Francesco Verso, Italian Speculative Fiction Writer interviewed by Cristian Tamas

    Cristian Tamas : Hello, Francesco, thank you for accepting this interview !

    Francesco Verso : My pleasure, Cristian and hello to all Europa SF readers.

    Cristian Tamas : How do you describe for a non-fan of fantascienza the last 20-25 years of the italian SF&F ?

    Francesco Verso : Reviewing 25 years in a just few words is a hard task. Let’s say that – with a slight delay with regard to English speaking market – we’ve seen all major trends apparing in Italy, from post-cyberpunk to post-apocalyptic genre passing from a progressive hybridation with other genres, say hard-boiled fiction, noir and urban fantasy and lately even new weird and steampunk. Hard Sci-Fi and Space Opera used to be very popular but as a generation of readers emerged over time, such themes are more difficult to find a space in novels in favour of alternative realities, dystopias and even supernatural romance.

    Cristian Tamas : Is Valerio Evangelisti the main SF&F italian writer ? (“He is perhaps the only writer of science-fiction to attain the status of a professional and to obtain recognition, at least in terms of interest on the part of publishers. His success set in motion a kind of unhoped-for rebirth during the 1990s with a proliferation of novels and anthologies of Italian authors, some of which were even issued by renowned publishers.” – Domenico Gallo, “Italian Science Fiction from 1952 to the present”)

    Francesco Verso : He surely was some years ago, but now he has moved to a more political and historical fiction. Still he’s regarded as one of the very few genre writers that have managed to jump on the mainstream train with unchanged success.

    Cristian Tamas : What other important italian SF&F italian writer can you name and what are their works ?

    Francesco Verso : I’d say Paolo Aresi and his space exploration novels and Lanfranco Fabriani working on time-travel themes but also a new generation of writers like Dario Tonani, who sold his steampunk series – Mondo9 – to the US and Japan, Giovanni De Matteo writing both about hard-boiled future noir and posthuman technological extrapolations in gloomy and distopic sets, and also Clelia Farris which I find particularly interesting for her skillful writing and original point of view: her alternative worlds – a twisted version of Vietnam or Egypt – are really one of a kind.

    Cristian Tamas : Is the italian SF&F known in Europe and in the world ?

    Francesco Verso : I’m afraid not. English translations are a big investment problem and also the international market is not so open to Non-English authors for the same reason. Italy is a very small market and the power and strength of English competition makes it very hard for Italians.

    Cristian Tamas : What are themes, the obsessions and preoccupations, the trends of the italian SF&F ?

    Francesco Verso : Many genre books tend to mix a SF idea with a noir, thriller or hard boiled plot. We’ve seen this trend for some years now. Lately there is a growing accent on steampunk settings, alternative reality (alas Italian reality isn’t the possible best at the moment) and urban fantasy playing the biggest role as more and more women propose their novels under this genre.

    Cristian Tamas : What is the specificity of the italian SF&F ?

    Francesco Verso : I don’t see any peculiar aspect in Italian SF, I might just point out that we are more incline to write about soft SF themes than hard ones. Maybe this is due to our long tradition of humanism, which gives us a good leverage when we talk about transhumanism and posthumanism.

    Cristian Tamas : What do you recommend from the italian SF&F to the EUROPA SF readers and fans ?

    Francesco Verso : If you can read Italian, there are two books series from publisher Delos Books and Mondadori: the first one is called „Odissea” and the second one is the famous „Urania” collection (more than 60 years old), where you can find the best Italian authors: they are published mostly there. Also you can check the Urania Award, which is the most important SF Award in Italy.

    Cristian Tamas : What is the „connectivism” and what is it’s aim ?

    Francesco Verso : I am not an official member of connectivism, I just approach it as a supporter and have some friends in the literary movement. Let’s say that connectivism is an interesting stream in Italian SF, particularly active on the posthuman issues. They try to “connect” distant teories such as quantum physics with mysticism, new forms of politics with post biologic future beyond the human domain.
    Their aim, in the words of Giovanni De Matteo, one of the movement’s founder is:  “to detect a language fit for the world to be, filtering present from the historical perspective of future.”  You can find the original Manifesto written in Italian some years ago here.

    Cristian Tamas : Is the italian SF&F domain (writers, editors, fans, average readers) aging ? UN statistics are mentioning that Italy is the world’s third most aged country (median age of 44,5) after Monaco and Japan… Italy have the highest percentage in Europe of over 60 people on the whole population: 24.3%. In 2050 one italian person out of two will be over 60 and one out of six over 80…) But don’t worry, whole Europe and in fact whole world is ageing ! 🙂

    Francesco Verso : Yes, we have a big demographic problem in Italy and it’s not just limited to the SF domain, the whole country is forgetting about young generation and looks at the future with its back ! Readers are getting older and are not being replaced by new ones. Kids prefer other kind of narrative, say movies, graphic novels, videogames, so I think that fiction – both literary and genre – has to cope with such a deep transformation not closing its eyes to other ways of telling stories. For example the ebook revolution, still not very popular in Italy – perhaps exactly for the “aging” problem – is a challenge that the publishing industry should encourage, not fight back.

    Cristian Tamas : Do you think that „greying of Europe” is irreversible? Have you read „Grey Beard” by Brian Aldiss ? This novel seems prophetic nowadays…

    Francesco Verso : Yes, Aldiss was prophetic in a way but – with all due respect – unlike him, I think aging is more related to higher levels of income than radiation from nuclear tests. Unfortunately – or maybe fortunately – we don’t need a biological mutation to age. The problem for me is not aging in itself, is getting older and not wiser. I guess we all need old people as much as we need young ones. We need a strong intergenerational agreement where instead there’s more and more an intergenerational fight and envy, with old accusing young of being not ready or not good enough to replace them and young accusing old of sticking to their chairs too long and never retire.

    Cristian Tamas : You’re the author of „Antidoti umani” (Human Antidotes, 2004), „e-Doll”, 2009, „ Livido” (Livid, 2012), „Bloodbusters” and „I Camminatori” (The Walkers) and the winner of prestigious Italian SF Awards, Urania Mondadori, Premio Italia, Premio Odissea, you’re also a translator and an editor (Avatar collection). Do you think you have a special status within the Italian SF&F domain ?

    Francesco Verso : I’ve just happened to work – and work hard – in the publishing field for some years now. I like to see all aspects of this industry because it can teach me a lot. I still have a long way to go but as the saying goes “I’m here to stay”. So the only status I have gained so far is the one of “fiction artisan”.

    Cristian Tamas : Three of your texts (“Formattazioni celesti”, “La morte in diretta di Fernando Morales” and “e-Doll”) have been adapted for the stage. How do you explain that ?

    Francesco Verso : I’ve been lucky to meet – around two years ago – the actress and performer Katiuscia Magliarisi, who was working on a SF show called “The Milky Way“, together with another actress, Chiara Condrò and the puppeteer and theremin player Simone De Filippis. They were looking for new and fresh stories to adapt to the stage and that was when I came along and joined their project with enthusiasm. “The Milky Way” is an open source, modular SF show made of short stories (Fredric Brown, Robert Sheckley, Philip K, Dick and some others) that we change and adapt according to the location and public. So far we’ve worked in theatres, pubs and community centres. From what people told us and as far as I know, “The Milky Way” is the only experiment of SF on stage in Italy.

    Cristian Tamas : Have you ever been translated abroad,  in Europe or other countries ?

    Francesco Verso : Yes, my short story “Two Worlds” has been selected for the International Speculative Fiction (ISF) #5 and my latest novel “Livid” has been sold to Australian published Xoum and it will be out somewhere in Spring 2014 both on ebook and paperback edition.

    Cristian Tamas : What are your future fictional projects ?

    Francesco Verso : I am about to finish the second book of “The Walkers’ which is composed of two novels – „The Pulldogs”, already written – and “No/mad/land“, which I plan to finish by the end of this year. Then, in the next months, I’ll start an ebook series called “Future Fiction” where I plan to publish mostly speculative & sociological fiction. The main idea is to scout for authors coming from both English and Non-English countries that have already proven to be excellent writers in their countries. So far I have gathered stories from the Canadian Robert J. Sawyer, the Greek Michalis Manolios,  the  Romanian Cristian Teodorescu and the American James Patrick Kelly.

    The second mission of “Future Fiction”  is to find and publish “transmediable” stories: stories that have a potential to be represented on a stage, in a crowdfunded webseries, by a graphic novel or even told through a performative installation act.

    Cristian Tamas : One italian guy (Taramoc) living in Canada is saying on the sff world forum: “The Italian market for SFF is very small. I can count on the fingers of one hand successful SFF writers (by successful I mean that can make a decent living out of it). That doesn’t mean that Italians don’t read SFF, quite the contrary. There’s a bias against Italian writers that they don’t write literary novels. The best story I’ve heard about this is about David Baldacci, the bestseller author. When his first book was slated for release in Italy, he got a call from the Italian publisher who asked if he could use a English sounding pseudonym instead of Baldacci (a quite old Italian last name). He looked out the window and saw an American sedan parked. “Sure,” he replied, “use David Ford”, and that’s how his translated novels are published in my old country. Weird, eh?” Do you agree ?

    Francesco Verso : Yes, there are both investment and mentality problems. Italy is a satellite country, our cultural influence – once very strong and pervasive – is shrinking rapidly, so this story doesn’t come out of the blue but it represents a general downgrade and decadence. Italian SF is a niche field and the only way out I see for Italian genre fiction is starting to play on the big market, write in English, get rid of provincial mentality and face the big issues of future humanity. It will take time, but chances – as readers – will follow.

    Cristian Tamas : What is your opinion on the “global SF&F” in english written for the worldwide audience ? Aliette de Bodard, Hannu Rajaniemi, for example … and by the way, they’re some of the best worldwide known european SF&F writers !

    Francesco Verso : I am happy that the European speculative fiction is coming on strong. In Europe we’ve been writing fiction and literature since the dawn of civilization and if science fiction is considered an Anglo-american thing, written mostly in English and for English speaking people, the situation is changing rapidly thanks to social networks and ebooks that make it much easier for a good novel to be spread and published on a worldwide scale. As market barriers fall down, the only parameter is quality and readers tastes.
    My work goes exactly in this direction and  – I guess  – so does the Europa SF Portal; I do wish we can work together and build a strong relationship for the common good of science fiction!

    Cristian Tamas : What do you think about the “vernacular” languages and “vernacular” literatures’ future ? Will they resist to the “mcdonaldization” of the world ?

    Francesco Verso : This is indeed a problem. To reach more readers a writer has come to a compromise on language nuances and local cultural aspects that could not be understood by someone with a different background. Jokes, words play and a lot of meanings goes irremediably lost in translation. Maybe one day – unlike the orwellian dystopia – we won’t speak one single language but Artificial Intelligences will teach us all languages of the world in a matter of days or maybe they will translate every other language into our own in real time. Some applications already go in such direction, but now it’s too early to say if they will be a success or just a sorry try.

    Cristian Tamas : Kindly address some words to the EUROPA SF readers !

    Francesco Verso : I’d like to thank you all for your attention and invite you to the LonCon3 – the next SF WordCon – taking place in London from 14th to 18th of August 2014. This will be a great chance for us to meet, get to know each other and hopefully to start building a stronger and wider European SF network. I feel that the time is right. Moreover if you know anybody who has already published in his/her own country a speculative short story or even a novel and has it translated in English, please don’t hesitate to contact me for a possible publication on a Future Fiction ebook. You’ll find me easily here.

    Cristian Tamas : Thank you very much, Francesco, and keep up your excellent work !

    © Cristian Tamas & Francesco Verso

    Born in Bologna, Italy, in 1973, Francesco Verso has a major in Environmental Economics at the University of “Roma Tre” and worked at IBM (PC Division) until 2005 then for Lenovo until 2008.

    Since 2008 he has worked as a full-time writer/publisher of Italian science fiction. His novel, Human Antidotes (Antidoti umani), was a finalist in the 2004 Urania Mondadori Award.

    In 2009, he won the Urania Mondadori Award for his book, e-Doll. In 2011, he wrote short stories as Flush90 CentsSogno di un future di mezza estate (Midsummer Future Dream), Due mondi (Two worlds) and La morte in diretta di Fernando Morales (Fernando Morales, This is Your Death!) and finished his third novel Livid (Livido) which went on to win the Odyssey Award 2013 from Delos Books. Livid is his first novel to be translated into English.

    Novels :

    • Antidoti umani (Human Antidotes), Edizioni Diversa Sintonia, 2009, (finalist, Urania Award 2004) ; versione in ebook, Kipple Officina Libraria, 2011.
    • e-Doll, Mondadori, 2009 (Urania Award, 2008)
    • Livido (Livid), Delos Books, 2013, Odissea Award, 2013
    • Bloodbusters, 2011
    • I Camminatori (The Walkers)

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