Romania

Tagged: International

Romanian sf is almost a century and a half old. 1873 marked the appearance of the novelette "Finis Rumaniae" ["The End of Romania"] (1873 Viitorul) by the obscure writer Al. N Dariu; two years later came a future Utopia, Spiritele anului 3000 ["Spirits of the Year 3000"] (1875 Revista "Junimei") by Demetriu G Ionnescu (the form of his name used by the statesman Take Ionescu [1858-1922]). The earliest sf writer proper in Romania was Victor Anestin (1875-1918), whose first novel was În anul 4000 sau O călătorie la Venus ["In the Year 4000, or A Voyage to Venus"] (1899); 1914 marked the almost simultaneous appearance of two "classic" novels of Romanian sf: O tragedie cerească ["A Sky Tragedy"] (1914), again by Anestin, and Un român în Lună ["A Romanian on the Moon"] (1914) by Henric Stahl (1877-1942). All these belong to the tradition of the "astronomical novel", as it was known before World War One.

Between the wars the range of themes widened, the most notable novels being no longer "astronomical": examples are Baletul mecanic ["The Clockwork Ballet"] (1931) by Cezar Petrescu (1892-1961) and Oraşele înecate (1936; vt Oraşele scufundate, "The Drowned Cities") by Felix Aderca (1891-1962). There were also some valuable short stories, including "Groază" ["Horror"] (1936 Revista Fundaţiilor Regale), "Manechinul lui Igor" ["Igor's Mannequin"] (1938 Universul literar) and "Ochiul cu două pupile" ["The Two-Pupilled Eye"] (1939 Gândirea), all by Victor Papilian (1888-1956); a scientific fairy-tale, "Agerul Pământului" ["The Deft Giant of the Earth"] (1939) by I C Vissarion (1879-1951); and above all two novellas by Mircea Eliade: "Nopţi la Serampore" ["Nights at Serampore"] and "Secretul doctorului Honigberger" ["Doctor Honigberger's Secret"] (both in Secretul doctorului Honigberger, coll 1940).

As it was suddenly caught by the unexpected upheaval in December 1989, Romanian sf could at that time be seen in terms of three generations of writers. To the first of these (then called "the old generation") belonged Ovidiu Şurianu (1918-1977), Mihu Dragomir (1919-1964), Mircea Şerbănescu (1919-    ), Vladimir Colin (1921-1991), Adrian Rogoz (1921-1996), I M Ştefan (1922-1992), Victor Kernbach (1923-1995), Sergiu Fărcăşan (1924-    ), Camil Baciu (1926-2005), Georgina-Viorica Rogoz (1927-    ), Eduard Jurist (1928-    ), Horia Aramă (1930-2007), Dorel Dorian (1930-    ), Mihnea Moisescu (1930-    ), Laurenţiu Cerneţ (1931-2008), Ion Hobana (1931-2011) and many others including Romulus Bărbulescu (1925-2010) and George Anania (1941-    ), who collaborated on six sf novels and several short stories in 1959-1977. This generation was able to publish in the bimonthly Colecţia "Povestiri ştiinţifico-fantastice" ["The Collection of Scientific-Fantastic Stories"], the longest-lasting Romanian sf Magazine, published from Bucharest with 466 issues 1955-1974; its editor-in-chief was Adrian Rogoz. During its last years this review also published the early stories of a number of then young writers (known in 1989 as "the middle generation"): Miron Scorobete (1933-    ); Leonida Neamţu (1934-1991); Constantin Cubleşan (1939-    ); Voicu Bugariu (1939-    ); Tudor Negoiţă (1939-    ); Gheorghe Săsărman (1941-    ); Mircea Opriţă (1943-    ) and others.

Starting in 1982, the "new wave" of the 1980s emerged: a younger generation of authors who included Marcel Luca (1946-    ); Val Antim, pseudonym of Laurenţiu Turcu (1949-2002); Gheorghe Păun (1950-    ); Mihail Grămescu (1951-    ); Constantin Cozmiuc (1952-2007); Lucian Ionică (1952-    ); Radu Honga (1953-1997); Leonard Oprea (1953-    ); Sorin Ştefănescu (1953-    ); George Ceauşu (1954-    ); Duşan Baiszki (1955-    ); Ştefan Ghidoveanu (1955-    ); Ovidiu Petcu (1955-    ); Cristian Tudor Popescu (1956-    ); Dorin Davideanu (1956-    ); Alexandru Pecican (1956-    ); Ovidiu Bufnilă (1957-    ); Dan Merişca (1957-1991); Lucian Merişca (1958-    ); Alexandru Ungureanu (1957-2004); Dănuţ Ungureanu (1958-    ); Rodica Bretin (1958-    ); Bogdan Ficeac (1958-    ); Silviu Genescu (1958-    ); Mircea Liviu Goga (1958-    ); Cătălin Ionescu (1958-    ); Aurel Cărăşel (1959-    ); Ovidiu Pecican (1959-    ); Viorel Pîrligras (1959-    ); Marian Truţă (1960-    ); Laurenţiu Nistorescu (1965-    ); Cristian-Mihail Teodorescu (1966-    ) and others. Writers of that broken "new wave" could publish in Almanah Anticipaţia ["Anticipation Almanac"], with eight issues annually, each over 300 pages (editor-in-chief Ioan Eremia Albescu), and in some sporadically appearing magazines and Fanzines, the most regular being from Timişoara: Paradox (1972-current), whose founding editors were Marcel Luca and Doru Treta; and Helion (1980-current), editor-in-chief Cornel Secu.

Two cases stand aside, each of them singular in its own way, each impossible to include in one generation or the other: Mircea Eliade and Ovid S Crohmălniceanu (1921-2000). The latter was contemporary with the "old generation", and as a literary critic has accompanied the whole sf movement since the 1950s. Suddenly this distinguished professor of Romanian literature burst out as an sf writer in the 1980s – simultaneously with the young writers of the "new wave", yet quite distinct from them and from Romanian fandom – with two masterly volumes of short stories: Istorii insolite ["Uncanny Stories"] (coll 1980) and Alte istorii insolite ["Other Uncanny Stories"] (coll 1986).

By 2010 it could be said that Romanian sf consists of only two generations of authors divided by the December 1989 collapse of the communist regime – the "ante-Decembrists" and the "post-Decembrists". During this time, a new generation of authors appeared, such as Liviu Radu (1948-    ); Sergiu Someşan (1954-    ); Victor Martin (1954-    ); Michael Haulică (1955-    ); Ladislau Daradici (1957-    ); Sebastian A Corn, pseudonym of Florin Chirculescu (1960-    ); Don Simon, pseudonym of Petrică Sârbu (1960-    ); Costel Baboş (1962-    ); Dănuţ Ivănescu (1964-    ); Cristian Lăzărescu (1964-    ); Lucian-Vasile Szabo (1965-    ); Cotizo Draia (1968-    ); Roxana Brînceanu (1969-    ); Radu Pavel Gheo (1969-    ); Costi Gurgu (1969-    ); Bogdan Suceavă (1969-    ); Dan Doboş (1970-    ); Andrei Valachi (1970-    ); Aurelius Belei (1971-    ); Florin Pîtea (1971-    ); Doru Stoica (1971-    ); Bogdan-Tudor Bucheru (1972-    ); Cătălin Sandu (1972-    ); Ana-Maria Negrilă (1972-    ); Robert David (1973-    ); Ona Frantz (1973-    ); Lucian-Dragoş Bogdan (1975-    ); Jean-Lorin Sterian (1975-    ); Marian Coman (1977-    ) and others. The old publications came back to life: Almanah Anticipaţia (annual issues 1991-1999) and Colecţia "Povestiri ştiinţifico-fantastice", now surtitled Anticipaţia (#467-559, 1990-1995) were resumed under the editorship of Mihai-Dan Pavelescu, as was also Helion (1994-1995; 2006-2010) under the editorship of Cornel Secu.

New publications appeared, among them Jurnalul S.F. ["The SF Journal"] (#1-169, 1992-1996) edited by Adrian Bănuţă, which was said to be "the only SF weekly in the world"; then Ficţiuni (1998-2003), edited by Horia Nicola Ursu, fiction.ro and Lumi virtuale ["Virtual Worlds"] edited by Michael Haulică, Sci-Fi Magazin edited by George Lazăr, and others. There are also now on-line monthlies: Pro-Scris edited by Cătălin Ionescu and Györfi-Deák György, Nautilus edited by Michael Haulică, Helion Online edited by Cornel Secu, Lucian-Vasile Szabo and others; and radio programs, the longest-lasting (1990-2010) being Ştefan Ghidoveanu's "Exploratorii lumii de mâine" ["Explorers of Tomorrow's World"]. After December 1989, Romanian publishing houses – such as Nemira, whose editor is Valentin Nicolau, Teora, Fahrenheit – RAO, Leda – Corint, Diasfera, Tritonic (all these published from Bucharest), Pygmalion (Ploieşti), Multistar (Piatra Neamţ), Polirom (Iaşi), Dacia (Cluj-Napoca), Omnibooks and Millennium Press (Satu Mare, edited by Horia Nicola Ursu), Sedona and Bastion (Timişoara, edited by Cornel Secu) and others – tried to make up for the historical delay in translating the patrimony of world sf into Romanian, which had been virtually forbidden for the previous half-century.

Though, naturally, each of these writers has a distinctive voice, the generational differences are clearly felt. Ideologically shaped in the hard times of "proletcult" and "socialist realism", then of "socialist humanism", most of the "old generation" took an illusory refuge in the "humanistic credo" cynically imposed by an inhuman communist dictatorship. Most of the young writers of the "new wave", however, despite the even harder times of the 1980s, intuitively accepted the elementary truth that a humanistic sf is an oxymoron. Thus the older writers were generally more inclined to a hollow, programmatic optimism: sweetened visions and lyricized epic sf motifs, with antagonisms avoided and happy endings mandatory. The younger ones are more misanthropic and sarcastic: sentimental lyricism is mocked, and the full power of the epic is rediscovered; but also – mainly after 1989 – violence, Sex, punk, coprolalia, vulgarity, wishful dreaming and decompressing taboos – social or political, lexical or sexual. Nowadays, when "SF" tends more and more to be used almost as a mere seductive cover or cheating label for "fantasy" or "magic", "occult" or "mystery", "terror" or "horror" or suchlike in the bookshop shelves, most of the avowed sf writers in Romania are more addicted to Fantasy, Magic, supernatural, Horror, Cyberpunk, Slipstream and such subgenres than to pure sf. But could it there be a true science-fiction deprived of science? (And of fiction too, beyond question.) "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", as Arthur C Clarke decreed (> Clarke's Laws); but could it be inferred from this indisputable "Clarke's Third Law" that any magic is a technology sufficiently advanced? However, nihil novi sub sole. It was not a Romanian but Nasreddin Hodja (the fabled Mullah Nasrudin, variously spelt) who discovered chicken pilaff without chicken, and it was not Romanian sf that first discovered science fiction without science.

On the other hand, there is a national context to be considered as well as the international nature of sf itself, and this to a degree binds all the generations. Romanian sf writers – most of them, at least – are seductive storytellers, for palatable storytelling has always been praised in Romanian literature. Thus the "spirit of finesse" conflicts with the "spirit of geometry", and extrapolation tends to be of only a loose logical rigour (although not so with Eliade and Crohmălniceanu). Romanian sf has a native propensity for analogy rather than extrapolation, soft sf rather than hard, Psychology rather than ontology, overstatement than understatement. The thrill of science itself, the true Sense of Wonder, is unusual in Romanian sf, though the sense of humour is all too common, with Parody sometimes ebulliently outrunning its rather negligible objects. Before December 1989, in place of thorough extrapolation there was a rich harvest of allegories, parables and Dystopian visions, most of them antitotalitarian. However, the best parables are not mere political pamphlets or moral essays, but genuine stories – not emphatic but empathic, equivocal and allusive. The habit of double-thinking and half-speaking has deep roots in history, and was exacerbated in the last four decades of communist dictatorship by the Romanian (not only sf) writers' irrepressible necessity of avoiding ideological taboos and deceiving the obtuse but draconian vigilance of the censorship imposed by the communist party and the Securitate (Romanian secret police, a horrifying reification of the Thought Police imagined by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four [1949]). No matter how palatable (literarily) and heart-relieving (extraliterarily) such Aesopian stories could be at their time, they lost any purpose after December 1989: which made Cristian Tudor Popescu – one of the most striking "angry young men" of the Romanian "new wave" of the 1980s, today a fierce newspaperman and columnist – to declare in 1994 that "when he died, Ceauşescu took Romanian sf with him to the grave".

He was wrong, of course; Romanian sf is still alive and vivid, and was so in 1994, when Gheorghe Săsărman published Cupa de cucută ["The Hemlock Cup"] (1994) – an excellent allegorical and satirical novel in science-fictional mode about Ceauşescu's Romania. Another notable novel of that era is 1994 sau Schimbarea care nu schimbă nimic ["1994 or The Change that Changes Nothing"] (1993) by Gheorghe Păun, an ingenious sequel to Orwell's 1984.

But the sense of humour and the mocking exuberance once practised in parables and allegories have now mainly overflowed to "what if stories", to Alternate Histories and uchronias. As is natural, Romanian authors imagine firstly "Other Romanias", as do Voicu Bugariu in Zeul apatiei ["The God of Apathy"] (1998) as by Roberto R Grant and Animalul de beton ["The Concrete Animal"] (1999) as by Roberto R Grant; Liviu Radu in Constanţa 1919 (coll 2000); Michael Haulică in "Căinţa" ["Repentance"] (1995 Anticipaţia – CPSF); Costi Gurgu in "Osânda" ["Punishment"] (1996 Anticipaţia – CPSF); Andrei Valachi in "Ruleta moldovenească" ["The Moldavian Roulette"] (1998 Anticipaţia – CPSF); Ovidiu Vitan in "Nuclearth / Terratomica" (1998 Anticipaţia – CPSF); Florin Manolescu in "Califat" ["Caliphate"] and "Nobel contra Nobel" ["Nobel versus Nobel"] (both in Misterul camerei închise ["The Locked-Room Mystery"], coll 2002); Cătălin Ionescu in "Crimă perfectă de gradul patru" ["Perfect Crime of the Fourth Kind"] (2002 Pro-Scris online); Robert David in "O armă neobişnuită" ["An Uncommon Weapon"] and "Războiul pentru o cauză dreaptă" ["War for a Right Cause"] (both in Turnurile gemene ["The Twin Towers"], coll 2003); Marian Truţă in "Vremea nebuniei" ["The Age of Madness"] (2004 Lumi virtuale) as by Rudi Kvala; Lucian-Vasile Szabo in "Autobuzul negru zboară spre cer" ["The Black Bus Flies to Heaven"] (2006 Helion); Mircea Opriţă in "Alchimistul" ["The Alchemist"] (2007 Almanah Helion). Opriţă is a forerunner in the field, with "Ucronia de la Tapae" ["The Tapae Uchronia"] (in Adevărul despre himere ["The Truth about Chimaeras"], coll 1976), where he narratively exploits a counterfactual victory of the Dacians against Romans. The idea was reprised two decades later in a Shared World anthology: Motocentauri pe Acoperişul Lumii ["Motorcentaurs on Roof of the World"] (anth 1995), gathering Ionuţ Bănuţă, Sebastian A Corn, Michael Haulică, Cătălin Ionescu, Dănuţ Ivănescu, Don Simon, Doru Stoica and Caius Stancu. There are "Other Europes" as well, as imagined by Gheorghe Săsărman in "Varianta balcanică îmbunătăţită" ["The Improved Balkan Variant"] (written 1996, included in Vedenii ["Visions"], coll 2007); by Marian Truţă in "Vremea renunţării" ["Deadline for Renunciation"] (in Vremea renunţării, coll 2008); by Silviu Genescu in "Rock Me Adolf Adolf Adolf" [English title in the Romanian original] (in Rock Me Adolf Adolf Adolf, coll 2009); by Marcel Luca in "Atac cu Spitfire la Binderdaal" ["Spitfire Attack at Binderdaal"] (2009 Helion) and so on. There are "Other Russias", wittily animated by the same Marcel Luca in "Triptic rusesc" ["Russian Triptych"] (2009 Helion). There is also an "Other America", displayed at large by Sebastian A Corn in a novel, 2484 Quirinal Ave. [English title in the Romanian original] (1996), and even an "Other Antarctica", briefly outlined by the same author in his short story, "Go Digital, Captain Tocks, Go Digital!" [English title in the Romanian original], a contrapuntal afterword to Constanţa 1919 (coll 2000) by Liviu Radu, already cited. Science fiction is a global phenomenon, indeed! [CR]

see also: Doru Tatar.

further reading

  • Florin Manolescu. "Brief History of Romanian SF" (1988 Romanian Review #5) [mag/]
  • Cornel Robu. "Milestones in Postwar Romanian Science Fiction" (Summer 1990 Foundation #49) [mag/]
  • Elaine Kleiner. "Romanian 'Science Fantasy' in the Cold War Era" (March 1992 Science Fiction Studies) [mag/]
  • Cornel Robu, editor. TWELVE of the Best Romanian SF Stories (Timişoara: Sedona Publishing House, 1995) [anth: binding unknown/]
  • Romulus Bărbulescu and George Anania, editors. Romanian SF Anthology Nemira '94 (Bucharest: Nemira Publishing House, 1994) [anth: presented by N Lee {WOOD} and Norman Spinrad: binding unknown/]
  • Romulus Bărbulescu and George Anania, editors. Romanian SF Anthology Nemira '95 (Bucharest: Nemira Publishing House, 1995) [anth: presented by N Lee {WOOD} and Norman Spinrad: binding unknown/]
  • Alexandru Mironov and Sebastian A Corn, editors. Romanian SF Anthology Nemira '96 (Bucharest: Nemira Publishing House, 1996) [anth: English version supervised by N Lee {WOOD}: binding unknown/]

in Romanian

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