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An interview on the European SF issues with the Bulgarian SF writer and astronomer Valentin Ivanov – Cristian Tamaș

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Cristian Tamaș : What’s your opinion on the new European Science Fiction Society’s Board ? Is it a feminine or feminist ESFS Board with a male minority ? Putting ladies in charge equates automatically with “problem is solved” ? Bringing amateurs means success would be achieved ?

Valentin Ivanov : I welcome diversity, but I prefer to avoid judging the board on the gender of the members. We may as well judge them on based on the color of their hair or the size of shoes they are wearing. I would rather see the policies and the actions of the board. Now, the gender inequality is another issue, and having many women on the board is certainly a step forward. It is problem spread to many fields, and in fact, I would say the speculative fiction is by far not the worst. I recently did a statistics on the gender biases in the speculative modern short story sub-field: for each three men there are two women published in the premiere SF magazines. This is better that hard sciences, for example, where the ratio is much worse but still far from a plain field. On the other hand, I have to give credit to the SF community – I think it is more open to the women writers and fans than many other communities. There are ugly exceptions, of course. In my view, the most efficient way to fight the gender inequality is to attract the young generation to the speculative fiction field, much like in hard sciences where my other background is.

Cristian Tamaș : There was and there is an horizon of expectations concerning the new ESFS Board. Cheryl Morgan was keen and swift to mentioned it, “there appears to have been something of a revolution… for as long as I can remember, the European Science Fiction Society has been run by the same small group of people. Now we have a new committee…That’s a much more diverse group than before, and one I expect to be a lot more open and proactive”. What is your opinion ?

Valentin Ivanov : As I said, I welcome diversity. I am particularly happy to see participation from the former Eastern Europe. We have been isolated for political reasons for two long, and in the recent twenty or so years the political isolation was replaced by an economical isolation. I find it very important that the new board intends to strengthen the web presence of the organization because this is an easy and affordable channel of communication that will bring the organization home, so to speak, even to fans and members that cannot afford to attend the cons. A forum would be a nice addition to the site.

Cristian Tamaș : EUROCON was founded in 1972 by European professional SF writers and became a fans’ organization. After 40 years, what do you think the results are ?

Valentin Ivanov : EUROCON has matured over these years it has become a respectable forum for writers and fans. But the times are changing fast. These days, to stay in place one has to walk fast, and to advance – one must run. I extent my good wishes to the the new board and wish them luck in furthering the goals of the organization.

Cristian Tamaș : Do you consider that a strategy concerning ESFS will appear ? Or everything is just perfect as it is, once a year some SF tourism and some Eurovision type awards ? Do you think we’ll see an assumed ESFS Board’s agenda, with clear objectives, with terms and priorities ?

Valentin Ivanov : I hope the Board will try to extend the EUROCON activities beyond the once-a-year-SF-tourism. The intra-European translation projects, either funded by EU projects or based on commercial principles by individual publishing houses are a good start. I also imagine the EUROCON can promote and support organizationally local small-scale cons.

Cristian Tamaș : What could be the responsibility of the ESFS Board ?

Valentin Ivanov : As an outsider to the organizational intricacies I find it hard to get into the specifics. It is clear to me, though, that promoting the speculative fiction is the first and foremost responsibility of the Board.

Cristian Tamaș : What do you think is the relevance of the annual Eurocon Awards at the European level ?

Valentin Ivanov : I think the annual EUROCON awards don’t carry the same weight as the Hugo and Nebula awards. It is very unfortunate, because they could be a great tool to promote and widen the Speculative Fiction genre.

Cristian Tamaș : Would a professional jury bring relevance to the annual Eurocon Awards, establishing rules and regulations, being a quality reference ?

Valentin Ivanov : The US speculative fiction scene gives as examples of a few successful awards – Hugo, Nebula, the Locus Award, etc. Some are given by the professionals, and others by the fans. I see great overlap between the winners and the nominated works, so I don’t expect that a professional award would bring up some unseen treasures. However, in terms of respectability, a professional European SF award is bound to hold heavier weight in the world market. I expect it will help to promote the work of European genre writers in the US market. So, I support an effort to establish such an award from purely practical reasons.

Cristian Tamaș : Is there such a thing as European SF&F ? If, yes, what is and what should be the input of the ESFS Board ?

Valentin Ivanov : To me, Europe is still too diverse to allow putting a label “European SF” on some works. I see instead some national specifics. But to me the SF is by really defined by other features than the national specifics, and I find them common across countries and continents: the changes that scientific ideas bring into society and the critical social experiment.

Cristian Tamaș : EUROCON is not a service mark as “Worldcon” and “World Science Fiction Convention” (“World Science Fiction Convention”, “Worldcon”, “World Science Fiction Society”, “WSFS”, “NASFiC”, “Hugo Award”, and the distinctive design of the Hugo Award Rocket are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society. These names are owned by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), an unincorporated literary society whose purpose is to promote interest in science fiction. The most important standing committee is the Mark Protection Committee (MPC), which is responsible for maintaining the society’s trademarks and domain names.“ – http://www.wsfs.org/). The result is that the EUROCON acronym became generic and it’s used by anyone who wants to use it, religious organizations, technical organizations, etc. What do you think about it ?

Valentin Ivanov : Well, the widespread usage of EUROCON is a reality, but perhaps the organization can adopt some minor modification line EUROCON SFF (Science Fiction and Fantasy) to facilitate easier web searches. It may take a while until the new acronym takes hold but unless we start now, it will never happen.

Cristian Tamaș : There are 24 official languages of the European Union, 25 with the Croatian starting with the 1st of July 2013 (“The European Commission employs English, French and German in general as procedural languages”) and 38 official languages in Europe. A real linguistic Babylon ! The European Union supports the inter-EU literary translations via specialized programmes. What about any ESFS translation projects to EU for the inter-European languages SF&F texts ? What about the non-EU languages as Russian, Ukrainian, etc. ? ESFS is a pan-European organization with an EU majority, isn’t it ?

Valentin Ivanov : I don’t think this is a problem, and it will become less and less of one soon. These days the language barriers are falling down quickly. The young generation of fans is typically well versed in English. Right now there are excellent tools for automated text translation, and in the next few years commercial analogs of the Star Trek style universal translator are likely to become available to every smartphone.

Cristian Tamaș : Mihaela Perkovic from Croatia mentioned in one commentary of hers : “There are European SFs, fandoms, publishers, etc. that do not really think that the European market and other European SFs and fandoms are worthing their interest, time and effort.” But isn’t it that the cultural attitude of any big European countries versus the other “smaller” European countries and cultures ? The only foreign model/point of reference being the US one ?

Valentin Ivanov : I think she is stating the obvious – these is no common European SF market right now or if there is one, it is highly fragmented by language and national borders. The smaller countries are naturally in disadvantageous position for at least two reasons: (1) the print runs are limited, and can hardly cover the translation costs, so the authors ad publishes are not likely to make proactive efforts to get their books on smaller markets; (2) the writers from the small countries can’t support themselves to be truly professional writers (although these days hardly anyone can), they must support themselves financially by other mans, which limits their output and affect the quality of that output. I think it is the role of the Board to facilitate communication between national communities (including publishers!) and to facilitate the efforts of national communities from smaller countries (including writers!) to promote their work. Organizing panels at the annual cons, short one-day topical local events seems the way to go. Many European countries have cultural centers abroad – seeking help (not necessarily financial, just a room and some promotion may be enough!) from them would help. I know of successful examples – i.e. the well-known Bulgarian fan Atanas Slavov organized an event celebrating the anniversary of the great Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, with support from the Polish Cultural Center in Sofia. Successful examples like this one should be popularized among the European community and the Board can play a great role in this process.

Cristian Tamaș : What about a possible individual ESFS membership open to anyone who adheres to the ESFS rules ?

Valentin Ivanov : Yes. Why not? I can imagine a special type if honorary membership, by invitation, that can be granted to established world-wide figures in the genre, i.e. from USA. Japan, etc.

Cristian Tamaș : Should ESFS be reformed ? How to avoid amateurship ?

Valentin Ivanov : Coming from a part of Europe that underwent major (and some time violent!) changes during the recent twenty years, I am somewhat way of changes but I also support them because we need them to keep up with the world. Amateurship can only be fought with diligence and care – by definition the fans are amateurs, and most of the writers too, by virtue of the smaller markets. The amateurhsip that we should fight is not the formal state – i.e. whether one is paid professional rates or any formal criterion – I think it is the degree of responsibility with which one threats of the genre, and I expect and hope the new Board will be responsible enough in this respect.

Cristian Tamaș : The ESFS site (www.esfs.info/) is completely outdated. Should ESFS try to improve it ?

Valentin Ivanov : Definitely, and the sooner – the better. Multi-language versions of the site, discussion forum, rich pan-European SF database – these are the changes I hope to see there.

Cristian Tamaș : Do you think that it will be possible to bring back the european SF&F professional writers and creators within ESFS ?

Valentin Ivanov : I would go further into this and try to bring in, may be with honorary status, writers from outside Europe, as means to promote the visibility of the organization.

Cristian Tamaș : A future European Speculative Fiction Association comprising European professional writers, editors, publishers, filmmakers, scriptwriters, artists and musicians, could be useful by promoting and supporting the European SF ?

Valentin Ivanov : Such a possible association should have the successful example of the US in this respect.

Cristian Tamaș : What should be the role of the European specialized publishers and editors within possible inter-european cooperation projects ?

Valentin Ivanov : I rather see the things the other way around – the organization should facilitate the participation of publishers in the life of the community, and the communication between the fandom and them. We have to remember that these are commission organizations, at the end of the year they look at the bottom line. If we help them to rise it, they will help us bringing more and better books, sponsoring events, organizing book tours for writers, etc.

Cristian Tamaș : Is the European Commission’s cultural unit, EACEA, interested to help and support an important part of the common European culture, the speculative fiction ? In fact, with the exception of the Christianity, what real common denominators are existing in Europe ?

Valentin Ivanov : We have common (cultural) history, we have common present-day, and hopefully, we will all have common future. The cultural exchange is accelerating, this is part of the modern globalization process. Shakespeare, Dante, Servantes and Tolstoy and part of the cultural noosphere of every country, and not just the European ones. I think it is enough of a common background to build on.

Cristian Tamaș : What do you think about a possible European Fan Fund allowing the participation of the European fans to the main European SF conventions and festivals ?

Valentin Ivanov : I welcome the idea, and hopefully, attracting published can help to rise funds. But I expect the Fan fund will only benefit a small number of EUROCON participants. I expect other means like efforts of organizers to find lower cost solutions for the accommodation would be much more beneficial to the fans.

Cristian Tamaș : The European scholars and researchers are very active and relevant. Would synergy projects with them be useful for the whole European SF domain ? For example, an academic program just prior to the Eurocons ?

Valentin Ivanov : Sure, our genre has gradually propagated into literary research circles, and a research conference co-organized with the EUROCON is certainly a good idea.

Cristian Tamaș : EUROPA SF and International Speculative Fiction had launched a digital European SF Anthology in English, collecting stories from eight European countries. Why isn’t ESFS launching its own brand of yearly European SF anthologies ?

Valentin Ivanov : I think the organization is not a publishing house, and it is not its role to do the work of the publishers. Instead, the ESFS should facilitate such efforts – by publishers or interested individuals alike, and most importantly – promote the books across the wider European community. I see the role of the organization primarily as a conduit of information and I expect updating the web site, and keeping it current is the most efficient way to do that.

Cristian Tamaș : EUROPA SF, the European SF Portal, had been awarded by ESFS with the occasion of the 2013 Eurocon in Kiev, The Best European Website Award. How could EUROPA SF help ESFS and the European SF&F fandom ?

Valentin Ivanov : EUROPA SF is already recognized and well known source of information for European SF affairs. It can be another conduit of information from the organization to the wider community. But I also see an opportunity for the opposite – the website can be an independent and active tribune of the fandom. This interview is a good example – I find commendable the initiative to gather opinions from representatives of the national European communities about the recent developments in the ESFS.

Cristian Tamaș : Kindly address some words to our European and worldwide readers. Thank you !

Valentin Ivanov : We may come from anywhere, we may have different skin (or hair, or nail, for that matter) color, we may be of different gender or political convictions, but we have one common denominator – the love of good science fiction!

© Cristian Tamaș & Valentin Ivanov. All rights reserved.

 

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Valentin D. Ivanov (born in the town of Burgas, Bulgaria in 1967) is a Bulgarian SF writer, essayist, reviewer and astronomer working in the European Southern Observatory, mainly at the Cerro Paranal site, Chile. Among his primary research areas are the dynamics of star clusters, formation of stars, brown dwarfs, and exoplanets around such objects. He had obtained his master degree in physics and astronomy at the University of Sofia in 1992. He earned a PhD degree at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A. in 2001. He became a fellow at the European Southern Observatory, Cerro Paranal, Chile and since 2003 he has been a staff astronomer at the European Southern Observatory, Paranal where he is instrument scientist for the wide-field near-infrared camera VIRCAM mounted at the VISTA_(telescope). In 2006, together with Kiril Dobrev, he has published a Science Fiction story collection in Bulgarian.
Valentin Ivanov and Ray Jayawardhana are two of the pioneers of the investigation of the planemos, a special cast of exoplanets. They discovered the first double planemo Oph 162225-240515. This discovery, came just before the debate about the 2006 planet definition, and posed the problem about the distinction between planets and low-mass stars (brown dwarfs).
Some of his English language SF stories, „Crossroads”, „How I saved the World”, „Job Interview” , “Unstable atmospheric circulation”, are online and also some of his reviews : http://sffportal.net/author/vivanov/ and essays : http://worldsf.wordpress.com/tag/valentin-d-ivanov/

http://www.sc.eso.org/~vivanov/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Valentin-Ivanov-astronomer/147547995289681

http://valio98.blog.bg/

Cristian Tamaș is a romanian essayist, translator and SF fan active within the speculative fiction domain since the 80s. He is a founding member of the Romanian Science Fiction&Fantasy Society (SRSFF = Societatea Română de Science Fiction&Fantasy, www.srsff.ro/) sine January 2009, he coordinates ProspectArt, the SRSFF’s SF club relaunched in April 2009 in Bucharest (Romania), and the yearly Ion Hobana Colloquium.

He is a member of the Ion Hobana and SRSFF’s Jury Awards and of the editorial teams of the EUROPA SF, the International Speculative Fiction site and SRSFF Magazine.

He is co-editor with Roberto Mendes of ”The Anthology of the European SF”, co-editor of „Bella Proxima”, a trilingual croatian SF anthology (english-croatian-romanian), together with Antuza Genescu and Aleksandar Žiljak (Eagle Publishing House, Bucharest, 2012).

He had interviewed the SF writers David Brin, Cat Rambo, Jason Sanford, Gérard Klein, Ugo Bellagamba (french SF author awarded with Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire & Prix Rosny ), the scholars Prof.Dr.George Slusser (University of California in Riverside), Prof. Rachel Haywood Ferreira (University of Iowa), Prof. M.Elizabeth Ginway (University of Florida), Prof. Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin College, USA; research focus : italian science fiction), Mariano Martín Rodríguez (SF scholar, Spain), the austrian writer Nina Horvath, the italian writer Debora Montanari, the croatian writer Mihaela Marija Perković, the hungarian writer Judit Lörinczy, The 2013 ESFS Board, Alexandre Babeanu (Prix Solaris awarded canadian SF author), J.S. Bangs (american writer), Heather Anastasiu (american fantasy writer); the romanian SF&F writers Cristian Mihail Teodorescu, Dănuț Ungureanu, Liviu Radu, Sebastian A.Corn, Silviu Genescu, George Lazăr, Dan Doboș, Antuza Genescu, Cosmin Perța, Feri Balin, Diana Alzner, Aurel Cărășel, the editor Mugur Cornilă, the translators Mihai Dan Pavelescu, Laura Bocancios, Adina Barvinschi, the film critic Andrei Crețulescu.

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