Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction
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.
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