This article originally appeared in Valentin Ivanov’s bilingual blog.
I honestly admit it – this post was timed to take advantage of the announcement of the anthology “Diamonds in the Sky” (http://www.mikebrotherton.com/diamonds/), to try reaching more English-speaking readers, because the SF of my country is confined to a small readership by our unique language. This is the curse of many small countries, and it takes a major effort to break through the language and culture barriers.
I am starting a small review on Bulgarian SF. It will be serialized in a number of posts that will give a short overview of the various traditions in our SF, and publish links to Bulgarian SF stories, translated into English and other foreign languages.
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Ivan Vazov – near-future SF from a century ago
Ivan Vazov (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_Vazov) is the father of modern Bulgarian literature, no less. He was born in 1850, and died in 1921. During the first twenty eight years of his life, our country was part of the Ottoman Empire. Vazov saw the end of a five-century-long occupation and the birth of a new independent kingdom of Bulgaria. This was time of enthusiasm and hopes, akin to the first years after the American Revolution. Everything seemed within reach, one just had to extend his hand…
It is no surprising, then, that Vazov turned to SF as a tool to write about the future of Bulgaria – his only SF story “The Last Day of the Twentieth Century” was a peek into the future. It was written in 1899, and it describes literally one day of life in Bulgaria, a hundred years in the future.
Frankly, the story doesn’t fit very well with the rest of Vazov’s work. The characters are two-dimensional, the story is descriptive and schematic. Clearly, it is nothing more than a vehicle for the author’s optimism.
The “The Last Day…” was first published in 1912 and it has been largely forgotten until recently. It is no surprise – one of the characters is a king, and the future of a socialist country couldn’t include any kings. The story probably had little direct influence on modern Bulgarian SF, but it captured one of the main features of most present-day Bulgarian SF – it is strongly connected with our cultural background. This is both an asset and a weakness, because it gives the writers access to a rich national mythology, but it could make the stories and characters somewhat incomprehensible to outside readers. Yet, there are exceptions and some of them made their way into the webzine “Oceans of the Mind” (http://www.trantorpublications.com/oceans.htm), in a issue dedicated to Eastern European SF writers: http://www.trantorpublications.com/issue_xviii_–_EEurope.htm
I think we still haven’t got our own Tolkien but the Vazov’s of today often use Bulgarian mythology and continue the tradition of Bulgarian folklore storytelling. A good example is “The Assassination”, by Johan Vladimir: http://www.trantorpublications.com/issue_xviii_–_EEurope.htm#The%20Assassination
Johan Vladimir is the literary pseudonym of writer and professional journalist Angelina Ilieva. Her personal page (with wonderful illustrations but in Bulgarian only) can be found at: http://www.johanvladimir.com/
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Bulgarian SF is not limited to intra-cultural fantasy. There are some writers, who try to transcend national traditions and to write international SF… I will introduce some of them in the next installment.
Valentin was born in Bulgaria in 1967. He is a professional astronomer, working at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. Valentin has published in his native country a fantasy collection based on Bulgarian folklore, written with Kiril Dobrev in 2006. His first English language stories, “How I Saved the World” and “Unstable atmospheric circulation”, appeared in 2009.