“BE ASTOUNDED!” – The Magazine That Created Swedish Science Fiction – Ahrvid Engholm (Sweden)


    An interesting event on the recent Swecon (Confuse 2015, 7-9 Aug, Linköping, was the release of John-Henri Holmberg’s anthology and history of one of the most important Swedish science fiction magazines.

    Hapna Book Cover 1945

    Häpna!” (1954-1966) helped the Swedish market discover science fiction, being e.g. the first magazine using the words “science fiction” on its cover. At the same time it virtually created Swedish SF fandom, by running a fandom column from its very first issue encouraging readers to start clubs, soon leading to the first convention in the country (in 1956).

    Hapna Issues

    The title “Häpna!” was the brainchild of the brothers K.G. and Kurt Kindberg from Linköping. The Kindbergs was rather well-off and they inherited a printshop business from their father. Since both were since long smitten by science fiction, what was more natural than to start an sf magazine!

    We had earlier seen the magazine “Jules Verne Magasinet” (1940-47), but it was more of a pulp magazine and while dominated by science fiction its profile was a bit fuzzy as it also had comics, adventure articles, and as time progressed crime and wild west stories (while slowly changing logotype to Veckans Äventyr, “The Week’s Adventure”).

    Häpna!” was all science fiction, and a magazine assuming the holy mission of preaching the Gospel of science fiction.

    The title “Häpna!” was suggested by the sf pioneer Sture Lönnerstrand during  a meeting in a Stockholm hotel and can be translated as “Be Astounded!” (the exclamation mark is important). Hearing this K.G. Kindberg is claimed to have uttered the now famous: “Gosh, that deserves buying you drink!”, or words to that effect.


    I haven’t had time to read the book (did a good skim during the con, though) which for the main part is an anthology of “Häpna!” stories and some column (non-fic) material, and ends with long articles by the editor John-Henri Holmberg about the history of “Häpna!”, the history of the sf genre in Sweden  and the early development of its fandom. But I took extensive notes from the book’s presentation in the convention programme, by John-Henri Holmberg and the publisher Sten Andersson of Heidi Förlag (; Sten is BTW himself a long-time sf author).

    The book ends with an bibliography of “Häpna!” There are earlier such listings, but here original titles and publications of the stories are addded, a not insignificant research feat.

    Naturally, most stories came from the US – sometimes going back to 1930’s pulps – and British magazines, but quite a number of Swedish authors also made their debut in “Häpna!”.

    It was writers like Bertil Mårtensson, Dénis Lindbohm and Sam J. Lundwall who for many years would be dominant on the local SF stage. Several writers appearing would become well-known as fans. (Sadly, Lundwall declined being included in the anthology, probably for reasons Swedish fans should be aware of.)

    Among the circa 550 stories in “Häpna!” during its twelve years, 30 were by women, and virtually all the leading names of those days were included: Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Anderson, Bradbury, Van Vogt, Leinster, and so on.

    Asimov’s “Foundation” stories met a Swedish audience for the first time, for instance. Jack Williamson gave us “The Legion of Space” and one L. Ron Hubbard you might have heard of was represented by Ole Doc Methusalem yarns.  John-Henri Holmberg has re-translated the stories, maybe because of rights problems, but he also said he found the original translations lacking.

    Generally, as I re-read the stories,” he said, “I found the quality a bit better than I remembered and had expected.” He pointed out that the stories he selected for the anthology part are the best ones and not representative of  the magazine as a whole.

    “Häpna!”declined towards the end of its life, doing an increasing numbers of “double issues”, but that wasn’t what killed it.

    K.G. Kindberg (who I had the pleasure to meet on a small con around 1990), was the money man, but as he worked as “chief international legal officer” for the Husqvarna Arms Company, he had no time for the daily business of the magazine. They had hired – through a job opportunity ad! – the literary academic Kjell Ekström as editor, but the daily leg work and all practical details were managed by Kurt Kindberg.

    The details of it isn’t mentioned in the book, but it is generally believed to have been an automobile accident around 1965 that severely injured Kurt Kindberg, and by that the “engine” of “Häpna!” ran out of oil after 119 issues.

    “Häpna!” was sold in the newsstands country-wide, during the early years – it fell later – with sales of up to 8 000 copies. But a weakness with the book is that we won’t learn anything how the Kindbergs (possibly delicate?) cooperation with the newsstands distributor, or anything about daily practical work with “Häpna!” or the economics of their publishing house.

    Every issue also had a book section, with Roland Adlerberth – librarian and sf pioneer, writing about the genre already in the 1940’s – reviewing books in hyper speed and in an incomparable and often funny style. A classic article about Adlerberth’s review language is included in the “Häpna!” book. We find an example of “Häpna!'”s sf-promotion  advertising claiming: “Elementary, my dear Dr Watson – science fiction knocks out detective magazines!“, and a number of other illustrations. Popular science articles appeared sometimes, but thankfully the piece claiming “anti-gravity will soon be here!” was skipped. (Don’t frown! Remember John W. Campbell and the “Dean drive”…)

    As “Häpna!” died, the world had also changed. Gone was the technological optimism of the 1950’s. Left-wingers took over the universities, there were hippies and flower power, the cold war and the threat of nuclear bombs.

    “Häpna!” was before my time, as I as a tiny lad began reading this space yarn stuff, and then in search for a purpose in life came in contact with fandom and went to my first sf con in 1976. But I knew about the magazine and began collecting it. I had about 20 issues, from the Stockholm second-hand bookshops, when I saw an ad with all the issues for sale. It was Kurt Kindberg (somewhat recouperated from the accident, I suppose) who sold it from a supply he had kept! I sent an order for all my missing issues, and the price was very reasonable, about 1/3 of the going second-hand price. Kurt Kindberg even phoned me up to clear up some details in my order. You could by full runs of “Häpna!” that way up towards the late 1980’s.

    And when the magazines arrived I read and read and read for weeks, to truly…Be Astounded!

    P.S. I have lots of notes from Swecon 2015 and a regular report may come (given time and inspiration). Swecon/Confuse was nice and well-planned with probably nearly 250 attendees – good for being out of Stockholm.

    However, a couple of news pieces:

    Stockholm was voted host to Swecon 2016, which will be held at Dieselverkstan (also venue for Fantastika 2013), 17-19th of June.

    “We expect 400-500 attendees,” the organisers mainly from the Stockholm club SFSF say.

    It will be a very literary convention with three author Guests of Honour.

    The Alvar Appeltofft Memorial Foundation (SAAM) is a non-profit organization, best known in Swedish fandom for the grant awarded yearly to commemorate the legendary science fiction fan Alvar Appeltofft, who died in 1976. The Alvar Award, as it is commonly known, is generally viewed as the most important award in Swedish fandom and consists of a piece of art and a sum of money (currently SEK 2,100; at the time of writing about 215 euros).

    Maria Nygard

    Maria Nygård

    And finally, the main Swedish fan prize, the Alvar Appeltofft Memorial Award (Alvar Appeltoffts Minnespris/Alvarpriset) was won by Maria Nygård, in what was reported to be a tight ballot race.

    ©Ahrvid Engholm

    Alvar Appeltofft (1941–1975) was an early, hyperactive Swedish fan, in the 50s not seldom called “Mr. SF” on Swedish fandom.

    Alvar 1

    He began publishing in 1955, attended the first con, started a local club, corresponded with everyone, etc. However, this also cost him his school grades, and by the end of the 50s his parents threw away his sf and fanzine collection in order to force him to concentrate on his studies. He then rebelled by instead starting to drink and finally in a drunken spree one night smashed most of the windows in the school he went to. He was then institutionalized, diagnosed as a paranoid-schizophrenic and stayed at the St Lars mental institution for several years; when released, he was given a sick pension although still only in his late twenties. He then resumed contact with fandom, but was not particularly active, and finally killed himself at the age of 34.

    His parents, struck by remorse, one can assume, now contacted the board of the Scandinavian SF Society, and wanted the club to organize some kind of memorial to Alvar.

    After some deliberation, we decided on dryyomg up a foundation to hand out an annual award to a leading Swedish fan who in some way had performed beyond the ordinary call of fannish duty. The award has been given annually since 1976, consisting of a diploma and a fairly small cash amount. At the end of the 1980s, we were shocked to learn that Alvar Appeltofft’s parents had also bequethed half their estate to the foundation, which now inherited around $100,000. The foundation since has kept giving out the award, and also owns and keeps up-to-date the largest fanzine collection in Scandinavia, virtually complete as far as regards Swedish fanzines.” – John-Henri Holmberg


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