Monday 25 March 2019

Speculative Fiction in Slovenia

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Literature in Slovenia
Guest post by Nena Škerlj; translated by Urša Vidic

Speculative fiction in Slovenia started with fantastic short stories, utopias and anti-utopias: Andrej Volkar (The School Student in the Moon, 1871), Josip Stritar (The Ninth Wonderland, 1878), Anton Mahnič (Shangri-La of Coromandel India, 1884, 1889), Janez Trdina (Revelation, depicting the world in the year 2175, 1888), Ivan Tavčar (4000, a view on the narrow-minded town of Ljubljana in the year 4000, 1891), Janez Mencinger (under the pseudonym Nejaz Nemcigren, he wrote about Europe in the 24th century as a totalitarian anti-utopia, —a Tale for Old People, 1893), Simon Šubic (criticizing capitalism at a journey into a classless society on Mars, Devastating Idol of the World, 1893), Josip Jaklič (Merkur from the collection of short stories Pantheon is a satirical utopia with a Slovenian conquering space expedition, 1893), Ivan Toporiš (Archaeological lecture in the year 5000—there are no more nations on Earth, everyone speaks the same language, volapük, 1892). Utopias and anti-utopias appear quite late in Slovenian literature, but when some of these became infused with elements of science fiction, they were exceptionally progressive and modern on a wider scale, something that cannot be said for the current scene in Slovenia.

In the first half of the 20th century, Damir Feigl was the most important Slovenian science fiction writer, describing utopias of natural and technical science, voyages extraordinaires, unusual inventions, antigravity, futurism in genetics, brain transplantation (novels Dog Hair!, On Mysterious Ground, Wondrous Eye, Columbus, Magician without a licence, Around the World/8, Supervitalin). He wrote also short sci-fi stories (Bacilus eloquentiae, Elektrokephale …) and fantasy (e.g. Pharaoh in a Tailcoat). A pessimistic view on the development of science and also future catastrophes were described by Etbin Kristan (Pertinčarjevo pomlajenje—a tale of a dream), Vladimir Levstik (under pseudonyms also (The Deed)) and Anton Novačan (Superhuman). Space travels were the subject of Radivoj Rehar (under pseudonyms as well; young adult fiction Journey with the Evening Star, a story happening in 2033, Oceanopolis—a novel about the mystery of human past, the utopian Revenge of Professor Kabaj, and Ramas in Jora—a novel about the last people on Earth, taking place in the distant future). Pavel Brežnik used the pseudonym P. Ripson to publish Secrets of Mars, while Metod Jenko and Viktor Hassl co-authored the narrative Invention. In 1936, Alma M. Karlin published a novel about the sunken continent Isolanthis, describing a sort of Atlantis, called Poseidonia and containing many fantastical, fantasy, as well as theosophical elements.

In the 2nd half of the 20th century, it became very popular to write about space travel and contacts with alien civilizations and the most prominent examples of such writing are Dušan Kralj (First Encounter), Jože Dolničar (Pilot’s Blood, Decades and Seconds, The Sea is the Sky beneath Me) and Mitja Tavčar (Cabin Zero space opera). Vid Pečjak and Miha Remec write science fiction anti-utopias, but occasionally they both choose an optimistic ending in which individuals are successful in escaping the alienated hi-tech world. Vid Pečjak (also as Div Kajčep) described journey to other worlds, the life in them, various psychological states of mind and he warned about the fragility of nature (In the Claws of Gita, the Witch, Adam and Eve on the Planet of Old People, In the Embrace of Green Hell, Cataclysm or the Revenge of Selena, collections of short psychological science fiction stories like Where did Ema Lauš Disappear to?, Doctor of the Living and the Dead, Last Resistance and Search for the Beautiful Helena). His ecological-psychological science fiction is often pessimistic and the same could be said about the works of Miha Remec (also as Irena Remrom), the most prominent among them being the dystopian trilogy Iksion-Iksia-Iks (Iksion, or Escape from the Stage, Iksia, or Android's Farewell and Iks, or The Great Solitude of Noah’s Ark). He wrote many multi-layered and interpretatively rich sci-fi stories (Glow Bird, Astral Lighthouses, a selection) and science fiction novels (Journals of Earth's Envoy, Manna, Sniper Woman, or Pilgrimage to Tibetia, Hunter, Recognition or Black Time of the White Widow, Impure Daughter). He described also journeys in time (Mithra’s Lock of Hair or Time String into Petoviona) and frequently called attention to the endangerment of human beings as individuals and of nature as a whole. In 2017, Miha Remec published another science fiction novel, Hunter of Perceptions. He writes also sci-fi poetry, drama and fairytales, a unique fantasy tragicomedy Plague of Plastion and a political fantasy novel Green Alliance, as well as humorous fantasy-realistic historical and political stories Trapan Chronographies where things happen simultaneously on Earth and on Trapania. Franjo (Franc) Puncer published a sci-fi collection entitled Lost Man, pessimistic accounts of the time before or after a catastrophe. In his short story Transformation, people are being changed into robots and the novel Membrane, he writes about how people from Earth are abducted immediately after their death in order to be reanimated and used as a means to renew the population of aliens. Other authors writing at the peak of Slovenian and global sci-fi—in terms of motifs as well as their style—are Gregor Strniša, Boris Grabnar and Branko Gradišnik (his Explorer arbitrarily kills intelligent and harmless round beings; also remarkable is his visit to the 22nd century, On the Hunt, on the Run).

In the 80s, sci-fi was written by Samo Kuščer, Denis Rakuša, Bojan Meserko, Egist Zagoričnik, Jaša Zlobec and many more. In their stories (Miha Remec), alien beings could save the Earth or do not want to have anything to do with Earthlings or it is forbidden for them to contact us (Gradišnik, Pečjak), or they are taken advantage of (Pečjak) or they all live together with humans on other planets (Janja Srečkar, Fast Frequency trilogy)… Mankind is able to prevent a disaster on Earth (Sandi Sitar, Buried in Granite) or it destroys the planet (Samo Resnik, Stars and dumpsites, Vid Pečjak: Odysseus Returns), but a complete end of the human race is quite rare in Slovenian sci-fi literature (Franjo Puncer: Adamo).

Elements of cyberpunk or its predecessor genres can be recognized in Pečjak’s story Open Skulls, where an alien civilization steals human brains and uses them to produce supercomputers and only the brains of schizophrenics can save mankind from such an invasion. Also Iksion, or Escape from the Stage by Remec has such elements—a computer, programmed for eternity, making sure that human society functions well. The same can be said of his Recognition where people’s memories are being erased or searched. A work that stands out is the philosophical and futuristic novel Cracks by Marko Uršič, a fantasy of space and time intertwining in make-believe, memories, dreams and waking moments. Edo Rodošek is the third great figure of the Slovenian sci-fi scene. In addition to poetry he wrote many stories (most recently the collection from 2017, Step into the Unknown—Eighteen Stories That Have Not Happened Yet) and novels (Inseparable Duo takes place in the future when asteroids threaten the Earth and its main character searches for other planets suitable for life, while the main character of The Swamp is a conflicted cyborg, and in Almost the Same, robots, androids, cyborgs and other technological entities wish to dream, to feel, to have perceptions and emotions. His novel Haunted Castle features ghosts for which it eventually turns out that they are beings from other planets). In the weirdness of its themes and by being something like a mysterious gothic novel, it is somehow similar to the Manor House by Robert Titan Felix from 2017.

Around the turn of the millennium, some outstanding Slovenian sci-fi authors are Berta Bojetu (her brutal anti-utopia Filio is Not at Home and its sequel, Bird House, both describing how it is not the fault of technology but of people themselves if their society is violent and evil), Marjetka Jeršek (Emerald City, a utopian love novel, a mixture of dreams, hallucinations and eventual parallel worlds with robots and interplanetary vehicles, Ljubljana can be recognized here), Miha Mazzini (futuristic anti-utopia Satan’s Crown), Tone Perčič (Harmageddon on the future of Slovenia in an absurd war), Andrej Blatnik (Change Me, describing a grotesque future and extreme consumerism, again, Ljubljana is recognizable), Vesna Lemaić (Disposal Facility), Iztok Osojnik (the protagonist of the fantasy novel Pigs Flying into the Sky is Primož Truba, an allusion to Trubar, author of the first book printed in Slovenian), Boris Čerin (futuristic Curse of the Two-Headed Clown and They Came for Me), Mladen Tratnjak (sci-fi novel Observatory 775), Nina Arlič (Gorgonaut, a sort of a sci-fi love story with the protagonist Paprika Kej of a librarian persuasion), Janko Lorenci (sci-fi love story Travelling towards Leonarda), Rok Sieberer Kuri (futuristic trilogy taking place also in other galaxies and universes: Stories of Jessi, The Story of Frenk Nissan, Sherry’s Storry), Franc Puncer (Rope of Time containing travels to a far future and extreme future, to the frontier—a web, through which time flows into our universe and that catches the rest; from the prehistoric town of Celje (Celea Praehistorica) to New Celje (Celea Futura), and the city of the year 4000 (Celea Futurissma)). The author under the pseudonym Mara R. Sirako wrote a space saga (space opera) Dangober, Combat by the Warning Indicator 1, 2, 3, describing an encounter and clash of two very different civilizations where many beings have names and characteristics that are associated with deities from various mythologies.

Andrej Ivanuša wrote novels and short stories of speculative fiction, but also the fantasy novel Svetodrev which is the first book in the series of Legends from the Forest of Tokara (fantasy world with intelligent reptiles who have three sexes), as well as the science fiction with elements of a crime novel, Rheia, and an epic fantasy poem Vilindar. Bojan Ekselenski is the author of a fantasy epic full of intrigues, magic and battles, Knights and Wizards, published in 2017. His latest novel from 2018 is Lubliana High School of Magic with its world of wizards that is parallel to the real world. Barbara Čibej wrote a fantasy adventure novel with ninjas, the Secret of the Warrior. Under the pseudonym of Maia Pleiades, an adventure fantasy was published, The Final Battle of the Gods. Sebastjan Koleša portrayed pirates, elves, goblins, demons, terrifying beasts, beings from outer space and other extraordinary creatures in The Seventh World.

Slovenian chivalric, horror, gothic and dark novels usually take place in medieval times and are combined with the mixture of adventure, myths, pseudo-history, fairy-tales, legends and the fantasy world. They describe knights, witches, heroes and heroines, nobility, castles and monasteries. An interweaving of history and fiction can be found already in the 14th century with the Celje Chronicles and it continued in the 19th and 20th centuries with Peter Bohinjec, Jožef Urbanija, Ivan Lah and many more. In 1858, Fran Levstik wrote a parody of the chivalric novel, Martin Krpan. There was also some horror literature and fantastic novels about demons (Valentin Zarnik, Fran Erjavec, Valentin Mandelc, Josip Podmilšak, Silvester Košutnik, France Bevk (The Dead are Returning). Some people say that the first in the series of vampire sagas (like those by Isabella M. Grey, Eva Šegatin…) was a passage in the monumental work by the natural historian Johann Weikhard Freiherr von Valvasor, The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, in 1689, where he mentioned Giure or Jure Grando (1579–1656) from Istria (Kringa) who therefore might be the first real person to be described in a book as a vampire—a shtrigon.

Alen Nemec wrote the book Swordsman (2017) that will be the first part of a fantasy trilogy, The Resurrection of the Swordsman containing stories about warriors, castles, kingdoms, intrigues, myths, dark forces and the battles against them. Aleš Oblak is the author of a horror fantasy House of Good Gentlemen, composed of seven intertwined, unusual, terrifying and cruel short stories. For Anor Kath by Samo Petančič it could be said that it is splatterpunk to a certain degree, since it has some moments of horror and terror fiction. Similar elements of fantasy and science fiction in a dark and gloomy atmosphere of cruelty and violence can be recognized also in the work of Lenart Zajc (e.g. Hevimetal). Another important author of fantasy stories is Amedeja M. Ličen (Goodbye, Glorious World! where she uses motifs from science, pseudoscience and myths to describe an ideal society with lots of humour and irony, since that society is of course not ideal). Danila Žorž has to be mentioned as well, she wrote an archaeological sci-fi crime novel Izklop, a fantasy trilogy True World: Enchanting Angel, Cursed Angel and Fallen Angel that is still in the making).

A hybridity of genres is characteristic of more modern science fiction, fantasy and horror, like in the works of Marjan Tomšič, where there is a mixture of magical and fantastic realism, science fiction and psych fiction, imaginary and philosophical elements, magical Istrian themes, superpowers, evil dark forces, thinking plants, animals and inanimate nature, new forms of communication in outer space, the threat of disasters and the contacts with aliens. His Spells of the Full Moon (3 volumes) are a psycho-fictional vortex of post-apocalyptic horror fantasy, dreams, hallucinations and unusual entities of existence, while, Óštrigéca and The Grain of Frmenton are contemporary fairytale novels, just like Someone was Playing the Piano by Boris Jukić and Tanaja by Sanja Pregl. Vlado Žabot in his Nights of the Wolf described a weird, dark and dispiriting vampiric atmosphere, an irrational world of dreams, half-dreams, delusions, sensory disturbances and hallucinations. Tomšič, Žabot and Feri Lainšček (in his horror novel The Woman Carried in by the Fog) could sometimes be considered to write landscape fantasy horror novels. The Secret of the Valley of Petrified Dragons trilogy by Nataša Vrbančič Kopač (Generator of Books, Dragon Temple, Battle for Erno) contains elements of comedy, ethics and physics and begins with a scientist whose invention gets out of control and this is then followed by a long and fantastic journey. Axis mundi, Axis of the World (written by Aksinja Kermauner) is a combination of fantasy, contemporary physics, chaos theory, journey into the past and much more. Boris Višnovec wrote a collection of sci-fi stories Hunters of Dreams.

Tim Horvat described a search of Atlantis in his Seekers of Lost Cities—Treasure of Triglav, where there is a hall inside the highest mountain of Slovenia and in it the Porta Thrigllaev—the only portal into Atlantis. In Frankensteins of the New Era, Gaja Hren wrote an antiutopia with many clones (Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci…). Dušan Dim described a futuristic world where people have an advanced technology implanted under their skin, Excuse me, your life does not exist.

The tradition of utopias has its place also in young adult fiction and in children's—but not childish—literature, represented by Ivo Šorli (In the Land of Chirimoorzzi—an underground tale for the young), Branimir Žganjer (Exactly Three Days Late), Miha Remec (Dandelion Fluff in Space), Ivan Sivec (Holydays on Mars) and Vid Pečjak (various novels and short stories featuring robots). Writers of young adult fantasy are Magdalena Cundrič: Alioth or the Tail of the Grat Bear (dreams, holograms, robots, hybrids), Barbara Čibej (Arcas and The Warrior’s Secret), Maks Lenart Černelč’s W5051 Family, Žiga X. Gombač: Buddies and Time Warriors (about ancient bracelets, interdimensional portals, being between times).

Some of the more interesting comic book authors are Branko Zinauer (sci-fi comic Planet of Three Suns), Andrej Hermann (sci-fi psychological thriller Airport without Guards), Bojan Šlegl (sci-fi comics Circ-I Calling Earth, Earth Fleat Attacking together with the writer Marko Mihelčič), Božo Debeljak (Shipwreck in Space), Gašper Krajnc (“monster horror” comic Rite in cooperation with the writer Matic Večko), Tomaž Lavrič (hardcore sci-fi comic Blind Sun, fantasy trilogy Lomm about an unusual being from the nest of flying mutants) and the funny sci-fi comics Erlšpik on the Planet Beta and Radovan from the Planet Beta (Matjaž Schmidt). Under the name of Ninel, Iztok Sitar’s comic reinterpreted the antiutopia 4000 by Tavčar, where Ljubljana of the future has flying saucers, but it is still rather a town of the past. should also be mentioned Jakob Klemenčič, his comics feature some morbid characters, weirdoes, six-legged pigs, chickens with three eyes and calves with two heads (Tale of the Painting Man), Marko Kociper (aliens in the comic Badger and the Rest of the World) and Matej Kocjan—Koco, whose Honey talks—Painted Beehive Panels in Comics have a great deal of fantasy and sci-fi and are continuously being published since 2006.

The most important Slovenian publisher of speculative fiction is the Blodnjak publishing studio with authors like Igor Zobavnik, Aaron Kronski/Tomo Rebolj, Bojan Meserko and others. Short sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories are occasionally published in anthologies (Terra—almanac of science fiction, Stardust, Stardust—Another Galaxy, Singularity, Blodnjak (Maze) of science fiction, Blodnjak 2, 4 and 6, Fantazija) and in magazines like Življenje in tehnika, Neskončnost, Supernova—Magazine for speculative fiction and Jašubeg en Jered (that sometimes has a special issue in English, Jashubeg en Jered). ŽIT magazine (Življenje in tehnika or Ljudska tehnika originally) started to publish the first sci-fi stories in 1952. At first, these were mostly translations, but after 1989 more stories written by Slovenian authors emerged, amounting to about 10 percent of all the stories in the magazine; from 2015, their share is now about 90 percent. The publishing house that owns the magazine—Tehniška založba Slovenije, has been making sci-fi collections from 1961 to 1996, they were called Spektrum (In Rainbow Wings, I’m Afraid, How the World was saved…) and they contained many first published works by Slovenian writers such as Marjan Tomšič and his Wind of Eternity.

In 2017, the young adult fantasy novel Taronian Secret by Maja M. Taron came out, as well as the young adult fantasy Argo Megacircus by Feri Lainšček. Milan Petek Levokov wrote So Close, So Far Awayshort sci-fi prose—these are classic science fiction stories with elements of humour, pessimism, philosophy and a lot more. In the same year, he published four other books and had another one reprinted. In 2018, Erik Sancin wrote the science-fiction novel Elevator in which he painted a new image of an impoverished Earth and Moon after the Third Cataclysm. The planet is inhabited by so-called Othersiders, who are New Territory people, and by mutated and degenerated beings (cannibals or so-called Overalls). This dynamic novel sometimes switches from being like a first-person shooter game to being like a stealth game and back and I could easily imagine it in the form of a video game or a film. I really hope that it will be at least translated into English.

Motifs of fantasy and horror have for a long time been present in Slovenian literature, especially in science fiction. Scientific, technical and social utopias and anti-utopias appeared relatively late, but when they did, they soon became very popular. Thought experiments with theoretically possible worlds are still quite common. On the other hand, science fiction, was establishes rather soon (second half of the 19thcentury) and contained some very modern ideas. Then it continued to be created in quiet for a while until it reached its new peak in the eighties.

Tomaž Janežič in his Resurrection of Neptune used elements of cyberpunk to describe the genius computer programme called Neptune. It was followed by the 2nd generation Neptune with which its extra-systemic visionary hacker creator was brought back to life with some telekinetic and other improvements. The story takes place in Ljubljana (there is BTB—a Bermuda triangle of Bežigrad) and is based on the premise that water is eternal, so since a human body is made up of 70% water (this is why the name of the programme is Neptune), this share of a human being is eternal and only 30% belong to the sphere of time, which could be changed so that time would not be the strongest part of us anymore. Muanis Sinanović’s Anastrophe (2017) is a mixture of cyberpunk and New Weird (Ljubljana is featured among other places; it loses its status of a town in the future and becomes a village).

Martin Vavpotič, a representative of steampunk or retrofuturism wrote the historical fantasy novel Over Great West Sea and in the English language, he published Clockworks Warrior: a steampunk novella containing flying machines and other fantastical ideas. Individual elements of both these genres are present also in some stories by Pečjak, Remec and others. Wonderful Clone by Barbara Pešut under the pseudonym of Eva Pacher is a piece of mutant erotic/pornographic science fiction. Marko Vitas wrote 2084, a sci-fi dystopia (another one taking place in Ljubljana) which is the unofficial continuation of the cult classic 1984 by George Orwell. Fantasy, fiction, futurism, philosophy and cosmology are combined in the philosophical and literary tetralogy—Four Seasons by Marko Uršič, where things happen in the past and in the future, in multi-layered versions of the present and in timelessness, while exploring strict, hard-core philosophy, its history and its present. The works by Matjaž Štrancar like Blue Drug and Other Stories contain sci-fi and alternative histories.

Grasshopper Hunter by Jurij Pfeifer is philosophical, humorous and grotesque sci-fi novel. Frane Tomšič’s Third Century in the Era of Cybernetics is a futuristic and philosophical post-apocalyptic anti-utopia set in the far future. In 2017 and 2018, Sebastijan Pešec published his philosophical fantasy novel Perdikas. Wondrous discoveries, voyages extraordinaires, dark tales of the strange can often be found as parts or as defining characteristics of literary works and increasing number of hybrid literature that is full of sci-fi, fantasy and horror elements. 2018 saw also the publication of the English translation of The Barrens by Miha Remec and his sci-fi anti-utopia Poetovian Trilogy (Clone Sin, Spider Webs of Time, Poetovian Desinification the latter two were written together with Aleksandra Jelušič). Among interesting releases this year are also the sci-fi crime novel Wotan’s Daughters by Tomaž Kukovica, Another Colour of Rain by Nejka Štiglic from her Different Colours series, the dystopia by Alojz Rebula where the Vatican is relocated to China, By the Tributary of the Yangtze. The slipstream that is rich with fiction is probably more interesting for the (post)information age than the old-school sci-fi, so for quite some time now there are sudden elements of fantasy, postmodern fiction, magic realism, futuristic, supernatural and surrealistic worlds in a realistic narrative flow (Mammoths by Jernej Županič, Dušan Merc, Lev Detela, Mojca Kumerdej, Milan Kleč, Eva Markun).

Unlike in traditional Slovenian novels, genres were mixed more intensely towards the end of the 20th century and novels from that time and later have many unusual or bizarre characteristics resembling fairytales, anti-utopias, alternative histories, the fantastic or horror. This hybridity of genres still continues at the present moment, so it is very fortunate that contemporary Slovenian novels have a stronger and stronger trend to include various fantastic, futuristic and fantasy elements.

Nena Škerlj is a philosopher and art historian and works as a librarian in some super libraries, does many different things, engages in various and diverse activities, but above all likes to stick her nose into books as can well be seen in this photo that is actually an installation, a One Minute Sculpture by Erwin Wurm.

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