Weird Fiction Review feature the short story Strabismus by Stefan Grabiński (1887-1936), a Polish writer of horror fiction. It is translated by Miroslaw Lipinski.
He had attached himself to me, I don’t know how or when.
His name was Brzechwa, Jozef Brzechwa. What a name! Something about it fastens and hooks onto the nerves, irritating them with its grating resonance. He was cross-eyed. He especially saw poorly out of his right eye, which peered out in a stone gaze under ruddy lashes. His small, brick-colored repulsive face grimaced perpetually in a malicious sneer of half-irony, as if in this sorry way it could avenge its own ugliness and squalor. A tiny, rusty moustache, twirled rakishly upward, moved constantly, like the pincers of a poisonous scarabaeus — sharp, stinging, evil.
A horrible man.
He was agile, elastic as a ball, slender-figured, of medium build; he walked with a light, elusive step and could slip into a room unnoticed like a cat.
I couldn’t stand him from the first time I saw him. His repugnant look seized me with indescribable disgust and made me think of his character, which suited his physical features so well.
This person was extremely different from me in his disposition, tastes and behavior. For me, he was the personification of antipathy. He was my living antithesis, with whom there could be no reconciliation. Maybe precisely because of this he latched himself onto me with a rabid passion, as if sensing my natural aversion toward him.
He probably experienced particular delight in seeing how unsuccessfully I tried to extricate myself from the nets he was ensnaring me with more and more. He was my inseparable companion in cafes, on walks, at the club; he knew how to worm his way into the circles of my nearest acquaintances; what’s more, he could conquer the favor of women to whom I was closely connected. He knew of my smallest plans, my slightest movements. – continue reading.
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
In part 1 of our retrospective on World SF Literature published in 2011, we have K.S. Augustin who does a recap for Poland:
Overview of recent Polish science-fiction
Genre fiction continues to make inroads into what Western readers would consider to be “literature”. Recall Jacek Dukaj’s winning of the European Literary Award for “Lód” (Ice) in 2009. If Dukaj hasn’t won another such award since then, it’s only because he hasn’t produced another epic along the same lines, his latest release (2011) being a short story collection called “Król Bólu”(King of Pain). I’m admittedly being a bit disingenuous here, because “Król Bólu” received the Polish 2011 SFinks (Sphinx) Award.
While Dukaj is published by the prestigious Wydawnictwo Literackie (Literary Publishing House), the intersection of literature with genre is also being produced by publisher Fabryka Słów (Word Factory), another imprint to look out for on the Polish bookshelves. Fabryka Słów continues to publish Andrzej Pilipiuk, whose latest release “Aparatus” (2011) is a short story anthology combining fantasy and horror elements and centering around an alternate history set in the first half of the twentieth century and based in a universe of his own making. This continues a trend that appears to have dominated Polish fiction for the past decade and points to a sustained reading audience for reworkings of Poland’s past.
While Pilipiuk mines the past two centuries for new takes and tropes in fiction, Dariusz Domagalski is an author who prefers to set his occult historical fantasy series in the fifteenth century, at a time that pitted Poles and Lithuanians against the Germanic Crusaders. His 2011 release, “I niechaj cisza wznieci wojne” (Let the silence ignite the war), is the fourth in this series.
If the boys seem to be focused on fantasy, it falls to the women to take a harder focus in genre. The best known of Polish female genre writers is Maja Lidia Kossakowska, whose 2011 release, “Grillbar Galaktyka”(Galactic Grillbar) is a gonzo sf murder mystery that, as the name suggests, roams the entire galaxy in both expanse and time. And, stepping ahead slightly, Magdalena Kozak has a 2012 release to look out for – “Nikt” (Nobody) – continuing her series that combines the military with paranormal elements.
In general, however, the last decade of Polish genre fiction is, and continues to be, dominated by fantasy and fantasy mash-ups (i.e. fantasy + horror, fantasy + history, etc.). We have yet to see another Stanisław Lem emerge, with his clean – one might say almost clinical – approach to fiction, and preference to set his stories far into the future where there could be no historical ambiguities dogging the narrative.
(For people with nostalgia for pure Polish science-fiction, they may like to hunt down a copy of “Świat na krawędzi” (Word on the Edge, 2000), a series of interviews Tomasz Fiałkowski held with Lem regarding Lem’s past, views and his predictions for the future. One thing Western readers may not know, is that Lem was as much a visionary as Arthur C Clarke, hobbled by a lack of timely translations from his native Polish.)
In summary, for 2011, historical fantasy remained the name of the game and will continue to do so, unless the women start moving into overdrive. Here’s hoping.
* KS “Kaz” Augustin is a Malaysian-based writer of mostly space opera. Her website is at http://www.ksaugustin.com She also writes a south-east Asian-based urban fantasy series under the pen-name Cara d’Bastian (http://www.CheckYourLuckAgency.com).
We’ve recently found a couple of exciting announcements – Wikipedia reports that Polish writer Jacek Dukaj‘s novel Ice, widely considered one of the best science fiction novels to be published in Poland, will be getting an English language edition from Atlantic Books in the UK. The book is scheduled for 2012.
And John Berlyne of the Zeno Agency reports a two book sale for Indian author Samit Basu. Turbulence was first published by Hachette India, and will be published in the UK by Titan Books, followed by an as-yet untitled sequel. (Samit also contributes an original story to the Apex Book of World SF 2, out next year).
Exciting news indeed!
An Orbital Flight With a Small Surprise
By Pyotr Kowalczyk
George Pearinsky was disappointed. They stuck him into this thing resembling a caftan, not a flight suit, and he couldn’t even take a photo of himself, but maybe it was better without one anyway, because in this vomit-green inflatable quilted shit, he looked like a huge pear, even though he weighed only 125.5 kilograms.
“And what is this?” He asked the captain pointing with his eyes at the screen, where wrapped in a thick layer of brownish gases, an outline of Earth could be seen.
“What?” The captain was evidently caught off guard. He seemed to be fully engrossed in a computer game illegally loaded as an additional application for the passenger orbital ferry autopilot system and needed a while to come back to reality.
“This! Is this what I paid 200 000 amereuro for?”
“Ahh, that,” the captain finally came to and smiled with a “not this again” smile to his co-pilot, Denise, or maybe Dennis. “You know, most of our customers are a bit… surprised with this view. It’s all because of those stratospheric gases. They should finally prohibit their emission.” The passenger grew slightly irritated with this remark and Denise, or maybe Dennis, added:
“We realize it looks better in photographs, and if you prefer, I can offer you a beautifully published album.”
“An album of the most beautiful photos of Earth taken from the height of several meters above ground, and put together by the best photographers and over-realistic painters in the world.”
George Pearinsky, the first European of Polish decent in space, took the brochure (“album” was just too much of an overstatement) and barked under his nose “I didn’t pay 200 000 to look at pictures.” But he had to admit that seen from that distance, Mother Earth looked particularly bad. Greyish and ugly. Too ugly even when considering the steeply discounted promotional price of the flight.
“Remember to return it after the trip, they will be counted,” Denise, or maybe Dennis, warned him.
The commercial passenger number 0289/Mr. Pearinsky leafed through a couple of pages, compared the photos with the view outside and fell asleep. He always slept during flights, and he flew quite much, because he made a fortune as a trader of rights for the emission of stratospheric gases (he had connections in the appropriate European commission), and so he was needed in every geographical latitude.
“Calling the so-called Houston! We have this one problem, we have this one problem!” The captain was shouting in the direction of Pearinsky, which unavoidably meant the latter one woke up from a dream in which he was floating in space, signing lucrative contracts for the emission of carbon dioxide.
“So-called Houston! This one problem,” Denise, or maybe Dennis, was repeating.
“What’s this?” Pearinsky wanted to know with every cell of his wrapped-in-quilted-shit being.
“A Slovakian spy satellite on collision course. A Slovakian satellite on collision course,” the captain shouted, and both members of the crew faked quite well pressing the emergency buttons.
“Yes, a post-NATO model. Decommissioned after everything became available on Bobble Earth,” the captain answered and added in Denise’s direction, “switching to manual controls. A three-degree course adjustment to the left. Starting descent.”
“And where’s this satellite that’s colliding with us?” The passenger wanted to know.
“Ah, nothing, it’s just passed us, you can’t see it now, but I can show you the camera footage,” Denise, or maybe Dennis answered and switched on the monitor.
“But the date here, that’s from two weeks ago?” The trader in stratospheric emissions got upset.
“Ah, yes, actually, two weeks ago we had a very similar situation,” the captain alertly added and quickly changed the subject, “What’s important now is that you get ready for about 2 minutes in the state of weightlessness, and not some Slovakian satellite from two weeks ago. Are you ready for this magnificent experience experienced so far by only…” the captain consulted his notes, “two hundred eighty eight commercial passengers?”
“I guess so. What do I need to do?”
“Just feel light.”
Pearinsky felt light for about 30 seconds and then he felt heavy and wanted to vomit. The bag was already ready and Denise handed it to the passenger quickly enough for the contents to land weightlessly inside the bag, and not outside.
When the carbon dioxide emissions trader looked at the full barf bag, he couldn’t help but comment:
“So yeah, I paid 200 grand to look at pictures and my own puke. Unforgettable memories, I’d say.”
“Such surprises happen to quite a few of our passengers, but with this satellite you had some extra luck, not every flight is so exciting,” the captain remarked reassuringly. “OK, we’re going back to Earth now. I need to be home before eight, my wife has a yoga class tonight.”
An Orbital Flight With A Small Surprise (c) 2008 Pyotr Kowalczyk, first published in Password Incorrect.
The nominees for the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award have just been announced. The complete list is available at Torque Control. There are a few international nominees, listed below:
- Short story category – Roberto Quaglia (with Ian Watson), for The Beloved Time of Their Lives (Italy)
- Non-fiction category – Deepa D for I Didn’t Dream of Dragons (India)
While the artwork category is dominated by international artists, specifically Polish artist Adam Tredowski with three nominations (he illustrated all six Interzone covers last year):
- Adam Tredowski (Poland)
- Nitzan Klamer (Israel)
- Stephan Martinière (France)
Congratulations to all the nominees!
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CORRECTED from previous version erroneously attributing publication to Gollancz (thanks Simon!)
Alexey Pehov‘s Shadow Prowler, the first book of The Chronicles of Siala, translated by Andrew Bromfield (best known for translating the Night Watch books), to be published by Tor (US) and Simon & Schuster (UK).
Alexey Pehov is a fantasy and science fiction writer who has gained popularity in Russia as the author of nine books (seven fantasy novels, one post-apocalyptic fantasy, and also the author’s collected stories).
Pehov’s first novel to be translated into English, SHADOW PROWLER, the first book in a trilogy, was sold in a pre-empt to Tom Doherty at Tor Books for six figures. Shortly after it sold in the U.S., the series found success in the foreign markets, with Simon & Schuster in the UK pre-empting the trilogy with a six-figure deal at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and Piper buying the series at auction for the German market.
SHADOW PROWLER (first published in Russia in 2002 as STEALTH IN THE SHADOWS) was the first book in the series THE CHRONICLES OF SIAL, and became one of Russia’s biggest, most successful debuts.At the international fantasy convention Star Bridge (held in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 2002), STEALTH IN THE SHADOWS received the award from the publishing house The Sword Without a Name for best debut in the adventure and fantasy genre published in a large volume.
Later that year, the complete CHRONICLES OF SIAL series was awarded the highest professional honor, the Silver Kaduzei. The trilogy was also recognized as the best fantasy series of 2003. Today, THE CHRONICLES OF SIAL (STEALTH IN THE SHADOWS, DGANGA DANCE WITH SHADOWS, and BLIZZARD OF SHADOWS) are the most popular fantasy books in Russia, with many role playing clubs inspired by the books. A computer game based on the books is also being developed.
Pehov’s 2004 novel, UNDER THE SIGN OF THE MANTIKOR, has been met by readers and critics no less favorably. At the international fantasy convention Portal (held in Kiev, Ukraine), the book received awards for qualitative growth of literary skill.
In the same year, 2004, Russia’s largest fantasy magazine, World of Fantasy (selected as Best Magazine, Europe-2006 by the European Science Fiction Society, ESFS), named UNDER THE SIGN OF THE MANTIKOR The Book of Year, as well as the best novel in the genre of fantasy.
Alexey Pehov’s fantasy series THE WIND AND THE SPARKS (the first book, SELECTORS OF A WIND, was published in 2005; the second book, THE WIND OF A WORMWOOD, in 2006) was selected again by the Russian fantasy community as the best series of 2006 and also received the Silver Kaduzei award.
Pehov’s stories and novels are published in leading Russian fantasy magazines and anthologies on a regular basis. The author’s story collection, THE DARK HUNTER, by the end of 2006, had become the most commercially successful fantasy collection in Russia. At Eurokon 2006 (held in Kiev, Ukraine), Alexey Pehov was nominated for a rank of the best selling young European short stories fantasy writer in the (ESFS).
Alexey Pehov was born on March 30th, 1978. He completed his studies at Moscow State Medical University with an internship and postgraduate study at the Central Science Institute, Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation; he specialized in orthodontics. He is married to Elena Bychkova, a professional journalist and science fiction writer; they have written some novels together.
ABOUT THE NOVEL:
An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.
Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.
Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).
Reminiscent of Moorcock’s Elric series, Shadow Prowler is the first work to be published in English by the bestselling Russian fantasy author Alexey Pehov. The book was translated by Andrew Bromfield, best known for his work on the highly successful Night Watch series.
Check out this month’s Words Without Borders, which has a focus on international science fiction. It includes works from Stanislaw Lem, Tomasz Kołodziejczak, Olga Slavnikova, Zoran Živković, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Machado de Assis, Liu Cixin, Tomasz Kołodziejczak, Pablo A. Castro, Muhammad Husain Jah, José Eugenio Sánchez, and Carmen Firan.
I’d also like to thank all the translators who worked on the magazine.
You can read them here.
Stanislaw Lem‘s classic essay, translated from the Polish by Robert Abernathy, is online at the Science Fiction Studies archives.
If anyone is dissatisfied with SF in its role as an examiner of the future and of civilization, there is no way to make an analogous move from literary oversimplifications to full-fledged art, because there is no court of appeal from this genre. There would be no harm in this, save that American SF, exploiting its exceptional status, lays claim to occupy the pinnacles of art and thought. One is annoyed by the pretentiousness of a genre which fends off accusations of primitivism by pleading its entertainment character and then, once such accusations have been silenced, renews its overweening claims. By being one thing and purporting to be another, SF promotes a mystification which, moreover, goes on with the tacit consent of readers and public. – read the rest of the essay.