Interview for Europa SF

Cristian Tamas from Fantastica.ro has interviewed me for the Europa SF portal. Check it out! The questions are many, so I’ve also made a short selection to post below. And I guess the questions are also interesting in themselves; seems to me that American culture (whatever it is if it can be generalized) has got a rather bad reputation in Romania. What do you think, based on the full interview?

 

How do you depict for a non-fan of speculative fiction the last 25 years of the Czech SF&F? How you’ll describe the actual status of the Czech Fantastika: main authors, books, awards, magazines, printing houses, conventions, etc.?

An in-depth answer would requite a full-length essay but I’ll try to be brief here. The XB-1 (formerly Ikarie) magazine goes through the whole modern history of Czech SF and contributed immensely through discovering new interesting authors, publishing foreign fiction and original genre essays, reviews and popular science articles. Pevnost is more multimedia-oriented lately but it’s also a magazine that cannot be omitted from any such summary. It too discovered many new authors, especially of fantasy, and found more genre fans.

The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Awards have been here for twenty years and awarded a lot of great work. Otherwise we’ve got the Aeronautilus (awards of the fans attending Festival Fantazie) and several story contest awards, mainly the Karel Čapek Prize (“CKČ”). Main authors – I’m sure I’ll forget to mention someone important but hopefully others’ lists will complete mine: Michal Ajvaz, Ondřej Neff, František Novotný, Vilma Kadlečková, Jiří W. Procházka, Eva Hauserová, Jana Rečková, Jiří Kulhánek, Karolina Francová… And then we’ve got many new authors of approximately my generation – Lucie Lukačovičová, Jan Hlávka, Jan Kotouč, Dan Tučka, Hanuš Seiner… Let’s wait how people come to see us in some time. As to printing houses, we’ve got a lot of them but I’d mention those whose production I read a lot and find interesting and stimulating or possessing a unique position on the market: Argo, Triton, Brokilon, Laser-Books, Straky na vrbě, Albatros. I’m sure others will name some other ones too.

Finally, conventions: The biggest one is Festival Fantazie each summer. The oldest one is Parcon, whose tradition goes back to 1982. Fénixcon is also very well-known. And apart from them, we’ve got many small but popular cons like StarCon, Trpaslicon, Minicon, CONiáš, and several anime festivals.

Is the Czech Fantastika part of the Czech literary canon? Did you notice from the part of the literary/cultural establishment a high brow attitude concerning the “Trivialliteratur” of speculative fiction?

Classic SF like Čapek, Nesvadba of Fuks is an integral part of the canon and is commonly taught at schools. As to modern SF, that mostly depends on the teachers. Some devote only a brief one-sentence mention to it, some go to introduce it to pupils at length. I think most of the cultural establishment still views all speculative fiction as something inferior, “only fun”, but it too changes gradually. I remain optimistic.

Entertainment vs. ideology? Mercantilism & consumerism vs. communist governmental status (and state control & state censorship)? Private initiative vs. state monopoly? The former Czechoslovak SF vs. the actual Czech SF?

I shudder whenever someone claims they had written a novel to spread their ideology. In my view, most of these works don’t end up well though there are notable exceptions. And I think there’s a false dichotomy in the question; I like works that are entertaining and at the same time present brave new ideas, characters with different worldviews and make the reader think. But they shouldn’t be trying to blindly indoctrinate the reader with some ideology. The reader is not stupid and doesn’t need to be pushed. Of course, author’s views can often seep into the work through some character or worldbuilding. That’s perfectly okay. From my stories, it’s perhaps apparent already by the choice of ideas and characters that I love science and technology, am a technooptimist and value knowledge. But if someone told me they’re ideological, I’d be horrified and try to find out where I made a mistake (and what ideology am I supposed to have – seriously, I don’t have one, I have views on specific matters that overlap with some political directions and fit neatly in none and I’m certainly not convinced I’m right). With the other two questions, we get into politics and I sincerely don’t know the answers. I’d probably have a chance to earn a Nobel prize for economics or peace if I had. But literature can explore the possibilities and make us think about them. And as to former/current SF: Any of it, as long as it’s good!

Which were the first SF texts and books that you read? Did you follow the developments within the imaginary domain from the last decades? What is your conclusion? Has science fiction any meaning and any relevance for the earthlings? Why read and write literature as it wouldn’t make you rich and famous?

Wait, it doesn’t make me rich and famous? Oh damn… Well: I got to SF rather young through Star Wars and then started reading the classics – Clarke, Lem, Asimov and such. I gradually broadened my scope throughout the genre and I read most of the subgenres of SF, though I have a special fondness for well-written hard SF (e.g. Egan or Watts). I’ve followed some of the genre developments and appreciate how they both broaden and deepen the scope of SF. Science fiction surely has meaning and relevance, like all stories. Unlike other genres, it can explore the society and people in it by a multitude of ways, present possibilities of future scientific and technological development, actively shape our thinking of the future… I guess that’s why I like SF. The ideas! The stories stemming from them! The wonder, the “why not” and “what if”!

Is a European Science Fiction existing or it’s just a theoretical concept? Could European Science Fiction be defined, doesn’t it have a specificity and it’s own originality? Could be promoted worldwide?

Yes, it exists and it’s simply SF originating in Europe. What else would you like to hear? Common cultural concepts etc.? Sure, to some extent, but isn’t the individual variability greater than the common themes? When I read a good novel or short story, I often cannot tell where the author is from if it isn’t set in some specific national environment. I would very much like to see more European SF in the worldwide market. Hopefully, with the new tendencies to embrace translations in the Anglo-American SF market (starting with magazines like Clarkesworld or F&SF), I think there’s a good chance of that happening.

Shall we fear globalization and the soon-to-come posthuman society?

Is it coming anytime soon? I’d just like to sort out my stuff before that… What I see now is rather far from posthuman future, it’s rather transhuman – extending the current possibilities of the human condition. Hearing color or wi-fi signals, perceiving magnetic fields, remotely controlling machines, using bionics to improve one’s strength or speed… I don’t fear that. I’m curious. And in my experience, fear can lead to pessimism or irrational choices, while a healthy dose of curiosity with a dash of rational caution (okay, now I’m giggling because I recalled The Fear Institute) can do much more to actually improve things. Sure, any kind of technology can be misused. So we better take care it’s used well. I don’t think that fearing change and desperately sticking to the past is a solution. And as to globalization, it has many downsides – and some upsides too. We should certainly try to preserve cultural uniqueness, languages, history records… If globalization goes all ways, merges individual cultures into a rich mix, I find it refreshing. In many cases, it does not. Then it’s up to the people to nudge the balance back, creatively and peacefully.

What are your actual and next projects?

Right now I’m working on a SF novel for an interesting literature-driven start-up. I’m curious how it turns out – both the novel and the project. If it fares well, you should hear more by the end of 2015. Apart from that, I have ideas for several short stories I really need to write as soon as possible or my head explodes. They involve peculiar comets, unusual hackers and fast-forward of human history, respectively. By the time this interview is published [well, that was sooner than I expected], I have hopefully succeeded in my final exams and thesis defense and can finally devote more time to writing again (though I probably need to sit down to write a few papers and prepare some lectures as well). My life is quite strange lately, fluctuating between several professional occupations. Which makes a good material for fiction. You’ll see!

Kindly address a few words to the EUROPA SF readers! Thank you very much!

I’ll probably sound a bit pompous now, which I dislike, but I hope you’ll forgive me: “Be ever curious. Think, create, and have fun.”

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