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Interview with the Dutch Writers and Editors Jan J.B. Kuipers, Mike Jansen, Floris Kleijne and Roelof Goudriaan by Cristian Tamas

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Jan JB Kuipers Mike Jansen Floris Kleijne 1 Roelof Goudriaan 1

From left : Jan J.B. Kuipers, Mike Jansen, Floris Kleijne and Roelof Goudriaan 

Cristian Tamas : Geritt Bussink used to say, „In many ways Holland is a fantasy in its own right. Roughly a third of the entire country is below sea level and due to a fantastic network of barriers and dams, the Nederland people drained the water from certain areas and literally created new land to live on.How is to write fantasy within a fantasy ? What is the role (if any) and the status (if any) of the fantastika literature within the Dutch culture ?

“A Disaster of 5000 Characters” by Jan J.B.Kuipers

Jan J.B. Kuipers: The majority of the Dutch people like living it up and be experimental in their lifestyle, but they have no special love for fantastic literature. In the sixties a small number of main stream poets and authors tried their hand on this ‛new’ genre, but since then fantasy and the like are considered to be marginal or even vulgar domains.

Mike Jansen : Frankly, living below sea level is something that comes naturally. You grow up with it, it’s second nature. Only when you think it through do you realize it’s actually really special. And if you realize that, it might just influence the way you read and write. Apparently at one point in time sufficient numbers of people decided to build those dams. That means they envisioned a world in which the sea would be kept outside. They were visionaries, dreamers and stubborn, hardworking people that continued their work until it reached the perfection they needed to keep out the rising waters. So the mentality and mind set of the Dutch does reflect some of that early imagination and that influences the way we write. The result is a quiet admiration for fantastic literature, but likely thanks to our calvinist soberness, many of our fantastic works are considered literary, not genre. So there’s a definite separation of established, literary authors and genre authors. Sure, literary authors will write about fantastic themes, but will stick to the literary label, where genre authors like to keep their genre label, even if they write something obviously literary. The people in the Netherlands love reading fantasy and science fiction, but it was easier for the publishers to translate English, proven, bestsellers, than invest in Dutch talent. As a result, Dutch genre is small, although growing, versus a large literary establishment. The signs seem positive for Dutch genre to grow significantly in the coming years.

Floris Kleijne : The sad thing about Dutch speculative literature is that it exists on an island, separated from the rest of the Dutch literary tradition by what I used to call the Chasm of Literary Snobbery. I’ve since grown to see that it’s not just the literary establishment that views the fantastic genres as lesser; the exile is also largely self-imposed.

On the one hand, Dutch science fiction and fantasy writers (and wannabes), readers, and fans seem to pride themselves on their niche, revel in their lack of mainstream recognition. And on the other hand, the literary establishment refuses to acknowledge the kinship between science fiction and fantasy that is marketed as such, and SF&F of such quality that it’s labeled Literature.

For instance, the great Harry Mulisch has written many works with magic realism / fantasy sensibilities; his masterpiece The Discovery of Heaven is in fact a work of fantasy. But given that it’s also Literature, and the two cannot coexist in one book according to Dutch publishers, reviewers, and intellectuals, the fact that it’s a fantasy novel has never, and will never, be acknowledged. Another example is The Time-Traveler’s Wife, which is mainly sold off the mainstream shelves, even though it’s very obviously a science fiction novel as well as a literary love story.

So role and status? Not much of either. Though things may be slowly changing…

Roelof Goudriaan : For you the Dutch landscape might look like a fantasy, for the Dutch it is daily reality. It is no coincidence that even the word „landscape”, with its suffix „scape” etymologically akin to words that mean „to shape”, was (re-)introduced into England from the Dutch language. In Dutch we also have a word and concept for „waterscape”. Environment influences language and culture.

Cristian Tamas : The Dutch have given us the microscope, the telescope, the stock market and the compact disc. They were among the first Europeans to explore, settle and name Nieuw Amsterdam (New York), to discover Australia, New Zealand and Fiji; and they were also the first people to observe and identify both spermatozoa and bacteria. The Dutch painting, the Dutch architecture, Erasmus and Spinoza, Johan Huizinga, De Stijl, the “Great Three” of Dutch postwar literature (Willem Frederik Hermans, Gerard Reve, Harry Mulisch), on one hand you have artists like Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra, Fons Rademakers and Dick Maas and on the other hand you have talented film directors as Paul Verhoeven selling themselves to Hollywood to produce „very violent, special-effects-heavy smashes”. What is the actual core specifity of the contemporary Dutch culture ?

Calvinist soberness and egalitarianism ? Diversity (religious, cultural,  ethnic) Tolerance ? Orangemania ? Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) ? Sylvia Kristel and the red light districts, the open attitude to sex and the widespread availability of soft drugs? Vrije Radio Omroep Nederland? „Nummer 28” and „the world-wide hit” Endemol’s Big Brother? Mars One? Gezelligheid? Verzuiling (pillarisation), the politico-denominational segregation of the dutch society?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: All of these things, I guess. There is, however,  a big threat of ‛americanization’ and loss of cultural identity. Most folks just want to sit in front of their telly and consume. Barely no one is proud of our rich language. Also there is, within the self appointed cultural elite, a kind of shame for what the Dutch as a nation have achieved in the past. Maybe this is still the influence of the protestant, calvinist part of our heritage. Don’t be proud! That’s sinful.

Mike Jansen : Well, that’s a very broad question, really. The things you mention are all aspects of a Dutch trait that has been valued over the centuries: freedom. To pursue trains of thought, interests, hobbies, professions, religions or whatever combination of the abovementioned you can come up with. This freedom allowed us to envision a Holland behind dams, below sea level, and to pursue that goal relentlessly until we reached it. Holland is a very free country, has been for centuries. It’s a safe haven for dissidents, contrary thinkers and persecuted scientists. This influx of these people through the centuries has bred a predilection for the kind of free thinking that made Holland big in the world.

Roelof Goudriaan : I’m perhaps not the best person to answer that, having lived outside the Netherlands since 1996, but popular cultural historians like Herman Pleij seek the roots of the Dutch cultural identity in its environment: an area that grants mercantile advantages as well as a constant need to hold back the water. In such an environment one benefits from tolerance, towards outsiders to understand your trading partner and within one’s own society because you need to work together to keep your feet dry. An outward-looking attitude, the importance to confirm each other’s equality and words like “gezelligheid” to indicate the bonds of equals who are mutually dependent (the word “gezel” is used for both “journeyman” and “companion”) follow from that.

Cristian Tamas :The Dutch are cultural magpies. They keep a beady eye on other people’s cultural trends and are swift to snap up sparkling new fashions. This means that rather than producing an indigenous culture, they have become voracious consumers of everyone else’s – true Europeans, whose cultural fads and fancies know no borders. The Netherlands acts as a giant cultural sponge, adding it’s own spirit of adventure, innovation and delight in things. And today the Netherlands hosts more artists per square meter than anywhere else in Europe. True to their mercantile tradition, the Dutch excel at turning around other people’s cultural products and adding to their value.” (Rodney Bolt) Do your concur ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: Yes, and I think that’s positive but not a hundred percent good thing. I refer  to my previous answer.

Mike Jansen : Yes, I do concur. Of course the Dutch mind set also produces innovation, culture and ideas that become very influential.  The assimilation of those aspects we find appealing happens not only in our culture, but also in our language. We „borrow” words from other languages and combine words into new words whenever we need a description of an event or mechanism. It’s the power to envision a future that contains these new ideas, changed, assimilated, improved perhaps, that allows the Dutch people to also act towards this vision.

Floris Kleijne : More or less in answer to 2, 3 and 4 together: Dutch literature is an island in the world for more reasons than just the language barriers, as has been proven often enough by the success of translated works: again, I mention Mulisch’s Discovery of Heaven, but also the more pulpy The Dinner by Herman Koch. The Netherlands have a long tradition of inward-facing, “navel-staring” literature, focusing on the country’s 20th century history, the 2nd World War, and the colonial past, on (gratuitous) sexuality. Frankly, a lot of what I was required to read in high school struck me as opaque and pretentious, literature as art at the expense of story. In that sense, this description of dutch literature (in the question) certainly applies.

However, I have the impression that contemporary authors have somewhat succeeded in moving away from that top-heavy legacy and finding their own, less self-conscious, less self-important way to tell their stories, and consequently, I expect modern Dutch literature to be more accessible internationally.

Still, the burden of the past lingers: the accessible, harrowing novel Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, an emotionally draining tale about a father’s complicated feelings for his daughter–that’s one way of putting it–was reviewed in The Netherlands as “Grunberg’s most precise novel”. “Most precise”? What does that even mean? That’s exactly the kind of pretentious nonsense that places Dutch literature, and particularly the Dutch literary establishment, on an island internationally.

Cristian Tamas :Literature is the one area where Dutch culture has remained an island, made inaccessible by a language incomprehensible to most other europeans. Paradoxically, it is on this island that the Dutch cultural climate is at its healthiest. Everyone is writing a novel. Old stalwarts of the genre, such as Frederick Hermans, manage first edition print runs of over 500,000, and even newcomers sell books in the tens of thousands.”.” Is Dutch literature „more sober, more protestant and realist”? Why “ontluisterend realisme” (shocking realism) ? Description of raw reality, inhumanity, disillusionment, with great attention to physicality and sexuality ? Isn’t that cinicism and nihilism ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: There is indeed a streak of cynicism and nihilism in Dutch culture. The many protestant denominations since the sixteenth century brought down the idea of one truth. Then came the cultural revolution of the sixties. It broke down the last bourgeois certainties and gave way to hedonism and a money oriented mentality that doesn’t care about anything much. Just fun and a good life.

Mike Jansen : This is history. The literature of the latter part of the twentieth century is still produced, but these days it’s considered „heavy” and „pessimistic” and the sales numbers have plummeted. Nowadays these numbers are only matched by global bestsellers like Stephen King or J.K.Rowling. Other bestsellers are often „My life story” type books written for Dutch celebrities from sports, media or royalty. It’s more the Dutch book distribution monopoly in combination with relatively few very large publishers that decide which books become a success and which don’t. The rise of POD has allowed a large number of small publishers that now offer a huge variety of „different” books. Still, there’s a very big gap between the „establishment” and the incumbents, especially in sales volume. Defining Dutch literature the way it is done here is short sighted. Sure it’s there, but there is so much more.

Floris Kleijne : More or less in answer to 2, 3 and 4 together: Dutch literature is an island in the world for more reasons than just the language barriers, as has been proven often enough by the success of translated works: again, I mention Mulisch’s Discovery of Heaven, but also the more pulpy The Dinner by Herman Koch. The Netherlands have a long tradition of inward-facing, “navel-staring” literature, focusing on the country’s 20th century history, the 2nd World War, and the colonial past, on (gratuitous) sexuality. Frankly, a lot of what I was required to read in high school struck me as opaque and pretentious, literature as art at the expense of story. In that sense, this description of dutch literature (in the question) certainly applies.

However, I have the impression that contemporary authors have somewhat succeeded in moving away from that top-heavy legacy and finding their own, less self-conscious, less self-important way to tell their stories, and consequently, I expect modern Dutch literature to be more accessible internationally.

Still, the burden of the past lingers: the accessible, harrowing novel Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, an emotionally draining tale about a father’s complicated feelings for his daughter–that’s one way of putting it–was reviewed in The Netherlands as “Grunberg’s most precise novel”. “Most precise”? What does that even mean? That’s exactly the kind of pretentious nonsense that places Dutch literature, and particularly the Dutch literary establishment, on an island internationally.

Cristian Tamas : The Netherlands is situated not only geographically but also culturally between three dominant cultures : France, Germany and England.” (Geritt Bussink) Is today Netherlands completely culturally colonized by the anglo-saxon mass entertainment production ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: For a great deal, yes. I can refer again to my answer to the second question.

Mike Jansen : The influence of the anglo-saxon mass-entertainment is undeniable. But the Dutch are stubborn. They do write about their own world and their own visions. As always, we will borrow what we think is interesting, perhaps learn from certain styles, certain qualities, then adapt and perhaps improve to our own ways.

Floris Kleijne : Yes and no. In televised culture, the Anglo-Saxon influence is huge, and deplorable. The majority of shows airing on Dutch TV channels are American and English, or attempt to emulate those sources, usually with painful results. Very few broadcasters attempt originality, and while they often succeed, their audiences remain small. The only TV successes that are widely exported are the mass-produced entertainment shows like Big Brother, and frankly, I am embarassed that the Dutch are known internationally for exporting lowbrow popcorn amusement programs.

In mainstream literature, however, Dutch artists definitely have their own style and thematic sensibilities, as discussed before. Cross-pollination is of course inevitable, but to call Dutch mainstream literature derivative of its neighbors is an unjustice to the many original voices here. (What? I don’t have to like the stuff to acknowledge it, do I? :-D)

As for Dutch speculative literature… Within the island that is Dutch mainstream literature lies a smelly pool, with a tiny island in the middle. The island has no bridges or communications with the larger island, but a huge span connects it to the British Isles and the States. More about this island in my answer to the next question.

Roelof Goudriaan : It’s logical that an outward-looking culture with a mercantile economy is influenced by its main trading partners. Such a controlled infusion of outside influences in a culture creates healthy dynamic processes, and to infer this suffocates an indigenous culture or constitutes cultural colonization misses the point entirely.

Cristian Tamas : Dutch SF has developed in recent decades in constant reference to American SF and only under the influence of translations of the contemporary flowering of  SF in English.” – David Hartwell.  Is Dutch SF a secondary, derived product of the anglo-saxon commercial SF ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: Not in the least, but over all the really original Dutch and Flemish writers remain marginal even within the genre.

Mike Jansen : Some of it is, no doubt. Some authors venerate the American masters and try to emulate their style and quality. But did not the Americans emulate the Empire’s best and brightest? Lovecraft read Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood and M.R.James, their influence in the rise of American Pulp SF is undeniable. Did they not in turn read French, Dutch and classic masters that influenced their writing? There’s nothing wrong with looking at those who came before you, who were successful at what they did. At some point most Dutch writers choose to write about the world and the people they know. Some of this I do myself in my writing. Keep the good, add your own individualism and uniqueness and produce something new. It may resemble anglo-saxon works, but as you gain experience, your own style breaks through and it is a blend of the best of both worlds. Some of our SF authors write very Dutch fantastic literature and these days some of that is actually being translated for American publication.

Floris Kleijne : I could give this question an unequivocal Yes and be done with it. However, I’ll do it the courtesy of a more extensive response. With a few fortunate and notable exceptions, many of the people who consider themselves Dutch SF authors operate seemingly without any consciousness of the Dutch literary tradition, do not seek the connection to the rest of the literary scene, and all but ignore international contemporary specfic except to emulate it. There seems to be a widespread tendency to write derivate works that hail back decades to American SF of the final quarter of last century, or even further back. Like I said, there are exceptions, and those are worth reading, but most Dutch SF suffers from lack of originality, of cultural consciousness. (Given that very few SF novels by Dutch writers are published at all by professional publishing houses, this somewhat limited analysis does admittedly include the existing short story magazines, vanity presses, and self-published works.)

Cover of Zwarte Sterren

“Black Stars”, an anthology of the best SF from the Low Lands, editor Roelof Goudriaan

Roelof Goudriaan : I would categorize Dutch fantastika in three broad groups: fantastic works within literary circles, fantastic works for a juvenile audience, and fantastic works labelled as genre works. Within the first group, one finds some magic realism and social satire, but especially many fine fables by authors like Anton Koolhaas and Marten Toonder. The second group includes lovely, playful flights of fantasy by authors like Annie M.G. Schmidt and Tonke Dragt. The third group is indeed heavily influenced by Anglo-Saxon authors, this being the dominant language area for which genre SF is written. But like in the cultural question you asked above, there’s a huge difference between influence and derivation, and I don’t think connecting David Hartwell’s quote to your question is a fair use of his name.

Modern Dutch-speaking fantastika authors like Marcel Orie, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Guido Eekhaut, Paul Evanby, Jan J.B. Kuipers and Tais Teng (to name but a few whose works I would recommend) are influenced by a wide variety of sources, including philosphy, sociology, Oriental and Western literature, „high” culture and „pop” culture, etc. etc. As would be their Anglo-Saxon and Japanese counterparts whose works we also read with interest.

Cristian Tamas : How you’ll describe the actual status of the Dutch speaking Fantastika : main authors, books, awards, magazines, printing houses, conventions, etc ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: There is a lot of all of those, but none of it is fairly integrated in the Dutch literary culture. I myself am an example of this: I still write within the genre, but also switched to other genres and non-fiction many years ago.

Mike Jansen : Another broad question. Let me explain what I have witnessed the past few years: After a dry spell of over a dozen years I started writing again in 2011. Since then I’ve seen a number of Dutch fantastic literature contests double in submissions every year and several contests have been added. Websites that cater to the fantastic have sprung up or expanded, writing sites have become a lot more popular and the options for aspiring authors to get their work in print or ebook have almost exploded. Add to that a professionalization of the various contests and a drive towards unification of the various fantastic endeavors in the low countries and my conclusion of watching the last three years unfold is that we are in the midst of an actual renaissance of Dutch fantastic literature, but also art and conventions. Some of the fantastic conventions in the Netherlands draw twenty to thirty thousand people and artists and authors in turn use those venues to promote their work, bringing fantasy lovers and producers together. At these events you will find some of our main publishers, Luitingh, Books of Fantasy, Zilverspoor, Uitgeverij Macc or even Verschijnsel. Their authors will most likely be present to talk to fans, sign books etc. Such authors as Adrian Stone, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Tais Teng, Christien Boomsma, Anaid Haen, Floris Kleijne, Martijn Lindeboom, Jan JB Kuipers, Jaap Boekestein, Chantal Noordeloos, Jetse de Vries, Alex de Jong and many others. The magazines are an interesting phenomenon. At this point in time Peter Kaptein (also a good author) is trying to organize ways of getting some of our magazines digitized and offered to a larger audience, specifically for the purpose of making more people aware of the availability not only of these magazines, but also of the artists within these magazines. He is a staunch supporter of ebook-technology, knowing that a print magazine may reach hundreds, where an electronic magazine may reach thousands, if not tens of thousands.

Floris Kleijne : There is a lively speculative fiction scene in The Netherlands, but very little of what goes on in that domain is of a (semi-) professional level. Notable authors include Paul Evanby, an original and talented fantasy novelist with a long and impressive record of short story publications. Evanby is exceptional in our language area in his originality and his linguisitic sensibilities. It is inexplicable to me that he hasn’t built more of a name: Dutch fantasy readers should really read all three of his recent novels, starting with marvellous “De Scrypturist”.

Another notable name is Adrian Stone, writer of a “fat fantasy” epic series, and relatively one of our best-selling authors. As is Thomas Olde Heuvelt, who is more of a horror and magic realism author, and who has recently met with significant international success: he’s signed with Tor for the English translation of his hugely succesful horror novel “Hex”.

In the YA subgenre, two female authors are significant: Christien Boomsma and Natalie Koch; the latter has volume three coming out of her “Untraceable University” series, a kind of Harry Potter epic with a more realistic and adult approach. And then there is Guido Eekhaut, the Flemish author of countless novels in numerous genres, including fantasy and SF. There are more, but these come to mind as authors who have proven themselves as capable of consistant professional and publishable quality.

There is one major annual genre award, the Harland Award for short and novel-length fiction (formerly known as the Paul Harland Prijs, and named after our late great author Paul Harland). In recent year, the Harland Award has found competition in the very similar Fantastels award; in terms of submissions and level of professionality, I’d say the Harland is more significant, but they each have garnered respect, and draw many submissions each year.

Printing houses are few and far between, and usually depend on individual editors for their continuity and quality. Meulenhoff Boekerij used to be active in speculative fiction through their Mynx imprint (formerly M), but with the departure of their long-time publisher, and the severe injury of their editor, it seems to have come to a stand-still. There’s the Q imprint of literary publishing house Querido. But the main specfic publisher, the only one with multiple Dutch and Flemish authors signed, is Luitingh Sijthoff, or LS, where Adrian Stone, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, An Jansen and others are under contract.

Besides these professional publishing houses, there are a handful of POD, amateur, and vanity publishers, that regularly churn out novels by Dutch authors. The writing and editing quality there is very inconsistent, unfortunately, so I’m not taking them into account.

As for magazines? There are two that I know of, but none that actually pay their submitters. Wonderwaan is the primary publication, publishing original Dutch fiction as well as translated reprints, and edited by two speculative fiction veterans with years of experience. In addition to the existing mags, plans are being developed for a professional online magazine that will pay semi-professional rates to its authors, but it may yet be a while before that happens.

And then there are several larger and smaller conventions. I’m not much of a Con goer, so I’m not the obvious person to talk about them. However, I understand that these always draw many attendants.

All in all, the Dutch speculative fiction scene is fairly active, though hermetic, and not quite on the level of professionality I would like.

Roelof Goudriaan : Main authors in random order:Paul Evanby,Jan J.B. Kuipers, Mike Jansen,Jaap Boekestein, Nathalie Koch, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Guido Eekhaut, Tais Teng, Marcel Orie. The Dutch fantastika is small in size, with a limited number of authors being published by large publishers Luitingh and de Boekerij plus a very active field of smaller players including Zilverspoor, Link, Vrijdag and Verschijnsel (my own small press). There is only one surviving sf magazine, Wonderwaan.

Cristian Tamas : M. C. Escher, Paul Verhoeven and Michel Faber are perhaps the only world reputed Dutchmen within the realm of fantastika. Why is it so ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: Two of them are not writers, and Faber is an expat who writes in English. I think that’s the explanation.

Mike Jansen : That depends on your definition of fantastika. Some of our literary authors have written obvious genre pieces that were sold as literary. And they sold a lot. Add to that the Dutch habit of ‘just act normal, that’s weird enough as it is’ and you will find that the talent is there, but the attitude in some talented folks stops them from reaching greatness. Finally, we’re a small country, with 17 million inhabitants, so the total pool of talented, ambitious people is somewhat limited. Again, some kind of renaissance is necessary to teach these people that they matter, that they’re special and that the world needs their work.

Floris Kleijne : Identifying Michel Faber as Dutch is rather a stretch, as he left the Netherlands when he was seven, lived and learned in Australia, and is now a Scottish resident.

But Verhoeven and Escher are good examples. Verhoeven’s film making ambitions were larger than this country could accommodate: his talent, and the type–and size–of productions he desired, needed a more fertile environment than the Lowlands could offer. This is symptomatic: it often seems like striving for professionalism, for quality, and treating art as a kind of trade, a type of skilled labor, is taboo here. And looking towards the US to learn the trade is frowned upon in particular by the Literary establishment and the film scene.

I’ve said enough about Literature, I think, but in the movie world something similar is going on. The vast majority of Dutch movies is frankly painful to watch, because there isn’t enough of a vibrant, inclusive movie scene, and movie makers seem to prefer to make amateuristic films with low production value to accepting that the technical quality of even the most low-brow Hollywood pulp flick is better than most of what’s produced over here. To grow in his movie making, to learn quality, and to make the big movies he wanted to make, Verhoeven had to flee the Netherlands.

And Escher is not fantastika. Not because his designs aren’t fantastic: they obviously are. But because his work is considered art, and art and the fantastic cannot coexist in a single work, at least according to the Dutch artistic establishment. So any work of art, including literature, that self-identifies as speculative, is automatically excluded from serious consideration, therefore from success, and consequently, from international success.

Mark the term “self-identifies”. I maintain that the lack of recognition the speculative scene experiences in the Netherlands–and hence abroad–is due for a large part to their own insistence that their works are something separate from the mainstream. Speculative fiction authors seem to revel in their niche position, and enjoy the underdog/outcast role even as they complain about it.

What doesn’t help the issue is that so much of what is published in Dutch is so bad. There is no broadly shared culture of mutual criticism; instead, authors and readers move in the same hermetic circles and harvest each other’s acclaim for what often amounts to badly written hobby fiction–though published badly written hobby fiction, because publishing is easy these days if you set your sights low enough. The result is that an outsider (sic!) diving into Dutch specfic has a far greater chance to pick up an unedited vanity publication than a book by Evanby or Koch, and that outsider will then be reaffirmed that specfic is not to be taken seriously.

Roelof Goudriaan : Michel Faber emigrated to Australia at age seven, so I’m not so sure I would include him in that list. It’s interesting that the only author you name is as good as a native English speaker.

Cristian Tamas : Would the Prijs der Nederlandse Letteren (Dutch Literature Prize) be sometime awarded to a speculative fiction writer ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: Nope, only if his name was Harry Mulisch, and he is dead.

Mike Jansen : Depending on your definition it probably already has. But if you consider speculative fiction the real SF/F/H type fiction, then the answer is probably no at this moment. That does not mean it won’t happen somewhere in the future. For that the Dutch genre literature would have to mature and go through some kind of renaissance to become a force to be reckoned with, rivaling the sales of the established, literary authors.

Floris Kleijne : Not unless some of the problems I’ve mentioned are addressed, and major changes occur. Either the writers who are now considered speculative need to achieve mainstream recognition, or the established Literary writers need to be recognized as speculative. (Harry Mulisch, whom I mentioned before, has already won the Prijs.)

Cristian Tamas : Is the Dutch Fantastika part of the Dutch literary canon ? A part of the Randstad culture ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: No – and maybe a tiny little bit of the Randstad culture.

Mike Jansen : Not much Dutch fantastic literature was written in the latter part of the twentieth century, apart from works by Wim Gijsen, Felix Thijssen, Eddy C. Bertin and Peter Schaap. There were few publications that handled them, few publishers who dared to publish Dutch fantastic authors. So few books made it into the Dutch literary canon. Will that change now? I certainly hope so. I’m not aware of anything called ‘Randstad culture’, unless you would call the difference between urban and rural areas the ‘Randstad culture.’

Cristian Tamas : Besides Riemer Reinsma, Luk de Vos and Joseph Andreas Dautzenberg are any other scholars interested by the Dutch Fantastika ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: I think less and less.

Mike Jansen : Not that I am aware of. Usually the academics trail the occurrence of new and interesting events in certain fields. In a few years some academics may notice a sudden rise in interest in fantastic literature and may start studying it again. One of the places they’ll turn to for information will be this site: http://www.sfanpedia.nl/  It is an endeavor to collect every piece of information on Dutch language fantastic publications, translators, authors, artists and whatnot.

Floris Kleijne : I’ll skip this question, as I don’t even know who these three people are.

Cristian Tamas : What makes a successfull genre writer ? “A certain charisma, some talent, an unerring fashion instinct, a steely resilience, determination, performance, being at the epicentre of the fashionable cultural life of it’s time – and at its vanguard, encapsulating it’s era ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: If you mean commercial success I wouldn’t know. Success as an artist in the genre would be doing your own thing, and your own thing only. Like in other artistic disciplines.

“The Copper Oasis” by Mike Jansen

Mike Jansen : Nice words, but really, writing is hard work. It requires time, effort, diligence and plain stubbornness. Hopefully the words you write will be imbued with some muse’s spirit to lift them high above the masses of mediocrity. Really, just write and improve, rinse, repeat and so on and so forth.

Floris Kleijne : No, not that.

There are countless factors that make a successful genre writer, of which luck is far from the least important. Some are not entirely under the author’s control, such as an talent for language and storytelling, and a quirky and open mind able to entertain strange, outlandish, fanciful, and even contradictory ideas.

But any author can work to develop the trade. And a genre author is no different.

One: be a glutton. Read, read, and then read some more. To develop skill, to learn more and more of the language, but also, importantly, to know what’s out there, to be aware of the current state of literature. If you’re a genre author, read genre. But also read other genres, non-fiction, anything, and read (translations of) every language you can get your hands on.

Two: write. Always write. If not on paper or on screen, because you’re behind the wheel of your car, or in the john, or in a meeting, then write in your head.

And three: give your imagination free reign. Allow yourself to come up with every weird idea that pops up, and allow yourself to pursue those ideas to their extreme. Do not self-censor, but instead embrace what your mind comes up with. Chase that idea down, see where it leads: it almost always leads to story. Theme, meaning, relevance, metaphor: these are emergent qualities, if you’re a good writer, and actually have opinions and see the world. But speculative fiction is the literature of ideas, so ideas are what you want to pursue.

Cristian Tamas : Jetse de Vries proposed an “optimistic” approach of the future with his Shine anthology. Neal Stephenson with his Hieroglyph, project, too. Other genre writers disagree :

„Do I feel the need to write some cheery, upbeat fiction about how future technology’s going to save us all? Fuck, no. Social responsibilities of the genre writer – I mean, good grief. What I object to is the retro-socialist idea behind that artists have a social duty to make nice. Not least because the world we live in and the future that is emerging seem to me to demand anything but. And in connection with this, here’s what I think I find most irritating about Hieroglyph’s mission statement – it takes a wide-eyed and utterly ignorant view of how human society works; it assumes a one-to-one beneficent relationship between a better future and better technology, and this simply isn’t the case.”Richard Morgan

Optimist, pessimist, cynicist or nihilist, the future will be beyond our imagination, isn’it ? Nobody is writing for our descendents from the year 3.000 AD. And Fantastika as a genre should entertain, is it ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: Entertainment with a twist, I think. SF and fantasy should make you aware more. More aware of the world, of existence, of society, of culture and of human consciousness itself. More aware of the   sublime beauty and also horror of the universe. There is not much hope in a political or psychological sense, I am afraid. But there is always a lot to laugh about.

Mike Jansen : I think that authors of fantastic literature should write whatever the hell pleases them. Let the readers decide what they want to read, whether it’s optimist or pessimist, dreamlike or realistic, weird or normal, high tech or low tech, magical or mundane. For me, utopia and dystopia are two sides of a coin. There’s never a fully optimistic view or a fully pessimistic view in my opinion. I write about the shades of grey that occur where humans act and the different perspectives of future or alternate societies.

Floris Kleijne : Finally, a subject I have an opinion on…. 😀

This whole discussion is based on a false dilemma. An optimist approach to the future does not necessarily lead to cheery, upbeat fiction, as any reader of Jetse’s Shine anthology will confirm. Nor is cinisism and dystopia intrinsically better. These are both points in a spectrum that changes on as many axes as there are writers and themes. In that sense, Morgan misrepresents the intentions of both De Vries and Stephenson in order to score an easy point.

Moreover, it is a common misconception that speculative fiction is about the future. SF is sometimes set in the future, but SF, at least good SF, is fundamentally about the here and now. And whatever choice an author makes, whether it is Pollyanna optimism or pitch-black cynicism, says little about the quality of his fiction, and a lot about his world view.

Roelof Goudriaan : Most of all, let’s not prescribe what a book should or should not be.

Cristian Tamas : Be(com)ing Dutch was intended to spark debate over the national identity of the Netherlands. Since the early 2000′s the Netherlands have undergone a dramatic shift in political vision, partially due to two political murders. In this light, many of the country’s most well-known ‘characteristics’, such as tolerance, multiculturalism and freedom of speech have had to be questioned. Be(com)ing Dutch intended to do just that.The growing tension in Amsterdam and other European cities between the many groups living comfortably there under the umbrella of tolerance and much of the immigrant community, which seemed to benefit from, but show little or none of, the tolerance of the larger society around them.” What is your opinion ?

Jan J.B. Kuipers: Well, if they start killing off your artists and politicians, you begin to look a little different at the situation. For me freedom is the alpha and the omega, but not especially for those who want to destroy my freedom, and spit on my culture and threaten my existence.

Mike Jansen : My opinion is that The Netherlands have an excellent constitution that gives guidelines for introducing other cultures into our own culture and the rules on how to enact that. Also, our constitution holds and guarantees many of the freedoms we enjoy. Unfortunately, our political class chose to ignore the laws, to create bad new ones, in stead opting to buy votes and get into seats of power and to jockey for lucrative positions in the businesses that they sold out to, the moment they left politics. Much of the polarization in The Netherlands is also caused by media and the politics that drive them. Extremism sells papers, ads, so basically it’s about money. All else is mostly diversion.

Floris Kleijne : The maddening thing about the changes occurring right now in Europe and the Netherlands is that though the fires may not be lit by them, there are too many people in positions of power and authority all too eager to fan the flames. People apparently in need of an enemy, who prefer painting the islam as a whole as the enemy over reasonable–and reasoned–dialogue. Of course, the root of the problem is fundamentalist extremism, but the United States, and European right-wing parties, seem to be doing everything in their power to polarize the conflict, and ensure that more and more muslims come to sympathize with the extremists.

Personally, I blame the terrorists for their terrorism, but the stupidity and callousness of the West for the extreme escalation. The United States and their allies for the Gulf Wars, the drone strikes, and the callous disregard for human life they keep displaying. It is not in the least surprising that more and more muslims think of the US as the evil in the world: the American government has spent decades demonstrating that to the Muslim world, they in fact are evil.

And Geert Wilders can be held personally accountable for the polarization of Dutch society. A man in his position should know much, much better than to blame an entire group for the actions of a few. His stupidity is its own kind of evil, since he doesn’t think twice about wielding it for political gain. Even if he believes the rabid, war-mongering nonsense he spouts, he should realize what he does to popular opinion, how his rhetoric drives deeper and deeper splits into society, how he even shifts the entire political game as more and more politicos think they need to move towards that type of popular rhetoric to keep up.

Nevertheless, the problems in Holland with decreasing tolerance, increasing discrimination, and growing hatred, cannot be solved independently of what is going on in the rest of the world. What is needed is a tectonic shift in US international policy (including apologies and reparations for harms already inflicted), an ongoing, open dialogue between all parts of the world, a firm hand against both Israel and Palestine, an immediate end to all freedom-of-speech exceptions (even including things like blasphemy and Holocaust denial) and other suggestions that some groups are more special in their suffering than others, and a broad international coalition against IS, Boko Haram, Christian White Supremacists, and every other terrorist movement of whatever religious or political denomination.

© Cristian Tamaș, Jan J.B. Kuipers, Mike Jansen, Floris Kleijne, Roelof Goudriaan

Jan J.B. Kuipers’s bibliography : http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?162809

Jan J.B. Kuiper’s blog : janjbkuipers.blogspot.com/

http://people.zeelandnet.nl/jjbkuipers/

Jan JB Kuipers

Jan J.B. Kuipers (born in 1953) is a multi-genre author. He published nearly sixty (paper) books and hundreds of contributions in the field of history, archeology, literature, SF & fantasy, thrillers and children’s literature. He published essays, articles, stories and poetry ; a number of stories in foreign journals and anthologies. As a poet, he was one of the first practitioners of ‘megaphone’ poetry. Kuipers was previously active as an editor at a regional historical publishing The Copper Garden, head author and editorial staff member of the Zeeland Encyclopedia, journalist and copywriter. He is also a reviewer, columnist, editor of Nehalennia, Ballustrada, Zeeland Heritage and member of the Zeeland Magazine and Archaeology Magazine.  He also works as a copywriter for exhibitions, websites, ETC.

Awards :  King Kong Award (1983, 1987), Millennium Award (1997), Zeeuwse Boekenprijs (Zeeland Book Award, 2005), Gorcumse Literatuurprijs (Gorcumse Literature Award, 2004-2005).

Some recent book publications:

Netherlands in the Middle Ages (History; Walburg Press, 2011)

Hubake’s House (fantastic stories; Verschijnsel, 2011)

The Well  (Liverse, 2011)

A Disaster of 5000 Characters (stories; Liverse, 2013)

 

Mike Jansen

Mike Jansen has published flash fiction, short stories and longer work in various anthologies and magazines in the Netherlands and Belgium, including Cerberus, Manifesto Bravado, Wonderwaan, Ator Mondis and Babel-SF and Verschijnsel anthologies such as Ragnarok and Zwarte Zielen (Black Souls). He lives in the Netherlands, in Hilversum, near Amsterdam. He has won awards for best new author and best author in the King Kong Award in 1991 and 1992 respectively as well as an honorable mention for a submission to the Australian Altair Magazine launch competition in 1998. In 2012 Mike won awards in the SaBi Thor story contest, the Literary Prize for the Baarn Cultural Festival and the prestigious Fantastels award for best short story. More recent publications in various English language ezines and anthologies, among which several publications with JWKfiction.com, Encounters Magazine and others. For a full list please refer to Mike’s site: http://www.meznir.com

Mike’s debut novel, ‘The Failing God‘ is available, in English.

 

Floris Kleijne 1

Floris Kleijne was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in 1970, started writing as soon as he learned how to build sentences, first in longhand in ever-growing stacks of notebooks, then on the ancient IBM typewriter a friend of his mother gave him. In 1986, his first science fiction story, Illusie (Illusion) was accepted for the Dutch anthology Ganymedes, which promptly folded. Discouraged by this setback, he kept writing, but didn’t submit anything for years, instead focusing on a university degree in biology and a patchwork career of university and marketing research, croissant baking, teaching programming, and project management.

Then, in 2001, an American friend suggested to try his luck in the States. He wrote the short suspense story Deep Red, and sold it to the first market he submitted it to. The same friend pointed out the Writers of the Future contest in 2003, and after becoming published finalist with Conversation with a Mechanical Horse in 2003, the time travel tale Meeting the Sculptor won first place in 2004. Since then, he had sold eight more stories to various markets, including Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Escape Pod, Leading Edge Magazine, Space & Time Magazine, Machine Of Death, and Daily Science Fiction. He still lives in Amsterdam, the patchwork career continues, but these days he has Thursdays off for writing. Floris is an active member of the SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America; the first ever Dutchman to qualify for active membership.

http://floriskleijne.nl/

Roelof Goudriaan 1

Roelof Goudriaan has been active since the early eighties within the European SF fandom.

He edited and published an English-language pan-European newsletter in the 1980s, Shards Of Babel. Some 40 issues appeared of this magazine, which aimed to improve the exchange of ideas between East and West European national fandoms.

In the 1990s, Roelof got active publishing fantastic fiction from Dutch-speaking authors – SF, Fantasy and especially imaginative work difficult to categorize & label. His small press publishing houses Babel Publications (in the Netherlands), founded together with Mike Jansen in 1993 and Verschijnsel (“Phenomenon”, in Belgium) have published some fifty titles to date, and continue to publish four to six books per year.

Roelof was co-editor of the Irish slipstream magazine Albedo One and the Irish small press publishing house Aeon Press (www.aeonpress.com).

He is the recipient of the Harrison Award and a winner of the GUFF fan fund, and his publishing activities have received a number of European SF Society Awards. He has lived in his native Holland & in Ireland and now resides in Burgundian Flanders. He  co-organized the 2007 Beneluxcon in Louvain,  helped with the regularity as jury the Paul Harland Prize and its predecessors and he expanded his small press publishing into a portal for original Dutch-language SF, www.verschijnsel.com (where you can also find info on the two English-language books he has published by Dutch authors Paul Harland and Paul Evenblij).

 

 

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