Wednesday 30 August 2017

Speculative and Dark Fiction in Italy

We open our survey of Mediterranean dark literature with a guest post about the Italian scene, signed by Alessandra Cristallini and Andrea Gibertoni. Pronti al viaggio?

It hasn’t always been easy for Italian SFF authors to be successful: for decades the common opinion was that the country “of the sea and the sun” wasn’t able to produce dark literature, or that the Italians were just not very good at writing SFF at all. And yet, there’s a thriving SFF scene. Some of the best Italian authors have already been translated abroad: this is the case of Dario Tonani, one of the most popular Italian sci-fi writers. He has published several novels and short stories, and some of his works have been translated into English and Japanese. His most famous work is the universe of Mondo9, a desert planet full of dangers like poisonous sands and half-animal half-mechanical creatures where giant ships roam the sands. Always in the sci-fi scene, we find Francesco Verso, winner of several awards, the mind behind Future Fiction publishing house and much more. Some of his short stories have been translated into English, and his cyberpunk novel Nexhuman has been translated in English and Portuguese. Nexhuman is the story of an obsessions that consumes Peter Payne through all his life, the obsession for a perfect nexhuman woman torn into pieces. If you want to have a taste of Clelia Farris, one of the most popular female authors in this field don’t forget to check out this collection of short SF from around the world published by Future Fiction: it includes her short story Creative Surgery translated by Jennifer Delare.

Many works that have not been translated are definitely worth being taken into consideration. Just to mention a few:
  •  Dimenticami Trovami Sognami (Forget me, Find me, Dream me) by Andrea Viscusi, where a young man takes part in a science experiment with unexpected results. Published by Zona 42;
  • Senza Un Cemento di Sangue (Without a Cement of Blood) By Anna Ferruglio Dal Dan (who attended the Clarion workshop), a space opera that feels like an adult and cruel take on Star Wars. It’s a compliment. Published by Delos Books;
  • Real Mars by Alessandro Vietti, winner of the Italia Award in 2017 tells us the story of a space mission made into a reality show for financing reasons. Published by Zona 42.

Moving from sci fi to dark fiction, we feel like we have to start from some names of the “old school”, authors that have been in the scene for the past decades, and have heavily influenced the newest generations of writers. Impossible not to mention the great Danilo Arona, active for the past 40 years and author of an astonishing amount of short stories, novels, essays and articles. He is a passionate expert of traditional folk tales of his region (Piemonte) and has a past of proper “ghost hunter”. The Roman Paolo Di Orazio, mind and body of the magazine Splatter (that, during the 80s caused scandal for the violence and crudeness of the printed images), is also a prolific and interesting author of several novels that could be labeled as splatterpunk. Eraldo Baldini is one of the few genre authors that has managed to be published by a major publishing house like the historic Einaudi. Creator of the so-called rural gothic, it brings together, very personally, modern topics with the folklore and traditions of Italian rural areas, where the nights are still populated by archaic creatures and nightmares.  Nicola Lombardi, recognisable by his very elegant style, has been writing novels and short stories since 1989. His recent La Cisterna (The Tank, Dunwich 2015) was shortlisted for the last edition of the Bram Stoker Awards.

Some of the younger (and sometimes really young!) protagonist of the darker side of the Italian SFF seem to have learnt from the anglophone classics of the genre, but also to have added their own peculiar touches that make their work original and immediately recognisable. A very hot name is Luigi Musolino; only 30 years old, he has already won a flattering number of awards and is unanimously recognised as one of the best promises of Italian horror/weird. Piemontese like Arona, and passionate about local folk tales as well, he skillfully blends Italian popular tradition with atmospheres that reminds of Lovecraft and Barker. A completely different style characterises Pietro Gandolfi, prolific and talented author of “extreme horror” novels (inspired to Ketchum and Laymon, among others), and successful comic writer (The Noise, Cosmo editoriale). He prefers to set his stories in small, completely made up, American cities, creating a perfect, and quite convincing, personal microcosm.  Samuel Marolla, also comic writer for the prestigious Bonelli editore, is a brilliant narrator of metropolitan nightmares, usually set in Milano, his own city. Translated various times in English, his Black Tea has been the first Italian short story to be included into Apex’s Book of World SF. His two collections of stories Malarazza and La Mezzanotte del Secolo (Edizioni XII) are considered seminal works in the contemporary Italian horror.

Other honorable mentions are:
Alessandro Manzetti–the first Italian writer to win the Bram Stoker Award (2016) with his poetry collection Eden Underground–, Barbara Baraldi–author of novels and script writer for the iconic horror comic Dylan Dog–, Daniele Picciuti, Claudio Vergnani, Fabio Lastrucci, Maico Morellini (sci fi author who likes to explore, quite succesfully, much darker literary lands).
Moving from authors to publishing houses, in the last years, a number of brave and fierce PH (mostly small and independent) have been working to revive SFF literature in Italy, both translating foreign authors and publishing (or republishing) the best Italian voices. Besides the already mentioned Future Fiction, there is the Milanese Hypnos, founded in 2010 by Andrea Vaccaro, publishing for the first time in Italian classic authors like Hodgson, Chambers,  Aickman, Jean Ray. It is also thank to his work that the weird genre has been introduced in our country.

But many other names have contributed to carry the bloody ensign of dark fiction in Italy. Among them:
Dunwich edizioni, Nero Press, Vincent Books (PH emiliana offering names such as Arona, Di Orazio and Gandolfi), Elara (the first in Italy to publish Thomas Ligotti), Cut Up, Independent Legions, the amazing (and much missed) Edizioni XII and the very young people at Cliquot, who have just published, for the first time, a collection of horror story by Fritz Leiber.
The scene we have described so far appears to be dominated by male authors. The problem is that there are few women in the Italian fandom and among the authors. Since its creation in 1989 there has been only one female winner for Italy’s most prestigious sci-fi book award, the Urania Award: Nicoletta Vallorani with Il Cuore Finto di DR, which has been translated into French. It goes slightly better for the Robot Award, which has seen two female winners (Morena Medri and Emanuela Valentini) in its 12 editions so far. Another exception is Alda Teodorani, true dark lady of the Italian dark scene, influential member of the Neo Noir movement that animated Rome at the beginning of the 90s. She has written several stories, novels, poems, and has collaborated with cinema directors like Pupi Avati. She is still an important figure in Italian SFF. Her example has encouraged a number of young women writers and readers to approach a genre that too often seems reserved to men.

A certain lack of female presence in the Italian SFF scene can be seen already in the attendance at conventions and literary events. The important con Stranimondi, for example, is mainly composed of middle-aged men so far. Last year all the women invited to speak at a panel devoted to women in sci-fi had something in common: at least one of their works had been published with the picture of a naked/half-naked woman on the cover, even if their stories featured none. It doesn’t seem very welcoming, but there’s great determination behind many women in Italian SFF. This situation is probably due to sheer numbers as well: to give an example, this year Urania has created another award, specifically for short stories, and it has been revealed that of the 164 people who have sent a story only 20 are women. Statistics are against us, at least for now… but this doesn’t justify the naked women on the covers.

That being said, if you get the chance to attend Stranimondi do it, it’s definitely worth it: it has had only two editions so far (the third one will be held in October 2017 in Milan), but it has already established its importance in the field. It may be small compared to the biggest cons that are held abroad, but if you want to see what the Italian SFF/speculative fiction scene has to offer, that is the place to be. You can find out some of the most interesting independent publishers by looking at the list of publishers which will be present at Stranimondi. There you’ll see other publishers which also aim to publish works translated into English, like Acheron books.

We have no doubts that the internet is helping in keeping the local SFF community alive, and the more we look at the local scene the more we expect—no, we demand—an exciting future for it. We managed to convince some of the most reluctant readers, the Italians themselves, that Italian authors can write good sci-fi, crime, horror and weird so the future holds something promising indeed. Well, if global warming doesn’t kill us all first.

Many thanks again to our awesome contributors Alessandra and Andrea!

Alessandra Cristallini is the mind behind the blog Fragments of a Hologram Dystopia (bilingual page / English only page), a sci-fi blog where she collects pictures and posts short stories and reviews. She is a translator and has published two short stories for the charity event Penny Steampunk. She loves cats, tea and untranslatable grammar jokes.

Andrea Gibertoni born in 1975 in Reggio Emilia, where he still lives, makes ends meet with odd jobs until, on the threshold of his 40s, decides with his wife Giulia to open Miskatonic University: a bookshop dedicated to all sorts of speculative fiction. His shop has became a reference for all the Italian SFF lovers, and organises a number of event, exhibitions and launches. You can find more info at or drop Andrea an email at


Dario Tonani said...

Hi, very pleased for the mention in the post Speculative and Dark Fiction in Italy. Please note that the correct link for my Mondo9 saga is:

Thank you so much.
Best regards
Dario Tonani

Valeria Vitale said...

Thank you Dario! Great to see you in the comments :-) I'll update the link immediately.

Alda Teodorani said...

Thank you !!! ;)

Fabio Lastrucci said...

Thank you for the mention!

Valeria Vitale said...

Hi Alda and Fabio, it was our pleasure!