Bulgarian Science Fiction Between the East and the West – II. Svetoslav Minkov and the Diabolic Fate of SF Writers Who Tried Their Hand at Publishing by Valentin Ivanov

This article originally appeared in Valentin Ivanov’s bilingual blog.

Svetoslav Minkov was born in 1902. The timely end of WWI saved him from the military career, his family was preparing for him, and he plunged into literature. It is difficult now to figure out why this successful librarian (working in the National Library), and even diplomat (working in the Bulgarian consulate in Japan) turned to SF, but he is the author of the first Bulgarian SF book – the story collection “Blue Chrysanthemum” (1922), and he is the founder of the first publishing house in the world, exclusively devoted to SF – “Argus” (1922). Indeed, it was created with the sole purpose of printing his own book, but went further to publish Edgar Alan Poe and the controversial German modernist Hanns Ewers.

The most notable Minkov’s books – to me – are the story collection “The Lady with the X-Ray Eyes” (1934; surprisingly, it was translated into English, and copies from the 1965 English edition can still be found at some on-line second-hand booksellers) and the novel “Heart in a Cardboard Box” (1933), written in collaboration with Konstantin Konstantinov. Both are social grotesques. In the title story of the collection, the lady acquires X-ray eyes only to make a disappointing discovery that many people around lack brains. I guess, most of us know that too, despite having just ordinary eyes, but at the time of writing, the magic capability of X-rays to peek inside the human body was still a novelty and the desire to take a look inside the human brain has always been in the back of most people’s minds. The “Heart…” is a retelling of the oldest story about an artist in a crisis who has literally lost his heart. It is funny and witty but as the realization of the tragedy slowly sinks in the reader’s mind, the atmosphere darkens.

Diabolical social criticism is a popular topic in modern Bulgarian SF, and I am not talking about the communist-era politically-inspired literature. The social transformation of the East was — and still is — painful, and reality provides plenty of background material: from the corrupt government officials to free shootouts between competing gangster groups. Think living in the “The Godfather” world.

Probably, the most notable modern followers of Svetoslav Minkov are Yantcho Tcholakov (b. 1967) and Aleksander Karapantschev (b. 1951). Interestingly, they both tried their hands at the publishing business: Tcholakov founded a small publishing house called “Ophir”, and Karapantschev is part of the present-day incarnation of the very same “Argus” publisher, founded by Minkov himself.

Tcholakov’s page (http://yanchocholakov.hit.bg) contains some English, French and Russian translations of his work (i.e. http://yanchocholakov.hit.bg/depopulated.htm). He debuted in the late 1980s but his most notable novella “The Story of the Lonely Ranger” appeared in 1995. There are various opinions how to classify this book – from alternative history (or rather biology) to a pre-historic heroic western. It is the tale of a famous fighter, summoned to take part in the siege of … Troy. It would have been familiar, if the character did not belong to the race of arthropoids (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthropod) rather than humans. The book contains supplementary material including “documentary” images and maps (http://yanchocholakov.hit.bg/izobrajenia.htm). A plot summary in English can be found at: http://yanchocholakov.hit.bg/rezume.htm

Tcholakov received the “Graviton” award – the highest distinction in the Bulgarian SF – in 1997 for his publishing work.

Aleksander Karapantschev is not an overly productive writer and in my view this speaks well of him. Among Bulgarian SF authors, he is probably the one who has worked more than anybody else as an editor and it shows.

My favorite story of his is “In the Unimo Era” (1984) – the title story of his 2002 debut book that brought him an “Eurocon” award. It takes place in a consumer’s paradise where the Unimo machine can create two hundred types of soup but it cannot create happiness. This short summary doesn’t make justice to the otherwise engaging story.

“Stapen Croyd” is a poetic dispute with the famous A. C. Clarke story “Silence, please!” The characters of both tales suffer from the excessive “noise” of the world, and they fight it with technological solutions – Clarke has destructive interference, and Karapantschev has the technology to “harvest” the silence from one place and release it in another. However, while Clarke concentrates on the technological solution itself, and to some extent on its effects on the public life, Karapantschev tells the story from the point of view of an old poet who discovers that silence has just been harvested out from the last quiet place – the cemetery. The nearly identical story transcends to the level of a personal tragedy.

Unfortunately, only one of his works “The Last Story”, a poignant tribute to Edgar Allan Poe, has been translated abroad. It appeared in SF webzine Phantazm (http://www.phantazm.net/index.htm). You can read it at: http://www.phantazm.net/fiction/the_last_story/science_fiction.htm

Karapantschev also received a “Graviton” in 1996 for his work at the new “Argus” publishing house. He won a second “Eurocon” award for editing the Bulgarian SF magazine FEP (“Fantastika, Evristika, Prognostika”) in 1989.

Given their background, it is not surprising that Tcholakov and Karapantschev are considered the my favorite stylists in modern Bulgarian SF, and their place in the genre similar to that of Bradbury in Western SF.

* * *

I said earlier, that Bulgarian SF is not limited to intra-cultural fantasy. It doesn’t end with the poetic reminiscences either. The next installment will bring us back to the golden age of Bulgarian Hard SF – the 1960-70’s…

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.


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