that, KAPPA published a number of her SF novels

  • Ora Zero, la Terra non Risponde (Zero Hour, Earth doesn’t copy) – 1957 and serialized as Fuga nella Galassia (Escape in the Galaxy) between 1957 and 1958
  • Umanità immortale (Immortal Humanity) – 1957
  • Il silos di cristallo (The cristal silos) – 1958
  • Trasfusione atomica (Atomic transfusion) – 1958
  • Il Totem dello spazio (Space totem) – 1958
  • Ricerca dell’inverosimile (Search for the Unlikely) – 1958

For some reason, Ricerca dell’Inverosimile was published under a male alias, Norman MC Kennedy – and it was even given an “original title” (Search for the Unknown) and a “translator”, in order to reinforce the illusion this was “proper SF” written by an American man, not by an Italian woman. I was unable to track down any further outing of Mr Mc Kennedy.

Cronache del Futuro also ran a few short stories from De Siebert, as an appendix to other people’s novels.

Many of De Siebert’s SF stories were often set against the background of future societies in which women were relegated to a subordinate, “ornamental” roles – usually by design and with the help of mind controlling techniques, as men had found out that women could beat them at their own game if allowed; the main protagonists in these stories usually rebelled against the status quo. Not bad, for stories written in a backwater like Italy, in the 1950s.

With the end of Cronache del Futuro, De Siebert’s science-fictional output dried up.
In 1962 her novel La porta sull’aldilà (The door to the beyond) was the first – and only – title in a new series of news-stand paperback magazines called I Racconti di Nharadham. The magazine died after the first issue, probably because nobody knew how to pronounce its name.
In 1967, De Siebert also had a story in an anthology called Fantasesso (yes, Fantasex) – an old short known as The female from Antares, and originally published in Cronache dal Futuro, but now reprinted as La femmina inappagata (the unfulfilled female). Because so it was in ancient times.

Nora De Siebert died in Rome on the 23rd of November 1989.

Today, Nora De Siebert is almost completely forgotten, and her SF novels are hard to find collector’s items. They sometimes appear on eBay, and I have half a mind of keeping an eye out and maybe get a couple. They’d make for a fun translation project.
For certain I will continue to search for further information of De Siebert, because she seems to be a woman after my own heart.


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Kaiju and race cars

Sometimes we chance on a book we wish we had been smart enough to write ourselves. It’s the case of this weekend’s fun read, Gary Gibson’s Devil’s Road, a fast and entertaining science fiction novella that’s well worth the 3 bucks price tag. A class act from the cover on, Gibson’s story was just what I needed to take my brain off the recent worries.

In a plot that we could describe as a crossover between Fast & Furious and Pacific Rim, we Follow Dutch McGuire, a tough, no-nonsense race driver that’s freed from the Russian prison in which she’s serving time, to drive in a Death Race-like tournament. Years ago, a rift opened on an island in the South China Sea (Taiwan with the number plates changed) and a horde of kaijus descended on the land. Now the place is cordoned off by warships and is the seat of a yearly race, the prize five million dollars for the winner, plus all the revenue they can make from filming what they encountered along the track.

But Dutch, whose family were refugees from the island, is not here to win the race – the people that freed her from prison, are using the race as a way to get on the island, and retrieve a mysterious mcguffin.

The writing is crisp, the dialogue crackles with energy, and the setting is intriguing.
Dutch is a great character, and the action harks back to the sort of anime I used to watch as a kid – and I mean this as a compliment.
All in all, a highly recommended little book.


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Going Noir in Faeryland

42989848_10215692319757653_2014258310848446464_nLess than 12 hours after the paintings by Astor Alexander started making the rounds, a call hit the usual suspects, for an anthology of pulp retellings of faery tales.
The only rule: not the ninbe princesses portrayed in the original paintings.
Which is a pity, because I love Pocahontas – Private Eye.
Anyway, that’s what writing to a call means – you go with the publisher’s requests.
And so I did some research, dug out Giambattista Basile, and sent a pitch straight away (and this makes three submissions to three different publishers this week). Continue reading


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Faux-noir: Pulp, 1972

Pulp is a 1972 comedy/drama, written and directed by Michael Hodges, who is mostly famous for directing the British noir Get Carter featuring Michael Caine.
Caine stars in Pulp, too – and is also a co-producer.

Originally titled Memoirs of a Ghostwriter, the movie is a flawed gem, one that probably suffers from striving too hard. It plays with hard boiled, Chandleresque fiction, and at times it’s quite funny, but the end result is ultimately inferior to the sum of its parts. There could be an intelligent satire, hiding inside of the film, but it’s sometimes hard to catch glimpses of it. Continue reading


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Erle Stanley Gardner’s Trick

The writer’s life would be ideal but for the writing. That was a problem I had to overcome. Then, I read in the Guinness Book of Records about Erle Stanley Gardner – the world’s fastest novelist – who can dictate up to the rate of ten thousand words a day. That was for me. None of that romantic stuff with a typewriter. I had better uses for those two particular fingers.

The quote above is from a 1972 movie called Pulp, featuring Michael Caine as a rather sleazy pulp novelist that gets involved in a complicated – and in the end pretty ludicrous – caper with mobsters, killer and what else.

pulp

The bit about Erle Stanley Gardner is true. Continue reading


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49 cents worth of Pulp

Last night I completed a long and heavy writing job (because sometimes insomnia is good for you), and to celebrate a job well done I invested 49 eurocents in a 1200 pages ebook.
Because I’m cheap.
But who said that expensive ebooks are better?

51TTaxtf7NL._SY346_The book I gave myself as a good job, old man! gift is called SCIENCE-FANTASY Ultimate Collection: Time Travel Adventures, Sword & Sorcery Tales, Space Fantasies and much more.
Which seems to be just the sort of stuff I like.
And sure is, because the guy that wrote all that stuff was Otis Adelbert Kline – pulp writer, amateur orientalist and frequent contributor to ArgosyWeird Tales (of which he was the editor for one issue) and Oriental Stories.
He was also Robert E. Howard’s literary agent.
Great catch! Continue reading


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Hope & Glory: Glass Houses

I’m very proud to announce that Glass Houses, the first novella set in the Hope & Glory game setting, is finally available via Amazon, RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, in a variety of digital formats.

It’s been a long road, and it is good to finally see this first title out. And I owe a big Thank You! and a colossal, collective slap on the back to all the people that worked on this project.
More books will follow.

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Glass Houses is a steampulp tale set in an India that never was – it is plain old fashioned science-fictional intrigue, and was designed as a stand-alone story for everyone, gamers and non-gamers.

To learn more about Hope & GloryContinue reading