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Short genre fiction in Swedish—an overview of the ’00s

The Swedish-language market for short SF and fantasy fiction is by no means nonexistent. It is just very small, often without an opportunity to pay authors, and dependent on magazines that would have either folded long ago or never been launched, had they been published as moneymaking ventures instead of because their publishers thought that they were needed on the market. Short SF and fantasy fiction is of course published also in non-genre magazines, but short fiction as an art form does not have many arenas anywhere on the Swedish-language market. With its approximately ten million speakers, Swedish is a relatively large language from a global perspective, but not large enough to give short fiction much attention on a very novel-centric market. The few collections of short fiction on a fantastical theme that are published are seldom marketed as genre literature; that is a privilege mostly reserved for translated fantasy novels and some horror books (for a number of reasons, science fiction is virtually not translated at all any longer).

However, the previous decade nevertheless had a number of regular publications to offer us. Jules Verne Magasinet was originally published between 1940 and 1947, and had a readership of tens of thousands in its heyday. It was revived by Bertil Falk in 1969, before he passed the editorship to Sam Lundwall in 1972. For many years Jules Verne Magasinet was a cornerstone of the Swedish science fiction market, but when Lundwall in 2009 announced that the magazine would fold after the last issues were published in 2010, it was hard to see it as a blow for short genre fiction in Swedish; by then it was a long time since it turned into a shadow of its former self and the last few years it mostly reprinted old stories and articles.

More important this last decade was another magazine, Nova Science Fiction, published by John-Henri Holmberg and Per Insulander from 1982 to 1987 before it folded, revived in 2004 by Holmberg alone. Nova Science Fiction is an ambitious magazine, every issue is novel-length and very tastefully designed and laid out, although occasionally troubled by typos. The contents are mostly translated from English, but in the twenty issues that have appeared since the revival there is also fiction (new and reprinted) mainly by the elder generations of male Swedish science fiction authors: Bertil Mårtensson, Dénis Lindbohm, Sven Christer Swahn, Sture Lönnerstrand, and Börje Crona (both Lindbohm and Swahn passed away in 2005). When the twentieth issue published short stories by Andreas Roman (born in 1975) and the author of this overview (born in 1986), the age of the youngest Swedish-language author to be published in the revived Nova decreased by more than forty years. It is an interesting fact that the magazine has failed, during the last few years, to introduce any female Swedish-language science fiction authors. As Holmberg is consciously trying to promote female authors (who he thinks are often overlooked), this is probably an indication of the quantity or quality of Swedish-language submissions the magazine receives (or doesn’t receive, as it were). At the time of writing (October 2010) the most recent issue was published in the spring of 2009. Granted, almost since its first issue Nova has been constantly behind its publishing schedule, but never before by this much. The editor has, however, announced that the magazine will resume publication by this fall.*

Another magazine with an uncanny tendency to hibernate for long periods is the Finnish Swedish-language† magazine Enhörningen (“The Unicorn”), which published its fifth issue in 1990 and its sixth issue in 1999. Enhörningen is well worth reading, but in from the perspective of Swedish short genre fiction that hardly matters. Since it resumed publication in 1999 seven issues have been published, the latest one almost three years ago. The fiction published in Enhörningen is a mixture of translations from Finnish and English, and Swedish-language material, both by Swedish authors like Åsa Schwarz or Cecilia Wennerström, and by Swedish-speaking Finnish authors like the ever-present Petri Salin. The stories aren’t always what you’d wish them to be, probably because of the editor’s aspiration to make room for newly-written Swedish fiction, especially from Finland, but they are for the most part quite good.

Let me parenthetically mention that the magazine is important because it provides Swedish readers with an insider’s view of the—for most of us—otherwise inaccessible world of Finnish fantastic fiction. Unfortunately, Enhörningen’s ambition to translate all winners of the Atorox award—given annually to the best domestic short story of the year following a vote in Finnish SF fandom—at the pace of one story per issue, suffers from the fact that the winners accumulate faster than the published issues of Enhörningen.

Enhörningen also has a web edition. Between 2002 and 2003 it published one short story by the editor, Ben Roimola, a couple of short stories by Tommy Nyman and a couple of short stories by Petri Salin. Since 2003 three longer pieces have made their appearance there: at the request of the author, one translation of a novelette by Cory Doctorow, also printed in the paper edition; a republication of a short story by Ahrvid Engholm, previously published in the local newspaper Nya Åland in connection with the science fiction convention Åcon 3; and a short story by myself that previously had won an award in the Fantastiknovelltävlingen contest. Perhaps of greater interest are the drabbles—works of fiction exactly one-hundred words long—that were published in the web edition between 2004 and 2007, a few of them also in the paper edition.

That’s the most active web magazine for fantastic fiction we’ve got. In 2006, Peter Fisk made a relatively ambitious attempt with Annanstans (“Elsewhere”) which, although it had no source of income and therefore couldn’t pay its writers, had something probably more important: what felt like a sufficiently skilled editor. Annanstans published one issue with stories by the editor Peter Fisk, Gabriel Nilsson, Björn Mattsson, Andrea Grave–Müller, and myself, fell silent and eventually disappeared entirely from the web without leaving any trace behind. Besides Annanstans there have been attempts like the blog Sajberspejs, that offers to publish new SF short stories submitted by the readers.

Anoher dormant magazine is Minotauren, which started out in the 90s as a fanzine but later developed into a well-crafted literary magazine. It saw itself as a magazine for science fiction, fantasy, and horror, but placed the emphasis on the last of those genres. It too published a large number of translations from English (focusing on horror stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a style sometimes to be detected also in newly written material), although it also printed original short fiction. Perhaps the fiction wasn’t quite as good as the usually excellent essays, but nevertheless it published memorable short stories by authors like Per Jorner and Pål Eggert, to name but a few. Publication was put on hold in 2007, although editor Rickard Berghorn has let it be known that a last triple issue will be published in one form or the other. When Minotauren ceased to be, so did Berghorn’s publishing company, Aleph. Aleph did things like, for example, publishing anthologies with short fiction from Minotauren, collecting works by Dénis Lindbohm, and printing anthologies with translations of older short fiction and more recent Swedish fiction.

In 2002 Robert Andersson and Lilian Wiberg launched Mitrania, which was published on a surprisingly regular basis—that is, with only moderate delays. It was published quarterly until the editors announced that the magazine would cease publication in the spring of 2010. Mitrania wasn’t without its faults: the articles—and I’m saying this as a sometime contributor of, among other things, articles to the magazine—were often a bit superficial, perhaps because the editors found it difficult to get hold of any; a lack of material other than fiction was the reason the editors cited in addition to lack of time when they discontinued the magazine. Print quality was what you could expect from a niche magazine that cost SEK 100 (USD 15) for four issues.

The fiction was sometimes very uneven. But nevertheless Mitrania was the perhaps most vigorous arena for Swedish SF and fantasy short fiction, a playground where new talent could spread their wings. The yearly short story contest (the main way Mitrania sourced new stories) was the largest recurring such for Swedish fantastic short fiction, both in terms of contributions and of prize money—which is telling, as the first prize was originally SEK 300 (USD 40) and gradually increased to SEK 1,000 (USD 140). Yet, the fact that someone was prepared to spend their money on rewarding fiction with symbolic sums and believed in it enough to print and distribute it meant something and contributed something that a web page where anyone can put their stories without discrimination scarcely can replace.

When it comes to what is more clearly horror, but where it’s possible to spot occasional instances of science fiction or fantasy, let me mention Schakt (“Shaft”) and Eskapix. Schakt was an anthology project in very small print runs—around a hundred copies—edited and published by Kent Björnsson. Elegantly laid out and skilfully edited, it maintained a high standard. Five anthologies were published between 2005 and 2007 before the project ceased to be. Eskapix is a constantly metamorphosing horror magazine that first appeared in 2005. It has suffered from teething problems: sloppy proofreading, sometimes weak stories. It’s characterized by an uninhibited fascination with the pulp genre and illustrations that most likely scare away some readers who otherwise would have liked to read the contents. But it has been published with much love and unbridled enthusiasm, and the fact that the quality is uneven also means that it prints some very interesting and readable stuff. Sadly, at the time of writing it is Sweden’s only fantastic fiction magazine with something that even remotely resembles a regular publishing schedule.

Apart from Schakt, anthologies have been few and far between. Since 2004 Catahya—Sweden’s largest SF and fantasy fan association—has published three anthologies with contributions primarily from the members of the association, which means everything from professionally published authors like Christina Brönnestam and Camilla Jönsson to, especially initially, stories by teenagers, with very obvious shortcomings. Besides the printed anthologies, where the stories have, after all, been selected and edited, Catahya is behind what is probably the largest collection of Swedish amateur SF and fantasy short fiction on the web. In that case the anthology Onsdagslegender (“Wednesday Legends”) from the publisher Onsdag, published in 2005, was considerably closer to the other end of the professional spectrum. Onsdagslegender was very unusual for the contemporary Swedish publishing scene: a professionally selected and edited fantastic fiction anthology with authors established outside of the small circle of Swedish SF and fantasy writers: P C Jersild, Aase Berg, Gabriella Håkansson, among others. On an entirely different level when it comes to layout, print quality, print run, and marketing was the hobby publisher FEL’s anthology FEL science fiction (“WRONG science fiction”), published in 2009. Outside the genre, the National Federation of Farmers (of all organisations), for instance, have arranged a short story contest about the countryside and agriculture of the future, and published some of the stories in an anthology, of course without mentioning the words science fiction.

What Sweden for a long time has lacked is some sort of award for short SF and fantasy fiction (Finnish Swedish-language stories are eligible for the Finnish Atorox award, although no such story has ever won). This is something of an anomaly in a genre where especially the English-language countries are more or less awash with awards. As of 2007, the association Catahya gives out an annual award to the best Swedish-language SF, fantasy or horror short story or novelette (regardless of the country of publication—the first year it went to a short story published in an anthology from Finland). The prize money is a paltry SEK 1,000 (USD 140) but the aim is to highlight, even in a modest fashion, the fact that there is readable fantastic fiction being written in Swedish, also in the short format. It is perhaps telling that no science fiction or fantasy short story has yet been given the award; it has gone to a horror story each year.

A few years ago it seemed as if Swedish SF and fantasy short fiction had come to life, as if there was a momentum that could inspire budding authors to develop their skills and readers to find their way to short fiction. In 2006 we had Nova Science Fiction, Mitrania, Minotauren, Schakt, Eskapix, Annanstans, Enhörningen, and Jules Verne Magasinet (although the latter one perhaps wasn’t of any importance for newly written fiction in Swedish), the publisher Onsdag was around and had published a quality anthology of Swedish SF and fantasy short fiction the previous year, and Aleph was still active—to mention a bunch of publications with varying finances, print runs, distribution, and quality.

In 2010 Schakt, Mitrania and Jules Verne Magasinet have ceased publication, and Annanstans proved to be but a short flicker and nothing more. Minotauren seems to have gone to sleep for good. The publisher Onsdag is no more. There has not been a new issue of Enhörningen since 2007, although that is—alas—perhaps just an unusually but not uniquely long interval between two issues. The latest issue of Nova Science Fiction came in the spring of 2009, although maybe we can look forward to the next one relatively soon.

Things could have looked brighter.

(translation by Johan Anglemark)

Translator’s notes
* It hasn’t
† Finland has a Swedish-speaking minority comprising approximately 5% of the population.

December 6, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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