Fringe-Science and SF: Their Relationship in Italy

    Left to right: Debora Montanari, Luigi Petruzelli, Arielle Saiber - Worldcon 2012

    The panel lasted one hour and half then, here, you can read the basic topics developed in conference with the questions and propositions of the audience, and with partecipations of the other panelists: freelance writer Barbara G. Tarn and italian publisher Luigi Petruzzelli (Edizioni Della Vigna).

    In this panel I talked about fringe science in relation to Italian culture and creativity, or, more precisely, in relation to open-mindedness. [Debora Montanari]

    Fringe science is scientific inquiry in a field of study that departs from mainstream theories so, is obvious that fringe concepts are highly speculative: for example M-theory or Multiverse-theory meet the definition of fringe science; just think on TV series “Fringe” or “Eureka” for get an idea of what is fringe science. However, here, we do not want to enter in the actual scientific field, everything is in context: writing science fiction, reading science fiction, to do science fiction. So, I will speak of conservatism according to the content that we face here and now, without getting into specific positions of the scientific world: we will see how Italians view fringe science, we will understand its relationship with the readers and especially with Italian science-fiction writers.

    From my point of view, many themes of science fiction without fringe science cannot exist, and fringe science often starts from science fiction. I must put next to “science” the word “fringe”: why? Because in Italy science is a problem, because in Italy science is only the traditional one: conservatism is strong and a science outside of the mainstream is not permitted, creative science is not permitted and, attention, creative science does not mean science as a fairy tale, but I mean the one able to travel off the beaten track, in pursuit of original ideas, even extreme. Thus, the science that dares to go off the rails, in order to propose new and strange theories, is looked with derision by mainstream scientists. Here it is, the indissoluble link between science and science fiction takes on, in Italy, an univocal appearance, there is no more positive and creative interchange: on one side there’s an almost inquisitorial science and, on the other side, a lonely science fiction.

    I take an example from astronomy: imagine a binary star that remains without a companion, what are the consequences? The kind of interaction between the stars in a binary system depends on the distance that separates them. Less this distance is, then more the interactions are important: there are stars for which the distance between them is so small that a mass exchange can take place and… is it not our case? Are not fringe science and SF binary stars, revolving around each other and so close together that mass – ideas and information –  is exchanged?

    In Italy science does not look at SF as a traveling companion, as a good ally that increases the public’s interest, but mainstream science sees sci-fi as entertainment: nothing more. Why? If in Italy people think that a relationship exists between science and SF, then they would be taken to reason about new fringe-theories, on the ideas of alternative scientists and this means to take power away from the official science destabilizing its status quo. This has consequences not only on readers, but also on writers, for example we do not have scientists who are also science fiction writers[1], that would be considered a contradiction, I would say: a sort of heresy !

    In Italy, mainstream science does not follow globalization but preservation.

    The Italian scientific conservatism wants control but does not realize that it doesn’t have it any more: now we have the Web. Technology has made creativity more powerful, as well as new scientific theories did: fringe science and technology have given rise to endless possibilities. So many areas of fringe science, such as fringe archeology or quantum physics, but also the paranormal and ufology, came to imaginary of not only writers but also of researchers, philosophers, those who seek a truth about existence, the truth that official science has never been able to give. The science fiction writer tends to search for these truths, especially in Italy, where fringe science is almost hidden to the people: it is the writer who must try to show it, as far as he is able to do. At this point you’ll realize that the Italian SF writer has more responsibility: to tell, entertain, amuse; but also reveal and popularize fringe science. A good way to do it is to tell the public the theories on what the writer was inspired by to develop his ideas, make known the sources and then direct the readers to the right information.

    If the relationship between fringe science and science fiction is unbreakable, then in Italy this relationship becomes crucial for a cultural issue. In front of exclusion of fringe-science, how does science fiction appear in Italy? Or better: how do writers show their SF ? Mainstream science interfered with fringe scientists to such a point that not only nowadays they are marginalized, but they are no longer considered as scientists: if they dare to go off the rails, there is a high risk for that they will not be invited to work in universities and in scientific fields, again.

    I may quote the writer Ben Bova, who in his “Exiles” series brings into play the exile of frontier scientists in genetics, in order to prevent the status quo’s loss. Mr. Ben Bova in the 70s was already talking about exclusion of fringe science in the name of conservatism, but what made me think is that: in the first book, “Exiled From Earth”, the seat of world government is in Italy, in Messina. Coincidence or foresight?

    In Italy a fringe scientist will always be seen as the mad scientist to marginalize, or to exile! Really, the mad scientist is like a SF writer, he uses a form of “pre-vision” which, in our case, is not a paranormal ability but, looking for the most appropriate synonym, I would call it a “beyond-sight”… well, beyond what? Beyond the limits established by the mainstream, by society, and beyond the rails of normality.

    What I call “beyond-sight” is not magic but the ability to develop theories, ideas, then… the endless possibilities already mentioned, that in Italy are in the SF’s hands.

    When an Italian writer applies these endless possibilities, he regards the fact that our scientific reality is strongly anchored to the status-quo, then he has the opportunity to lead the reader in front of fringe science themes. Everything he writes is, in fact, directed at an audience that is increasingly heterogeneous in cultural level, age and tastes: so, not only fans of science-fiction but everybody.

    Mainstream science does not talk about alternative theories? No problem… SF writers do it !

    There is no conditioning on the thought of the sci-fi writer, it is more free than you can imagine: it sounds to you like a contradiction, but the fact that there is no information about fringe science, allows the Italian writer to move without interference and I’m not saying he can say nonsense, on the contrary, I am declaring that he can write and say what is actually said in the world of these sciences, without rules that may restrict the information; this explains, in part, because the contents of Italian sci-fi are so “cool”. While in other genres academic rules or business rules may interfere, in SF there is freedom. The use of fringe science’s theories then becomes the number one tool for us writers to create and support the “beyond-sight”, as I said before, the elaboration of ideas and now I can say… the free elaboration of ideas and the creative proposal of science.

    However, the absence of a fringe scientific culture can be felt also in sci-fi: in fact, some writers remain anchored to the conventional, to the future as a continuation of the history, or reversal of the history as in the case of Ucronic Narrative – very popular in my Country -. Sometimes you face a sort of sci-fi made up of social and scientific verism that has only one difference with our reality, it’s set in the future, but the plots do not engage fringe content. However, a good number of Italian SF writers tries to express themselves through images that represent a different order of reality, all generated from the ideas of quantum physics and of the fringe science that takes us beyond traditional science, leaving the rails to travel to places never beaten, where science becomes spirituality and science-fiction becomes soul… of the Universe and of the Human.

    Science fiction knows that expanding the horizons brings knowledge, but knowledge does not mean the information trapped by rules and human limitations, but implies the creativity that has no rules and can also travel off the rails, off the power plays, outside the academic impositions.

    The highest expression of creativity is in science fiction that, just as fringe science, challenges the borderline between what is known and what is unknown.

    © Debora Montanari (all rights reserved)


    Debora Montanari was born in Bologna (Italy) in 1969, she’s a radio journalist – an expert in American movies – and writer. She grew up sharing the passion for the cinema of her mother and her father’s passion for science fiction and sharing the passion conveyed by both her parents: reading.
    Her own curiosity and an innate propensity to study, they pushed me to my current interests which have become a job.
    After graduation – Teachers’ Training College -, came the opportunity to work as a Journalist in a Radio: she deals with movie reviews, her radio show aired weekly. She works in Radio since 1998.
    Debora debuted professionally as a writer in 2007, with the techno-fantasy novel “The Dragons of Chrysos” and in 2009 she published her second novel “The Moon of Chrysos”, both novels had received Premio Italia (Italy SF Award).While working on the novels she wrote and published several SF short stories.

    The innate love for the SF on all art sides – literature, movies, television – has taken her, since childhood, to study with passion the Fringe Science, particularly the Paranormal, Ufology and Quantum Physics. Debora is currently working on the connection between the two contexts: Fringe Science and Science Fiction. She had participated at several panels at the Chicon 7 (2012 Worldcon in Chicago, USA), being a panelist and talked about Science Fiction in Europe and in Italy, and about the relationship between Fringe Science and Science Fiction in Italy:

    Michelangelo and That Whole Crowd: Early Artists Who Dabbled in Science
    Some artists from the past were also interested in science, and some among them are also characters in fscience fiction stories. The panel will focus on these artists, and the works in which they appear.
    Debora Montanari, G. David Nordley, Luigi Petruzzelli

    SF and Border Science
    From a writer/publisher point of view… You in the USA are masters in this, but seeing the point of view from Italy (a country which, in the last century at least, has despised scientific culture) might be interesting.
    Barbara G.Tarn, Debora Montanari, Luigi Petruzzelli

    Writing and Publishing Science Fiction in Italy
    Debora Montanari and Bruno Vitiello, Italian writers, and Luigi Petruzzelli, founder of Edizioni Della Vigna, Italian publishing house specializing in SF, winners of some ‘Premio Italia’ (roughly the Italian counterpart of the Hugo), will speak about the state of science fiction in Italy.
    Debora Montanari, Luigi Petruzzelli, Arielle Saiber

    Debora has developed a collateral activity by teaching the “Culture of Reading and Writing” in junior high schools.
    Her program is designed to transmit to young people the desire to read, through recognition and celebration of the imagination and by reading books and watching genre movies, understanding with the word “genre” everything related to the Imaginary. She lives and works in Bologna, but she travels a lot and she spends the summer months in Los Angeles.

    Her site is :


    [1] I specify that for “scientists”, I do not mean all graduates in scientific subjects, but only those who work as scientists in institutions, agencies, universities, private companies and so on.


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