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
  • UmanitĂ  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’aldilĂ  (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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The last book of the year

I should be writing, but I am reading instead. It’s very cold, the countryside is still and dreary, and I need to recharge my batteries. I have stories to write, stories to translate, work on two games over which the deadline looms closer and closer. But like I always do, like I have been doing ever since I was eight, I got a new book for Christmas, and I am reading it.

The book is Dangerous Visions and New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction 1950-1980, and it is a multi-faceted, in-depth survey of what I grew up calling “New Wave”.

Edited by Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre, this is part of a series, and I should get the other two books – about counterculture and youth culture in pulp and popular fiction respectively.

It will be a while, I am afraid, because as I have explained elsewhere, one of my good propositions for 2022 is to stop buying books until I’ll have been through a substantial part of my ever-growing TBR.
I will also cut all unnecessary expenditures, in an experiment whose purpose is trying to stop compulsive (and meaningless) buying.

This sounds a lot more radical and political than it really is, and goes well with the book I am reading – because here we have the highs and lows of the revolution, the Swinging London of Michael Moorcock and the savage fury of authors like Ellison, Disch, Farmer.

The volume is a collection of monographic articles, nicely illustrated with covers from the books of the time. For someone like me, that grew up reading SF in the late ’70s and through the ’80s, this is like browsing an old school yearbook, and catching photographs of old friends.

It is also a dire menace to my promise of not buying books in 2022 – because a lot of the titles discussed I read, but a lot I only know through word of mouth, and now, after seeing them so intelligently analyzed, I want to read them.


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Space Patrol, in German

I was always pretty wary of nostalgia, and I’ve become even more so in the last few years, after seeing nostalgia weaponized and used to sell cartloads of rubbish to people that, basically, were reacting to a manufactured nostalgia for something they had not, in fact, experienced first hand.
And yet.

Yesterday I read in Variety a Bavarian production company is set to launch a new series of Raumpatrouille – that’s Space Patrol in German – a 1966 series that was probably the first proper SF show I ever saw on television, in the early ’70s, when I was in primary school.
Boy, we loved that show – all seven episodes of it.
The complete title was quite a mothful, in original: Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion.

The plot: in a future in which humanity has become a single people as is exploring space, major Clif Allister McLane and the crew of the starship Orion face menaces both natural and not, including the expansionist plans of an alien race known as the Frogs.

The series was shot in black and white, and REALLY on the cheap – and yet it turned out to be too expensive for the production company, that had to pull the plug after barely seven 1-hour episodes because they had run out of money.

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Not a country for writers

Last night my fried Hell (yes, they really call him like tat) got royally pissed off at Lavie Tidhar, the multi-award winning author of Central Station and many other great books.
Hell is an excellent writer and an equally excellent editor – indeed, he served as co-editor on a few of my projects. He’s got a fun series of SF novels set in the fictional desert town of Perfection, in a future world in which everything’s slowly unwinding, and humans co-exist with sexy robots and mutant desert foxes. He’s self-publishing his work in Italian.
Hell’s work’s been often compared to Tidhar’s in terms of complexity, irony and energy, and the two authors were born one month apart from each other.
Only, you all know who Lavie Tidhar is, and none of you ever heard about Germano Hell Greco. How come?

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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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Another War of the Worlds: Revolt (2017)

As part of my plan to milk the Amazon Prime Video subscription for all it’s worth, and as a way to take a break from the rowers’ bench to which I’ll be chained for the next twenty days, I dug into the science fiction offer of Prime and came up with the very generically titled Revolt, from 2017.

And what the heck, this is a nice little SF movie, that looks and plays a lot better than the official budget of 4 million dollars might lead us to expect.

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