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Estonian Science Fiction on the Move

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When  Soviet Union collapsed and we got our independence back, there were some more urgent problems to solve than to organize science fiction fandom. But soon enough people learned to establish non-profit organizations and in 1995 Eesti Ulmeühing was registered. (Yes, we have the word “ulme” that covers science fiction, fantasy and horror, so it means Estonian science fiction, fantasy and horror association or something like that, but the official English name is Estonian Science Fiction Association.) There is a little membership fee, but to participate in fandom’s life there is absolutely no need to be a member. It has it’s portal for introducing new books, official announcements etc http://www.ulme.ee/ .

In 1996 mailing list sf2001-at-obs.ee was started and it is still in good use. Not everybody had an e-mail address then and even the Internet was novelty for many, but after a year or so it had over a hunderd members and the number has been about 300 since then – some people come, some go, some just lurk and a dozen or so think they know everything. Sometimes the list is active, sometimes lethargyc – just like everything else. When year 2001 came, there were some talks about “are we there yet” and should we change the name, but the majority did not care.

Scifi fans are a motley crew and so the mailing list was very useful for translators having questions about specific terminology – whatever the subject, there always was somebody who knew. Sure, in the beginning days of the mailing list there was some trolling and fierce polemics. So, to prove that behind handles like BlackDragon13 or FastAndFurry are real people, not some ultimate evil, in 1997 there was a getting together of (some) mailing list members and in 1998 there was the first official EstCon http://www.obs.ee/~taavi/esfa/estcon98/yhispilt.html . (We were ready for some duels with exotic weapons just to prove that Asimov is better than Adams or vice versa but everything went better than expected…) So 2012 was 15th and had some jubilee taste in it. In addition to EstCons there are monthly meetings in Tallinn and Tartu.

But to make sure who IS better, we have had Stalker awards (named after Tarkovsky movie) – for the best original and translated novel, short story, collection and so on. In 1998 it was Nebula-like – voted by experts – and after that Hugo-like, so everyone can give his/her vote. From those voting lists it can be seen that lately there have been 40-60 novels translated into Estonian every year. Mostly from English, but also from Russian, German, Finnish etc. Among the writers having won Stalker at least twice are Aldiss, Bacigalupi, Card, Gibson, Lukyanenko, Simmons, Spinrad, Stross, Zelazny. Charles Stross was somewhat surprised: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/11/i-get-mail-1.html . From the locals, our Grand Master Indrek Hargla has made an (almost) clean sweep. His page http://et.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indrek_Hargla is in Estonian but you can see that bibliography list is quite long.

One very useful thing we have thanks to it’s author Andri Riid since 1997 is BAAS, database about sf/f/h literature http://www.dcc.ttu.ee/andri/SFBooks/ . Every registered user can add authors and books/stories, write his/her opinion about what he/she has read in whatever language. Some have added over 10 000 letter essays but you can just add mark from 1 (very bad) to 5 (excellent). So it’s a collective reading diary with over 35 000 shorter or longer reviews from over 300 users. Tastes differ but still everybody can find recommendations for what to read next – or what not to read at all.

In the beginning of 1990ies the only way to publish something was to print it. Two writers/translators started with their magazine projects. Mario Kivistik had Mardus (Banshee) with 44 issues between 1991 and 2001. With emphasis on horror, in the beginning there original stories, translations, art, comics and articles about supernatural. In the course of time it concentrated on literature and some local authors gathered around it. Urmas Alas started his Täheaeg (Sidereal Time) mostly for translations, but there were only two issues. As the name was good, Raul Sulbi (one of the founders of ESFA) picked it up and has continued since 2002 with book series, using again original stories, translations and essays http://taheaeg.wordpress.com/ .

On that first EstCon was (once more) decided that there must be some output for stories from beginning authors and also for news about sf/f/h in Estonia and in the wide world. As using paper seemed complicated (and old-fashioned!), webzine Algernon was founded; the first number was published in November 1998 http://algernon.edu.ee/ . (The name was taken from Danile Keyes’ story “Flowers for Algernon” that happened also to be the title of the one and only collection of western science fiction we had in Soviet era.) In the beginning there were many authors with lots of stories in their drawers. It’s not so any more and instead of monthly Algernon has turned into quarterly. Also since 2000 the editors are selecting what goes and what not – and trying to advise authors of stories not considered on the necessary level yet.

New webzine Reaktor started in October 2011 http://www.ulmeajakiri.ee/ .

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