Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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My theme is stronger than yours

The market is shifting at a heady speed hereabouts – and if not the market in itself, the way in which the authors marketed themselves. This morning I caught a colleague (an excellent writer, indeed) explaining that his fantasies always tackle strong themes under a thin patina of fantasy adventure. A thin patina that includes “hard knocks”, “big boobs” and “100% fanservice”, probably, considering that up to two days ago the same author was signalling those as the selling points of his fantasies.

This makes me feel infinitely tired, because I am really tired of this constant, desperate, aggressive hustling – writers trying to sell themselves as the answer to this week’s taste: this week is social awareness and “strong themes”, next week might be ultra-violence and mindless mayhem.
If it sells, it’s what I’m doing.
The quality of the story, and the quality of the writing, are becoming meaningless, when instead they might be sufficient to hook the reader.

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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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Poetry for real men

In the end the instigators were, of all people, Robert E. Howard and Stephen Fry, quite an odd couple if you think about it. And weird things might come out of all this. But I am getting ahead of myself, so let me give you a bit of background here.

For the best part of my life I only owned three books of poetry: a selection of verses by John Donne, a collection of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe and one of haiku by Matsuo Basho. And this was it. My generation was taught a lot of poetry in school – but that amounted basically to learning verses by heart and then writing essays about what the poet meant by writing what he wrote (and not, strangely enough, the way he wrote it). It is reasonable to say that we learned more about metrics and rhythm and all that from the radio, by listening to rock’n’roll.

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Robert E. Howard at 113

Two-Guns Bob is being celebrated by the knuckleheads in this 113th birthday of his – they talk of blood-dripping blades and big-boobed wenches, of colorful curses, sex and violence, and simple-mindedly describe him as a purveyor of simple-minded trash, because that’s what they are all about.
That’s the new narrative hereabouts, and they say you can’t fight them, because they are many, and now they own the field, their trash is the new truth, because they can repeat it long enough.
I say screw them.
So here’s a poem by Robert E. Howard, born on this day in 1906, a fine writer and an intelligent man, that sometimes wrote rubbish, but even then, with flair.
Because here in Karavansara we remember, and care.

Dreams of Nineveh

Silver bridge in a broken sky,
   Golden fruit on a withered bough,
Red-lipped slaves that the ancients buy—
   What are the dreams of Nineveh now?

Ghostly hoofs in the brooding night
   Beat the bowl of the velvet stars.
Shadows of spears when the moon is white
   Cross the sands with ebony bars.

But not the shadows that brood her fall
   May check the sweep of the desert fire,
Nor a dead man lift up a crumbling wall,
   Nor a spectre steady a falling spire.

Death fires rise in the desert sky
   Where the armies of Sargon reeled;
And though her people still sell and buy,
   Nineveh’s doom is set and sealed.

Silver mast with a silken sail,
   Sapphire seas ‘neath a purple prow,
Hawk-eyed tribes on the desert trail—
   What are the dreams of Nineveh now?

In case you’re interested, the poems of Robert E. Howard can be found here, courtesy of WikiSource.


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Karavansara Free Library: El Borak

773049I’ve been discussing the El Borak stories with some friends recently.
For the uninitiated, El Borak, whose real name is Francis Xavier Gordon, is a character that appeared in some of the last stories written by Robert E. Howard. An adventurer in a similar vein to Talbot Mundy’s JimGrim, Gordon’s always been one of my favorite characters, ever since I discovered an old paperback with a Chris Achilleos cover on a shelf in a bookstore, about thirty-five years ago.

The El Borak stories are tight adventure yarns, set along the Northwestern Frontier and in parts East.
Not the most popular character in Howard’s production, El Borak was a mature effort on the part of the author, a character that might have allowed Howard to grow in different directions.
But these are what-might-have-beens.

Six of the El Borak stories, including Lost Valley of Iskander, that really made an impression on sixteen-years-old me, are available online, having fallen in the public domain.
Here are the links to the versions on the Wikisource servers.
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The Daughter of Erlik Khan (First published in Top-Notch, December 1934)
Hawk of the Hills (First appeared in Top-Notch, June 1935)
Blood of the Gods (First published in Top-Notch, July 1935)
The Country of the Knife (First published in Complete Stories, August 1936. Alternate title: Sons of the Hawk)
Son of the White Wolf (First published in Thrilling Adventures, December 1936)
The Lost Valley of Iskander (Alternate title: Swords of the Hills)


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Robert E. Howard’s Horror Stories

51eN0cpzVXLA very quick heads up – apparently Amazon is selling the Del Rey collection The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard for a lark, a lark being roughly two bucks and change.

This is a wonderful volume, almost 600 pages and illustrated, and features a lot of excellent fiction by Two-Guns Bob.
It is likely that you already have most of these yarns on your shelf, but in case you missed some, or you just want all of REH’s horrors in one neat, high-class package, check this book out.
It’s an excellent book to usher in the Halloween season.

I don’t know how long the offer will last.


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Tits & Sand: The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Let’s go back to Tits & Sand movies with the mother of them all – the 1940 version of The Thief of Baghdad.
And I know, there were Arabian Adventure movies before, but this one was and is, to me, the definitive item. Once again, this was a movie that was a staple of afternoon reruns on the telly in the ‘90s, and before that I saw it in a small parish cinema, and boy did it make an impression.
So be warned – I’ll wax nostalgic, or maybe not. But this is one of my favorite movies from way back when…

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