Parsek 82

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Aleksandar Žiljak

1. The Beginnings

Although the elements of fantastic and speculative in the Croatian literature can be traced back to the years around World War I, it is generally claimed that the first Croatian SF novel was Na Pacifiku God 2255 (On The Pacific In 2255) by Milan Sufflay, published in 1924.

In 1932 Mato Hanzekovic published Gospodin covjek (A Man Of Rank), a utopia about a group of people rebuilding the civilisation destroyed in the new world war. Even more novels were published in Zagreb during the 1920s and 1930s, mostly by authors using pen names, initials, or altogether omitting to sign themselves. The best were Muri Massanga by Mladen Horvat and a series of novels by Aldion Degal (probably a pseudonym) Atomska raketa (The Atomic Rocket), Zrake smrti (The Death Rays) and Smaragdni skarabej (The Emerald Scarab), as well as Crveni duh (The Red Ghost) and Majstor Omega osvaja svijet (The Omega Master Conquers The World) by Stan Rager. This was the pseudonym of Stanko Radovanovic and Zvonimir Furtinger (whom we’ll meet later) writing in tandem.

The beginnings of the Croatian SF comics also date back to the 1930s. The first was Gost iz svemira (The Guest From Outer Space) by Bozidar Rasic and Leontije Bjelski, published in 1935 in Zagreb, followed by Kresimir Kovacic’s and Andrija Maurovic’s Ljubavnica s Marsa (The Mistress From Mars) and Podzemna carica (The Underground Empress).

2. Croatian SF Comes Of Age

The 1950s were characterised by the increase in translated novels (by American, Russian and European authors) published by various Yugoslav publishers. The Croatian authors of that period were mostly writing children’s SF novels, the tradition continuing to the present day.

In 1959 the first novel by Mladen Bjazic and Zvonimir Furtinger, Osvajac 2 se ne javlja (The Conqueror 2 Does Not Reply), was published. In the following years, these two writers wrote several novels together which are considered classics of the Croatian SF. Svemirska nevjesta (The Space Bride), Varamunga – tajanstveni grad (Varamunga – The Mysterious City) and Zagonetni stroj profesora Kruzica (The Mysterious Machine Of Professor Kruzic) were published in 1960, Mrtvi se vracaju (The Dead Return) in 1965 and Nista bez Bozene (Nothing Without Bozena) in 1973. These novels include lots of elements of the detective and action genre, seasoned with humour. Being a very prolific author, Furtinger also wrote a considerable number of SF stories.

3. The SIRIUS Years

The crucial year in the history of the Croatian SF was 1976. In July of that year, the first Croatian SF magazine SIRIUS was started. SIRIUS was published by Zagreb newspaper and magazine publisher Vjesnik, one of the largest publishing companies in socialist Yugoslavia. It was started by Borivoj Jurkovic (its first editor) and Damir Mikulicic. Despite severe economic difficulties in 1980’s Yugoslavia (resulting in inflation and chronic shortage of paper), SIRIUS maintained a regular monthly rhythm throughout most of the period of its publication, lasting until the end of 1989. It had the circulation reaching 30 000 in its heyday, and was elected twice (in 1980 and 1984) the best European SF magazine. After Jurkovic edited SIRIUS for more than 100 issues, he was succeeded by Milivoj Pasicek and finally by Hrvoje Prcic.

SIRIUS was modelled after American SF magazines and published stories of various lengths, mostly by English-speaking, but also Soviet and European (particularly French) authors. In more than thirteen years, SIRIUS introduced to the Croatian readers the stories by the best SF writers in the world, authors both classic as well as the recent ones. SIRIUS was also opened to various theoretical works, reviews, biographical texts, interviews and fandom news, and this had considerable influence on the development of SF in Croatia.

Most important of all, SIRIUS offered Croatian (and Yugoslav) writers an opportunity to publish. Having the full-colour cover and later even black-and-white story illustrations, SIRIUS also became a sort of an exhibition hall of the SF art.

Among the Croatian writers who became well-known on the pages of SIRIUS were (in alphabetic order): Neven Anticevic, Branko Belan, Radovan Devlic (otherwise a comics author), Darije Djokic, Zvonimir Furtinger, Vera Ivosic-Santo, Biljana Mateljan, Damir Mikulicic, Slobodan Petrovski, Branko Pihac, Vesna Popovic, Hrvoje Prcic, Zivko Prodanovic, Predrag Raos, Zdravko Valjak and many others.

In this period some very important SF novels appeared. Predrag Raos published his two-part epic Brodolom kod Thule (Shipwrecked At Thula) in 1978. Mnogo vike nizasto (Much Ado About Nothing) followed in 1985, and Nul effort came out in 1990. In the mid-1980s, Neven Orhel wrote two medical-SF novels Uzbuna na odjelu za rak (Alert At The Cancer Ward) and Ponocni susret (The Midnight Encounter), while Branko Belan (better known as a film director and lecturer) published the anti-utopistic Utov dnevnik (Ut’s Diary) in 1982. In the same year, Damir Mikulicic published a collection of his stories entitled O. Some main-stream writers also incorporated the SF and fantastic elements in their novels, the most notable being Pavao Pavlicic and Goran Tribuson.

So far the only two Croatian SF movies appeared also in this period. The first was Izbavitelj (The Rat Saviour) in 1977, directed by Krsto Papic and awarded at the Trieste SF Film Festival. The second was Dusan Vukotic’s SF comedy Posjetioci iz galaksije Arkana (Visitors From The Arkana Galaxy), made in 1980.

4. Future With FUTURA

The untimely death of SIRIUS in late 1989 is still mourned by many. Although there were rumours in the following year or two that SIRIUS will be revived, nothing ever came out of it. In the meantime, the clouds of war were gathering over Croatia…

The early 1990s, marked by the fall of socialism and the violent break-up of Yugoslavia, seemed hardly an appropriate time for the SIRIUS successor. So it came out of the blue when, in late autumn 1992, a small Zagreb publisher Bakal introduced FUTURA to the news-stands. Less than a year after the war in Croatia was stopped by an uneasy cease-fire, and with war at full swing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, here we were, bewildered, holding a new SF-magazine in our hands!

Basically, FUTURA was not very different from SIRIUS. It was a monthly and it opened its pages to the Croatian artists and writers almost immediately. However, the times had changed. FUTURA’s circulation was much lower than that of SIRIUS. Denied the support of the major state-owned publisher and faced with a general drop in income and living standard in Croatia, FUTURA had financial problems. It changed several editors (they were: Vlatko Juric-Kokic, Krsto A. Mazuranic, Mihaela Velina, Davorin Horak and Milena Benini) and was sold to another publisher several years ago. Eventually, it became quite irregular, sometimes not appearing at the news-stands for two or three months. But, it is still being published and is currently (May 2005) at issue number 124.

FUTURA had similar importance for the Croatian SF as did SIRIUS. It became the place where authors could publish. And publish they did and still do. However, in 1995 FUTURA stopped being the only place.

5. New Vibrations

In that year, a new and important project in the Croatian SF was started. The SF-club SFera from Zagreb issued the first of their story-collections, entitled Zagreb 2004 and edited by Darko Macan. Zagreb 2004 collected stories by young (the oldest being 32) writers, about Zagreb 10 years in the future. Although many had already published, mostly in fanzines and FUTURA, this collection proved that a new generation of SF authors had arrived. At the same time it seemed that the SIRIUS generation had mostly faded away, at least in their capacity as writers.

Not that nothing was heard of them. Predrag Raos was loud as a member of the opposition against President Tudjman’s authoritative rule. However, only two of the books he published in the 1990s were true SF: Mayerling and the children’s novel Od rata do zvijezda (From The War To The Stars). He is also a well-known translator. Zivko Prodanovic published the somewhat out-of-date Tamara and Smrt medju rimskim rusevinama (The Death Among The Ruins Of Rome), while Zdravko Valjak collected his old SIRIUS stories in Plasticna dusa (The Plastic Soul). Damir Mikulicic became an important SF and popular science (Einstein, Hawking, etc.) publisher. Vesna Gorse, also one of the SIRIUS writers, but today better known as a musician, collected some of her stories in Dar (The Gift).

In the meantime, SFera continued producing its collections every year. After Zagreb 2004, Dnevnici entropije (The Entropy Diaries) followed in 1996. Then, there were Kvantni portali imaginacije (Quantum Portals Of Imagination), Zagreb 2014, Krhotine svjetova (Fragments Of The Worlds), Dvije tisuce sarenih aliena (Two Thousand Gaudy Aliens), Jutra boje potopa (Deluge-Coloured Mornings), Alternauti (Alteranuts), Djeca olujnih vjekova (Children Of The Stormy Eras), Zagreb 2094 and, finally, this year’s Kap crne svjetlosti (A Drop Of Black Light). The editor of most of these collections was Darko Macan (alone or together with Tatjana Jambrisak and, recently, Darko Vrban). Quantum Portals Of Imagination was edited by Davorin Horak, while Tatjana Jambrisak and Darko Vrban edited A Drop Of Black Light.

Because of the careful selection and editing, these collections became the cutting edge of the modern Croatian SF. The stories published in them are on an average much better than the stories in FUTURA, firmly establishing the new authors. Even more important, the story-collection bug spread from Zagreb to Istra, so in the last four years four short story-collections were published in the small town of Pazin, these being Tvar koja nedostaje (The Missing Matter), Svijet tamo iza (The World Beyond), Bolja polovica (The Better Half) and Ispod i iznad (Below And Above).

Beside FUTURA and the annual collections, there are several mainstream magazines where an occasional SF story can be found, particularly the defunct Plima that regularly published plays with elements of the fantastic. Since late 1998, short stories have been published in the Sunday-supplement of the Jutarnji list newspapers, and we must not forget the various fanzines.

Taking the full risk and responsibility for omissions, let me now introduce some of the most prominent of the new writers established in Croatia in the past decade!

6. The Hall Of Fame

Ladies first! Milena Benini is best known for her fantasy novel Kaos (Chaos), her translations, and also as the current editor of FUTURA. Jasmina Blazic had several good stories and novelettes set in the historic Zagreb. Viktoria Faust (a pen-name) is called “the first lady of Croatian horror”. Beside numerous horror and SF stories, she wrote a vampire novel U andjeoskom liku zvijeri (In The Angelic Image Of The Beast). Marina Jadrejcic wrote a series of stories about the Istrians colonising deep space. Tatjana Jambrisak caused considerable interest with her stories about the psychic fortune-teller and detective Una Razum, and is also known for her 3D computer-art.

Danilo Brozovic shows strong preferences for cyberpunk, sometimes adding unusual ingredients such as ancient Greek mythology. Dean Fabic and Goran Konvicni were both known in the mid-1990s for stories showing influences of cyberpunk, Dick and Delaney. Zoran Krusvar is successfully writing humoristic short stories. Igor Lepcin’s work ranges from absurd burlesques to melancholic end-of-the-world dramas, and includes the children’s novel Prsti puni mora (Fingers Full Of Sea).

Darko Macan is known internationally as the comics writer working for major American publishers. But, on the Croatian scene he was the initiator and editor of SFera’s collections. He also wrote numerous SF stories, the novel Koza boje masline (The Olive-Coloured Skin) and the children’s novel Pavo protiv Pave (Paul vs. Paul).

Denis Pericic writes stories often relating to actual historical persons, events and settings. Zoran Pongrasic was also noticed in SFera collections. Dalibor Perkovic favours military SF. Vanja Spirin published several novels and story-collections, mostly fantasy spoofs. Zoran Vlahovic usually writes hard-SF stories, but also melancholic fantasy pieces. Finally, Aleksandar Ziljak, the author of this text, writes mostly action SF and fantasy. Being the freelance artist, he also ventures into the field of SF and fantasy illustration.

In 2003, four of the aforementioned writers published their own story-collections in the edition SFera. The collections are: Duh novog svijeta (Spirit Of The New World) by Tatjana Jambrisak, Purgeri lete u nebo (Burgers Fly Up To The Sky) by Igor Lepcin, Teksas Kid (i jos neka moja braca) (Texas Kid (And Other Brothers Of Mine)) by Darko Macan and Slijepe ptice (Blind Birds) by Aleksandar Ziljak.

This project of author collections was continued in 2004, with another edition of four books. They are: Najbolji na svijetu (The Best In The World) by Zoran Krusvar, Preko rijeke (Across The River) by Dalibor Perkovic, Cuvari srece (Keepers Of Happiness) by Zoran Pongrasic and Frulas (The Piper) by Zoran Vlahovic.

Finally, in this year, the third series of four books was published. These are Jednorog i djevica (The Unicorn And The Virgin) by Milena Benini, Jeftine rijeci (Cheap Words) by Goran Konvicni, Zvjezdani riffovi (Star Riffs) by Kresimir Misak and Zeleno sunce, crna spora (Green Sun, Black Spore) by Danilo Brozovic.

This list is all but complete. Compared to writers in the West, the individual output of all the listed authors is quite small. The reason is simple: SF writing in Croatia is not commercial. Therefore, it is merely a hobby for most of the authors. This also results in writers who show up with only a story or two and then disappear, often for good. Another consequence is the almost total lack of true SF novels. It is to be hoped that this would change. There are signs that publishers, previously reluctant to publish Croatian SF, are now showing some interest.

In 2002, Dejan Sorak published his black-humor novel Ja i Kalisto (Me And Calisto). In late 2003, the best Croatian SF novel in more than a decade was published. It was Sablja (The Sabre) by Ivan Gavran. A fast-paced and superbly written space opera about a group of Earth jet-pilots fighting in a galactic air combat tournament, Sablja deservedly won the SFera Award as the best SF novel in 2003. In 2004, a three-part epic Araton by Oliver Franic was published, while Dalibor Perkovic published his novel Sva krv covjecanstva (All The Blood Of Mankind) in this year.

7. Translations, Art, Comics, etc.

Some ten to fifteen SF, fantasy and horror novels, almost exclusively by American and British authors, are being translated annually into the Croatian language. The most important publishers now are Algoritam, Izvori and Zagrebacka naklada, all from Zagreb, followed by several more. Despite the 1991 – 1995 war, books published in Serbia were also available through various channels. Naturally, the choice of imported books (exclusively in English) is much larger.

The SF art, being tied to book and magazine covers, is not particularly developed in Croatia. Among the authors who were producing in some quantity are Igor Kordej, Esad T. Ribic and the author of this text. Karlo Galeta and Robert Drozd monopolised the FUTURA covers for several years with their 3D computer-art. A much better computer artist is Goran Sarlija, while Miljenko Zvonar produced a large body of SF art, illustrating the already-mentioned Jutarnji list’s Sunday-supplement stories. Zeljko Pahek also returned to the Croatian art scene, working mostly in Serbia before the war. He is famous for his SF-art, but also for his hilarious comics, spoofing almost every SF-cliché known to mankind.

The situation with comics in Croatia is poor indeed. So far, no comic magazine succeeded in running regularly and for any period of time, so the scene is mostly oriented towards the fanzines and school-magazines. However, the Croatian comic artists have a relatively long tradition of working for foreign publishers. This continued in the 1990s with the breakthrough on the American market, mostly in the franchise-universe and super-hero series by Dark Horse, Marvel and DC. The best-known writer in this field is Darko Macan, while the art was produced by late Edvin Biukovic, Igor Kordej (who moved to Canada), Esad T. Ribic, Goran Sudzuka and Danijel Zezelj.

The SF theory work is sporadic at best, but we must mention Darko Suvin here. One of the world foremost SF theoreticians, he was born in 1930 in Zagreb, but continued his career in the USA and Canada from the late 1960s.

8. F Is For Fandom

The organised fandom in Croatia dates back to 1976 (the year of SIRIUS!), when the SF-club SFera was founded in Zagreb. It was followed by more clubs, including the StarWars and the Star Trek club. As is usual, these clubs have been involved in convention-organising and fanzines-publishing, the oldest fanzine being SFera’s own Parsek, started in 1977.

Perhaps the true phenomenon of the Croatian fandom are conventions. At the moment Croatia has five annual conventions: in Zagreb, Kutina, Osijek, Rijeka and Pazin. To these, one must add gaming conventions and LARP events, as well as the Jules Verne’s Days held in Pazin.

SferaKon in Zagreb is the oldest convention in Croatia, running every year from 1977. It is organised by the SFera club and is now held on the last weekend of April at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, Unska 3. SferaKon attracts almost 1000 visitors (other conventions are smaller), offering the usual convention programme, lectures, movies, costumes and gaming, as well as being an opportunity for fans and professionals to meet and exchange ideas. In the recent years SferaKon invited quite an enviable number of foreign GOHs, including Martin Easterbrook, Gay Gavriel Kay, Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, Walter Jon Williams, Lois McMaster Bujold, George R. R. Martin, Ken MacLeod and this year’s Michael Iwoleit, writer, editor and translator from Germany. SFera Awards are also given for the best SF stories of various lengths, plays, novels, art and life-achievements. These are the traditional annual awards, first given in 1981.

Istracon in Pazin is now firmly established as the second-largest Croatian SF convention. Held in March, it is now running for five consecutive years, and is attracting some 500 visitors looking for a lot of fun and good times in the beautiful surroundings of central Istra.

Science Fiction is now becoming more and more accepted as part of Croatian popular culture. The history of SF in Croatia includes two long-running magazines, important annual story collections, author collections and several good novels, all appearing under difficult economic and political conditions. Several authors are now well-known and established on the Croatian SF scene, and the next logical step – already being taken – is their breakthrough into the international market.

There is now a rising need for thorough evaluation of the development of SF in Croatia. There’s more and more talk about bibliography of Croatian SF a historical review of Croatian SF stories was edited by Zarko Milenic, and an anthology of the best Croatian SF stories is well in the process of editing. This anthology, probably one of the most important projects in the Croatian SF today, is scheduled for Spring 2006. In the meantime, we hope this text, with all its shortcomings, will provide the basic insight into the past, present and possible futures of the Science Fiction in Croatia.

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