Entry updated 7 October 2022. Tagged: International.
Modernity, and with it science fiction, came very late to Sweden. The country consists of two thirds of a large isthmus at the northwest edge of Europe, in the north reaching well into the Polar circle. The Swedish population in 1500 is estimated at around 700,000; the capital, Stockholm, boasted some 6000 inhabitants. In 1700, the population had reached 1.5 million; in 1900 slightly over 5.1 million. Until the early twentieth century, Sweden was fundamentally an agrarian society. From 1611 until 1721, it was also continuously involved in wars on the northern European mainland and managed for a short period to incorporate huge lands around the Baltic, but due to its huge costs in both money and manpower this expansionism was impossible to maintain and all land gains were gradually lost, the last and most important being Finland, which was retaken by Russia in 1809. Due to Sweden's entirely inactive opposition to Napoleon, however, Norway (which had belonged to Denmark, an ally of Napoleon's) was forced into a union with Sweden at the Kiel peace conference, and so was subject to Swedish rule from 1814 until 1905. Until the early twentieth century, Sweden's overall standard of living was among the lowest in Europe. During the nineteenth century, crop failures led to widespread starvation, and from 1850 through 1910 some 1.3 million Swedes emigrated to the United States. Culturally as well as geographically, Sweden was during most of its history quite isolated. After king Gustavus Vasa in the 1540s broke the Catholic dominance and joined the Lutheran reform movement, influences from the European continent lessened considerably, while on the other hand church reformation and 1541 publication of the Bible in Swedish led to a fairly early and widespread literacy, and in 1842 obligatory schooling was introduced. At court, particularly during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, French was the preferred language; gradually, however, after the Napoleonic period, Germany came to replace France as the source for both cultural influences and ideas and imported experts to help industrialize the nation.
Swedish literary work during the pre-1800 period was very limited both in scope and in number. The first Swedish novel, Stratonice by Urban Hiärne (1641-1742), a partly autobiographical romance of seduction begun in 1665 and published in several parts, was finally completed in 1668. That year also saw the first important Swedish book of poetry, Musæ Suethizantes (1668) by Georg Stiernhielm (1598-1672). However, though influenced by primarily classical antiquity and French literature, no Swedish author during the pre-modern period wrote anything that might meaningfully be viewed as sf, though ideas that may be considered of later sf interest were occasionally used. Thus, in his Atlan eller Manhem ["Atlan, or the Home of Man"] (1677-1702 4vols), one of the weirdest works of pseudoscience written in Sweden, naturalist professor Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702) tried to prove that the Atlantis of Plato was actually Sweden, and amassed an immense fund of both knowledge and imagination to show that most of the myths and tales of both Mediterranean antiquity and of Northern Europe are in fact based in early Swedish history. Another example might be a story by author and polemicist Olof von Dahlin (1708-1763) who – inspired by the British The Tatler and The Spectator and their Dutch-French imitation, Le Misantrope – in 1732 founded a satirical weekly, Then Swänska Argus. Dahlin wrote much of the material, often satirizing the immorality of the Stockholm court and upper class. The magazine was primarily influential in establishing a simpler spelling of Swedish, and in that respect considered important; however, in at least one Satirical short story, "Saga om Erik hin Götske" ["The Story of Erik the Goth"], in Then Swänska Argus 1734 no 22, Dahlin lets a man shrink to microscopic dimensions (see Miniaturization) and experience the world from that perspective, which makes him reflect on the relative importance of human concerns. Other of Dahlin's morality stories were set in an afterlife or had other fantastic elements; however, their aim was always to either moralize or satirize on current affairs.
Though the educated Swedish upper class until the early nineteenth century received its outside impulses primarily from France, little of the Proto SF published there was translated. Voltaire's Micromegas (in Le Micromégas de Mr. de Voltaire ..., coll 1752; trans anon 1753) was indeed self-published by its Swedish translator in 1762, but not reprinted, and none of the early French Fantastic Voyages were issued in Sweden, until Jules Verne, Camille Flammarion and André Laurie became popular in the late 1800s. Apart from these authors, however, translations of work that can reasonably be called sf were few and scattered before 1900; there was a single novel by Kurd Laßwitz, a surprising translation of George T Chesney's The Battle of Dorking, an obligatory one of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. But more typically, when foreign authors popular in Sweden wrote an occasional speculative work, this was excluded from translation, as in the case of Hungarian author Mór Jókai, who had twenty-three books translated into Swedish, but not his futuristic and visionary A jövö század regénye ["The Novel of the Next Century"] (1872 3vols). Swedish publishers at the time preferred realistic and romantic fiction, and speculative works were ignored. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) had to wait until 1959 for a Swedish edition; the first Swedish translation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) appeared only in 1897; although H G Wells's The Stolen Bacillus (coll 1895) was translated in 1897, his The War of the Worlds (1898) appeared in translation only in 1906, and it took more than twenty years before The Time Machine (1895) was published in Sweden.
Given this, it is hardly surprising that the first, and for a long time only, Swedish sf novel was written by a journalist, relied heavily on an earlier German work, and was not reprinted for 96 years. Claës Lundin (1825-1908) was a prolific journalist, foreign correspondent, and writer of primarily travelogues and books on Swedish history and geography. Of his around thirty books, the only one generally remembered is Gamla Stockholm ["Old Stockholm"] (1882), a work on the history of Stockholm co-authored with August Strindberg (1849-1912). His brief excursion into sf, Oxygen och Aromasia: bilder från år 2378: efter en främmande idé ["Oxygen and Aromasia: Images from the Year 2378: After an Foreign Idea"] (coll 1878), was actually quite closely based on a foreign both idea and book – Laßwitz's Bilder aus der Zukunft: Zwei Erzählungen aus dem vierundzwanzigsten und neununddreißigsten Jahrhundert ["Images of the Future: Two Stories from the Twenty-fourth and the Thirty-Ninth Centuries"] (coll 1878). Laßwitz's book was in fact published at almost the same time as Lundin's, but the stories in it had appeared separately, in respectively 1871 and 1877, and that Claës Lundin was familiar with current German affairs is attested to by the fact that he wrote one book from Hamburg in 1871 and one detailing a trip through Germany in 1876-1877.
That kind of extraneous evidence, however, is pointless if the texts are compared. The heroine of Laßwitz's initial story, "Bis zum Nullpunkt des Seins" ["To the Zero Point of Existence"] (21-24 May 1871 Schlesische Zeitung), is named Aromasia; the hero is named Oxygen. The inventions described by Lundin – from Television, moving sidewalks, Airships (see Technology; Transportation), Spaceships and Time Travel to such original contributions as a "fragrance organ" – are all present and detailed in Laßwitz's story; as are the humour and the sadly insipid love story providing the plot for both his and Lundin's versions. So unfortunately, the first Swedish sf novel really wasn't a Swedish sf novel at all, but rather an uncredited and, by all means, quite free translation of a German sf novel. What may remain significant, however, is that one of Lundin's contributions to Oxygen och Aromasia was the romantic poet Apollonides, who vies with Scientist and industrialist Oxygen for the hand of Aromasia. In the end, Aromasia chooses Apollonides, but he dies when trying to escape from the technological society portrayed in the novel, which he views as too materialistic and "soulless". Which means that already the first marginally Swedish sf work of any note rejects the modern world it portrays. In this sense faithful to the example set by Claës Lundin, many later Swedish authors of sf have stressed the risks and negative aspects of technological and scientific innovations rather than the possibilities offered by them.
During the first decades of the twentieth century, sf finally began to be written by Swedish authors, though few and generally among those dismissed by the literary establishment. The first of them, and one of the more interesting, was Iwan T Aminoff, who wrote as Radscha, a prolific author of entertainment novels and historical adventures as well as a pioneer in both Swedish crime fiction and Dystopian fiction. His handful of sf novels generally depict Near-Future Wars either in Scandinavia or throughout Europe; most famous among them was Invasionen ["The Invasion"] (1910; vt Det eröfrade landet ["The Conquered Country"] 1914), about the Invasion of Sweden during a major war. He also wrote a novel of a Future War between Russia and Norway, Kriget Norge-Ryssland ["The Norse-Russian War"] (1906-1907 2vols) as well as further both factual and imaginary war stories.
Another, and more versatile, early sf writer was Otto Witt (1875-1923), engineer, inventor, publisher and copywriter. After studies in Germany (incidentally at the Technicum in Bingen, where Hugo Gernsback was also enrolled), Witt worked as a mining engineer abroad, returning to Sweden only around 1911 to become a full-time writer. In the dozen years before his death, he published more than forty books, out of which some fifteen can be categorized as sf, the others being crime novels, thrillers, war stories and juveniles. Apart from his novels, in 1916 he began publishing a magazine: Hugin. Tidskrift för naturvetande i roande form ["Hugin: A Magazine of Natural Science in Amusing Forms"]. Hugin was ostensibly published bi-weekly, but in fact was plagued by delays; from the first issue, in April 1916, and until the last, in January 1920, a period of some 200 weeks, only sixty-five individual issues were published, many of them however numbered as double or triple. In addition to his novels, some of which were serialized as chapbooks accompanying the magazine, Otto Witt wrote the entire content of Hugin, which generally contained a number of popular science essays, strongly nationalistic editorializing, speculations on ideas and inventions of his own, and occasional short stories.
Witt's first sf novel was De sista människorna ["The Last Humans"] (1911), set some 20,000 years in the future, a world to which a twentieth-century engineer is transported by Time Machine to find most of the Earth covered in ice and the few remaining humans living in peace and comfort, but without any passion for life. The engineer hero finds a way to move the Earth closer to the sun, the ice melts, Evolution again takes over and a new, more creative humanity is kindled. That the story's hero is an engineer is typical; Witt drew a sharp line between his imaginative and brilliant engineers and the dogmatic, stiff and traditionalist academic scientists he sometimes contrasted them to. In this, he can be said to foreshadow a view characteristic of much American Genre SF from the Gernsback years until at least the 1950s. In his later novels, Witt unfortunately also began to express strongly nationalistic and moralizing views, depicting his Scandinavian heroes as inherently superior. In his Hur månen erövrades ["How the Moon Was Conquered"] (1915), there is really no doubt that the only people capable of such a feat are Swedes. Witt's speculations were not seldom both imaginative and interesting, though he can hardly be accused of any undue self-criticism. But his narrow morality, bland writing style and nationalistic blindness make him at best a curiosity. Neither he nor Hugin inspired any followers.
During the 1920s and 1930s, occasional translated and original sf works continued to appear. Among the originals, the young engineer and author Elfred Berggren (1900-1932) published Robotarnas gud ["God of the Robots"] (1932), markedly inspired by Karel Čapek's R.U.R.: Rossum's Universal Robots (1920), but nevertheless an impressively imaginative and stylistically mature work; it was, sadly, also posthumously issued, since Berggren suffered from tuberculosis and died at twenty-nine. Zoologist, prolific author and explorer Axel Klinckowström (1867-1936) published the dystopian Skräck över norden ["Terror in the North"] (1935), where rapid Climate Change creates a new glacial period during which modern Scandinavian society is destroyed. Russian exile author Vladimir Semitjov (1882-1939) published two excellent juveniles, 43.000.000 mil genom världsrymden ["430,000,000 Kilometres Through Space"] (1936) and Mot slocknande solar ["Towards Fading Suns"] (1937), apart from Witt's the first two Swedish novels of space exploration, clearly influenced by the author's readings in European and American sf. Internationally successful Swedish thriller and adventure writer Gunnar Serner (1886-1947), who wrote as Frank Heller, incorporated speculative and imaginative elements in several of his elegant entertainments, most notably Herr Collin kontra Napoleon ["Mr Collin versus Napoleon"] (1934) and Stölden av Eiffeltornet ["The Theft of the Eiffel Tower"] (1931). That Heller read and appreciated sf is also obvious from the selections in his huge Anthology All världens sällsamma berättelser ["Strange Tales from All Over the World"] (anth 1947), which includes sf by several authors including Heller himself.
As the shadows of the coming World War Two gathered, the late 1930s gave rise to two diametrically opposed Swedish novels of the future. The first one was Leif Eriksson's De släckta metropolerna ["The Darkened Metropolises"] (1937). Eriksson was a pen name for Rütger Essén (1890-1972), a historian, journalist and writer, for a time also a career diplomat. However, as early as 1932 Essén began contributing to a then very small Swedish pro-Nazi magazine, and later became vice-chairman of one of the Swedish Nazi parties. In his novel, the world has barely survived a cataclysmic Disaster and is now engaged in a war of extermination between the blond, white Aryans and the dark-skinned "Chandalas". The Aryans finally win and set about creating a new and better world based on National Socialist principles and racial theories (see Hitler Wins). (In many ways, this novel anticipates, although unfortunately quite seriously, Norman Spinrad's satirical The Iron Dream .) The second notable pre-war Swedish sf novel was by poet and author Karin Boye. Kallocain (1940; trans Gustav Lannestock 1966) remains an important work in Swedish literature and is still viewed as one of very few major Swedish Dystopias. Inspired by Boye's experiences during the year she spent in Berlin (1932-1933), as well as by Yevgeny Zamiatin's We (1924) it tells of a future world divided into two warring nations, both of which are characterized by total subjugation of the individual to the state, and where each person is constantly surveyed. The novel is written as the diary of Leo Kall, a scientist who discovers a drug which makes persons disclose their innermost thoughts and feelings; it will finally make control of humanity total and permanent, but Kall to the end believes that his discovery will finally make it possible to create a perfect world. Karin Boye, a major Swedish author, killed herself on April 23, 1941, as the totalitarianism she had feared seemed triumphant.
Sweden managed to stay out of World War Two, largely through a policy of extreme appeasement towards Germany, which included continuous delivery of structural steel, ball bearings and other industrial products necessary to the German war effort, as well as allowing continuous transiting of German troops to and from Norway, the enactment of a number of racial laws, and the introduction of censorship of anti-Nazi views. Nonetheless, Sweden did suffer hardships, since access to foreign markets was severely limited and rationing had to be introduced. One effect of this was to bring modern, American sf to the country.
One of the Swedish press agencies and licensing companies was Bulls Presstjänst, founded in 1929. As part of its business, the company sold Swedish reprint rights to a large number of foreign comics as well as other editorial matter owned by foreign publishing companies. For Bulls, the war, with its blockades of both European and transatlantic transports, meant an increasingly limited and erratic access to source material, and one of the ways in which the company responded was by starting a weekly fiction pulp magazine aimed at Swedish teenage readers, using material from the Bulls stock of unsold but represented rights. This magazine, initially called Jules Verne-Magasinet ["The Jules Verne Magazine"] – though the title was gradually changed to emphasize what was initially a subtitle, Veckans äventyr ["The Week's Adventures"] – was launched in December 1940, and continued through 332 issues until it folded in February, 1947. During its first few years, the magazine contained only sf, all translated from the second-rung American magazines represented by Bulls, which included the Better Publications/Standard Magazines titles Captain Future, Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, plus Planet Stories from the Fiction House subsidiary Love Romances Publishing. From the later part of 1943, Jules Verne-Magasinet also began publishing occasionally, over time increasingly many, sports, crime, and adventure stories, and its emphasis on sf diminished. Nevertheless, sf remained an important part of the magazine until its demise, and indeed seems to have been its most popular feature; as the sf content shrank, so did circulation, which initially was enormous: in its first couple of years, the magazine claimed sales of around 80,000, relative to populations at the time the equivalent of some 2.5 million copies in the US. This, then, was the magazine in which Swedish readers were first introduced to, among many others, Alfred Bester, Robert Bloch, Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, Robert A Heinlein, Henry Kuttner, and many others. However, and unfortunately, it was also often through uncharacteristically weak stories, usually in severely cut and often very bad translations. Even so, thousands of Swedish teenage readers, according to their own statements including several later major authors (among these Lars Gustafsson, Jan Myrdal, Pär Rådström, and Sven Christer Swahn), became enthusiastic sf readers and in some cases later writers thanks to the magazine. At the same time, the magazine also gave rise to a controversy foreboding the negative view of sf that would later become dominant within the Swedish literary establishment. Swedish Parent-Teacher organizations held meetings protesting this new form of juvenile literature, and many teachers demanded a ban on the kind of unrealistic stories popularized by the magazine. The editorial in the 8 March 1941, issue of Tidning för Sveriges Läroverk ["The Swedish High School Magazine"] gives a good example:
How will it be possible to give the imagination of pupils a sound and natural direction, when their favourite reading is made up of the most grotesque examples of what an abnormal and sick imagination can concoct? [...] Clearly pathological depictions of mystic rays, peculiar planets and bizarre projectiles, and in this context a brilliant hero and a lovely lady in low cleavage appear as the main characters. To speak plainly, it is a sheer scandal that such uncontrolled garbage is allowed to claim the pocket money of uncritical children and to monopolize their interest, which would be worth turning to better and nobler tasks.
However, Jules Verne-Magasinet was not alone in introducing the Anglo-Saxon form of sf to Swedes during the war years. From 1943 through 1945, Swedish author Sture Lönnerstrand published close to eighty short stories, virtually all of them sf, in other Swedish weekly magazines, while Åke Lindman (1909-? ) published two excellent juvenile novels of space exploration, Den döende planeten ["The Dying Planet"] (1944) and Tarin, löftets planet ["Tarin, Planet of Promise"] (1946). Shortly after the war, two early novels warning of a future atomic World War Three were also published, the better of them being Thore Ericsson's I sista ögonblicket ["At the Last Moment"] (1946).
Sture Lönnerstrand, already mentioned, was a central figure in early Swedish sf. He had discovered the field in his teens and decided to become a writer. After publishing a first collection of poetry in 1939, he abandoned his studies at Lund university and moved to Stockholm to freelance. He published a second book of poetry, the idiosyncratic fantasy epic Där ["There"] (1941), but the dozens of sf stories he wrote for weekly magazines were his bread and butter while he worked on more serious undertakings. In 1949, after some correspondence, he met with one of his enthusiastic readers, librarian Roland Adlerberth (1923-1993), and they decided to form an sf club which they called Futura and which became the seed from which Swedish sf Fandom would grow. Lönnerstrand kept writing, publishing a collection of largely sf-inspired modernist poetry in 1951: Den oupphörliga (incestrala) blodsymfonien ["The Ceaseless (Incestuous) Symphony of Blood"] (coll 1951), serials and further stories in weekly magazines, then in 1954 his first novel, Rymdhunden ["The Space Hound"], which won a competition for best original Swedish juvenile sf novel. After a severe car accident, his output diminished drastically, and in his lifetime he published only a handful of further stories, a radio play and the dystopian, rhymed Virus (1960); instead, he concentrated on nonfiction. But during the 1950s, he remained central to Swedish sf.
In 1952, the first Swedish line of sf novels was launched by Eklunds, a minor publisher; it lasted for seven volumes, publishing work by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Heinlein, A E van Vogt and John Wyndham. In 1953, the first Swedish anthology of translated sf was published, Morgondagens äventyr ["Tomorrow's Adventures"], edited by noted literary academic E N Tigerstedt (1907-1979). And that year, Lönnerstrand met with the brothers Karl Gustav and Kurt Kindberg from his own hometown of Jönköping. The brothers were lifelong readers of sf, had heard of the Futura club, knew of Lönnerstrand, and wanted to start an sf magazine using the flatbed printing press they had inherited from their father. Named Häpna! ["Be Astounded!"], with Lönnerstrand as associate editor and Adlerberth as book reviewer, the magazine began monthly publication in March 1954, lasting until mid-Spring 1966. It translated stories mainly from the American magazines Astounding and, later, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and from the British New Worlds, but also published original work – Lönnerstrand wrote for it, but later it also published the first professional stories by such Swedish sf authors as Sam J Lundwall, Dénis Lindbohm and Bertil Mårtensson. Such authors, and others including Carl Johan Holzhausen (1900-1999), were also published by specialist sf houses, of which Delta (until it folded in 1991) was the largest, with a hardcover book series running to more than 300 volumes.
During the 1950s, post-war, American-dominated sf also came to dominate in Sweden. It was far from universally hailed. In the most important Swedish literary magazine, BLM (Bonnier's Literary Magazine), noted literary historian and professor Elisabeth Tykesson published what would for many years remain the defining academic view of sf, an essay called "Nästa: Venus" ["Next Stop Venus"] (March 1954 BLM), in which she defined sf as juvenile power fantasies, written in a puerile and naïve style reminiscent of the worst entertainment fiction of the mid-1800s. As the 1950s progressed, however, it became obvious that there were two different trends in original Swedish sf, one inspired by and imitating the Anglo-Saxon field, the other one more in line with traditional Swedish literary fiction, and primarily concerned with Swedish social and political issues; this latter kind had escaped the critical eye of Professor Tykesson. The first kind of Swedish sf was usually written by authors in contact with Swedish sf fandom and well read in English-language sf; the second kind was written by authors on the whole uninterested both in fandom, in technological speculation, and in sf in general. The German literary historian Ulrike Nolte calls this particular form "Swedish social fiction", in her thesis Schwedische 'Social Fiction'. Die Zukunftsphantasien moderner Klassiker der Literatur von Karin Boye bis Lars Gustafsson ["Swedish 'Social Fiction'. The Futurist Imaginings of Modern Literary Classics from Karin Boye to Lars Gustafsson"] (2002). It is worth noting that both the identification of this specifically Swedish form, and the first critical examination of it, was performed not by any Swede, but by a German doctoral student at a German university.
One of those already inspired by Anglo-Saxon sf in the 1950s was Pär Rådström (1925-1963). A major author, considered perhaps the most talented in Swedish 1950s literature, Rådström much like his French counterpart Boris Vian initially wrote occasional sf stories while publishing mainstream novels and simultaneously being a contributing editor of the Swedish edition of Galaxy magazine (published 1958-1960). Later, however, he wrote a two-hour sf radio play, Varför svarar du inte ["Why Don't You Answer?"], (broadcast 1962), and his last two novels, Sommargästerna ["The Summer Guests"] (1960) and Översten ["The Colonel"] (1961), both use sf tropes and speculations on time, identity and reality worthy of Philip K Dick. Again, as in the case of Vian, critics were slow to identify the speculative sf element in Rådström's work; since he was considered a "serious" literary author, his imaginative work was viewed purely as symbolic or surrealistic in intent. His early death, on his thirty-eighth birthday, cut short an extremely promising career.
Less noted by critics, other Swedes were also writing sf. Writing as Carl Henner, Henrik Nanne (1923-1995) wrote ten sf novels from 1954 until 1969, mostly juveniles and all published; one of these, the adult Alternativ Luna ["The Luna Alternative"] (1956), a convincing study in the psychological strains to which future spacemen might be subjected. Under her pen name Katarina Brendel, the German fine artist and author Hilde Rubinstein (1904-1997), who had fled Nazi persecution to Sweden in late 1935, published an excellent anti-atomic war novel, Atomskymning ["Atomic Dusk"] (1953). Modernist poet and author Ralf Parland (1914-1995), an avid sf reader, included numerous excellent sf stories in his six 1950s and 1960s story collections; his first novel, i (1973), is a depiction of a far future Scandinavia, symbolically strongly influenced by Wells's The Time Machine. Börje Crona (1932- ), a poet, musician, translator and humorist, published his first sf short story in 1958 and became Swedish sf's most prolific short story author, with five collections published so far as well as two genre novels; noted for his quirky and convoluted plots and his surprise story endings, he can be called a Swedish counterpart to Fredric Brown, also to an occasionally unfortunate extent sharing Brown's enthusiasm for plays on words.
More controversial was the idea that one of Sweden's foremost poets might be inspired by "pulp literature", a conflict that became open when Harry Martinson published Aniara (1956; trans Hugh MacDiarmid and Elspeth Harley 1956; new trans Stephen Klass and Leif Sjöberg, 1999), hailed as a major work in Swedish Poetry, internationally performed as an opera and a major reason for Martinson's later Nobel Prize in literature. Nevertheless, Martinson openly spoke of his interest in sf, and the story told in his epic poem is that of a Spaceship carrying emigrants from the Earth to Mars but colliding with a meteorite, losing its course and travelling on endlessly towards Lyra while its human passengers age and die.
Translated sf had been tried again by several publishers during the 1950s, but the Swedish market had proven too small and by 1960 only a very few authors were still translated; those retained were Ray Bradbury, Robert A Heinlein, and Arthur C Clarke. Nor were many Swedish originals published during the 1960s, which in Sweden as elsewhere gradually became a highly politicized decade, with authors concentrating on either modernist experimentation (but see Modernism in SF) or social criticism. Several of these works were in fact sf, but will be noted later. Of original work in the Anglo-Saxon tradition there were very few, perhaps most notably Detta är verkligheten ["This Is Reality"] (1968), a first novel by extremely active sf fan Bertil Mårtensson, inspired by his favourite authors Philip K Dick and Clifford D Simak; it launched a career which came to encompass a dozen sf titles as well as award-winning crime novels and fantasy. In 1969, another formerly leading sf fan, Sam J Lundwall published his first book, the first Swedish book-length nonfiction introduction to sf, Science fiction från begynnelsen till våra dagar (translated, rewritten and expanded by the author as Science Fiction: What It's All About, 1971). The book was surprisingly well received, new publishers tried their hand at sf, and by 1973 five new lines of translated and sometimes original sf were being published; this time, the boom in publishing lasted until the end of the 1980s, when sf in translation again all but disappeared from Swedish bookstores. Lundwall went on to edit a resurrected and now much more adult Jules Verne-Magasinet (published 1972-2011), embarked on a career as editor, translator and publisher, publishing at least fifteen sf novels. Other previously active sf fans who also began publishing professionally included Dénis Lindbohm, who wrote some twenty action-adventure sf novels; Peder Carlsson (1945-2011), whose two novels were philosophical and satirical plays on both sf and thriller tropes; Steve Sem-Sandberg (1958- ), who wrote three sf novels in the late 1970s but later re-emerged as a major Swedish realist literary author. In later years, other former fans like Maths Claesson, K G Johansson and Lennart Svensson have also begun writing sf professionally. John-Henri Holmberg is another prominent Swedish critic.
Simultaneously, many of those growing up reading the translated sf published during the 1940s and 1950s or during the 1970s and later, but who never became actively involved in Fandom (established in Sweden from the 1950s, with the first Scandinavian sf Convention being held in Lund, Sweden, in 1956), also made careers as writers. Among those inspired by the pulp Jules Verne-Magasinet of the 1940s, both Sven Christer Swahn and Lars Gustafsson (1936-2016) became major authors, the multi-talented Swahn a prolific poet, novelist, short story writer, dramatist and juvenile author; in all these forms, he wrote both contemporary realist work, fabulations and sf, and although his total sf is limited to eight novels, around a dozen short stories, one play and a number of poems, he must be considered as perhaps the foremost Swedish sf author so far. Lars Gustafsson, a philosopher as well as poet and novelist, wrote only a single work entirely in the Anglo-Saxon sf mould, the story collection Det sällsamma djuret från norr ["The Strange Animal from the North"] (coll 1989), but made use of social, political, historical and technical speculations in many other works, and remained interested and well versed in sf.
Later authors who grew up reading sf in translation include Georg Johansson (1946- ), author of a number of bestselling imaginative juvenile novels about space exploration; multi-artist Carl-Johan De Geer (1938- ) has written several novels using sf tropes or themes; astronomer Peter Nilsson was the first major Swedish sf novelist to become a bestseller, with his ambitious Arken ["The Ark"] (1982), following an Immortal human through history, then on a constantly accelerating Spaceship to the heat death of our universe (see Entropy) and beyond. Nilsson went on to write further sf, but died prematurely.
The most highly rated of the currently active sf writers in the traditional mode is Lars Jakobson, a multi-award winning author of novels and story collections, most of which combine traditional sf themes and tropes with an extremely accomplished experimental both form and style; in homage to his inspiration, Jakobson has in some cases demanded that his publishers use cover illustrations by iconic sf illustrators (see Illustration), in one case Kelly Freas. Among Jakobson's major accomplishments are two novels on the colonization of Mars, Kanalbyggarens barn ["The Canal-Builder's Children"] (1997) and I den Röda Damens slott ["In the Red Queen's Castle"] (2000). Finally, in 2010, another life-long Swedish sf reader, astronaut and physicist Christer Fuglesang (1957- ), published his first work of fiction, a children's book about travel in space which he has so far followed with two sequels.
In all, traditional sf written within the international mould has continuously existed in Sweden over the past eighty years, although never in any great quantity and seldom with any critical success or huge audience. Even so, the form continues to attract writers as well as readers, and during the last few years a slight increase in the number of works published as well as in critical interest may signal a new boom in the cyclic life of Swedish sf publishing.
There has, however, as already briefly noted, also existed a parallel, socially and politically inclined form of more critically accepted sf, often written by major Swedish authors. Within the country, work of this kind has virtually never been discussed as sf, instead normally being described as "political fiction", sometimes "warning fiction", not seldom as "reactionary" and at times as "Dystopian". Characteristic of work in this tradition is the portrayal of a uniform, bureaucratic, totalitarian future Sweden where individuals are oppressed by a supposedly benevolent but in fact suffocating and all-powerful state. Since Sweden during the last eighty years has been politically dominated by the Utopian vision of an all-encompassing, centrally planned welfare state, a vision the basic tenets of which are largely shared by all parties in parliament, it is perhaps not surprising that the existence of a vital and by now populous literary tradition opposing this vision is seldom if ever mentioned or discussed within the country: since few writers publish more than a single novel of this kind, each can fairly convincingly be discussed or dismissed as aberrant or atypical within the overall work of the particular author.
We have already mentioned Karin Boye's 1940 novel Kallocain, in which a brilliant Scientist in a future totalitarian society, in the belief that it will finally bring about the Utopia promised by government, hands over to the rulers a newly discovered Drug which will give them final, total control of their subjects' innermost thoughts and feelings. Vilhelm Moberg, the most read and one of the most highly regarded authors in Sweden during half of the twentieth century, contributed Det gamla riket ["The Old Realm"] (1953), a vitriolic Satire on Swedish bureaucracy, injustice, political dominance over the judicial system, and intolerance, set in an imaginary European country called Idyllia, ruled by The Governing Party and proud of its constitution, which guarantees every citizen wide-ranging rights, as long as exercising those rights is in no way detrimental to the state. Folke Fridell (1904-1985), an important proletarian writer, wrote Äldst i världen ["Oldest in the World"] (1959), where the worker-led state has no concern for the welfare of workers or indeed any of its citizens. Journalist, political activist and world-famous crime author Per Wahlöö wrote Mord på 31:a våningen (1964; trans Joan Tate as Murder on the 31st Floor 1966) and Stålsprånget (1968; trans Joan Tate as The Steel Spring 1970), both futuristic crime novels set in a Sweden where political and economic power are entirely intertwined and the only aim of those holding power is to at any cost retain it. Professor of literature and novelist Göran Hägg (1947-2015) wrote Det automatiska paradiset ["The Automated Paradise"] (1979), about a future bureaucratic state that stifles all ambition, opposition and originality to further its centrally planned conformity. Author and academic Sven Delblanc (1931-1992) wrote Moria land ["The Land of Moria"] (1987), set in a future Sweden ruled by an Eastern communist dictatorship, but where Swedish civil servants retain their jobs by acceding willingly and unquestioningly to their new masters. Medical doctor and highly praised author P C Jersild wrote two novels of this kind. The first was Grisjakten ["The Pig Hunt"] (1968), where a Swedish bureaucrat is given the unexpected task of exterminating all pigs in the country, and goes about this without even once questioning either the reasons for or the ethics of his work. Later Jersild, apart from several other sf novels [see his entry for discussion], also wrote Sena sagor ["Late Fairy Tales"] (coll 1998), where a number of individuals lose the capacity of seeing colours, perceiving society around them only in black and white, to disastrous and satirical effect. Lars Gustafsson, already mentioned, wrote Familjefesten ["The Family Party"] (1975), where the reader is gradually told the story of how a formerly highly placed civil servant gradually has discovered a threat to large parts of the population, only to be silenced and finally forced to relinquish his position when he tries to oppose instructions to desist in his efforts. Journalist and author Anderz Harning (1938-1992) wrote Mogadondalen ["The Valley of Tranquillizers"] (1982), describing a future Sweden where the bureaucratic rulers have decided to abolish old-age pensioners, who instead are simply and humanely liquidated on retirement, in order to save public funds and efforts. Author and academic Carl-Henning Wijkmark (1934-2020) wrote Den svarta väggen ["The Black Wall"] (2002), in which an all-encompassing Swedish state, in its inability to defend individual rights and liberal values, is gradually descending into chaos, oppression, and barbaric indifference.
This may seem like a long list. However, the only titles noted are those either written by centrally placed Swedish authors, or having on their own achieved classic status. For each title given, several further could be added. The Swedish Dystopian literary tradition is both constant and quite strong; new titles have been added to it virtually every year during the last fifty years or more. The fact that it is almost never discussed, either as sf – since Swedish sf enthusiasts and critics often dismiss it for its lack of innovations and scientific or technological speculations – or as a coherent literature of social criticism – since Swedish literary critics and political commentators often dismiss as irrelevant, overwrought or extreme work which is either non-realist or seems negative towards the Swedish experiment in social engineering as such – is one of the great riddles of the Swedish indifference toward speculative literature. [J-HH]
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