Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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My birthday with Sherlock & Sexton

In case you are wondering, I spent half my birthday writing (I finally delivered the revision of the first 45.000 words of the first Hope & Glory handbook) and the other half watching old episodes of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series.
I also dug out two of my three Sexton Blake anthologies.
The third, which is actually the first, the 1986 Sexton Blake Wins that started my interest in the character, is buried somewhere in some crate or box.
I read the Wordsworth edition of The Casebook of Sexton Blake when it came out, but for some reason the massive Sexton Blake Detective remained on my shelf waiting for better days.
Which, I decided today, have come. Continue reading


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Brushing up my Egyptian Magic

Cover of "Egyptian Magic"

Cover of Egyptian Magic

The question might be phrased like this – do I read for fun anymore?
Some days it seems I do not any longer.

Back when I was a student – a BSc student, then a PhD student – I found myself reading an awful lot of geology-related books… not just for study, but for the fun of it.
Indeed, some of my teachers observed I was reading too much geology, and getting strange ideas, like this was the ’80s or the ’90s and not, as they seemed to believe, 1958.

And ever since I started working seriously on my writing, I also started reading a lot of stuff which is great fun indeed, but can still be filed under “research”.

Case in point – I’m reading Egyptian Magic, by the venerable E.A. Wallis-Budge.
Wallis-Budge was for a long time the leading authority on Egyptian magic and religion, and I’ve got a few books of his – including a wonderful thing that’s called The Mummy: A Handbook of Egyptian Funerary Archaeology.
As I said, this is actually fun reading… no, really!

Continue reading


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The Pulp Baker Street Detective

Sexton Blake

Sexton Blake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We talked about Biggles, last week, and the little spotlight the British pulp heroes are getting these days.
And yet, they were (and are) an interesting bunch.
The only one, apparently, that still gets around a lot is Sexton Blake.
Hard putting to sleep a character which appeared in over 4000 stories, penned by no less than 200 different authors.

And I’m particularly fond of Blake because he might well be the first true pulp hero I ever met.
It was in Baker Street, a long time ago…

Sexton Blake goes a long way back – he first appeared in the wonderfully titled Halfpenny Marvel, in December 1893.
One hundred and twenty years ago, actually.
And yes, the same year in which Conan Doyle decided to off his increasingly overwhelming character, the Baker Street Detective.

Part of a number of investigators which flooded the popular magazines with their adventures to fill the gap left by Holmes’ fall down Reichenbach Falls, Blake played the role of Holmes clone for about twenty years, being so cheeky he actually moved to Baker Street, and rented an apartment in front of the one occupied by his more famous counterpart.

blakeThen, in 1919, something changed, and Blake – while keeping his Holmes-like looks and manners – shifted to far more outrageous pulp territories.
Outrageous as in killer carnivore plants and zombie cannibal pigmies stalking the streets of London.
That sort of stuff.
Also, Blake showed a penchant for muscular action and a passion for innovation and technology that put him in the same league of, say, Doc Savage.
And did he travel!
There’s quite a bit of globetrotting in Blake’s stories.
And women – Blake had quite a number of ladies involved in his adventures.

And finally, the bad guys, first and foremost Zenith the Albino, but go on, check the excellent page Jess Nevins set up for Blake, and read the bad guys entries.

The character starred in stories, comics, movies, radio dramas and a TV series.

The Casebook of Sexton Blake

I chanced upon a Sexton Blake omnibus, called Sexton Blake Wins, in the late ’80s.
And I was blown away*.
Blake’s stories were hard to get by, but today something is moving.
There’s a few very good collections, available relatively on the cheap (the David Stuart Davies-edited selection published by Wordsworth goes for less than a fiver), and the character deserves a read, in my opinion.
He’s not the Poor Man’s Sherlock Holmes, as some say.
He’s a quite different sort of character – at least in his “golden age”, between the wars.
He’s a pulp hero**.

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* Being still a teenager I actually wrote a pastiche, in which Blake is hired by Count Dracula – who is stalked by a Dutch weirdo called Van Helsing who’s convinced the Rumanian nobleman is a vampire. Turns out Dracula was actually looking for Holmes, but he got the wrong address.

** And come to think about it, the quite fun movies starring Robert Downey Jr actually feel a lot like good old Sexton Blake fare.


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Where the hell was Biggles?

“So, where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?”

Cover of "Biggles of 266"

Cover of “Biggles of 266” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Biggles was mentioned, last Saturday, on a discussion group devoted to pulp adventure, among other things.
While American classic pulp heroes are getting some attention right now, there’s this feeling their British counterparts are somewhat neglected.
Sure, there are fine reprints (and new stories) about Sexton Blake, but what of Biggles and Bulldog Drummond?

As luck would have it, I’ve a Biggles novel right here on my desk – a twenty-odd years old paperback edition of The Camels are Coming I bought second-hand for 1 eurocent.
So, why not write a small post about Biggles*?

Written by a veteran of the First World War, W.E. Johns, the Biggles novels follow the adventures of James “Biggles” Bigglesworth – an ace pilot that, starting as a fighter pilot in WWI, basically goes through most of the conflicts of the first half of the 20th century… flying most of the available planes in the catalog. Continue reading


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On my TV – Sanctuary

Sanctuary - Saison 4I was rather unconvinced, when I first saw the earlier episodes of Sanctuary, the Canadian TV series starring Amanda Tapping.
I think it was the rather clunky (?) CGI sets.
And yet, today – as the fourth series is being aired here in Italy – I’m a fan.
I actually like it a lot better than, say, Eureka (which bores me to death) or Battlestar Galactica.

After all, a series featuring a science team investigating cryptozoology to protect the cryptids, featuring a sasquatch as a character, involving much (computer-generated) globetrotting, an ancient race of Twilight-free vampires, a hollow earth setting, references to ancient mysteries and whatnot…?
With Jack the Ripper as one of the good guys?
And a descendant of Thor Heyerdahl as a member of the cast?
Together with that woman from Stargate SG-1?

C’mon – it’s obvious that my interest for the series should border on the fetish.
Add the slightly steampunkish feel of some episodes and of part of the premises, and I’m sold. Continue reading