Check out A Polish Book of Monsters, a collection of “five stories of speculative fiction edited and translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel, award-winning translator of the fiction of Stanislaw Lem. From dystopian science fiction to fabled fantasy, these dark tales grip us through the authors’ ability to create utterly convincing alien worlds that nonetheless reflect our own.”
The book contains:
- ‘Yoo Retoont, Sneogg. Ay Noo’ (org. ‘Wróciee’ Sneogg, wiedziaam…’) by Marek Huberath
- ‘Key of Passage’ (org. ‘Klucz przej’cia’) by Tomasz Ko’odziejczak
- ‘The Iron General’ (org. ‘Ruch genera’a’) by Jacek Dukaj
- ‘A Cage Full of Angels’ (org. ‘Klatka pe’na anio’ów’) by Andrzej Zimniak
- ‘Spellmaker’ (org. ‘Wied’min’) by Andrzej Sapkowski
Arielle Saiber, who is Associate Professor of Italian at Bowdoin College in the States, has an excellent and in-depth article on Italian science fiction, available in its entirety online at escholarship.org. We highly recommend you check it out! It was published in Californian Italian Studies in 2011.
Worse, perhaps, than calling Italian science fiction “derivative”—as has often been
recited by science fiction readers and critics—is thinking it does not, or could not, exist.
Consult a science fiction (hereafter, “SF”) anthology in English, the “it” language of SF,
from any period and you will be hard-pressed to find a single author from Italy (see
Appendix I). The same goes for encyclopedias of SF and companions of critical studies
of SF written in English, where French, German, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Chinese, and
Latin American authors are, on the other hand, discussed.
“In fifty years of science fiction in Italy only one writer has appeared: Valerio
Evangelisti” (Gallo 2003, 102).5 While Evangelisti is certainly a superb and prolific
writer, this provocative sentence by SF critic and author Domenico Gallo is, of course,
not true, although it is seemingly such, given how Italian SF is characterized at home and
abroad. The editors of the 2007 SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) European
Hall of Fame volume—who include a short story by Evangelisti—note how Italian SF
has “rarely been garnered even the begrudging critical acceptance accorded the genre in
other European countries,” and has been allocated to the “ghetto of the ghetto” of genre
SF (Morrow and Morrow 2007, 60).
All of this notwithstanding, the infamous pronouncement in the late 1960s or early
70s by the editor of the major Italian SF publication series Urania,6 Carlo Fruttero, when
asked why Urania rarely if ever includes work by Italian authors—that it was
“impossible to imagine a flying saucer landing in Lucca”—is being shown to have been
quite off base.7 In this 1968 video clip from Rai News [Figure 2] filmed around the time
of the comment about flying saucers in Lucca, Fruttero discusses why Italians do not, or
rather, cannot, write good SF. Here he cites the Lombard town Boffalora (and not Lucca)
as the kind of place a flying saucer would not land, as what would ensue would be a
small, uninteresting chain of provincial and bureaucratic events that would not lead to a
very good story:
A flying saucer lands, fishermen arrive. Who do they warn? The FBI? No,
they go to the police chief. Then, from there, they call the mayor. The
mayor gets in his Seicento and runs to the Prefect, and one sees right away
that the dramatic situation falls; it becomes a sketch of local life that might
have some ironic and amusing aspects to it, maybe some quaint,
folkloristic elements, but no dramatic force.
Ken Liu has been publishing stories everywhere, it seems – when he’s not busy translating Chinese SF into English! Ken translated the Ma Boyong story, The City of Silence, for us, and has a brand-new translated story, by Xia Jia, coming next month in Clarkesworld Magazine.
Part of my interest comes from questioning the concept of the “individual.” The assumption that there is an indivisible, unified self, capable of rational cogitation and distinct from all other agents in the universe, is core to a lot of our modern ideas about politics, about fairness and justice, about what it means to be happy and fulfilled.
Yet the more we probe into how the mind works, how consciousness arises, how rational we really are, the more we seem to discover that casts doubt on this foundational assumption. We find that many of our ideals may be reducible to the driving force of individual genes pressing for survival. We find that our mental processes involve such complex chemical pathways that it’s impossible to tell where “the mind” merges into “the environment” and where one mind begins and another ends. We find that our thoughts emerge, messy, inchoate, incipient, from countless cells locked in a complex, chaotic dance—and as the research I cited shows, some of these cells aren’t even “ours.”
I don’t know what any of this really means except that perhaps we should be a little bit less arrogant about our powers of reason, and a little less certain about what we think we know about our selves, our individuality, our separateness from this world and all the creatures in it. – read the full interview.
Lavie Tidhar‘s Osama has been nominated for the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Novel. Portuguese artist Pedro Marques has been nominated for his cover artwork for the novel (see below!). Israeli critic Abigail Nussbaum has also been nominated, for the second year running, in the non-fiction category for her review of M.J. Engh’s Arslan.
The full list of nominees at Locus Online.
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Harry Markov from Bulgaria.
Harry Markov is a writer, reviewer and columnist with a predominant interest in the weird, the fantastic and the horrifying. His non-fiction has appeared in Innsmouth Free Press, Beyond Victoriana, The Portal, Pornokitsch and The World SF blog. Most recently he has become an assistant to US publicist Jaym Gates. Currently he is the assistant editor at the Horror podcast Tales to Terrify. You can follow @HarryMarkov on Twitter and find his personal opinions and updates over at Through a Forest of Ideas.
This is the story’s first publication.
There was once a girl, walking on a road in the desert. Yes, she was a girl and not stars. One human girl, who felt the sand brand her soles and thirst shrivel her throat, and not a constellation. Which constellation, she did not remember, for her time up in the heavens was a haze. They were so indistinct and overdressed in fragments, they seemed imaginary. This, had said the gods, was how it was supposed to be. Which gods, she again could not recall. What she knew was that once, a long time ago, she had belonged to the land, and that now she had come to find love. That she had to remember. Hold on to it, keep it captive, lest it run away from her memory. There was her, the sky and love. Why she chose to find love also strayed from her mind, but the need was there, a dagger slipped between her ribs, cleaving each inhale into tiny halves.
What she did know was that the gods had struck a bargain with her. While everything else blurred like rippled water, the wager with the gods rang with clarity. It was the sole proof of certainty, one which she would not discard as a dream. Her name was one of the things lost in the ripples. Her heritage and the names of her family, she couldn’t mouth, even when their ghosts danced on her tongue. Was she regal or was she common folk? Did her spine, straight as a spear, speak of her high rank? Or did her feet, oblivious to the furnace-hot sand, say otherwise?
She couldn’t know, couldn’t decide, and it gnawed on her. Could she find love, when she didn’t even know herself? Uneasy, uneasy. But this was her choice. Uneasy, but hers alone. Her heart confided so, and it made this choice all the more treasured. She had to find love, the man to pull this dagger from her chest, the one who had promised her happiness with his voice. And she would do that, no matter how long she had to walk on this road, which seemed to tie the world like a ribbon.
Then, while the sky held the colors of ripe peach, a roar stomped the silence. The girl looked up, searching for storm clouds, but every single one cushioned the sky in cheerful hues. The sound rumbled nearer, like thunder.
She turned. Behind her, a cart in green heaved up the road, riding as fast as a doe, but without an animal pulling it. It was made like a box. Foreign. The thunder must be encased within, she thought, with sorcery. She didn’t remember ever seeing sorcery done before her, and it was wondrous.
She watched as the cart approached, made of metal. It crawled to a halt; the train of dust behind it pooled around. A sheet of see-through crystal slid down. Inside, two crones smiled. Cheerful, wizened, clad in colors tight to their bodies, and black eye patches of crystal over both eyes.
“Dear God!” the first crone exclaimed. “What are you doing here half naked in a sheet? In the middle of the desert, of all places!” There was worry in her voice, woven over scolding.
The girl looked at her linen robes and observed the clothing of the crones, which bothered her. It revealed the body, while constricting it all the same.
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” the second crone asked.
“I am searching for a man,” the girl said, hesitant with the new language. The goddesses had parted with this gift to understand the new speech. To talk no matter where her feet would step.
“Aren’t we all, sugar. Hop in the car and we will take you to Reno. There are plenty of men there. And you are so pretty, they’ll all go gaga over you,” the first crone said.
A small door parted in the back and the girl sat in the car. She almost gasped at how cool it was. The witches must have trapped a wind inside this…car.
“That’s how I met my third husband, you know,” the crone continued. “I wanted a man from Reno, and I bagged me one.”
“No, no, Isabelle. That was how I met my third husband. You married your number three, when I divorced my number one,” the second crone corrected her with a tsk and a finger in the air, and the car carried the three onward, smoothly as if on water.
“My name is Margo,” the second crone said and turned around from her right seat, her smile a crack among a web of wrinkles. “And this is Isabelle. We are going to Reno, because the old retirement home is no fun at all. The old people there drive me nuts. Like a hospital. Always moaning.
“I say, it’s not like we are in Purgatory, girls. But they only quiet down when ‘The Bold and The Beautiful’ is on. And who are you, my dear?”
The girl startled. For one, she could not imagine a woman talking so fast. For another, she didn’t even know what name to entitle herself. She didn’t know her own and she did not know the names of this land.
She repeated what she had just heard. “Isabelle.”
“Oh, Izzy, did you hear that? She has the same name as you do. Isn’t that marvelous?” Margo said.
“Yipikaye, Margo. Now zip it. I’m driving here.”
“Don’t mind Izzy, sunshine. She is a bit grouchy when she is behind the wheel. Now, tell me more about that man of yours.”
“He sang to me.” Isabelle started, uncertain at first whether she should be confiding at all. “Promised that his heart is mine. I decided to follow my heart and so I’m here, searching. To sing and find him like he did me.”
“Oh, so lovely. Did you hear that, Izzy? This is like all those love stories Kitty used to read. Sweet on the uptake that one, but dramatic and unstable. An artist, you know.” She pronounced those words as if Kitty had enraptured herself in a mystery, which was permitted to be spoken of only in a whisper.
“Bah, an artist. She drew cartoons, but wanted attention and drama. Now, Isabelle, listen carefully. My seventh said the exact same things to me, but in the end he left me with this Chevy.”
“Oh no, Izzy. Albert never had a dime to begin with. He left you without your silverware and your grandmother’s pearls. The Chevy was from Gideon, number five.”
On it went, almost blindingly fast, the two women caught in their thoughts, too long shared to know which memory belonged to whom. The two women lived as one, grinding the words and sewing fractured stories with their crack-lipped smiles.
And Isabelle listened, hearing about this world as knowledge rose like a tide during a storm. Commonplace tales and objects lapped over each other, or crashed together, blistering to foam, and giving way to new ones. There were cars, TV, Reno, cherry pie, poodles, and someone named Lady Gaga, who according to Izzy needed a stray jacket.
Looking into this world was like peering into the night sky, because it was borderless, because it had no end to its depth. And yes, it even captured a bit of that cosmic chill, because even while people were people, this Earth resembled nothing of the home she had left before she ascended to the stars.
Reno, Isabelle soon learned, was a country of a city and geometry come alive. Houses and buildings of commerce flanked all sides like cinder blocks with outer ribs and windows with light as bright as the sun.
But this was the boring part, Izzy had said.
“Wait till we reach the casinos,” she said, and laughed.
The casinos were downtown and downtown seemed like day, even if they had arrived at night. The buildings were like stars themselves, burning with color, birthing hues as the lights mixed in the space between the buildings. And the buildings themselves looked like hive blocks, lit in honey gold.
Reno swelled with people, none like the other, voices opposed in disharmony, but entangled in one tide of noise that was the city’s heartbeat.
Margo and Izzy wanted to go gambling, but when the guards refused to let Isabelle in with a tunic, they took to the stores. Soon Isabelle wore a pair of jeans, flats, and a loose-fitting silver blouse. ‘To complement your silver hair,’ Margo had said, then winked.
And the night went on, spinning and spinning; Isabelle was a leaf caught in a whirlpool. The noise never slept. Neither did the people. The Peppermill casino hooted owl-like and rustled its doors as if they were feathers, people always entering and leaving. The restlessness caught Isabelle’s heart. She trailed behind Izzy and Margo, drinking in the sights, a luminous tapestry with people laughing, people crying, people kissing, and metal clapping against metal, applauding and consenting to every action.
Izzy and Margo attacked the slot machines, which were treasure chests with levers. Isabelle learned to put in a coin, then pull the lever, and the trickster chest would either swallow or give her treasure. Isabelle found her slot machines generous. Within hours, the sound of coins clacking down like a torrent became a given. ‘Beginner’s luck,’ Izzy had grunted.
The three left the casino with green pieces of paper. “Money,” as Margo had mentioned, “makes the world go round and you, darling, are sitting on the throne of this carousel tonight.”
Before the night ended, all had one more place to go.
“Oh honey, you have to sing and find your man,” Margo chirped. “I hate these karaoke places. The people sound like kittens with bags of dirt tied to their feet, but Westend Bar is the place to be, if you want to sing. Not too crowded and less drunken Germans.”
So, Westend Bar it was.
Isabelle wasn’t sure she could do it; the songs were all foreign. The light that bathed her erased the people in the audience and she was supposed to sing.
Fear patted her chest, but when the music came, it folded its tail and fled. The song “Golden Earrings” was picked by Margo, who informed everyone she begat her third son on it and it felt romantic.
Her lungs filled with air, her mind with the song, and Isabelle hummed along with the melody, which trembled unsteadily. Then the words trickled, drops of sound that fluttered in the microphone.
Isabelle sang and moved as the music coiled, smoky and thick with breath. Word by word, verses trembled into the air, fragile and wanting, full of promise and instruction. Isabelle allowed for the sounds to claim her as the sea did the shore, dragging it into its depth. She spoke of love, of earrings and magic, hoping she could lure such luck to her side with her fingers and voice.
The last note rolled from the speaker and then like a lake the room had stilled. Isabelle breathed in, terrified of letting the breath flee. Terrified that it would be shredded by the dagger in her chest and that silence would answer her pain.
It wasn’t all silence. The audience cried for her, but her love held his mouth tightlipped and wordless. And this is how she lost her first star, leaked into the ether, back to the night sky. It caused no pain of the body, but she did fell less, even if her heart weighed more with sadness.
She had many more stars. The audience loved her, but no love was found.
From scalding Reno, Isabelle traveled West. Paid for buses and poked at destinations on maps. She hiked the highways and scrambled over the stones on dirt roads. The desert ended and forests held the land in their roots.
She sang at village gatherings. Their songs were on her lips lithe and jerking, wild as their hearts were here in the wilderness. She sang as much to find love as to bring joy to others. Her hopes lay on all the young men, but she also listened for when they grabbed a guitar and sang themselves.
When the night was not spent in songs, she worked in the fields as all others had. Work did not befit her, she soon discovered. Her body was soft, beautiful and untaught, made for admiration as it would seem. However, she recognized a connection with the land whenever she breathed in the scent of the fresh soil in the gardens. She often did that, and with no inhibitions, for the inhales brought shadows of memories, the texture of petals on her fingers, and a beat in her ears, which caused her to sway.
She had been in Seattle, city of rains, tailoring her words to frivolous melodies in the city’s streets, casting a net amongst the men. Nimble fingers slinked the music in their hearts and fed the city’s beat with waving threads. It gave her pleasure to twirl in the stranded-in-motion public stage. Music abounded, and her heart did too. So many lyrics, so many notes and genres.
Yes, she allowed the music to rob her of stars, but she possessed numbers beyond what she could count. After all, how large was the world?
And her love was looking for her, too; that was why she listened as much as she sang. She went to concerts, which swallowed her whole, but no man there was her love.
The men on stage entranced and clutched with their biting voices, but their voices ran thin with emotion. Unsubstantial. Tired. Hollow and lost in repetition, meaning long since worn out, but drunken on violence.
After Seattle, Isabelle went to San Francisco, a city of hills, bridges and mists hanging like mantles after dark. It was a city of all kinds of love; men loving women, women loving men, men loving men and women loving women. But even here she could not find her beloved one.
“Go to LA, Bella, darling. That’s where all the stars go,” Jenna, a bar waitress, had said. By then, Isabelle had tried her hand at many a trade. Waitressing seemed the easiest to land. Bars and clubs welcomed her as if she was long lost ilk, and did so without unnecessary paperwork. It seemed paper and proof served as the blood for this world. Squares and rectangles of it preceded or trailed behind a person like ever-knowing ghosts. Nothing was ever forgotten. And everybody wanted to know, to peruse the papers and judge.
In the bars, it seemed the reverse. Hands grabbed her and men whispered obscenities, invitations and compliments, souring her mood, but they never questioned her. Never wanted to know where she came from or, if they did, they didn’t mean it. She never enjoyed it, but she also felt safe.
However, the work brought true merits. Mopping the bar late at night, while the regulars remained like debris after the tide. And when the tide departed, leaving the silence and the hushed music from the speakers, fuzzy with its own drained insomnia, they talked, piecing a mosaic of this world. It was tragic and joyous. Alien, without losing its novelty, and, she finally learned, truly unending in all dimensions. An abyss from people pressed flat and racing with the horizons.
Isablle feared that what she wished for could not be obtained. She moved to LA, doing what she did best. Wait tables, wait on customers, wait for human stars, because her love could only be divine. A man with a voice so pressing it could puncture the skies and seduce a constellation couldn’t be anything else than one of these stars.
Then, one day, a star talked to her.
“Are you the girl I keep hearing about?”
No hellos. No entrée. Straight to the heart of the matter. Stars had no time to spare, Isabelle deduced.
“Could be. What have you heard?” She talked fast. An octave higher. Reflex, habit she had picked up from Jenna, who was adamant: ‘A waitress will avoid any man, if she is a good girl.’ Here Jenna had fanned her hands and wagged them up and down, her way of underlining things of importance. ‘Just be all smiles and they’ll think you are a virgin, a Christian, or both. No one likes those girls.’
Isabelle obeyed, even threw a couple of our Lord and Savior’s into her replies, and her customers wanted nothing more than a friendly ear.
“The girl that sings in the morning traffic jams. An apparition that walks among the cars, covered in exhaust fumes. That you?” He propped an elbow on the counter and bared an ivory-white smile just like a cowboy.
“One and the same. Great attraction for the bar and it’s exercise.”
In her boredom, Isabelle did sing during the morning traffic jam. Just two, three songs from a loudspeaker she had found discarded on the sidewalk one day. With so many cars stalled in one place, who knew, maybe she could find her lover among them. She could not wait any longer. She had to act, and, in a city full of failed dreams and desperation, what other alternatives did she have? As long as it achieved the goal, she didn’t have to like it, or others enjoy it.
“Judging by the empty tables, I assume your voice isn’t that sensational.” The smile never wavered, his humor biting and piquant.
“Hah, well you caught me. I don’t walk around with a company logo. We’re not like Hooters, you know.”
She smiled and waited for the chuckle. It came, and the magic of Hooters had worked again. It stood for something, when men fantasized about it and women acknowledged it without necessary comments.
“You’ll sing for me, right? I am not about to get stuck in traffic for a live performance, you know.”
She turned her back. He was a star among men. She had not heard him sing, but she couldn’t waste a star on one man alone.
“When I sing, I sing for a crowd.”
“Attention whore, then? Heck, I am not surprised. What can a waitress want more?”
The way he talked was generally nauseating. As in pus from a wound nauseating, but there was a charm to his mouth and its slights.
It was a false rejection. This was far from over, and it was simplified enough for him to catch on.
“You know who I am, right?”
She has learned, from the movies, that this is his trump card. The big guns. Something he likes to express with a confidence that is not his.
“Yes.” No, not really.
“Cold.” He paused, and in the meantime she turned with her back to him. “Okay, okay. Let’s rewind a bit. How about a dinner? LA atmosphere to make you reconsider?”
It didn’t take much. The ‘yes’ fluttered out of its own accord. So they went out on the dinner, then he took her back to his hotel suite. There, on the king-sized bed with champagne-stained sheets, he talked and talked.
He was in a band, as Isabelle was certainly aware, but he had decided to crash after touring, because a lead singer slash song writer needed to chill. And finish work on his newest album. He assured her his new songs would make her listen to him, and only him. All of this delivered with words jumping like frogs and hands jerking into a puppet play. She laughed, knowing there was only one voice she would ever listen to. She doubted it was as insecure as his.
They had sex. His fingers snared her waist, pressing, prying, praising. She responded, passive at first, as if she was the shore waiting for the water to lick it. Then attentive, snaking her limbs over his body. Palms on necks and shoulder blades, knees in between thighs or in the air. Quivering spines, fluttering lungs, skin impearled with sweat.
“Was it as good for you as it was for me?” Dealbreaker question, but she didn’t groan.
She didn’t lie. She had enjoyed it. It was the first time she had done it on Earth after her descent, so she had no basis for comparison, but it was nice. The way he kept his body skin to skin with hers, nose harbored in the crook of her neck, and his toe flicking hers.
She wanted the attention, the interest, to give her venues to sing. The bigger the chance to find her love. And what if this man with his greedy hands was her singer?
She knew love didn’t burst in an instant. She watched soaps. It wasn’t a nova. It brewed. It was a star shaping, slow and monolithic. One could learn to love, to take time to recognize it, like fading blindness from watching an eclipse. But this rockstar wasn’t her betrothed. His voice cut and jarred, lacerated and crashed against the ear with cries.
When he touched her, many times again anew, he palmed flesh, stole her heat, swallowed her in his embrace, pickpocketed her breath, but never once did he pry with his soul between her ribs, where the invisible dagger sat lodged, bleeding her feelings into the ether. He didn’t make her gasp and inhale in liberation.
She didn’t protest. Her man wouldn’t come wrapped in silk. Another lesson swiftly learned from TV, from those stories on Hallmark, fleeting articles, and conversations between other waitresses. You had to be proactive. Search, scheme, and fight for your man. However, now, she couldn’t step away, become anonymous, a voice, unattached in the mass. Paparazzi had pegged her. Her life had become immersed in flashes, cameras snapping like turtles and a whirlwind of attention.
She quit her job when he agreed to let her sing on stage. The moment was ripe with opportunity. He held the microphone as Isabelle stepped on the stage, the cable rolled around his fingers like her hair was almost every night. The music came. Intentionally slow, wordless tragedy, caught by vibrations in the air. And there she was to weave a story into royal cloth. The song startled the silence with booming shivers from the speakers, familiar and unknown, like every song she’d sung. The sentiment remained the same.
She was a fisherwoman. The stage her shore. The lights and underlying darkness, the sea. Her voice was the hook, the song the bait. Her heart the line. She was patient, liberated in the euphoria.
The magic dispelled. Final tunes rolled into a resonating quiet, in which a new star floated away from her chest, but no one called back, even if the crowd roared like a waterfall.
Another failed night, but a career was launched. The girl made from stars became a star again. Thousands learned her name, but she forgot that of the rock star, who was soon after no longer a star. Whatever her voice touched turned platinum. Her voice toured the world and she sang, feeding off every genre, hooked on how the crowd cooed after each surprise and how it fulfilled her own pleasure.
But as the songs flocked to the charts, so did the stars fall away from her being. Her nervousness grew to a fever. Where was he? How was she to find her man?
Weren’t her songs snaring the world? Possessing the cables that stringed the horizons, sewing sound to ear? Wasn’t she imbued in the air? How come this was not enough?
She drilled the pavement with her Dior stilettos, haste adding a rattle to her gait. The crowds pushed and pulled, pausing to muse about her, to recognize the star amongst their nameless waves of bodies. Through Moss Lipow sunglasses, she ignored the foam these mundane pale faces made. The lack of eye contact would dissuade passers-by from contact. If not, the bodyguards would.
Fine day to travel by foot. Right. A senseless decission.
“Yes, Amanda. I’ll be there. As I said, I did not choose to walk all the way to the studio. Blasted car choked on me. I’ll refrain from buying Japanese shit again.” She wanted to hiss, but her PR had insisted on no fits in public. The world didn’t need a second Naomi.
Amanda was a good friend. Excellent manager, but a perfectionist right down to her DNA, which triggered heart attacks at every detour and alteration.
Isabelle had to mumble, distract, chop and scatter away the worry. After all, Amanda had a knack for making money and she did it best when she was calm.
“Yes, we’re already in the subway.”
“I don’t mind bumping into people.” She paused when Amanda hummed into the receiver. “Okay, I hate it. Sweat, odor, feels like indigestion. But these are the sacrifices one has to make for the career. See my devotion to you. Now, breathe. Your performance record will be perfect.”
She clamped her cellphone to her ear like a shell, hoping to hear the ocean lost in transmission and was disgusted and scared as memory of the sound came unbidden. She felt trapped and drowning in a box, left to sink. Inside the station, the space flooded in another swirling mass.
But in the cacophony, a song rose. A man dominated the landscape of sounds, acapella. His calloused vocal cords, his husky tones wrapped inside her chest, a steady pull.
She found him in the corner, dressed in rags, but radiant. Singing of a girl in the skies above, a form to be traced in the dark, dotted together by stars.
Isabelle switched to loudspeaker and forwarded the sound for Amanda to hear. It was a trance and a breath of a dream, familiar, almost material, rolling as vibrations on the skin, making her inhale as if the air contained his voice. Deep feeling breath, sealing it inside her chest and not handing it out.
“Your second album would have made music history, if you sounded like that.” Isabelle could imagine Amanda drooling.
“I know,” Isabelle replied, though she wasn’t listening. The lump of pressure in her chest throbbed as if scratched and she still didn’t want to exhale.
“I’d cut his vocal cords, if that would make me sound even remotely like him,” she said, and turned away to catch the train. All the while that voice, now sewn to her memory, nagged as if she was supposed to remember something. As if she had to do something.
And right damn, she had to. She had to climb those charts back to the heavens. Back to stardom. Back to shining oh-so-brightly.
A personal account of the XXXI. Hungarian National Science Fiction Convention
By Judit Lőrinczy
As anywhere in the world where science fiction fans live, there are conventions, too. Hungary is no exception. Our SF convention, called HungaroCon, was held for the thirty-first time this year thanks to the Avana SF Society which is the last representative of the Hungarian SF club movement.
Before I write about this year’s HungaroCon I have to let you know some facts about Hungarian SF. The basis of our SF movement goes back to the past decade. While there are almost 10 million Hungarians in our country, the average sale of a Hungarian science fiction book is about 1000. Although there are well-visited SF sites, only a few fans write comments and goes to the IRL meetings. Despite the fact that HungaroCon is our most considerable event, there are less then one hundred visitors, there are no guest from abroad. Moreover, it is not held in Budapest which – I think, considering the circumstances in my country – would be reasonable.
HungaroCon became the IRL meeting of the Hungarian active online SF life: you can mostly find writers and editors, SF bloggers, the members of the Avana Society and some interested outsiders. I don’t exactly know why this has happened. There are so many causes including the organization, the program, that you have to travel to an other city in the middle of the summer when everybody goes on holiday, etc.…
Traditionally, winners of the only Hungarian SF Award (Zsoldos Péter Award) and an other one for the amateurs (Preyer Award) are announced at the HungaroCon. There are some presentations and the yearly discussion, the general assembly of the Avana Society. Why would a crowd go to Salgótarján (the town where it is hold traditionally) for these?
After this introduction, let’s hear my personal account of this year’s XXXI. HungaroCon, held at Salgótarján, June 24-26.
If I recall it correctly, the first time I ever visited this event was in 2005 as a total outsider, knowing nobody. Now I went there as one of the performers for the beginner writer’s workshop and I also took some paintings for a collective exhibition. I was excited how we would arrive with Csilla Kleinheincz (SF/F writer; editor at the SFmag) in time, two hours before the opening ceremony: we had to occupy our accommodation, prepare for the exhibition and also for our presentations… The night before we had drunk some wine so we were a little bit tired, but with the useful help of the members of the Society, the paintings were shortly hanged up on the walls. The air conditioning and the good coffee at the Frei Café worked well, we became ready to speak.
The place was the best for the event so I was very satisfied. The paintings showed well on the huge homogeneous surface. We did not use the microphone (a hint for you about the number of people inside) but we needed the projector. Csilla spoke first, about the figures of the language that should be more common in SF writing. After her came my turn with the description (an other instrument mostly also neglected by average SF writers). I hope the young (and older) writers who listened to us found something useful in our presentations. Lajos Vásárhelyi followed us as third, who read aloud some terrible quotations – written by some unnamed dilettantes – from his e-reader. The audience (of course) was amused. So we also get some samples how not to write. (I have to mention how clever box he had made for his e-reader: he used a simple, hard covered school pencil-case for it).
Also on Friday comic illustrator Attila Fazekas’s presentation was one of the most interesting ones. He talked about the Hungarian comics edition and press, the often illegal issues in the ’80s and ‘90s: sometimes he invented monsters for the Hungarian Star Wars comics because he was not been able to watch the original films for every necessary details. That’s why he drew extra tentacles for the Aliens, too. He gave an advice for young comics illustrators: draw every single day. If you can’t afford it, don’t try. Nowadays there is no such a background at the press or magazines where a beginner could learn, the young illustrators have to be self-made. The market is widely open, and the race is hard.
Later Csilla, me and some other editors of the Hungarian site SFmag (dedicated to speculative fiction) took seats in the yearly discussion of the Avana Society. We made an agreement: the fanzin of the Society will be edited mostly by SFmag writers who were the strictest critics of it before. We hope we can make a better, valuable publication. The general assembly also made other “historical” decisions: a new leadership established; deletion of the minimal limit of sold copies for the Zsoldos Award; and e-books can be nominated for the Award next year. I think these were all big and right steps for the future of the Hungarian SF.
The discussion went on until the night, in the end the members were defeated by hunger so they came after us to the campfire where we roasted bacon (it’s a Hungarian tradition).
On Saturday I tried to listen to as many presentations as possible. Just like everywhere in the world the topics of the presentations were literature, some kind of science, films and introduction of other clubs and smaller SF/F movements (like the Hungarian fantasy society KIMTE and our group, the SFmag). The program was dense and the organizers did not planned a lunch break, so it was impossible to take part on every presentations. One of the bests was Péter Kollárik’s presentation about the SF film costumes, puppets, masks and other stuffs. He brought a lot of photos and the room was full. (Otherwise he works on the biography of Ray Harryhausen).
At lunch the editors of the SFmag and our partner (host) site LFG also hold a little discussion and then Botond Markovics (Zsoldos Award winner SF writer), Csilla Kleinheincz and András Kánai (SF writer) presented the SFmag to the Con’s audience. SFmag was formed last November and we refresh it on every weekday. We also have special themed weeks in every month. Our goal is to popularize speculative fiction in Hungary, we present books, films, comics – many of them are only available in English, but nowadays more and more people start reading in English in our country. We also would like to show and represent Hungarian speculative fiction abroad. SFmag already have contacts with the World SF Blog.
After the introduction of the SFmag, other “historical” meetings happened. For those who do not no anything about Hungarian science fiction and fantasy I have to say: there are some antagonistic conflicts, opposite conceptions and ideas. There are small SF publishing houses in the backgrounds and different sites with different goals… Some critics say year after year that the Zsoldos Award does not show real value (and other problems were also interpreted, too: the last occasion was on actually this site when Csilla told at the women SF writer’s roundtable there was no female Zsoldos Award winner). Of course there are other voices who do not agree with the critics and thinks everything is (almost) okay with Hungarian SF. This difference made a huge chasm between sites and fans and editors and writers so when I talk about “historical” meeting, it really means a “historical” importance. I am so glad that I successfully made these very opposite members and “delegates” sit down to the same table. I think finally we started a dialogue and later we may will be able to make agreements.
This year’s Award winners were not new ones (they already won this Award before), but many critics were not satisfied not only with the winners but with the other nominees, either. They still can not see valuable Hungarian SF and also sketch out the (old fashioned) jury’s incompetence. But I think Hungary is no exception with its arguments: there are debated decisions in abroad, too (for example this year’s Nebula winner, or see what’s happening in Britain around their Fantasy Award).
If there are debates and civilized arguments, if all the different standpoints are shown then we made the first step.
So, this year’s Zsoldos Award winners were Sándor Szélesi (in novelette category; he often writes space opera and other fantastical adventures, nowadays he turned to serious topics like family and generation’s conflicts) and Lajos Lovas (in short story; he writes mostly humorous, satirical SF in Hungarian environment), the amateur’s Preyer Award was given to Ákos Körtvélyesi, Congratulations. (I mentioned novelette, not novel. The explanation is that this is a new category in the life of Zsoldos Award: in the past years there were novel and short story categories only. However this is the first year that there were not enough nominees in novel category, the already nominated ones all go for the next year’s Award. The nominees have to be published works).
After the announces the Avana Society greeted its resigned president, Ildikó Bódi, and also the new one, László Pocsai. Ildikó worked for Hungarian SF in her precious free time for decades, I wish her more free time and relaxing. I hope she can let the Avana and Hungarian SF go and maybe she will find the writer’s path again. (She did not have time to write after she became a very important organizer in Hungarian SF after the death of Hugo Preyer.).
At the end of the day, after dinner (held for the winners, the jury, organizers and performers) we took a seat by the fire and drank some wine or beer – I went to the bed at 2.00 am, we had many things to discuss. I have to mention Norbert Hantos, a young SF writer, who can assemble the Rubik cube within two minutes – without actually watching it. First he memorized the cube and then he put a blinder on his eyes… Incredible! Sándor Szélesi tried to distract him by saying random numbers aloud, but Norbi was successful.
The next day was also very important because of the debates. Traditionally the jury “explains” its decisions, the writers can ask questions face to face and have the opinion of the jury immediately. (Later the detailed announces are published on the SFportal, an other, older Hungarian SF sites and also on the site of the Avana, too). It is always interesting to see how different the members of the jury are, they can tell you a totally opposite opinion about the same work.
After this event András Kánai came and spoke about the chasm between Hungarian and the Anglo-Saxon SF. His viewpoint is that our SF is backward and not only the Zsoldos jury, the Avana and the HungaroCon should be reformed, but the writers should change their mind. New, brilliant ideas are needed, the science element should be more important, science fiction is not only a background, not only a spice while we show some human conflict. That could be written without fantastical elements. The idea must be in the middle of it or should get more importance.
Of course this point of view generated a huge debate.
What I think is, first) all the ideas, including the old ones can be written from a new and fresh aspect; second) reading more and more in English – the best ones of course – and compare it with the whole domestic SF works prove me that we are unquestionable backward; third) all these debates give us hope, shows that we can change and we are ready to change and write better and better.
There are already Hungarian writers published in English and there will be more, I hope.
At last I had a good time, many people said they liked my paintings, I express my appreciation to the organizers who let it come real. I have to mention there were other very good pictures on the walls: József Varga’s precise and imaginary spaceships and the best works of an illustrative competition announced by the Avana Society.
We still do not know what will happen next year without Ildikó Bódi’s participation, where and when will be the HungaroCon held, but there are conceptions for it. And maybe, one day all the different clubs and sites put away their different viewpoints for one weekend and arrange a bigger Con together. But we also need those, who are still away from the offline life of the Hungarian SF. How can we convince them? I do not know, but as a writer I do: writing fresh and new and brilliant novels and short stories.
I am certain the slow revolution of Hungarian SF has started.
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For more information about Hungarian SF in English visit this site:
The links of the mentioned sites:
A fascinating article on Arizona State University’s Israeli pulp collection, curated by Rachel Leket-Mor, described as “one of the most complete representations of this unusual type of literature”:
Bright, lively illustrations splash across the covers of small, aged booklets that comprise the IsraPulp collection at Arizona State University. The collection is the sole compilation of Israeli pulp fiction in the United States and contains a wide variety of works. Many of these booklets, known as chapbooks and about the size of a DVD case, are several decades old and representative of popular magazine style publications printed on rough, delicate chip paper.
Several genres are represented in the collection, which is housed in ASU’s Hayden Library. Many of the works are Westerns, which were highly popular in Israel throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Other genres include espionage thrillers, war stories related to World War II, superhero stories, science fiction stories, and “Stalags,” a type of story that ASU Jewish Studies librarian Rachel Leket-Mor describes as “a genre that brought together American POWs during WWII, sadistic SS female guards, and a lot of imagination in what seems to constitute, in a way, the first literary responses to the Holocaust in Israel.”
Titles in this collection are distinctive and address several aspects of Israeli culture. Many of the pieces of pulp fiction were adapted from the fiction of other countries, especially the United States. “Tarzan ha-Nokem,” translated into English as “Tarzan Revenges,” is the very first Tarzan story written in Hebrew and was published in 1939. – continue reading.
Over at SF Signal, Grady Hendrix talks about the history of Soviet science fiction films:
The titles are what grab you: I Killed Einstein, Gentlemen; Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel; Who Wants to Kill Jessie?; To The Stars By Hard Ways;Ferat Vampire; Test Pilot Pirxa; Ikarie XB-1. A heady combination of ESL literalism, proletarian bluntness and purple exploitation prose, who could come up with titles like these except a bunch of communists, caught between socialist worker’s heaven and the crass capitalist hell? And that’s exactly who made these movies – filmmakers from Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, Estonia and the USSR back in the bad old days of the Cold War.
We’ve all already seen flotsam and jetsam from these flicks. Roger Corman was drawn to them by their polished special effects and sophisticated set design, and he hacked them into pieces, dubbed them into English and hung clunky AIP titles around their necks like leper’s bells: Voyage to the End of the Universe, Battle Beyond the Sun,Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, Queen of Blood. Titles that reek of colonization, conflict, feudalism and naked chicks in fur bikinis. The poetic romance of revolution, crushed beneath the bootheel of marketing. Fortunately, there are DVD boxed sets and retrospectives surfacing all the time, including a massive megalith of one right now in Toronto, but if you’re expecting these films to be square stories of space comrades mouthing absurd Marxist slogans you’re in for a surprise. These films traffic in more uncertainty, fear of dehumanization and vampire cars than anything the United States has ever produced. – continue reading.
SF Signal have just posted the trailer for forthcoming Indian zombie film Zombie? – which you should check out! However we can’t link to it so instead, here’s the trailer for 2007’s Pakistani horror film Hell’s Ground – because you can never have enough of a good thing.
Milton Davis asks, What is the State of Black Science Fiction?
For the next month I’m participating in a discussion with my fellow writers on the state of black speculative fiction. It’s a subject near and dear to my heart since I’m such a writer. At the end of my blog will be a list of participating writers. Be sure you click on the links to view their opinions as well. There will be giveaways at the end of the discussion. My contribution with be a signed copy of each of my books. I hope you follow this interesting and possibly enlightening discussion.
. . .
The point of change came when I read the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories. You see, I was introduced to Conan through the Marvel comic series. The racial inequalities obvious in Howard’s prose were not present in the comics. The more I read the original prose the more uncomfortable I became. At that point I began to seek out science fiction and fantasy by black writers. My search turned up very few. I first discovered Samuel Delany, which I realized I’d read earlier but didn’t know he was black. I discovered Steve Barnes next and then Octavia Butler. By this time I was attempting to write my own science fiction and fantasy.
But that’s enough history. What about today? Nnedi Okorafor won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. N.K. Jemisin’s The 100,000 Kingdoms is considered one of the best fantasy releases in 2011. And David Anthony Durham’s Acacia won the John C. Campbell Award. So we’ve made significant progress. But what really makes me excited about the state of black science fiction is the independent publishing movement. While I admire the progress being made by my mainstream publishing friends, the most interesting books I’ve read in the past few years have been in the independent publishing realm. Free of the restrictions imposed by editors and publishers trying to appeal to a mass market, these writers are producing books that reflect the Black experience and presents us in a more positive light. Many people complain about the lack of black readers of science fiction and fantasy. Some of that is due to the lack of books that appeal directly to us. You can give all kinds of explanations for this but the simple reason is that we like to see us in books. – read the full post, with comments, and list of participating authors.