Hungary is a small country in the middle of Europe, with a population of ten million and a language that has its closest relatives in the Ural Mountains. Consequently the number of science fiction and fantasy fans is small, and the number of writers even smaller, basically everyone knows everyone else. I’ll try to give a brief overview of the Hungarian sci-fi and fantasy scene without getting lost in the details: just some facts to whet the reader’s appetite for my following articles.
Sci-fi and fantasy readers and writers in Hungary can be divided into three “generations”. In the socialist era publishing was centralized, with little opportunity for Hungarian SF writers to reflect upon the society in which they lived: utopias and novels heavily influenced by Soviet fantastika were more common, and criticism of the system (if there was any) was hidden behind the fantastic setting. The few classics that were written (Péter Zsoldos’s novels, for instance) were published in huge numbers (centralized publishing taking little notice of the disparity of supply and demand) and reached many people, establishing a solid science fiction reading base. The Galaktika Fantasztikus Könyvek series published many important foreign sci-fi works, both from the West and the East, with the editor, Péter Kuczka doing an extraordinary job to popularize science fiction.
After the change of regime the market became free. Previous amateur and freelance authors flocked together to start publishing, and started series that welcomed Hungarian authors of the science fiction and fantasy genre. This new generation of writers had a better grasp of the international trends and several influential works were translated into Hungarian. Fantasy and cyberpunk became popular and soon Hungarian counterparts of the new subgenres appeared as well. It is a unique Hungarian phenomenon that many of these pioneer fantasy novels later became the seeds of several shared world series, such as A Halál havában (In the Month of Death) and A Káosz Szava (Word of Chaos). Shared world novels and anthologies still make up the bulk of Hungarian fantasy and science fiction publishing, the most popular brands are M.A.G.U.S. (created by András Gáspár and Novák Csanád), Káosz (created by István Nemes) and Mysterious Universe (created by Tibor Fonyódi and Sándor Szélesi). Many authors were influenced by these worlds and new writers were encouraged to join; often an author first established his/her name in a shared world and only then could publish his/her original fiction.
The third generation of writers grew up on the internet, with access to the latest international books, and had a higher motivation to produce unique and original fiction. Best examples of the third generation are Zoltán László’s Keringés (Circulation) and Botond Markovics’s Isten gépei (Machines of God). As the publishing opportunities dwindled some of them turned to self-publishing, like Görgey Etelka did with her successful Csodaidök (Wonder Times) tetralogy, or tried alternative publishing methods (blog novels). There are many fiction sites and workshops on the Hungarian net, with promising young authors: the fourth generation is already close.
Hungary has also a strong tradition of magic realism, which is completely independent of genre publishing, with different readership. “High” literature cares little for fantasy and science fiction although it uses the fantastic often and with skill. Many Hungarian magic realist works have been translated to foreign languages and acclaimed.
Science fiction and fantasy in Hungary has its own little subculture, with only a few publishers in the field (not counting publishers of supernatural romance, which is highly popular) and three major paper magazines: Galaktika with three international awards and remarkably high sales, Új Galaxis (New Galaxy) and Roham (Attack). There are several sites dealing with sci-fi and fantasy (sfmag.hu, lfg.hu, sfportal.hu, solaria.hu and many more), and as I mentioned there are many online workshops and fiction sites (karcolat.hu, irokor.hu, for instance), but most of the visitors belong to the same fan base.
It is no wonder that the only annual science fiction convention, organized by Avana, a union handling the legacy of Péter Zsoldos, usually has around 50 visitors. Winners of the Zsoldos Péter Science Fiction Award are announced on this Hungarocon in two categories: long and short fiction. Occasionally SFportal and lfg.hu stages other conventions, but not annually, even though the number of visitors is usually higher.
Hungarian sci-fi and fantasy now faces the challenge of broadening the readership or risk that the number of fans dwindles further. There are several attempts at attracting new audience with new marketing tools, cooperating with other organizations outside the genre, experimenting with new themes and styles; and we also try to open more to the world.
There are many interesting aspects and I could go on at length about them, but these will have to wait until the next article (which will be an overview of Hungarian fantasy).
If you are interested in the post-communist history of Hungarian science fiction and fantasy, check out SFmag, an online magazine dealing with speculative fiction.