The OF Blog: A few speculations about "scenes"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A few speculations about "scenes"

Still quite busy getting the school year off to a good start (much more relaxed than I was a year ago and the position thus has been much more fun), but I have managed to have a bit more reading time (20-30 minutes a day compared to zero) this week and I finished reading Javier Negrete's UPC-winning novella La luna quieta/The Quiet Moon. Written in 1992, this was his first published fiction I believe and despite the usual little missteps, I found his then-nascent "voice" to be strong, with quite a few twists on dualist concepts regarding madness/sanity, thanatos/eros, and hate/love. Wouldn't be surprised at all if this story is cited in an anthology of the best of Spanish SF twenty or even fifty years from now; it has something of the "feel," without ever stooping into conscious aping of forms and motifs, of some of the more cerebral works of 1960s American SF, especially James Blish.

But the realization that I was comparing Negrete's story to another time and locale made me ponder a bit about the developing SF "scenes" outside the US. I am becoming more aware of some of them through long hours trolling (pronounced more with an "ah" sound in the middle, for those who might think of the other meaning of the word!) various blogs and non-English websites looking for more information about how spec fic is developing outside the Anglo-American (and their immediate satellites) world. This past year, I've become familiar with the Brazilian writers/translators Fábio Fernandes and Jacques Barcia's two Portuguese and English-language blogs and reading in passing their comments on the Brazilian SF scene and their own writing careers has been a true learning experience. Sometime in the next few weeks, I hope to get started on the three anthologies/novella that Fábio sent to me this month, because I am quite curious to see how the themes and story structures will differ and resemble those found in Anglo-American SF anthologies and collections.

Also, there are two Romanian SF writers/translators/publishers whose blogs and e-zines to which I've been introduced this year, Horia-Nicola Ursu and Michael Haulica. Horia has been guest blogging this week at Jeff VanderMeer's blog, with some of the posts dealing with Romanian SF and his roles within it. Very interesting reads, to say the least.

What I noticed from reading both the Brazilian and Romanian blogs is that SF in those countries seems to be more of an "underground" (although growing and developing) movement than it is in either the US or UK, with their more organized means of marketing, distribution, and fan loyalties. Of course, I can't help but to suspect that I'm missing a lot and perhaps those who are more familiar with those two scenes or with other scenes in other countries could enlighten me as to the basics of what's going on, what styles of literature are being favored, hot blogs/e-zines/printing presses, and so on. Consider this an open invitation to cluing me and others here into some interesting "scenes."


Mihai A. said...

I don't know where to begin, it is pretty difficult to start in this case. I'm Romanian, I'm a fan of Fantasy, SF and horror and I will speak from that point of view.

Indeed "underground" is a correct word for these categories. Even though the 1989 Revolution opened the doors to many authors and many novels, SF and F are still struggling for ground. I believe that the avid readers of this genres are still those who read them before the revolution. It was hard then, because of the censorship, to obtain titles, but still they were. Today is easier, but this genres are ignored.

We have some publishing houses that constantly offer titles, interesting or not. SF is the main provider in the area. A fantasy title was published, if I'm not mistaken, 8 years ago (The Lord of the Rings). In the meantime we did get some interesting titles from Fantasy translated (Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson) but I don't know how successfuly they were. Nobody I know talks about them. Horror is scarce.

We have a TV show that lasts 5 minutes and in which a book is presented, pretty much a review like those we read on blogs. I didn't see one single book from SF, Fantasy and Horror presented in that show. And it is running for 2 years now, I believe.

Let's get to the publishers. First that comes to mind is Nemira. It publishes SF titles since 1994. I can find many important titles from SF here, so they do a pretty good job. And they published "A Song of Ice and Fire" last year. There is RAO, that doesn't have many SF titles, but has some Fantasy and Horror titles. They published John Saul, Dean Koontz, Robert Jordan (in a rhythm that kills me) J.R.R. Tolkien, Garth Nix, Jonathan Stroud, Clive Barker, Terry Pratchett. I enjoy their books because I believe that are the best when it comes to quality. Corint publishes YA and children fantasy and SF. Their books are good (by the way they translated D.M. Cornish) but these books are expansive. Two new publishing houses, Tritonic and Millenium Press, have a rather scarce appearance, for now. But they publish the new names in the field, Cory Doctorow, R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, Jeff VanderMeer, China Mievielle and they have translated also Roger Zelazny's Amber. At first Tritonic's books were the lowest quality. You had to reap the book to read it, there wasn't space between the text and the middle of the book, poor printing, mistakes in text. Now they seem to have corrected those mistakes, because their books look pretty good now.

I would talk of other aspects now. First the covers of the Romanian editions are lousy compared to the English titles (US or UK). Sometimes they are pretty dull and ugly and don't attract to much. Rarely are those who keep the original cover. I will make a plus here for RAO, that the most of the time goes with the original cover, and for the last title from Millenium Press, that has a new cover for "New Weird", but an interesting one. The second bad point are the prices. They are big to exaggerated. Comparing with the average salary it is hard to believe that anyone can afford them. And for a hobby it can be expansive and it can sack your purse. For instance I use Amazon pretty much. And if I raise money for 12-15 books, when I get the package I have an average price per book is lower or equal with the prices from Romania, and consider that at Amazon I pay a huge price for expedition costs and that cost enter my calculation too.
Example: "A Clash of Kings" - 26,58 dollars in Romania, 15-17 dollars
from Amazon with shipping costs.

The magazines are inexsitent. I grew up with an excellent magazine, "Anticipatia", but this one died some time ago. Now I have a subscription to a magazine called "Sci-Fi Magazin" which publishes only short fiction. And they will die too, because I read on a site that they will close it after 12 issues (now at 8) because they didn't sell enough issues. And I can understand their point of view. You cannot do this only for the sake of art, it costs money. So from December not a single magazine (well it is an e-zine Nautilus, but I enjoy a printed one more).

Last but not least, publicity. With pretty little range of titles, the publicity is close to zero. I don't like excesive publicity and I know that publicity costs a lot of money, but still. For instance the appearance of "New Weird" in Romania, launched by Jeff an Ann VanderMeer in person, has no publicity (at least I didn't heard of). The good part is that it is made in two cities outside Bucharest. I say that it is a good thing (unfortunately I can atend that one as much as I want to, because my journey takes much more than the one to Bucharest and I have some tasks at work next week, damn!) because it seems that our capital is the only place that gets book covering (publicity, author meatings, signing, fairs). Fairs is another part. I say fairs because we don't have conventions. So fairs are the only ones that gather the main publishers. They treat all the genres so you have to look for those with SF, Fantasy and Horror titles. And this fairs are pretty scarce, I think 3 or 4 per year. And in Portugal I saw 2 in 11 days. So at least one convention it will be excellent.

This is pretty much what I can think of. If I remember something else I'll write about it then.

Mihai A. said...

Well, I remembered.

Amaltea was another published Sf titles, aminly written by Romanian authors. I don't know if it still does.

And the Romanian authors of SF, Fantasy and Horror (at horror no one comes to mind). So here they are: Michael Haulica, Marian Coman, Costi Gurgu, Florin Pitea, Sebastian A. Corn, Dan Dobos, Ana-Maria Negrila, Liviu Radu, Horia-Nicola Ursu (editor a 2 antologii). I hope those I forgot will forgive me. I don't know how successful Romanian authors are, but I don't think that their work is appreciated as should be.

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