Science Fiction in Romania since the 1990 revolution
Romania has had a long history of science fiction
from the end of the 19th century.
Building on an earlier article on Romanian SF before
the 1990 revolution, this article, by Romanian writers and fans, summarises the highlights
since the 1990 revolution to the present (2011).
The fall of the Iron Wall (Curtain) across Europe in 1990, which included the Romania revolution, affected all of Romanian society including its SF community.
The main trends of the Romanian SF community in the last decade of the 20th and the first of the 21st centuries was that a number of the fans within the SF movement gradually gafiated (gafia: got-away-from-it-all), while the writers became editors in publishing houses, or worked in radio and TV stations and also on mainstream cultural periodicals where they started promoting SF, or turned professional and became members of the Romanian Writers’ Union. Meanwhile the fall of the Iron Wall also enabled Eastern and Western European writers and fans to travel.
Forging international links after 1990
And so, in 1993 a major, largely state-sponsored expedition of some 75 fans and writers made the long journey to Jersey (Channel Isles) for the 1993 Eurocon. This was the largest group of the Romanian community to travel to a foreign SF convention and is a Romanian record that remains unbroken to this day. This visit also served to promote the following year's Eurocon that was to be held in Timisoara, Romania.
Romania first Eurocon in Timisoara, was held 26th-29th of May, 1994. It was a significant event, attended by several hundreds of people. Guests of Honour (GoHs) included John Brunner (UK), Herbert Franke (Austria), Joe Haldeman (US), Moebius (France), Norman Spinrad (US), Peter Cuczka (Hungary). Special guests were: Jack Cohen (UK), Jonathan Cowie (UK), Gay Haldeman (US), Bridget Wilkinson (UK), Lee Wood (US) and Roberto Quaglia (It). The main theme of the convention was 'Building Europe'.
At one point during the convention literally tens of thousands of Timisoara's citizens gathered in front of Timisoara's Opera House for an extraordinary show combining electronic music with a laser and a firework display: it was the largest attendance for a single programme item in Eurocon's international history. As the main convention venue, the Opera House hosted science and SF lectures and panels as well as theatrical representations. There was also an art exhibition that was a delight. The Eurocon got huge press coverage and was publicised extensively across the country in papers, on radio and TV. Besides the foreign guests and fans, the Eurocon managed to gather a large number of Romanian writers, scientists, artists and fans for what was to be considered a unique event, not only for Timisoara's SF community, but for Romania's.
One consequence of interacting with the western SF community following the 1993 Jersey (UK) Eurocon was the formation of a fan fund: the Anglo-Romanian Science and Science Fiction Cultural Exchange. The Exchange ran for a decade (to 2003) and was a loose affiliation of two or three British SF societies and a couple of score of fans together with the support to varying degrees of several British authors. Its projects have included: a tri-lingual edition of The Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation in Romanian, English and German with a Swiss accent for the 1994 Eurocon (that issue won Science Fact & Science Fiction Concatenation a Eurocon Award); two ((1995 and 2000) sponsored visits of Romanian fans to major SF events in Great Britain, two visits (1996 and 1997) of British fans to Romania; and two International Weeks of Science and Science Fiction held in Timisoara (1999 and 2003) complete with internationally renowned GoHs, nationally known writers and fan GoHs.
Both International Weeks of Science and Science Fiction were organised in cooperation with H. G. Wells Society (Timisoara) as well as by those (in both the UK and Romania) involved in the aforementioned Anglo-Romanian Exchange. The first (1999) International Week coincided with a solar eclipse. Robert Sheckley (US) was the Guest of Honour, Tony Chester (England) was Fan Guest. The second, in May 2003, was even more international with fans from Hungary as well as Spain and, as previously, the Great Britain. Writer Istvan Nemere (Hungary) was meant to be the Eastern European Guest of Honour but, sadly, ill health prevented his attending (he was represented instead by the Fortean academic Mandic Gyorgy). Danut Ungureanu (Romania) was the host nation Guest of Honour. Ian Watson (Great Britain) was the western Guest of Honour who also adopted the role of H. G. Wells as the event's Ghost of Honour. Scot and Worldcon organiser Vince Docherty was the Fan GoH while writer Roberto Quaglia (Italy) reprised his 1999 role as Toastmaster. This 2003 event also attracted significant coverage in regional and national newspapers, radio and TV. Both International Weeks included a day and an open public event in the nearby town of Jimbolia and a reception by its mayor.
Romanian SF conventions post-1990
With regards to Romania's own SF conventions. The most established of these since 1990 is Atlantykron. Each year the Atlantykron Summer Academy takes place in a camp on a small island on the Danube, near the Roman ruins of Capidava. The first was organised in 1989 and SF was its focus. Many fans and writers come here every summer. Over the years guests have included: Roberto Quaglia (It), Robert Sheckley (US) and Alain le Bussy (Bg). The, 16th-19th August 2001 Eurocon was one such Atlantykron, and the only Romanian Eurocon to date since the aforementioned 1994 Timisoara Eurocon. The author GoHs were Norman Spinrad (US), Joe Haldeman (US) and Ion Hobana (Romania). Special Guests were the Italian writer Roberto Quaglia, David Anderson of the US Time Travel Research Center, Barry Shaverin (a film producer with the Discovery Channel, UK) and science policy analyst and book publisher).
Over the years, Atlantykron has offered programme items covering major areas of science, creative writing and communication, art, sports, culture, music as well as a range of other subject areas. According to the website www.atlantykron.org, the event is 'a living experiment of education in nature'.
Early in the 21st century Romanian fans and authors discovered the internet and initiated forums, newsletters, author and society websites (such as www.srsff.ro, www.cititorsf.ro), virtual societies (such as www.atelierkult.com), magazines (such as http://www.proscris.110mb.com) and a large number of blogs (such as CulturalLearnings, FanSFWordPress and www.scifiblog.ro).
Top Romanian SF works since 1990
Among the most representative Romanian SF authors of the 1990’s and the next years are: Danut Ungureanu, Silviu Genescu, Sebastian Corn, Aurel Carasel, Alexandru and Ovidiu Pecican, Michael Haulica, Liviu Radu and Dan Dobos.
Major writers like Adrian Rogoz, Gheorghe Sasarman, Vladimir Colin, Victor Kernbach, Cristian Tudor Popescu, as well as artists and fanzines have received Eurocon awards along the time. (The afore list is not alphabetical but in the year in which they received a major award.) Many of these writers had previously written in the 1980s as well as 1990 and subsequent years.
Joint authors Romulus Barbulescu and George Anania (Constelatia Dintre Ape [Constellations from the Waters], 1963; Doando, 1969) are among the pioneers of science fiction in Romania. Together they wrote ten novels about parallel universes and struggles between extraterrestrials in a time under communism when it was safer to write about alternative realities used as metaphors for the real world.
Mihail Gramescu is one of the few writers of the generation of the 1980s published abroad. A prolific writer, he has described his work as a combination of several styles: speculative (Aporisticon, 1981), heroic fantasy (Nike, 1985 and Cantecul Libelungilor [Song of the Libelungs], 1984), pseudorealism with roots in the fantastic (Moara de Apa [ The Watermill],1989) and hard science fiction (Lovitura de Gatopard [The Gatopard Blow], 1994).
Alexandru Ungureanu’s short stories combine action, nerve, exotism and humour. Marele Prag [The Great Threshold], 1984) is a collection of space opera, cyberpunk and hard science fiction texts written in an ironic and self-ironic manner.
Danut Ungureanu’s work (Marilyn Monroe pe o Curba Închisa [Marilyn Monroe on a Closed Curve], 1993; Asteptand in Ghermana [Waiting in Ghermana], 1994; Basme Geostationare [Geostationary Tales], 2008) is concerned with absolute power, dystopia, parallel universes, and the world of the future seen as a huge garbage bin.
In 2484 Quirinal Ave (1996), Sebastian Corn creates an alternative history. Cel mai Inalt Turn din Baabylon [The Highest Tower in Baabylon] (2002) is a parallel world in virtual reality and Imperiul Marelui Graal [The Empire of the Great Grail] (2004) is a heroic fantasy novel.
George Ceausu has written many short stories and essays and the novel Instelata Aventura [Adventure among the Stars] (1988). According to him, science fiction is a bridge between realism as an aesthetic and literary programme and the fantastic as the privileged field of imagination.
Aurel Carasel is a writer and translator. Among his works are Vanatoare de Noapte [Night Hunt] (1995), under the pseudonym Harry T. Francis); La Capatul Spatiului [Where Space Ends] (1997) and Mic Dictionar de Autori SF [Small Dictionary of Science Fiction Writers] (1996).
Liviu Radu is concerned with a wide variety of themes: alternative history (Constanta 1919, 2000), temporal distorsions, the intervention of divinity in men’s life (Spre Ierusalim! [To Jerusalem!], 2000), alternative realities (Optiunea [The Option], 2004), fantasy rewriting and reinterpreting history (Sub Semnul lui Unsprezece [Under the Sign of Eleven], 2006), Romanian mythology and urban fantasy (Waldemar trilogy, 2007).
The main theme of Marian Coman’s volume of short stories Nopti Albe, Zzile Negre [White Days, Black Nights] (2005) features death and its figurative embodiments. Testamentul de Ciocolata [The Chocolate Testament] (2007) is a short novel about physical violence, love, insanity and communication with parallel universes.
Then there is the 'Trilogia Abatiei' ['Abbey Trilogy '], by Dan Dobos which consists of Abatia [The Abbey] (2002), Blestemul Abatiei [The Curse of the Abbey] (200) and Abatia Infinita [Infinite Abbey] (2005). In it Dan Dobos proposes that “the theme of a God who has reached his own infinity in the sense that the humans, who are his creation, can do with their own means all that once was only He could. The Abbey is a meditation over the implications of cloning, of the relations between original and copy when it comes to human beings, of the simple but immoral way in which a young human conscience can be manipulated by using perverted religions.” (This quote is from www.dandobos.ro, with permission of Dan Dobos.)
Ion Hobana is an active promoter of science fiction and has published several books about the personalities of the genre (such as Jules Verne in Romania?, (1993) and Un Englez Nelinistit: H.G. Wells si Universul SF [A Restless Englishman: H. G. Wells and the SF Universe] (1996), as well as volumes of ufology (such as Enigme pe Cerul Istoriei [Enigmas on the Sky] (1993); Misterul Roswell dupa 50 de Ani [The Roswell Mystery after 50 Years] (19970; OZN, Observatori Credibili, Relatari Incredibile [UFO: Credible Witnesses, Incredible Stories] (2001).
Florin Manolescu is noted for writing the first Romanian doctoral dissertation on science fiction. His work Literatura SF[ Science Fiction Literature] (1980) is a major academic review of science fiction.
Mircea Oprita has written an impressive number of short stories some of which are collected in Figurine de Ceara [Wax Statues] (2004) and several novels. His non-fiction critical works include Anticipatia Romaneasca [Romanian Science Fiction] (2003) and Istoria Anticipatiei Romanesti [A History of Romanian Science Fiction] (2007).
Cornel Robu is another reviewer of SF. His non-fiction books include O Cheie Pentru Science-Fiction [A Key to Science Fiction] (2004) and Paradoxurile Timpului in Science-Fiction[Time Paradoxes in Science Fiction] (2006) and are fundamental books for understanding the genre.
In terms of the broader public's appreciation of SF, Alexandru Mironov has played a major role. His television work as a producer and presenter brought both western SF programmes to Romanians in the 1990s. Additionally he has made significant contributions within Romania's SF community, notably the assistance he was able to garner as an early 1990s government Minister of Youth and Sport for the Timisoara Eurocon in 1994. He also has been a major force in the afore mentioned Atlantykrons.
Science Fiction on Romanian television and in cinema
Before 1990, science fiction seemed to be banned on Romanian television. People could watch science fiction films very rarely, such one or two productions at conventions. Video tapes of western SF films (such as: Blade Runner, Enemy Mine, Dune, Tron, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and A Clockwork Orange) circulated among fans who showed them to friends in homes if they were lucky to have a video player. Conversely, western SF television programmes hardly ever reached Romania. However fans in western Romania had the chance to watch science fiction films and programmes at the Hungarian or the then Yugoslavian television broadcasts that spilled over Romania's borders.
Since 1990, Romanian television has seen the complete elimination of censorship (but quality and commonsense are now seem censored…) and an increase in the number of channels available (cable television offers over 100 channels). The general channels broadcast mainly 'B' films with a lot of violence, car chases and explosions, so the exposure to science fiction films of quality have suffered. However, notable productions, be they classic or more recent, can be seen on national television channels: TVR1, TVR2, TVR Cultural. Commercial televisions show poor 'sci-fi' or well-known series at the best. The film channels (HBO, Cinemax) show 1-5 year-old films of some quality and sometimes classic productions. AXN SciFi broadcast most SF series; both cult classics (such as Star Trek the original series) and more recent offerings (such as Stargate Atlantis). TCM and MGM show classic films, most of them very good, but they are old re-runs. So the potential to find the good stuff is there, but you must search thoroughly to find a good science fiction film or series!
The bad news is that there has been no new tradition of Romania producing its own SF films or TV series.
In recent years (2007 - 9) the Romanian SF movement seen some encouraging trends. The societies that have survived the 'great transfer' to the internet have started to cooperate more actively. Negotiations have started for the re-launching of the pre-1990 communist era RomCons (Romania's former national SF conventions (natcons)) and national SF awards. Several publishing houses (such as Nemira, Tritonic, Leda, Bastion, etc.), and also societies (such as H.G. Wells Timisoara) have launched new SF literature collections.
The Romanian Society of Science-Fiction and Fantasy ( www.srsff.ro) was founded in January 2009, at the initiative of a number of writers, translators and fans whose aim is to promote the national SF literature and art. SRSFF is against superficiality and non-value and, though currently with few members, wishes to become an important arbiter in the Romanian science fiction, above any partisan or group interests. The society acts exclusively on criteria of quality.
Into the future
The Romanian cultural landscape, like the European one, is characterised by the circumstances that artists have been labelled 'post-modernism' behind which hides a crisis in the hierarchical system of values. This cultural context also determines how science fiction – a phenomenon that has always had a special relation with what is sometimes called 'the scientific and technical revolution' – is perceived. It is common knowledge that science develops much faster than any individual creator’s capacity to come up with new themes and ideas that best define the science fiction of the present.
In Romania – a country that in 20 short years from the Communist era has had to catch up with western Europe – the general public (but also the writers and the critics to a large extent) can no longer make a clear distinction between what is science fiction and the results of the state-of-the-art technology that society has already assimilated through material applications, let alone cultural ones. Due to this perception gap, for many Romanian cultural consumers, science fiction is perceived largely as it was a century ago in Jules Verne’s time: SF works are considered to have a basic plot to which a more or less common, or simple, science-related theory or concept is added. At the same time (and this is a hopefully short-term negative feature in the evolution of science fiction in Romania), it should be mentioned that in the last three decades of the 20th century, the numerous literary and cultural experiments (in the avant-gardism, metatextualism, neosymbolism areas) also affected the perception of science fiction that the Romanian general public views only as a pretext for philosophical and literary approaches.
As a result – in our opinion – the greatest recent threat to Romanian science fiction is its loss of its cohesive cultural identity, be it the current activities of Romanian writers or those in fandom. There are fractured groups that either shift to science popularisation, even pseudoscience (as much interest is shown by some in occultism and alchemy) or typical mainstream literary approaches. Another negative trend is generated, paradoxically maybe, by the attitude of rejecting the benefits to be had from Romania's pre-1990 SF heritage; a large number of cultural consumers (readers, spectators etc.), as well as authors, reject novelty and confine themselves to 'canonical' science fiction clichés.
These particular trends are set against general context of the reduced number of cultural consumers in Romania: very many young people show no interest at all in any kind of cultural activity (reading, writing, criticism etc.), but turn to either popular culture and money-making or non-conventional experiences, both traditional (escape through religion or the military, for example) and modern, socialising through computer-mediated technology (such as blogs and forums on the internet) and/or virtual reality games.
However, confronting these trends may perhaps lead to benefits for Romanian (and possible European) science fiction in the future. Science fiction adapts easier to the new communication culture and the interactive literary formulas emerging today. A good sign for the Romanian fandom is the fact that – although IT and the way society has developed has contributed substantially to the dissolution of the science fiction societies that existed up to 1989 – it currently favours the foundation of new societies, some still transitory, but nonetheless obviously growing in number and stability. Romanian science fiction authors have started to make new ways of expressing themselves (not only forums and electronic zines, but also non-conventional creative platforms), as well as a new means of communicating and educating their own readers. The results of these new trends will no doubt be seen in the coming decade. We may not have that long to wait?
This article builds on an earlier article on Romanian SF before the 1990 revolution.
This article was a co-operative venture. Much is owed to Laurentiu Nistorescu (SF writer and journalist), Antuza Genescu and Dorin Davideanu (editor of the H. G. Wells Society zine Paradox). Additional information was provided by Silviu Genescu (SF author and journalist) and translation was undertaken by Antuza Genescu (who is a translator of SF novels). These good folk are not responsible for any error or inadvertent change in nuance that may have taken place during the final editorial stages in Britain. It should also be noted by readers of this article that given the editorial constraints of providing a brief overview of two decades worth of a nation's genre activity, that this is only a summary and can in no way be considered as a complete account of everything. Nor were we going to simply provide a list of names and titles that would mean simply nothing to our readers. So apologies if anyone feels that something important has been inadvertently omitted: take solace in that there are plenty of opportunities on the internet for you to provide longer and more detailed reviews and that this is but one offering.
Information for this article was taken from:-
- Mircea Oprita, Cronici de familie. SF-ul romanesc dupa anul 2000 and Casa Cartii de Stiinta, Cluj-Napoca, 2008.
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