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Hellenes. The Hellenes were created by G.G.A. Murray and appeared in Gobi or Shamo: A Story of Three Songs (1889). George Gilbert Aime Murray (1866-1957) was a scholar of the Classics, a Fellow at Oxford, a playwright, a translator and popularizer of Hellenism, and a passionate liberal, campaigning tirelessly for the League of Nations.

Gobi or Shamo is the search for a lost colony of Greeks. Mavrones is a young English scholar who yearns to discover an unknown historical curiosity or treasure. He stumbles upon the possible existence of a lost group of Greeks while perusing a set of manuscripts in a former Byzantine monastery on the Greek island of Arganthus. Mavrones sets out to locate the Greeks, assisted by his friend Quentin Baj, “a man of six feet two, with dark moustaches and a crushing manner, and...further...the possessor of an acer et contemptor animus, with few good-natured weaknesses to spoil the edge of a resolve.” Mavrones, Quentin Baj, and their annoying friend Wibbling set out for Mongolia, and after a series of life-threatening adventures they find the Hellenes.

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The City of Light is the journal of the travels of Jacob D'Ancona, a 13th century pious Jewish merchant. Readers follow Jacob on a three-year journey, starting from his hometown of Ancona in present-day Italy, overland through Damascus and Baghdad, and then by sea, stopping at various ports and places until he reaches the city of Zaitun, modern-day Quanzhou, where he stays to buy goods and talk to the scholars of the city. It consists of equal parts travelogue/memoir and a philosophical discussion of medieval Jewish and Chinese ideas.

This was a time when Jews had restricted access to jobs or freedom to run their own lives. In medieval Europe, Jews often had to wear physical signals of their faith: yellow stripes or stars. Jews had restricted job and social opportunities: they were often forbidden from interaction with Christians. In Muslim lands, the restrictions for Jews were somewhat more relaxed, but Jews still paid higher taxes than Muslims did -- though not as high as those paid by the non-"People of the Book".

Jacob himself is an interesting exception to many of the typical rules. He travels with both Jews and Christians, and frequently mentions his young female Gentile servants' romantic lives. Furthermore, Jacob is a jack-of-all-trades, a Renaissance man in pre-Renaissance times. He's a traveler, a merchant, a scholar, a physician, an authority who is consulted by Jewish and Chinese communities alike. He speaks and writes in fluent Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Nearly everyone who meets him likes him. He's a bit too good to be true: in modern terms, he's a pretty big Mary Sue.

But the most compelling parts of the book are not Jacob, but the world he's seeing for the first time. The descriptions of Chinese life are vivid and lengthy, and the variety and extensiveness of the Chinese market was stunning and often unbelievable to European eyes. Jacob engages in lengthy discussions (through a translator) with Chinese scholars and even spends several weeks stuck in the sordid underworld, full of gambling, prostitutes, and illicit sex.

There's also political intrigue, and the threat of very real danger: At this time, northern China was under the rule of Kublai Khan and there was a very real threat of invasion by the "Tartars" -- for Europeans and the southern Chinese alike. Meanwhile, the Chinese community of scholars was divided itself between old and new ways of thinking.

Jacob finds many points of contact and connection between himself and several of the Chinese scholars, especially a man named Pitaco, who like Jacob was worried about the lack of respect in the younger generation, the stability of the country's morals, and the justification of trickle-down economics. Perhaps most fittingly for a book about contact and conflict between Western and Eastern cultures, Jacob's habit of pontificating ends up rubbing many Chinese scholars the wrong way. As the inhabitants of the city get upset about the amount of influence the foreign Jew has in the city, Jacob concludes his business and leaves in a hurry, fearing for his life.

There's really just one problem with the narrative: Jacob D'Ancona may have never existed.

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Aetherfest took place between April 29th - May 1st, 2011 in San Antonio, making it the first steampunk convention in Texas. I've been in touch with Pablo Vazquez for about a year now, and when he hinted last fall about an upcoming convention, I was more than thrilled to make my first Texan debut at his con. I was looking forward to meeting a new community, but was a bit nervous going myself. Luckily, Lucretia Dearfour accompanied me on this adventure, and we discovered that The Emperor of the Red Fork Empire was also a featured guest here. While at Aetherfest, the three of us interviewed several of the other guests and attendees at the con. That footage is still in post, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the following reports & pictures from this event. Mr. Saturday (aka Pablo Miguel Alberto Vazquez III) is the co-chair for the event, and talks about what went on in prep for this con and how he thought it turned out. Author O. M. Grey writes about her experience as a special guest, and Lucretia Dearfour relates her con experience as well. All pictures are provided by me, unless otherwise noted.

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Close up of Danae Stratou's "Desert Breath", which would be an apt illustration for this novelette. Image courtesy of io9. Click for link.

The Xipéhuz were created by “J. H. Rosny (aîné)” and appeared in “Les Xipéhuz” (“The Shapes,” L’Immolation, 1887). “J. H. Rosny (aîné)” was the pen name of Joseph Henri Honoré Böex (1866-1940), a French author. For many years after his death Böex was forgotten, primarily because the majority of his work was written in disrespected genres like science fiction and the prehistoric romance. But in recent years critics and academics have begun paying him more attention and giving him the credit he deserves. Böex produced some remarkable science fiction and is considered (with Jules Verne) to be one of the most influential figures in the development of science fiction in France. “Les Xipéhuz” is one of his most famous, and best, stories.

“Les Xipéhuz” is set in the Middle East, circa 5000 B.C.E. A nomad tribe, the Pjehu, discover a group of “translucent bluish cones, point uppermost, each nearly half the bulk of a man...each one had a dazzling star near its base,” clustered around a spring. When the Pjehu draw close to the cones, or “the Shapes” as the narrator calls them, the Shapes attack them, killing many, although they only target warriors and avoid killing women, children, the sick and the aged. But the Shapes do not pursue the Pjehu beyond a certain distance and ignore them if they leave the Shapes alone. The Pjehu, shaken, consult a group of local priests who decide that the Shapes are gods and that they must be sacrificed to. But the Shapes kill those priests who approach them.

The priests experiment with slaves and determine the distance beyond which the Shapes will not pursue humans, and then the priests set that boundary with stakes and decree that the Shapes are to be left alone. But other tribes are not told about the priests’ decree or ignore it, and members of those tribes cross the boundary and are massacred. Then the Shapes begin expanding their territory. When the tribes try to resist, hundreds of their warriors are killed by the Shapes. All the tribes of Mesopotamia begin fearing for the existence of Man, and some men turn to dark cults.

The tribes’ wise men at last consult the hermit Bakhun. Long ago he had abandoned a nomadic life for a pastoral one, and in so doing flourished. Bakhun believes in odd and unusual things, like the sun, moon, and stars being “luminous masses” rather than gods, and that “men should really believe only in those things tested by measurement.” Bakhun tells the wise men that he will dedicate his life to studying the Shapes. He does so, and draws a number of significant conclusions, most important of which is that the Shapes are living beings rather than spirits or gods.

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Note: While enjoying Wiscon this weekend (con report forthcoming), check out my latest review over at Tor.com. Delayed updates to Con Extravaganza & Asian Identities, Crossing Borders will be posted later this week.


During the Tribeca Film Festival, I managed to catch a showing of Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Watching the preview, this film promised big set pieces, lots of fiery explosions, and awesome martial arts action. A film that has Chinese alternate history and features a detective worthy of Sherlock, a black market underground beneath the Forbidden City, and a plot involving the mechanics of building a 800-foot tall Buddha—it all sounds pretty steampunk-esque. When a post about it went up on Tor.com Steampunk, people scratched their heads about whether it would qualify, or if, yet again, a fad word had been plopped in by marketing.

I think it’s steampunk in the way James Ng’s art is, the way Shweta Narayan’s “Eyes of the Craven Emerald” is, the way that Yakoub Islam plans to write a Muslim steampunk story set in the twelfth century, and the way that Aether Age plays with the concept of highly industrialized ancient civilizations. So for any nay-sayers who are not calling this steampunk, then I suppose these don’t qualify either. But examining how technology can—and has—developed independently from Western influence is an idea that shouldn’t mark something as not being steampunk.

But enough squabbling about labels, because in the end, this is one kick-ass entertaining film in its own right.

Read the rest over at Tor.com.
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Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The Lost Race Story. Stories in which unknown lands and races are discovered have been written for centuries, but in the last two decades of the 19th century a new type of story involving their discovery was created. The genre began with the 1885 publication of H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and the 1887 publication of Haggard’s Allan Quatermain. These stories created the blueprint for dozens of writers to follow and established the Lost Race story. Lost Race stories can be defined as stories in which travelers from the modern world discover lost, forgotten, or hidden races, cities, cultures and civilizations in hidden or remote valleys or undersea or underground areas on or beneath the Earth.

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ca. 1909. Sikhs from India at the Calapooia Lumber Company, Crawfordsville, Linn County, Oregon, 1905-1915. (Crawfordsville is about 30 miles north of Eugene, Oregon). (Photo courtesy of Stephen Williamson www.efn.org/~opal/indiamen.htm)

In California at the turn of the 20th century, a community grew in southern California with an interesting history: Punjabi-Mexican families of the Imperial Valley. This unique community stemmed from the effects of British colonialism, transnational labor immigration & American economic opportunity (and American anti-Asian discrimination laws). Many multi-generational families in the area today can trace their multicultural and multiethnic histories back over a hundred years, and refer to themselves as "Mexican Hindus", "Hindu" or "East Indian" today.

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Among the objects in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, one of the most popular is Tipu's Tiger, an Indian automaton of a tiger mauling a European soldier.

Tipu's Tiger. Image copyrighted by the Victoria & Albert Museum. Click for source.

Tipu's Tiger was created around 1795 for the Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The tiger was the sultan's emblem and the symbolism here is quite blatant: a sign of the sultan's power over European forces.

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Steampunk Industrial Revolution is New Hampshire's first steampunk convention and proclaimed to "revolutionize the way we steampunk."

Austin Sirkin opens up our reports with his discovery of a landlocked boat in the middle of the hotel; the musician Eli August gives the low-down on his experiences at the con; Miriam Rocek brings her attendee perspective; Matt Delman, chief editor of Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders reports from behind the panelist table, and modder & tinkerer Geoffrey Smith of Thee-Gartisan Works talks about the con from a vendor's side of things, including meeting other awesome modders and artists at the con, what's the name of his favorite gun mod, and the hot little item that everyone was wearing at the convention. Christopher Hayes (aka "The Haze") provides video coverage, and Geoffrey, Jessica Lilley, and Nate Buchman also feature their photos from the event.

Check this all out after the jump.

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Note: Read Part 1 of this essay here.


Cartoon from The Wasp. Image courtesy of Berkeley University. Click for link.

Historical and cultural trends fed into the development during the 19th century of the Yellow Peril in the United States and Europe. The first Asian immigrants to the United States were the Chinese who took part in the Gold Rush in California in the late 1840s. They were the first free nonwhites to arrive in the United States in large numbers, and the racial, religious, cultural, and linguistic differences between white Americans and the Chinese immigrants, as well as the perception that the Chinese were taking jobs away from white Americans, led to hostility and racism directed at the newcomers. Among the manifestations of this hostility was a new set of anti-Chinese stereotypes. (The lack of Japanese immigrants in America as well as the perception in America that Japan was an ally of the West kept stereotypes about the Japanese to a minimum until the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905).

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“If I walk, I hope my footsteps won’t be erased just like that… I want many other footsteps to follow mine!” - Anne Avantie"

Anne Avantie's signature kebaya designs are growing in popularity as Asian fashion enters the global scene. Born to Chinese parents in Solo, Indonesia, Anne never had any formal training in fashion design, but always had an interest in the fashion world. Her love for fashion design started young, when she created and sold hair ornaments to her friends in elementary school. As she grew older, Avantie began doing costume design for her school events and other local events in Solo, and in 1989, she started her own company with only a rented house and two sewing machines. Her business soon boomed, however, with her specialization in her elaborately beaded costume wear and wedding gowns.



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A portrait of Malik Ambar signed by Hashem (C 1624-25); photo courtesy V&A Images, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; A painting showing Jehangir shooting arrows into the severed head of Malik Ambar signed by Abul-Hasan (C 1616), © The Trustees of the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin (www.cbl.ie)

Earlier this year, my attention was drawn to a discussion on ‘India’s Elite Africans' held at the University of London:
“The dispersion of Africans is generally associated with slavery and the slave trade. Most Afro-Asians have been written out of history. Within this scenario, how was it possible for Africans to rule parts of Asia, not just for a few years but for three and a half centuries? Three scholars will address this issue and consider the current status of Elite Africans in India today.”

Due to my interest in Afro-Asian history, I know of relations between India and Eastern African states and kingdoms in history; however, I remained largely ignorant of elite Africans in Indian history. Malik Ambar is perhaps one of the most well-known Elite Africans due in part to his important role in Ahmadnagar history and to standing up to the Mughals.

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 First stop in this Con Extravaganza series is Nova Albion, based in Santa Clara, California. This con was formerly named Steam Powered, and I first heard about it from Mike Perschon's blog years ago. This year's Nova Albion is the first steampunk convention to address a non-Western theme, and I was intrigued when they had invited me as a speaker back in the fall of 2010.  Obviously, having a theme like this was an opportunity to break a lot of ground in the community.... or it could've easily been flooded with cultural objectification (because we all know how much white people love consuming and commodifying Asian stuff & people) without any equally reciprocal interactions with, well, other Asians & Asian-Americans and our history and culture.

To be honest, this con was great in a lot of ways, but its treatment of the theme wasn't perfect. I had a bunch of fantastic experiences and a bunch of uncomfortable ones. The reports and footage from this event, then, address a lot of different aspects, and our guest reporters and myself definitely walked away with dynamically different impressions of the con.

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Note: Jess Nevins' entry on the Yellow Peril was just too fascinating to be abridged, and so it will be posted in two parts. Follow along next Wednesday for Part II.

Film poster for The Face of Fu Manchu, who is one of the best known examples of the Yellow Peril stereotype. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Yellow Peril. Although the anti-Asian stereotype of the “Yellow Peril,” the threat posed to the West by Asian countries and peoples, was made commonplace in the 20th century, the source of the modern Yellow Peril stereotype lies in the literature and cultural trends of the 19th century.

There are actually two different Yellow Perils. The first is of Asians as a group, and though usually applied to the Chinese or Japanese does not differentiate between nationalities and ethnic groups and has been applied to Indians, Vietnamese, and Slavic Russians. This stereotype, of Asians en masse, portrays them as a faceless horde of decadent and sexually rapacious barbarians. The roots of this stereotype lie in the historical threats posed to Western Europe from Eastern Europe and Asia: Visigoths and Huns from the 3rd through the 5th century C.E., and Mongols in the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries. Although the practical threat of a Mongolian or Asian invasion of Europe was nil by the mid-15th century, the unexpectedness of the Mongolian attacks and their vicious thoroughness left a deep impression on the Western psyche, so that the stereotype of an Eastern threat to “civilization” remained common in the Western for centuries.

In contrast, the more modern Yellow Peril is an individual: the evil Asian mastermind who schemes to conquer the West. Although there are numerous sources for this stereotype, its origins lie in Italy in the 14th century C.E.

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Click to read more on the publisher's website.

When we take about the impact of the Industrial Revolution, we speak of it in terms as if there had been only One Industrial Revolution, and that had taken place throughout the Western world during the nineteenth century. As I had written about before, the Industrial Revolution didn’t just happen then, and in fact, the current industrial revolution is happening throughout the non-Western world just as the West begins to grow nostalgic about it.

In talking about alternative histories, and how the non-West would develop, it’s interesting to dream up scenes of Imperial splendor (like James Ng does). It is equally valid, however, to note that you don’t have to look toward the Qing dynasty to see a Chinese industrial revolution, for, as James himself has noted, China is changing into a fully developed industrial nation as we speak.

With that in mind, I picked up Leslie T. Chang’s book about her observations about today’s current revolution, specifically of those factory girls in China that the West likes to paint as faceless factory drones (occasionally laced by the feeling of guilt toward those “poor sweatshop workers.”) Chang, however, breaks down that stereotype (though sweatshops are very much alive and well in China) and presents a look into the lives of today’s migrant factory workers.

Compulsively readable and engaging throughout, FACTORY GIRLS: From Village to City in a Changing China highlights the stories of the young people (particularly women), who are changing the face of the global economy today. Instead of the masses teeming in nameless sweatshops that the West envisions, these lives are individually dynamic and driven, full of same sorts of fear and wonderment that the young mill girls in the West may have also felt a hundred and fifty years ago, as they sought to make new lives for themselves.

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Image from the Gerstäcker Magazine from the Gerstäcker Museum, featuring his illustrated Westerns. Click for source (in German).

Assowaum was created by Friedrich Gerstäcker and appeared in Die Regulatoren in Arkansas ("The Regulators of Arkansas, 1845"). Gerstäcker (1816-1872) was a German who went to America in 1837. For six years he lived a checkered life in America, working as a schoolteacher, chocolate maker, silversmith, fireman, woodcutter, hotel manager, and, for the majority of his time, a hunter in the Arkansas wilderness. He returned to Germany in 1843 and began writing novels for children and novels for adults set in the American frontier and in the South Seas. The Regulators of Arkansas remains his best known novel. It was first published in English as “Alapaha the Squaw,” “The Border Bandits,” and “Assowaum the Avenger,” in American Tales 67-69 (23 July-16 September 1870).

The Regulators of Arkansas is set in Arkansas in the early years of statehood, in the 1830s, when murder was common and bad men more so. Opposing them were local vigilante groups, the “Regulators.” The main characters of The Regulators are searching for a particularly violent gang of thieves who are involved with Rawson, a sociopathic Methodist minister who marries and then kills women. Rawson is engaged to Marion Harper, a sweet woman who only knows him as a devout Methodist. Rawson and his gang steal a band of horses, and when the Regulators pursue them, aided by Assowaum, a native warrior, Rawson murders Alapaha, Assowaum’s wife. The Regulators pursue Rawson and the horse thieves and corner them in a farmhouse, where they are holding hostages, including Marion. Assowaum helps the Regulators break into the farmhouse, and the gang is captured. All of the thieves are hanged with the exception of Rawson, who is burned alive by Assowaum. Marion marries Brown, one of the Regulators, and they live happily ever after.

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Bulgarian soldiers from the 19th century

My post’s title says it all--or at the very least I hope it does. At one point I figured that I’d like to write about the probability of Bulgarian steampunk developing as a genre niche and war, more or less, found its way into my writing. I believe that war is crucial for steampunk as it’s crucial for Bulgaria, in its different manifestations.

Speculative fiction fuels itself with war. The most dynamic stories are born in troubled times, as epic fantasy has shown readers time and time again. Urban fantasy thrives on shadow wars led in the dimly lit streets and hidden underground worlds, while science fiction marches its fleet in the great cosmos. Steampunk is no different. Steampunk runs on war. It’s the “punk” part. It’s the mechanical force that propels the cogs of the genre onward.

Whether it be used as a dramatic background in order to showcase a human story as done in “Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest or as a force behind the plot as demonstrated by Westerfield in his World War reimagining, war and unrest and upheavals give readers that adrenaline spike, that sense of dire severity and intensity, which can hardly be achieved at times of peace. It’s also the factor that makes us hiccup in adoration at the corset-bound, revolver slinging femme fatales and automations, which can as easily destroy as they can create. It’s why I consider Bulgarian steampunk to be a fruitful pairing.

It’s impossible to mention Bulgaria, look it through the prism of the past and not discuss war.

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Gertrude Atherton

The Doomswoman was created by Gertrude Atherton and appeared in “The Doomswoman” (Lippincott’s, September, 1892, as a novel, 1900). Atherton (1857-1948) was a notable American novelist and won the Légion d’Honneur for her hospital work during WW1. The Doomswoman is a historical romance of Old California.

The Doomswoman is set in the days when America and Spanish-controlled Mexico vied for control of California. Doña Chonita Iturbi y Moncada is the daughter of an old Castilian family, one with long roots in Mexico and a great patriotic feeling for Mexico and Spain. But when she meets Don Diego Estenega, the scion of her house’s hated rival, it is love/hate at first sight. The Romeo and Juliet plot plays out amidst a backdrop of political intrigue.

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The current war fought in Libya in these days is drawing attention on that country and its history. This article is about the history of Libya from ancient times until World War II.

Only in recent times has the term "Libya" been in use, indicating the territories between Tunisia and Egypt; before its colonization, the area was called Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, two territories that had a separate historic development for centuries.

Libya before Italian Occupation: A Brief History

Tripolitania was initially under the control of Phoenicians while Cyrenaica was under the control of Greeks, who between the 8th and 6th centuries BCE founded Cyrene, Arsinoe, Apollonia, Tolemaide and Berenice: this territory was called Pentapolis, for the five cities present. Tripolitania passed from Phoenician influence to Carthaginian and after the Punic war, during the 1st century BCE, under Roman control. Cyrenaica, on the other hand, was under Persian influence (6th century BCE), then became a part of Alexander the Great’s Empire and afterwards, was put under the Hellenistic Reign of Egypt.

In 75 BCE, Romans took possession of the Cyrenaica, creating the province of Creta and Cyrene. In 46 BCE, Tripolitania was organized in the Africa province.


Arch of Roman emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (AD 146–211) in Leptis Magna.

Roman domination was limited only to coastal regions where cities had a relevant development. It is to be noted that Libya, for the Romans, was an integral part of the Republic/Empire and not a colony in foreign land: from that part of the Empire came emperors, philosophers, and Popes.

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Vathek was created by William Beckford and appeared in Vathek: An Arabian Tale from an Unpublished Manuscript, with Notes Critical and Explanatory (1786). Beckford (1760-1844) was one of English literature's real oddities. He lived a life of scandal and extravagance, both financial and sexual, and even in the 21st century his name retains the faint air of scandal. But more important than Beckford’s personal life is the fact that he wrote Vathek, one of the greatest of all Gothic novels.

Vathek, the grandson of Haroun al-Raschid, is the Caliph of Samarah. He is dedicated to sensual pleasure and has built five palaces, one for the enjoyment of each sense. Vathek has a “pleasing and majestic” figure, and a keen intellect. When angered his glance can kill. He has an enormous amount of determination and is willing to sacrifice much for his goals. But he is magnificently dissolute and addicted to pleasure, sensuality, and new sensations. He is enormously self-centered and considers the lives of others small prices to pay for his own happiness and the achievement of his goals. He is unable to resist temptation, and his own “unquiet and impetuous disposition” will not allow him to be content with the wealth and comfort he already has.

Vathek builds a mighty tower to better pursue his interest in astrology and to penetrate the secrets of Heaven, and Mahomet Himself sends genii to help Vathek, but the tower only shows Vathek how much he enjoys looking down on humanity from the its summit. But one day an intensely ugly creature arrives at Vathek’s court bearing wondrous objects, knives that cut without the hand being moved and sabers which harm those who the wielder wished harmed. The stranger does not speak to Vathek, so the hot-tempered Vathek has him imprisoned, only to find him vanished the next morning and his guards slain.

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