The Alcázar of Córdoba: A Spanish Castle Full of Roman Mosaics

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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In many of Spain’s oldest cities, history comes in layers.

Dominating the southern skyline of Córdoba is the alcázar, a castle that takes its name from the Arabic word for fort, al-qasr. This medieval Christian castle/palace was built atop the foundations of an earlier Muslim palace, which was built atop the foundations of a Visigothic fortress, which was built atop the remains of a Roman governor’s palace, which was built atop. . .who knows?

The earliest structures all but vanished after the Moors expanded the building into a palace with a large garden, which was used by the local rulers until the Christians retook the city in 1236. In 1328, Alfonso XI of Castile began construction of a larger fortress on the site, although he maintained the luxuriant gardens of the Moorish palace as well as building generous living quarters. Even though the Christians demolished the majority of the original structure, the new building looked pretty Islamic thanks to the introduction of the Mudéjar style, an enduring Spanish architectural style that takes its inspiration from Moorish designs. Even some early twentieth century buildings near by house in Madrid are in this style.

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Strolling through Córdoba, Spain

Thursday, December 20th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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The Calahorra tower, on the far side of the Guadalquivir River
from Córdoba, protects access to the Roman bridge. It was
originally built in the Islamic period and rebuilt in 1369

Last week I wrote about the magnificent mosque/cathedral of Córdoba. While that’s the city’s main draw, there’s plenty else to see in this historic place. In fact, the entire city center, where most of the old buildings are, is one big UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The area, next to the Guadalquivir River, has always been inhabited. Evidence of Neanderthals has been found, as well as all the major phases of prehistory. A small prehistoric settlement became a city under the Carthaginians, who called it Kartuba. When the Romans conquered it in 206 BC, the name morphed into Corduba. Under the Romans, the city thrived, becoming the cultural and administrative center of Hispania Baetica. Seneca the Elder, Seneca the Younger, and Lucan all came from Córdoba. It was briefly under Byzantine rule from 552-572 AD before falling to the Visigoths.

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Worldbuilding Once and Future Fake News: Not Really A Review of Singer & Brooking’s LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media

Thursday, December 6th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

LikeWar

(Not about the Sack of Limoges, or the Hundred Years War)

conversation-with-smaug-recoloured - 300 dpi

Worldbuilders!

What if I told you that the Sack of Limoges in Froissart… never happened?

Well, OK, you’d look at me blankly. After a moment you might ask, “I’ve never heard of Froissart. Where is that? French Canada?”

I’ve been reading LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by Singer and Brooking. It describes the emerging world of Internet “news” where news passes from person-to-person on social media, no source is uncontroversially trustworthy, and where both information warriors and click-bait farmers are uninterested in the truth, except as a way of making untruths more plausible.

In this world, what determines a narrative’s success is not veracity but rather: Simplicity; Resonance; and Novelty.

Just switch the arena to “rumor” and this looks awfully like a greatly accelerated version of the pre-modern — especially Medieval and Renaissance — milieus we use as inspiration for Fantasy worldbuilding.  Keep the rumor but return the tech, and it’s also a good jumping-off point for building a Space Opera future. Stay with me and I’ll explain. But first, back to the smoking ruins of Limoges.

The authors — Singer wrote a great book on robot warfare, by the way — talk about a US military training scenario that would make a good Traveller adventure: insurgents set up both a demonstration and an ambush, guaranteeing the former will get caught in the latter, the objective being to generate Internet images of an occupier-perpetrated massacre. The military response — as I recall; the index isn’t very good — is to contain or avoid the ambush. Singer and Brooking remark that this won’t do any good. The insurgents — if cynical enough — can just shoot the civilians anyway and blame the occupiers, or simply upload images from elsewhere.

And that’s what made me think of Froissart and Limoges.

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That’s All (for now)

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

The Way I Feel

The Way I Feel

Over five years:

55 Short Story Roundups, each of at least four stories, making for a minimum of 220 reviewed. It’s probably at least half-again as many.

157 Book Reviews, including 11 books by Glen Cook, 7 by PC Hodgell, 7 by Andre Norton, 6 by TC Rypel

12 Essays

That’s how much I’ve written at Black Gate since my inaugural post, The Best New Sword & Sorcery of the Last Twelve Months. I should also add I co-wrote a review of Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood books with Howard Andrew Jones and conversed with Adrian Simmons and Chris Hocking on the subject of CJ Cherryh’s award-winning Downbelow Station. I’m happy with most of the posts I’ve written and actually proud of more than a few of them. I bring this all up because I’ve decided it’s time to hang up my sword for at least a little while. I’ve reached the point where readingreviewingediting every week has become a grind. In fact it’s been a bit of a hard slog for a while now, which is why I mixed things up with classic sci-fi last year and the entirety of Glen Cook’s Black Company series this year. Both of those undertakings were a lot of fun. It’s been years since I’ve read any of those books. Some, like Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity, I had never read ever. Still, it wasn’t enough to thwart this hiatus.

Don’t get me wrong, most of the time doing these posts is a tremendous amount of fun. Discovering writers I didn’t know or had forgotten all about (or discovering those I had once loved who were better left forgotten) was a blast. If I hadn’t done these posts I probably would never have read Paul Kingsnorth or Tim Willocks or made friends with scores of fellow S&S fans out in the digital wild. Even the weakest books I read still offered me something: how to find the best parts of something bad and how to treat an author’s efforts with respect even if the end result was poor.

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The Death of the Classical World: Reading The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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The destroyers came out from the desert. Palmyra must have been expecting them: for years, marauding bands of bearded, black-robed zealots, armed with little more than stones, iron bars and an iron sense of righteousness had been terrorizing the east of the Roman Empire.

Thus starts the controversial new history of the pagan/Christian transition by Classics scholar Catherine Nixey. Making a deliberate parallel between the early Christians and ISIS is a bold move, intended to shock and turn our historical and cultural presumptions upside down.

It’s only the first of many. For 250 pages, Nixey makes a full-on assault against the dominant narrative that Christians were brutally oppressed by the Roman Empire, before peacefully taking over by winning the debate against an exhausted and decadent paganism.

In Palmyra c. AD 385, a horde of black-robed monks swarmed out of their desert caves and crude shelters to break into the city’s temple of Athena. There they came upon a graceful, larger-than-life statue of the goddess. They hacked the head from its shoulders, then battered at the head where it lay on the ground. When they left, their rage satiated, the head lay where they had left it for centuries until uncovered by modern archaeologists.

All across the Late Roman Empire, this scene was played out again and again with increasing frequency as Christians grew in number and confidence.

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Finding Galileo in Florence

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Galileo’s tomb in Santa Croce, Florence

Florence was the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and home to countless great names in art, literature, and science. For me, though, one figure towers over them all–Galileo Galilei. He was a man who profoundly changed how we look at the universe, a true genius whose impact is still felt today.

So I and my astronomer wife went searching for him in Florence. Call it a pilgrimage if you want. It certainly felt that way to me.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

I reached out to some friends to help me with A (Black) Gat in the Hand, as I certainly can’t cover everything and do it all justice. Our latest guest is author and fellow Black Gater, Joe Bonadonna. And Joe delivered an in-depth look at hardboiled adaptations on the silver screen. In fact, he covered so much ground, it’s gonna be a two-parter! So, let’s dig in! 


Hardboiled Film Noir: From Printed Page to Moving Pictures (Part One)

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” — Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Prologue

Bonadonna_HardboiledAnthologyCrime does not discriminate. From city streets and slums to quiet suburbia, from the mansions of the rich to the boardrooms of the powerful, crime is alive and well. It can be found in dance halls, beer halls and gambling halls . . . speakeasies, seedy gin joints, smoke-filled pool halls, dive hotels, and wharf-side saloons. Crime exists everywhere, and writers and filmmakers have been telling stories about crime since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

This article deals mainly with American pulp fiction, novels and films, and a few theatrical plays, too. I’m going to give a little background history on the source material for these films and on some of the writers who penned the original stories upon which they were based.

Long ago, long before television came along, the film industry turned to books, magazine stories, theatrical plays, and radio shows for their source material, as well as original screenplays. Movie moguls bought the rights to numerous best-selling novels, mined the pages of pulp magazines, comic books, and even newspaper comic strips.

Many films made during this period were Saturday matinee serials such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and The Shadow. Dick Tracy was actually given a series of stand-alone films, and of course we had Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.

Most of these serials were the “comic book” films about pulp fiction superheroes, caped crusaders, masked avengers, and magical crime fighters. Many others films, however, were turned into “programmers,” as they were sometimes called: B-pictures with low budgets, made by up-and-coming directors, and featuring actors who had not yet attained A-list status.

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Exploring the Mithraeum of Roman London

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Bloomberg London

A glass walkway allows you to get inside the temple without touching
it. You are then treated to a rather cheesy sound and light show.

London is a massive city with 2,000 years of history behind it. It’s hard to tell these days, but the banking and financial center of it all, with its frantic building, insider wheeling and dealing, and massive cocaine consumption, is actually the oldest neighborhood. This center of commerce is called “the City”, and its area corresponds to the Roman city of Londinium, founded around 43 AD.

Not much has survived the centuries, just a section of the original city wall and a few traces in the cellars of later buildings. In 1954, however, a subterranean temple was found that belongs to one of the ancient empire’s foremost mystery religions — Mithraism. Little is known for certain about this religion since its rites were private and most written accounts are by early Christians seeking to destroy the faith.

The cult centered around worship of the god Mithras, who originated in Persia. One common scene in Mithraic iconography shows Mithras being born out of a rock, and this may be why his temple, called a mithraeum, is generally located underground. It was a secretive religion that only accepted men, and this is one of the reasons it eventually lost out to the more inclusive Christianity.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Back Deck Pulp #2

Monday, August 27th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandlers’ The Big SleepGat_NebelCardigan

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Over on Facebook, I frequently post tidbits related to my research for this column. There’s usually a picture included, and all of this happens on my back deck. So, I call it Back Deck Pulp! Well, there’s a lot of stuff coming out of Back Deck Pulp. So, last month, I collected a bunch of those FB posts and Back Deck Pulp #1 appeared here at Black Gate. Well, there have been a LOT more of them, so here’s Back Deck Pulp #2. I’ve already got #3 ready to go! Friend me on Facebook and see the posts as they go up. This is a collection of posts over time, so it doesn’t necessarily flow perfectly. Live with it…

FREDERICK NEBEL – CARDIGAN

And it’s another Office Desk Pulp. Last week, A (Black) Gat in the Hand was about Donahue of the Interstate Agency. That series was written by Frederick Nebel for Black Mask.

Nebel is one of my favorite pulpsters and I’m a huge fan of his Cardigan of the Cosmos Agency stories.

Cardigan appeared 44 times in Dime Detective – more than any other character.

Altus Press has issued the whole series in four volumes. And only $4.99 per ebook! With a great intro by Will Murray. I’ll be doing a post on this series. Highly recommended!

HORACE MCCOY

This Saturday’s back deck pulpster is Horace McCoy, best known for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

A WW I pilot, he wrote a series of air adventures featuring Jerry Frost of The Texas Air Rangers. The group, known as Hell’s Stepsons, were a Texas Rangers special ops aerial team. And Frost was hard boiled.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Black Mask — October, 1933

Monday, August 20th, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

BlackMask_October1933

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

October of 1933 featured yet another solid issue of Black Mask under Joseph ‘Cap’ Shaw’s direction. The cover art was by J.W. Schlaiker, who had about fifty covers from 1929 to 1934. I don’t know why he abruptly stopped drawing for Black Mask. He served in France during World War I and was the War Department artist during World War II. He did portraits of Eisenhower, MacArthur and Patton.

With “Murder in the Open,” Race Williams made his forty-second appearance in Black Mask, dating back to June 1, 1923. For several years, Williams on the cover had guaranteed increased sales, but Carroll John Daly would be gone from Black Mask in just over a year and he was already regularly appearing in Dime Detective.

Daly was the first author to write in what became the hardboiled style with “Three Gun Terry” (which, of course, you read about here…) in the May 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask. Williams would follow in “Knights of the Open Palm in June, with Dashiell Hammett introducing his famous Continental Op in “Arson Plus” in October of that year. Daly’s writing style was far less polished and developed than Hammett’s, though I feel that it did improve over the years.

W(illiam) T(odhunter) Ballard was Nero Wolfe creator Rex Stout’s first cousin (which would explain why they shared such an unusual middle name). Ballard, who went on to become a very successful western author, wrote extensively for the detective pulps in the thirties and forties. He explained that he was struggling to sell to the lesser pulps when he saw The Maltese Falcon starring Ricardo Cortez. Hammett’s terse prose spoke to him and he bought an issue of Black Mask. He stayed up all night, wrote a story and sold it to the magazine. He would go on to a long career in the pulps and as a novelist.

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