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Don’t play the hooluk


There was this thing my grandmother used to say – and my mother sometimes, too – when I was a kid and I did something silly… fà nén l’ulùk, which is Piedmontese dialect, probably specific to the Turin area, for don’t play the fool, or don’t be silly. Now I must say a lot of terms my grandmother used were extremely strange, exotic and never fully explained. To me as a kid was like she was some kind of character that came from another world, full of strange words whose meaning I extracted from context. But that word in particular… I had never thought about ulùk in particular, but this afternoon, as I was sitting with a cup of tea reading Rumer Godden’s Black Narcissus (great book, incidentally...
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Odds and Ends #11


Odds and Ends #11 just posted to the Patrons. This week Folco Quilici for cheap, a gallery of Writers No One Reads, language courses, a course about rationality from Oxford University, the secrets of brewing alcoholics, a science fiction short movie and a free Old School Roleplaying game. Because it’s good to be my patrons. Original link
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Monkeys


In the end it was a matter of money: I had this Amazon gift card, and I was going through one of my periodic book hauls. There was a book I had been curious about for years, and there it was – the paperback edition, priced 5 bucks, exactly half the price of the Kindle edition. So I ordered it, and today the postman dropped it – and boy does it look ugly. The book in question is Monkeys with Typewriters, the “reading and writing” handbook by Scarlett Thomas. I like the works of Thomas a lot, and as I said I wanted to read her writing handbook forever. I sort of collect writing handbooks, and this one looked like a good addition to my collection. Also, a few friends highly recommended it. I ha...
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Valerie

yesterday I pitched a story featuring a sort of revived (yet again) and slightly improved Valerie Trelawney – and should the pitch bounce back, I might try and write something anyway, because going back to my old character has been like meeting an old friend. Or an old girlfriend. Who knows what will come out of all this? Myself, on Karavansara, February the 8th, 2019 Well, the pitch did not bounce back, and it was indeed accepted. Hooray! So now I’ll have to re-acquaintance myself with Valerie, and then write the story. And it’s going to be fun. Just like meeting an old girlfriend. I will tell you more in detail. For the moment, here’s a good song… Original link
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The RPG shelf: Atlantis, the Second Age


I took out of storage a few roleplaying books last night, for a project I’m about to start, and while I was at it I took the opportunity to retrieve a game I like a lot and have not played enough, that I wanted to move to the shelf of my favorites, the games I play more often. The game in question is called Atlantis, the Second Age, that is a game with a complicated history – there’s at least three different editions that I am aware of: the first by Bard Games (when it was just called Atlantis), the second by Morrigan Press which is the one I own, and recently a new edition was released published by Kephera Publishing (I do not own it, but all reviews are glowing). What we are talking about:...
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The Riddle of Steel


I had an interesting and instructive discussion last night, on the Facebook group devoted to my friend Umberto Pignatelli’s Beasts & Barbarians roleplaying game, about John Milius’ 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian, and about the riddle of steel in particular. The Conan movie has been an object of much debate ever since its first screenings, and Howard fans in particular tend to be often quite critical about it. For my part, I’m one of those guys that will tell you “the book is better”, but I do like John Milius’ film. I like its looks and its composition, I like Basil Poleduris’ score, I like Sandhal Bergman a lot (and the poor, late Valerie Quennessen!), I like the characters of Subotai and M...
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Overthinking it


There’s an old Taoist saying that goes “Do not judge other people’s mistakes, but learn from them” (or maybe there isn’t, but I’m sure as hell there should be). Or maybe I am overthinking this whole business, but… OK, it goes like this. It happens sometimes that I catch myself, when choosing, say, a book to read, or a movie to watch, or a comic book… it happens that I find myself weighing alternatives like this book/movie/comic A looks like funbut book/movie/comic B looks just as fun, and might provide matter for a post on Karavansara And there’s nothing wrong with that, really – because often it is not a matter of chosing one and losing the other. I can read/watch B tonight and A over the w...
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Astounding


Today is father’s day, and I am no father, but I got myself a gift. One of the periodic Amazon gift cards landed in my mailbox yesterday, and I invested the contents in something for my edification and entertainment. And in a record 24 hours, the mailman delivered a big box containing a hardbound copy of Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding, a book whose tagline is “John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction.” A book about the history of the pulps – and a very specific pulp in particular, and the literary consequences thereof. You can see why this interests me. It’s like my birthday before time. Now the real problem will be finding the ti...
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Kagemusha


I am about to put the finishing touches on a fantasy novel that I will deliver to the editor before midnight. It is work for hire, so it will go out with another guy’s name on the cover, and I will never be at liberty of revealing that I am the author. Of the book, and of the whole trilogy. With a modicum of luck, the royalties will pay for my dinners throughout the autumn. It’s something rather different from what I usually write, but I am convinced I put in it some of the best characters I ever wrote (there’s a lot of them, it’s a trilogy), and some of the best dialogues. I am, in other words, reasonably proud of what I am doing. I was discussing this with my patrons, earlier today – the i...
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Raiders of the Lost Franchise: The Sword and the Sorcerer


Back in the early ’80s, a number of “barbarian movies” came out hot on the heels of John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian, and were considered shameless rip-offs. Of the lot, three remain today with a sort of cult status, to share the dubious title of “best of the crop”. And in fact one of the three was not a Conan rip-off at all, as it came out one year before the John Milius movie. We’ll save that for last, and tonight (hey, it’s night here as I write this) we start with the one that is arguably the best of the three – the one that was so rushed, it hit the theaters before Conan. And yes, I mean Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer, from 1982. Dig that poster… I call your attention to the p...
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Larry DiTillio


I have just learned that Lawrence DiTillio, better known to many of us as Larry DiTillio, passed away yesterday at the age of 79, after a long illness. DiTillio was a writer for television, the man who wrote the Saturday morning cartoons He-Man & the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra, among other dozens of titles. He also worked on Babylon 5 and a number of other series. In this role, he touched the lives of millions of kids the whole world over. But to me, and to many others, DiTillio was the game designer of The Masks of Nyarlathotep, the colossal campaign for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game. Considered by many the War and Peace of roleplaying, Masks of Nyarlathotep changed the way i...
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Odds & Ends #10


I have just posted the tenth Odds and Ends to my Five Bucks Brigade patrons. This week, a biography of Julius Caesar written by one of the fathers of spy fiction, a treasure trove of curious facts on films courtesy of the BBC, two stories by Algernon Blackwood… narrated by Algernon Blackwood, a big pile of cookbooks and a recipe app. Plus a few free ebooks. Because it’s good to be my Patrons. Original link
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Stranded on a mysterious island


Tell me if this sounds familiar: a bunch of strangers from all walks of life are thrown together by mysterious events and find themselves stranded on a mysterious volcanic island. They are not alone, there’s monsters and other survivors in the trees, and an underground compound filled with strange tech, a self-destruct mechanism and what else. The main characters have different skills and backgrounds – there’s a doctor, a criminal, a fat nerdy guy, a bald savvy guy, a sportsman, a businessman etc – and they have to find a way to work together to survive, solve the mystery of the island and go back home. We get flashbacks of the characters’ previous lives, and the first season ends on a massi...
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Boobs


I was never big on superhero comics. Back when I was a kid I retrieved a big stack of Nembo Kid that had belonged to my uncle, from the attic in my grandmother’s house. For the uninitiated, Nembo Kid was the Italian name of Superman in the ’50s – and the magazine printed a number of stories featuring Superman (and various Superboy and Supergirl stories), Batman and the Flash. I was seven or eight, it was good fun. Later, with the exception of Mike Grell’s Green Arrow and the quirky Captain Britain and Excalibur, I steered clear of superhero comics, simply because they were not my sort of thing – until I chanced upon Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and from there I moved to The I...
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Precious books


I’ve been asked, on Twitter of all places, about my most precious book. I gave a quick-and-easy answer, because it was a game and Twitter is not a place for complex discussions, but I also thought it would be a good idea for a post on Karavansara. And the point is, of course, defining “precious”. Are we talking about the monetary value of the thing, or are we talking something more subtle, like personal value, affection, memories? Let me see… In terms of sheer monetary value, I guess that my most precious books are two or three massive books about the Silk Road, that I bought reasonably cheap through circuitous ways about ten years ago, when I was working for the university and had better pu...
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Algernon Blackwood


Today marks the 150th birthday of British writer Algernon Blackwood, one of the great authors of supernatural fiction, whose work influenced the likes of William HopeHodgson, H.P. Lovecraft, C.A. Smith, Ramsey Campbell and many others. Born in 1869, Blackwood was a member of the Golden Dawn, and had a versed interest in matters mystical and supernatural My fundamental interest, I suppose, is signs and proofs of other powers that lie hidden in us all; the extension, in other words, of human faculty. So many of my stories, therefore, deal with extension of consciousness; speculative and imaginative treatment of possibilities outside our normal range of consciousness…. Also, all that happens in...
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The formula


This morning I spent a few minuted talking with a friend and colleague about a book he has abandoned halfway through and about which I never went beyond the Amazon preview. In about of self-assuredness, I mentioned the fact that a book like that I can write in two weekends. Which was not meant literally, but close to it. Let’s say I can crank out ten thousand words a day – two weekends, starting on Friday evening, would mean 50.000/60.000 words in two weekends. Nice and smooth. I mentioned this to another friend, about half an hour ago – she’s writing a series, and she was taking a break, and we exchanged a few messages. The point of the discussion was – the time-consuming part is not typing...
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The Mako Mori test


The Bechdel Test has been used in these last few years as an index of the degree … something. Basically to pass the Bechdel test, a story (originally a movie, but it works for any narrative) must feature two female character, both with a name, that share a dialogue in which they do not talk about a man. It’s been pointed out that the Bechdel test – that originally started as a joke in a satirical comic strip – is a useful tool to spot gender inequality, but beyond that, it’s very much a matter of hand-waving. A story can pass the Bechdel and still be a pile of drivel, while a story can fail it spectacularly and still be a good, solid, fun and significant story. Case in point? Debbie does Dal...
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Girls flying airplanes


Today I read something that made me feel very old, and rather uneasy. On my friend’s Lucy’s blog she was talking about the latest Marvel movie, the one featuring Captain Marvel, and she observed that while comic-book-based films have a number of drawbacks, she still welcomes a movie that might inspire some young girl to become a jet pilot or an astronaut. And I was drinking to that, when somebody commented… I can’t see what’s good about suggesting to a girl to become a pilot And my head hit the desktop with a deep, hollow Tunc!, like a wooden bowl. There’s a lot of this rubbish going on right now, in my country but also everywhere else. Stuff that I considered normal when I was in my twentie...
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On the first long walk of 2019


Today has been a good day. Nice weather, sunny with a light breeze, and we spent the day with a visiting relation that surprised us. And I mean surprised us as in “Oh, my good, our house is a dump!” But we survived, and spent the day rambling about the countryside. I have tons of work to do, actually, and “wasting” a whole day completely screwed up my schedule – never mind it’s Sunday – but on the other hand it was not a day wasted. It was a day spent to clear our systems after a long winter spent locked up in our house, trying to keep the cold away. For us, this is the beginning of the best part of the year, before the torrid summer months. One thing that always strikes me is how the people...
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