Iceland

Tagged: International

Iceland's literary history is littered with the fantastical and weird; J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis were influenced in their writing by Icelandic sagas, which had been translated by William Morris. But ventures into the general field of sf were rather rare until recently. The short story "Jólaförin árið 2000" ["Christmas journey in the year 2000"] (Christmas 1900 Heimskringla), by western-Icelander Snær Snæland, pseudonym of Kristján Ásgeir Benediktsson (1861-1924), portrays Iceland and Canada in the year 2000, describing the status of Icelanders back home as well as in the West. International Transportation is achieved with air-locomotives and Canada is a democracy with an all-Icelandic president. Benediktsson also wrote what seems to be the first Icelandic horror story, "Holdsveikin" ["Leprosy"] (1897 Eimreiðin) as by Snæland. The first Icelandic presence in sf was probably in Jules Verne's Voyage au centre de la terre (1864; exp 1867; trans anon as Journey to the Centre of the Earth 1872) where the Hollow Earth is entered from Iceland's glacier Snæfellsjökull.

Ferðin til stjarnanna ["The Journey to the Stars"] (1959) by Ingi Vítalín is most likely the first Icelandic sf novel. It tells the story of Ingi Vítalín, an Icelandic teacher, who is walking alone in the countryside, reflecting on the stars and whether we will ever reach them, when he encounters a strange man. This man is garishly dressed, and according to a standard trope of Icelandic fiction should be one of the hidden folk, an elf; but he addresses Vítalín in English and announces himself as an Alien. He then takes Vítalín on his ship to his home planet, a veritable Utopia, to teach him about the fallacies of mankind and how to fix them. Soon after Ferðin til Stjarnanna was published it was revealed that Ingi Vítalín was a pseudonym for the celebrated author Kristmann Guðmundsson (1901-1983). Under his own name Guðmundsson wrote two more novels in the same series, Ævintýri í himingeimnum ["Adventures in Space"] (1959) and Stjörnuskipið ["The Starship"] (1975), all telling a similar tale of an Icelandic male protagonist who is whisked away on an interstellar journey.

Icelanders pride themselves on being a literary nation, but the literary landscape had been rather barren until recently when it came to genre, with mostly literary fiction and crime being published. This is however changing, with what appears to be an sf boom on the rise. Lovestar (2002) by Andri Snær Magnason is a Near-Future sf novel set in Iceland where an Icelandic company called Lovestar has found a way to link all humans wirelessly together, so that they are effectively always online, as well as featuring Genetic Engineering and other scientific future-exploits. Furðusögur ["Weird Stories"] (first issue 2010) was the very first Icelandic magazine that published exclusively sf and other genre work, taking its influences from Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Astounding and other genre magazines. It featured short stories by several authors, as well as artist showcases and a Comic. The same year also saw the publishing of Saga Eftirlifenda – Höður og Baldur ["The Survivor's Saga – Höður and Baldur"] (2010) by Emil Hjörvar Petersen (1984-    ), an urban fantasy which plays with Norse Mythology, where the gods (see Gods and Demons) that survived Ragnarök have to find their way in the modern world.

The following year featured an explosion in genre publishing. Meistari hinna blindu ["Master of the Blind"] (2011) by Elí Freysson (1982-    ) is set in a traditional Fantasy world threatened by great evil, where the protagonist wakes up with Amnesia and a mysterious mark. Zombie Iceland (2011) by Nanna Árnadóttir (1985-    ) is one of the rare Icelandic genre books available in English (possibly the only one), as it was written originally in English and marketed for tourists as a sort of travel-guide novel. There is no Icelandic version as yet. The story follows Barbara, a young Icelandic girl, who has to deal in gory B-movie fashion with an island-wide Zombie outbreak originating in one of the hydroelectric power-plants. Footnotes explain the various aspects of Icelandic culture, including cuisine, clothing, history, locations, etc. In 2011 the first genre-specific publishing house was founded, called Rúnatýr, which has to date published a short story collection, Myrkfælni ["Fear of the Dark"] (2011), and a novel, Þoka ["Fog"] (2012) as well as a translation of some of H P Lovecraft's work, Kall Cthulhu og fleiri hrollvekjandi sögur ["Call of Cthulhu and other horrifying stories"] (coll 2012), all by Þorsteinn Mar Gunnlaugsson (1978-    ). These works are mostly horror, but Rúnatýr focuses on publishing all kinds of genre and elevating its status in Iceland, with several projects under way.

Last but not least, the Space Sim MMORPG EVE Online (2003) is undoubtedly the largest and most notable sf work to come out of Iceland to date. The upcoming First Person Shooter Dust 514 is also set in the EVE universe. EVE's backstory is very rich and detailed, and the game aspires to become the ultimate sf simulator. Hjalti Daníelsson has written more than eighty short stories set in the EVE universe, published on the game's website. He also wrote a a Tie, Eve: The Burning Life (2010), a novel about revenge and redemption in the harsh universe of New Eden. [ADV]

see also: Poul Anderson; Björk; Melvin Burgess; E R Eddison.

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