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: