Fiction Reviews

Creatures of Glass and Light
New European Stories of the Fantastic

(2007) Klaus . Mogensen (ed), Science Fiction Cirklen, 20 / 199 Danish kr / US$45 (includes postage),
pbk, 224 pp, ISBN978-8-790-5-9221-9


Getting hold of continental European SF in English is difficult and such offerings are rare. Indeed, though we very occasionally get some translated novels, collections of continental European shorts in English are extremely rare. The reasons for this includes difficulty in translation and in British publishers' commissioning editors being aware of the good stuff in languages other than English. Then there is the further problem that some of the good stuff is really only good for readers from a particular country should it be steeped in that nation's specific cultural references. Furthermore, if the writing is complex translation is all the more difficult such are the idiomatic hurdles. Take all these elements together and it becomes easy to see why it is very difficult for non-Anglophone SF to come out in English, hence become exposed to the SF book reader markets of Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, India, the US etc. All of which made the decision of the 2007 Eurocon (Copenhagen, Denmark) and publishers SF Cirklen either very brave or one born of ignorance as to the scale of the problem. Either way it is hats off to Klaus Mogensen for taking on the challenge to publish the best SF stories continental Europe currently has to offer. If Klaus was not aware of the magnitude of his project to begin with (he was not) then he certainly was by its end. Klaus outlines some of the difficulties in a pragmatic introduction.

This book should have been a collection of the best Europe currently has to offer. Yet while it does contain some examples of excellence, unfortunately two or three of the author self-selected works included are not up to scratch. Indeed it is puzzling why lesser writers would want their work to sit next to -- hence lend themselves to comparison with -- more talented offerings? What it means is that with Creatures of Glass and Light we have a cross section of European SF and a cross section of talent from truly excellent professional work to truly average fan fiction (though nearly all the writers have had books published and of the others they have won SF awards in their own country). This cross-sectional snapshot is though itself rather worthy and so warrants the attention of more serious SF readers.

As for the stories, here is a summary run-down.

The Light Ones by Mari Saario (Finland). An appropriate opening story as it begins with a woman giving birth and then unfolds into a fantastical tale of trans-species reproduction.

Trash by Dirk van den Boom (Germany). Compassion exists on a world where the genetic unwanted are discarded.

Gream by Alain le Bussy (Belgium). Alain turns out two or three novels a year and is well known in Belgium and certain parts of Europe. His story is a haunting space opera that took me back to some of the Golden Age SF stories I read when younger.

The Bullet by Georges Borman (France). Post-apocalypse and an American scientist in a shelter receives designs for a machine apparently from future Russians in their own shelter. The problem is is that the designs are his. What is he to believe? This is a rather nicely told treatment of time travel.

Creative Years by Anthony Sheenard (aka Sandor Szelesi) (Hungary). This story imposes the protagonist's short-life span onto a longer timeframe due to near light speed relativity. Longevity is not all that it is cracked up to be.

The Djinn's Wife by Ian MacDonald (Great Britain). This story won Britain's SF award for best short story in 2007. It is set in the same future world as his Hugo-nominated, 2004 novel River of Gods. An excellent story but, what with MacDonald's rich use of English language and the plethora of Indian terms and cultural references, whether this can be easily enjoyed by many of this collection's anticipated readers (for whom English is a second language) is debatable. Despite it being a good story I might have plumbed for one of the award's easier-t-read runners up for inclusion in this specific collection. (This is something about which I feel just a little guilty as I oiled the commissioning wheels for this one.)

The Opener of Women by Jaap Boekestein (The Netherlands). What makes for a great lover? Well, you might not want to know.

Clues by Arvid Engholm (Sweden). On the Moon someone got news about a mining operation out but how? This is a delightful puzzle, again reminiscent of some Golden Age writing.

The Dying Man by Frank Roger (Belgium/Flanders). Immortality comes with a few chores.

Evil Hour by V. Anchel and J. Revuelta (Spain). A war tale.

Shape Shifted by Tony Thorne (UK/Austria). A fantasy horror story.

The Aquanauts by Charlotte Weitze (Denmark). Travelling into a sub-ice-Antarctic lake has its stresses.

The Glass Plague by Costi Gurgu (Romania). A zone appears within which living things have the tendency to turn to glass. But the zone appears to be expanding and there are those willing to explore it...

Appendix to an Unknown Work by Louis Filipe Silva (Portugal). In the future fragmented records are discovered that suggests a past covert and coordinated attempt to takeover society might have taken place, but then again the 'records' could just be a fictional story? Actually I found this to be a very engaging tale once I had struggled through the translation.

So there you have it. As said, this collection is a rarity of its kind. It is also a testimony as to why these things are not done more often, and yet within it are some stories that are a testimony as to why this sort of venture should be done more frequently. SF book collectors and serious readers may want to seek this one out. The English in places is a challenge but one that will give some rewards.

Jonathan Cowie

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