What I’d do if I Won the Lottery

Here at Classically Educated, we’re unabashed anglophiles. But we’re also just a tiny bit elitist, so the parts of England we like aren’t the drear suburbs or the pubs frequented by football hooligans. Instead, we’re drawn to the cultural stuff and to places that Wodehouse would have written about.

If we could, we’d move straight to Castle Blandings, but since that is a fictional place, we have to search elsewhere for the kind of house to buy if we ever win the lottery (or publish a bestselling book that nets trillions).

The English Country House, by James Peill is the kind of book in which to lose yourself on a lazy afternoon. It’s a profile of ten stately manors owned by the same family for a looong time, sometimes centuries.

And it’s a wonderful thing. There’s just something about English country houses as opposed to French Chateaux or Italian Palazzos that makes me want to live in one (even if I could do without the forty-odd bedrooms that some of these have). I suspect the reason they’re so pleasant is that even the larger rooms are somehow inviting (it’s hard to say cozy when one of the rooms in this book is literally the one whose dimensions were used to set the size of official Badminton courts). They are places you want to spend some time sitting and reading (or knitting, or talking) in.

Another thing that makes you want to transport yourself there is the fact that the English revere the lawn. So not only do you want to sit and read inside, you also want to spend considerable amounts of time sitting on a well-placed table int he lawy drinking tea with friends.

In an ideal world where I had enough money to do whatever the hell I wanted, I would have a tough time choosing between buying an English country house and its equivalent in Tuscany. In the end, I suspect I’d probably end up choosing the Green and Pleasant land over the land of my ancestors.

In the meantime, I can always revisit this book and be inspired to remember what could happen if one of my books makes it mega-huge. Intellectually, I know it isn’t likely, but you’d be surprised to learn just how much motivation can come from unlikely dreams.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is entitled The Swords of Rasna. It’s a dark historical fantasy in which Etruscan black magic attempts to keep Rome at bay. You can check the book out here… and if you get about ten million of your friends to buy a copy, Gustavo will have enough money to make a down payment on the house he has in mind!

Z Car Bloat and a Pretty Lancia

I’ve never really been able to imagine the Datsun 240Z as a pure sports car that turned the world on its head because, by the time I came to know the Z, we were well into the ZX era in which the cars had gained a ton of weight and some displacement, becoming boulevard cruisers as opposed to real sports cars. Of course, that’s not an unusual evolution for vehicles built with the American market in mind. The 280ZX was seen as an initial step in that process in 1978, but looking back at the 260Z, the rot had been setting in earlier.

On a more positive note, there was a test of the Lancia Beta — the normal one, not the Monte Carlo — in both coupe and HPE form, and though those were never really good cars, particularly with the US smog equipment, I have always had a soft spot for them because they simply look beautiful.

Things looked up as soon as we get into the competition part of the program. From a Salon of a Silver Arrow to a pair of GP articles, all the way to the reminder that, even in the late 1970s, racing a Rouen meant going over a cobbled section. How cool us that?

Finally, the whimsy of the artist’s soap box derby was a pleasant reminder that, even in humorless eras in which social engineers get listened to (like the seventies and today) there is still room for people who like to laugh.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a dark historic fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna. You can check it out here.

The State of the Genre

I’ve always considered Analog magazine to be the exact center of the science fiction genre. I know a lot of people will disagree with this take, which is fine, but I have my reasons. The first, of course, is that it’s the magazine where most everything related to the genre as we know it today was born under the unmatched editorial eye of the great John W. Campbell. He discovered so much unbelievable talent even beyond Colossi like Heinlein and Asimov, that it isn’t even funny. That’s the reason everyone can share.

But there’s another reason which is a little more personal, and it has to do with why I think science fiction is enjoyable. I happen to like SF stories in which there’s a problem and in which an individual or group finds a solution to that problem (or gets blown into tiny pieces trying). I like stories where the human spirit is celebrated and where human ingenuity can overcome (or at least try to overcome) human hubris. Upbeat tales for the kind of people you’d want to hang out with, as opposed to stories for doom-mongers. Close cousins to these are the ones that extrapolate a current tech to see how it will affect us in the future.

A lot of SF lately has been doom-and-gloomy lately, and even more has been filled with pointless stories that navel-gaze, so one turns to Analog to see if they’re immune.

The verdict? More or less.

There are a few stories in the March/April 2021 that show the genre losing its way (others might call it “expanding in exciting new directions” but I don’t think that SF becoming Nabokov is exciting any more than Romance becoming Hemingway would be exciting – mainly pointless when someone else does it better), but there’s still a lot of the kind of core stories that made the magazine good in the first place. As the issue was quite big, I think anyone will agree you get your money’s worth, regardless of taste.

But even when Analog loses itself in current fads, it doesn’t succumb to the one thing which I dislike above all others: post-apocalyptic fiction in which the message is that the way we like to live is so terrible that we will mess the world up. While there are stories with an anti-current-society spin, most of them at least avoid that unfortunate trope (or maybe they’ve used it all up).

While this issue wasn’t tremendously memorable, I found Marie Vibbert’s alien in “Second Hand Destinies” to be compelling… and better still, the story was the problem / solution format that I enjoy. Great story!

I’m certain people who have different tastes will find different things to like about this one. I’d rate this particular issue as a 5 on a scale from 1 to 10. Which, on the whole is much higher than I rate the state of the totality of the genre.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a dark historic fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which Etruscan armies desperately attempt to hold off the Roman advance, back when the empire could still be stopped. You can check it out here.

World’s Best Cars

Back when car magazines had sufficient circulation that they weren’t just corporate shills for car companies, they could do World’s Best Cars lists. Road & Track was no exception, and they did so often.

The reason these lists are risky for magazines isn’t so much that they include some cars. That’s fine: car companies love to be in these. The problem is that, by their very nature, these lists exclude a whole lot more than they include, and since the mags became ever more dependent on manufacturers, this means that you end up with a lot of disgruntled folk of the kind that pay your wages. Ergo… fewer world’s best articles as time went on (I can’t remember seeing any in the 90s or 2000s, though I gather they restarted them after my subscription lapsed, which, if true, is cool).

Apart from the cover article, there was some good stuff on the competition front (the South African Grand Prix) and a Salon on a wonderfully rebuilt Rolls Royce. Good stuff indeed.

This R&T is classical in look and feel – the magazine would look this way until 1989, when it was completely redesigned and became a much cleaner-looking item for a few years (until the designers went bonkers with little dots in the mid-nineties).

And for a 70s issue, this one wasn’t as depressing as most. They managed to avoid harping on the government’s unnecessary interference in things automotive, although, of course, the road tests and articles had to mention the way cars were getting worse.

But that’s okay. If they didn’t, we would forget we’re in the society-and bureaucrats-first seventies!

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a fun (albeit dark) romp through ancient Italy in which the Etruscans are fighting off the emerging might of Rome. You can check out The Swords of Rasna, here.

The Greatest Race Car of All Time?

The title immediately calls for an argument. You can nominate the MP4/4, and you would have a strong argument. You could talk about that Ferrari from 2004. Or the Alfetta that dominated early World Championship racing. The Silver Arrows. (modern F1 cars after the development freeze are not considered here; if the others can’t catch up, I’m not interested in your argument).

But if we’re talking about a car that won in different series over several years… then that car is the Porsche 956/962. In fact, I won’t even put that caveat in there. Any car that wins Le Mans six times in a row during the greatest era of sportscar racing, plus a seventh as a controversial GT car (the rules that year were described as having a loophole big enough to drive a Porsche 962 through) is a car that cannot be questioned.

So let’s remove the question mark. The 956/962 is the greatest race car ever built.

Motorsport magazine decided to track down what has to be the largest collection of these cars anywhere, including Le Mans winners and late-career versions for a wonderful cover spread.

The nice thing about Motorsport is that you don’t need to waste a bunch of time reading about 70s econoboxes or even the utter dumbed-down and sanitized tripe that is modern F1. Most of this magazine is dedicated to stuff 20 years old or older, which makes the reading a lot more interesting. And the modern stuff? Tom Kristensen is always worth reading about!

The highlight of this issue, to me, is the article about Giacomelli’s Alfa 182. What a wonderful, evocative, vehicle. When I first started watching F1, Alfas were the Marlboro cars near the front of the grid, while the McLaren’s were backmarkers (also Marlboro sponsored). The Alfas never seemed to last, of course–that iteration of the factory team appeared to be driven more by passion and genius than attention to the kind of detail that will bring a car to the end of a race in one piece. But then, passion and genius are what auto racing should mostly be about. Process compliance and detail refinement only come to the fore when society is going through a boring phase (and when the rules allow very little innovation).

This was an interesting issue.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer from Argentina. His latest novel is a dark historic fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which Etruscan armies and black magic attempt to hold off the might of Rome. You can check it out here.

Yes, That’s a Pacer on the Cover

The AMC Pacer has, over the decades, been lambasted as a terrible car. Whether this is fair or not, I leave as an exercise for the reader (I’ve never actually driven one of these things), but there was a whole gang of Lemons in Cars 2 composed entirely of Pacers.

In 1975, however, the Pacer was a groundbreaking and exciting concept. A true small car from one of the 4 largest American car manufacturers, and one with an innovative and fresh design. When you remember that the Gremlin was essentially a Hornet with the tail cut off, this AMC product is quite exciting.

Besides, Road & Track had been pushing for American cars to get smaller, lighter and more space efficient for decades; it would have been churlish for them to deny the Pacer the cover, especially in the 1970s, where unbridled enthusiasm for sports cars in both society and magazines was giving way to a kind of consumer reports mentality.

Still, I find the Pacer interesting, even if time proved it to be less than perfect.

A fun feature on the road car side was a Classic Road Test of a Sting Ray Corvette (kind of strange, considering that when the mag was published, the oldest Sting Rays were 12 years old. That would be like calling a 2010 Corvette a classic today. Maybe time was slower back then). This was a cool article indeed, and sharply defined the difference between the good cars of the 1960s before the government stepped in and the ones from the 70s.

On the competition side, this was an offseason special. SO instead of GP coverage, you get the Runoffs and Iroc and Driver Ratings. All fun, but not as much fun as a good race report by Rob Walker or the annual Le Mans Article.

Still, considering the era, this one was less grey than most.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a dark historical fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna, in which desperate Etruscans fight against the might of Rome. You can check it out here.

A Slightly Confused Issue

The last issue of The New Yorker I read was skewed way too far left for its readers, but at least it appeared to be competently written and edited.

The March 29, 2021 edition has completely other issues. Sure, some of it is still virtue-signaling left that no one really believes, but, much worse than that is the fact that this issue starts off with a bunch or articles that–dare we say it (or even note it?)–are a poorly-written muddle. And you can agree or disagree with the political takes in the magazine, but “poorly-written muddle are not the kind of words you normally associate with The New Yorker.

Okay, I’ll admit that I wasn’t shocked when the article entitled “Knitters vs. Trolls” turned out to be a hot mess. The “trolls” here were initially regular conservative knitters who wanted to create Trump-branded stuff… which was banned completely from the site as was all GOP stuff, because nothing says “this is a nice group of people” like declaring the politics of half the country despicable – while allowing the other half to express themselves freely. Of course, once they did that, they started getting real trolls… and probably deserved them. (BTW, I’m a true neutral when it comes to US politics. I’m from Argentina. We have a completely different set of issues… and I a think Trump is a goon… but either ban politics altogether or allow everyone to play as long as the material isn’t directly hateful or offensive).

Then there was a meh feature on posture. Another subject that has its pitfalls in the sense that it isn’t inherently interesting, and even less couched as a critique of the beauty industry.

The one that surprised me for pointlessness and lack of editing was the one about HGTV’s expansion plans. The buildup was interesting–I was hooked by how they’d built a success story on cable platforms… and then the article kind of fizzled out, going around and around the same points as if the author had been told to fill a certain number of pages and forgot what they were trying to say. Too bad, because this was an interesting topic.

Then came a story about a black female dressmaker. I wasn’t enthused… but it turned out to be really, really good (again, the caveat is there, that if you can’t stand all the identity politics that are obligatory in this kind of article, you should refrain from reading it).

And the issue took off from there. The fiction story, a piece that I usually find weak in TNY, sneaked up on me to turn into a wonderful read. It’s called “Future Selves” by Aysegül Savas, and I recommend tracking it down if you can.

As if to make up for the lead stories, the back half of this issue was a wonderful romp. In fact, I’ve been finding this to be so on the scattered and random selection of issues I buy. I feel that the editors know how to select decent material, but feel pressure to lead with the stuff that might resonate with the current iteration of the culture war, and leave the decent writing for later.

As always, interesting.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest literary book is a collection of linked short stories entitled Safe and Sorry. You can check it out here.

A Rare Rally Shot on the Cover

Despite being immured in the 1970s (we know that was an awful decade in which society began to accept more and more government interference in everything) where people are talking about safety and fuel economy and emissions instead of important stuff, the March 1972 cover of Road & Track was truly memorable.

It’s not often you see a rally car on the cover of an American magazine. Even less a relatively obscure one like a BMW 2002. And even less than that do you see a shot of the Press On Regardless Rally. So this issue would have scored high marks even if nothing else about it was any good.

Fortunately–despite being an offseason edition–there are a couple of interesting articles in the issue. One about the Jaguar XK-13, another (the best of the issue by far) about an MG Rally to New England and the complete coverage of the runoffs. The rest was a typical seventies issue with a strong focus on whether Detroit’s small cars were actually small, and on how much horsepower was being lost to government interference.

As an SFF writer, I was delighted to see a straight fantasy story, “The Enchanted Bus”, as a fiction piece in this mag. Wonderful stuff.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel, The Swords of Rasna, is a dark military fantasy about Etruscans fighting off the Roman advance. You can have a look here.

Contest Cars… or How to Envy Other People’s Talent

I was aware that Scale Auto Magazine had been discontinued, so I was surprised to find an edition of their annual show extravaganza, Contest Cars, on sale at a random Barnes and Noble in March 2021. I bought it and it went into my to-be-read pile.

Now, the best way to describe my relationship with Contest Cars is love/hate. I absolutely love looking at the beautiful builds in here, and these mags are among my go-to choices when I want to pull something off my shelves for relaxed browsing.

On the other hand, I hate the fact that people have the skill (and, let’s be honest, the patience) to achieve the kind of quality on display here. My own models are what you’d call acceptable. There are no obvious errors, and the builds are clean enough. They are perfectly nice replicas of the cars they’re supposed to represent, and most visitors to my house who see them think they’re those expensive models you buy built up.

But I know the truth (and modelers who know what to look for will also know the truth). The models I build are perfectly okay, but no more than that. On display here in Contest Cars are the best models from the kind of people who would actually take their production to a model show. That takes serious skills and bravery.

And this annual showcase drives it home. The main difference with normal model magazine issues is that in a normal issue, the stunning models within are generally displayed as examples of build techniques, or with a step-by-step guide to how to duplicate it. Though usually beyond my personal skill and patience levels, at least you feel they’re sharing wisdom.

That’s not the case in Contest Cars. This is mode people showing off their virtuosity.

It’s wonderful, and I hate them for it.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest novel is a dark historical Fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna. You can check it out here.

Whatever Happened to the Competition Cars on the Cover

For about the first thirty-five years of existence, Road & Track honored it’s name and kept the balance between road cars and race cars on the cover split about 50/50.

But somewhere in the corporate eighties, they stopped that forever to focus on cars consumers could buy (albeit often expensive ones). Nowadays, R&T seems to be more a weird lifestyle brand than an actual car magazine, but we can talk about that later. Now, I want to talk about that wonderful Penske Javelin on the cover.

Pretty, isn’t it?

I suspect the reason we didn’t get more of those is that in the 80s, R&T became the higher-class US car mag with Car & Driver catering to the more blue-collar crowd. And Yuppies wanted to see Porsches on the cover, not greasy and noisy race cars. Fortunately, the race content didn’t completely disappear, but as R&T became more and more upscale during the nineties, the coverage certainly suffered.

Which is another reason reading these old issues is such a pleasure. There is a ton of racing here.

This issue not only covered the aforementioned Trans Am, but also the Spanish Grand Prix, Pedro Rodriguez’s classic Brands drive in the 917 and even a Formula A race. How’s that for a forgotten series?

And the mag didn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a test (actual, instrumented test) of a Bugatti replica car for kids. And it’s not even an April Fool’s test.

These guys know how to make one smile.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose latest book is a dark historical fantasy in which the Etruscans desperately try to contain Roman expansion. You can check out The Swords of Rasna, here.