From left : Panagiotis Koustas, Michalis Manolios, Kostas Paradias
“In a talk at Cambridge Festival of Ideas, senior lecturer Dr Justin Meggitt claimed that the first ever work of science fiction was in fact written by a Greek-speaking author, in Ancient Rome : True History by Lucian of Samosata.” – The Telegraph, UK
Cristian Tamas : Greek SF&F is a terra incognita not only in Romania but also in Europe and in the world. Why is it so ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Well, the cost of translation from Greek to English or French is one matter. If you are a publisher, you’d probably risk a higher cost of translation for a book of Greek Food with nice pictures of dishes or a classic Greek writer. Another reason is that Greek Science Fiction Writers don’t really contribute much in the European SFF scene. I mean, in international anthologies and festivals. We tend to keep our heads low…
Michalis Manolios : There are several reasons: Our estranged language, our small population, but mainly the small number of past and modern greek writers who contributed regularly SF&F works, and the miniscule corresponding production.
Kostas Paradias : It is very hard for me to not break into the hard, cynical response of it is not known because it barely exists, even if this is the closest possible we can come to the truth, in regards to the Science Fiction and Fantasy publishing scene in Greece. Explaining the reasons why this is so could be long and frankly, depressing, so here is the long and short of it: Greece, for all its population of geek afficionados and aspiring writers, does not have a market that is interested in assimilating the work of actual Greek authors. This is an interesting paradox, seeing as to how there is a great number of very passionate, gung-ho readers of international fiction, who are however turned off by the thought of reading the work of Greek authors on the genre.
It is perhaps this poor reception in our own country that forces many authors (like myself) away from the Greek market, seeking opportunities at publication and perhaps a professional writing career anywhere other than in our homeland.
Cristian Tamas : Why do you think that The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction is mentioning only three Greek writers, George Papadopoulos, Diamandis Florakis, Kay Cicellis, one Greek SF Magazine (Universe Pathways) and two film directors of Greek origin, the australians George Miller (Miliotis), the creator of the „Mad Max” movies and Alex Proyas ? Why there is no Greece ESF monography ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Maybe because none of us bothered to address The Encyclopedia with a decent article about Science Fiction in Greece…
“Aethra” by Michalis Manolios, winner of Aeon Award 2011, series Avatar Capsule, Kipple Officina Libraria, 2011, Italy
Michalis Manolios : I don’t know about other countries, but it seems that in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction only greek writers and magazines that are published in English are mentioned and, in my opinion, these are not the most representative of the greek SF scene. I hope that in the future we will have new translated works, and in this way a more massive ESFpresence.
Kostas Paradias : Well, let’s see here…George Sotirhos is the only SF&F publisher at the moment who has given a damn about accepting his status as an SF writer. George Papadopoulos has had his work translated into English, Diamandis Florakis has written science fiction political thrillers and Kay Cicellis has only been acknowledged because she was the only female Greek SF writer at the time. At the time these people listed in the website published their work, their passion and output was, to put it bluntly, a stigma. And guess what ? It still is.
It is not just a lack of organization that causes this frankly outrageous disinterest in Greek SF authors informing the international community of their presence. It is the fact that, to be a writer in Greece of any genre other than erotica or political biographies is career suicide, following extreme marginalization. There is no Greek SF Monography, because there are hardly any SF writers in Greece who will not be scorned by editors or laughed at – yes, even by science fiction fans – simply because they chose to write and present their work in their native tongue. This is an example of writers tragically lacking an audience in their own country for no other reason than shallow prejudice on the readers’ part and that is a crying shame.
Cristian Tamas : Are there any histories of Greek SF&F or overviews or panoramas or articles available in the main international languages ? Or other english language studies written by greek scholars ?
Panagiotis Koustas : The only related item, that I am aware of, is a paper by Domna Pastourmatzi on the following link: http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/79/pastourmatzi.htm
Michalis Manolios : There is an article by Spyros Vretos: „Es begann mit Jules Verne: Science Fiction und Fantasy in Griechenland“ in Udo Klotz, Hans-Peter Neumann & Hannes Riffel (eds.), Shayol Jahrbuch zur Science Fiction 2004, Berlin: Shayol Verlag, 2005 [in German].
Kostas Paradias : There is, actually, a very intersting piece of work by Greek scholar Domna Pastourmatzi, who presents a very clear and interesting outline on the history of Greek SF&F modern literature in the 19th and 20th centuries, up to today. It is very comprehensive and in fact contains a very interesting overview on the genres and the publishing scene ion Greece. You can find it here: “Hellenic Magazines of Science Fiction” : http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/79/pastourmatzi.htm
Cristian Tamas : Has anything from the greek SF&F been translated into english, french, german, spanish, italian, etc. ?
Panagiotis Koustas : The list that I am aware, is:
A short story of Thanassis Vembos in “Eine Trillion Euro” german anthology.
A short story of Alekos Papadopoulos in the ESA anthology.
A short story of Hedwig-Maria Karakouda in “Utopiae 2005”.
My “Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound”, in “The SFWA European Hall of Fame”.
Michalis Manolios’ “Aethra”, in Albedo One magazine.
Michalis Manolios : There are some short stories in international anthologies: “Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound”, by Panagiotis Koustas in “The SFWA European Hall of Fame” (in English) edited by James and Kathryn Morrow, “Brûle!” („Burn!”) by Hedwig-Maria Karakouda in “Utopiae 2005” edited by Bruno Della Chiesa (in French) and a story by Thanassis Vembos in “Eine Trillion Euro” (in German and Russian) edited by Andreas Eschbach.
“Aethra” has already been translated in English in Albedo One magazine (October 2011) and in Italian by Kipple in e-pub. Among others, there is also an essay by Spyros Vretos: “Hellenes and Aliens: A Survey of Greeks and Greek Expatriates in the World of Science Fiction”, New York Review of SF, issue 241 (Vol. 21, Νο. 1, September 2008), New York: Dragon Press, 2008 (in English).
Kostas Paradias : If you mean recently, then seeing as how there has been no noteworthy SF or F output from Greece to warrant a translation, then no. Since the end of the 80’s, Greece has produced nothing but chick lit, mediocre historical fiction, bullshit politicized mediocrities and political biographies.This is probably the most depressing answer in the entire interview, but it is, sadly, true.
Cristian Tamas : What is the status in Greece of the Greek SF&F writer and of the Greek editor and scholar interested by the local domain of the imaginary ? Are there in Greece, literary critics and theoreticians focused on SF&F, or only reviewers ? Do you have a literary canon in Greece ? Who is establishing the literary canon ? The Greek Academy or some influent literary critic/s ? What about Greek fantastic literature (fantastika), it exists ?
Panagiotis Koustas : There is a strange status. We have a lot of good writers, that “pass through” the gentre, but very few devoted to it. There are great editors, like Angelos Mastorakis and Dimitri Arvanitis. Scholars like Domna Pastourmatzi. Makis Panorios spent a lifetime for his 6-volume Anthology of the Greek Fantastic Literature. But on mainstream media I can’t name one active literary critic that knows -or even likes- SFF. Our festivals or conventions are rather marginal events targeted in fans. On the other hand, there are really great works done by “crazy” persons like my friend Spiros Vrettos in “saving the data” of the gentre and a lot of people that read a lot of the stuff. Greek Fantastic Literature exists in the sense that you can not kill it, but I would not call it popular in any way.
Michalis Manolios : There are numerous historians, critics, bibliographers and academics. An influencial (and possibly the first) academic critical essay on SF was published in the short-lived “Exandas” magazine in 1972. Courses on SF and Comics are offered at the Aristotelian Universitiy of Thessaloniki and the University of the Aegean in Mytilene (island of Lesvos) by Prof. Domna Pastourmatzi and Dr. Abraham Kaoua respectively. A number of national and international academic conferences and colloquia have been organized since 1998, as well as a number of festivals and traditional SF conventions.
Kostas Paradias : Well, to quote the words of a publisher I had contacted, regarding a book I had submitted to his attention (it was a Hinduist themed space opera titled „Her Fractal Majesty”) „I love your style and approach, but at the moment, all we can sell are the translated works of foreign authors”. It is disheartening for a writer to have to see the ugly truth of the matter, especially when he hears it from the publishers themselves, who are the people that are perfectly aware of the state the market they are appealing to is in.
As far as editors are concerned, I have found a very small number of them who still soldier on, despite the terrible workload and ocassional pay problems that arise usually after their publications. An editor in Greece is usually also a translator (as most of the SF&F work currently out is translated) and while the responsibility does come with a raised pay, this sum is mostly paid on time in full only in theory. Working as an editor of fnatastical fiction in Greece is not, unfortunately, as good as advertised.
On the matter of literary critics and theoriticians of SF&F, there has been no actual academic research on this matter. Most people who would call themselves scholars of the genres are usually overenthusiastic fans of the books on authors or usually writers themselves, publishing articles on their websites or an ocassional small-press publication with a very short print run. Most of the Greek critics and theoriticians of SF&F usually turn to publishing or editing themselves but most of them are forced to treat their research as a hobby.
There is no literary canon in Greece as far s SF&F are concerned. These genres are still mostly considered „fringe” meaning that they have not been accepted into the literary fold, even though many renowned Greek authors have in fact written short stories AND books on the genre. The academics refuse to acknowledge it, thinking that perhaps a pig-headed fixation on the mythological works of Homer is more than enough for our country. They are sadly wrong, of course.
Greek fantasy literature does in fact exist, however; it might only exist in small press companies (like Jemma Press and Universal Pathways) but it persists. There are a number of publishing houses that allow for authors to publish their work and make it widely available to whatever audience they can reach. Unfortunately, as I already mentioned, this ia a very small audience that is, for the time being, unwilling to assimilate the work of domestic authors.
Cristian Tamas : What is the status, if any, of the Greek Science Fiction & Fantasy within the Greek culture ? Is it considered just genre junk as in the rest of the european continental countries ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Same Living-Dead situation here. There are Greek films in the last 20 years, that are clearly SFF. A lot of short films, some films by Nikos Nikolaidis that went well. There is a lot of SFF in advertising television spots. SFF comics. But when it comes to literature, it’s somehow suicidal to declare that you are a science fiction writer.
Michalis Manolios : It is hard to estimate. Of course it is not respected as mainstream literature is, but I think that its status has improved the last fifteen years that I follow the genre. Greek SF&F books do not enjoy wide circulation, thus they don’t get many reviews. As a result, it is difficult to assess their actual status within the greek culture, but it is certainly worse than the one the English SF&F works enjoy. At the same time, it is very interesting and often amusing to see how the most famous and/or notable SF&F books like „1984”, „Brave New World” or „Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro are considered by many as mainstream literature. In general, there is a rather wide spread view that „if it’s good literature, it’s not science fiction”.
Kostas Paradias : Yes, pretty much. The academics won’t acknowledge it, the geeks won’t come out of the closet or put their china mievilles and terry pratchetts on their shelves, the average Joe won’t give a damn about the genre unless there is a TV adaptation with tits in it (pardon my french).
The most infuriating thing about this, however, is not the fact that the Greeks refuse to acknowledge the genres as real, honest-to-God literature, but that Greeks, as a people are enamored with their escapism. We devour conspiracy theory swill about mind-control gasses sprayed by passing planes. We pore over idiotic drivel about how our ancient ancestors were aliens from Sirius-B, come to fight underworld-demons for domination of the Earth in 2055. We devour metric tons of hammy, badly-written wish-fulfilment erotica and we can spend months researching some horeshit magical bio-energy cure.
As a people, us Greeks are ADDICTED to our escapism, so much so, that it is sad. And the fact that even though we are willing to spend good money on make-believe wishy-washy garbage, we still consider SF&F (which are perfect examples of healthy, creative escapism) to be „fringe” fiction is infuriating.
Cristian Tamas : How you characterize the Greek science fiction ? What’s its unique voice ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Mostly soft and dystopic. A lot of times used as a theatrical scenery for allegories. I don’t think it has a unique voice, but this voice is certainly trying to sing a song that’s not written yet.
Michalis Manolios : Since the modern production is not big enough, it is quite difficult to make out a characteristic greek science fiction voice, but I would say that it focuses more on society and psychology than technology. You will not find greek hard science fiction the way it is meant in the U.S. for example, and politics is another issue that seems to interest greek writers from time to time.
Kostas Paradias : Greek SF has so very few representatives, but there is a single theme that I keep seeing to each and every one of them: a need for escape, perhaps mirroring our own fascination. I keep seeing this in the works of Germanos, of Mastakouris, of Miliotis, of myself, as well.
Greek science fiction has very few published (and widely known) representatives and we all seem to agree on a single, very important theme: get me out of here. We don’t mean the country, of course. We love our country, for all its strangeness and follies and contrasts and ocassional bits of hypocricy. No, we need to exist in a different mold, in a place where someone who can enjoy Stanislaw Lem does not necessarily have to be a member of the Communist Party and someone who likes to read anything other than JRR Tolkien’s works is not thought as „going through a phase”.
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, of course. Perhaps we Greeks will never get over our ancestors. But a writer can dream. It is, after all, his job…
Cristian Tamas : Who are the main Greek SF&F writers and which are their relevant works (novels and short stories)?
Michalis Manolios – “Sarkino Frouto” (Fleshy Fruit), Triton Publications, 1999.
Panagiotis Koustas : Definitely, Michalis Manolios! His first book „Sarkino Frouto” in 1999 was a wake-up call for me. It was the first greek book that pushed my standards as a writer far higher. His short stories and his second book „…kai to teras” (…and the beast) declare that he is a long-distance runner on the field.
Alekos Papadopoulos – “Lathos Odigies” (Wrong Instructions)
Alekos Papadopoulos is also a very talented writer focused on putting serious questions on his short stories. His collection is a great book called “Lathos Odigies” (Wrong Instructions).
Kostas Charitos mix slices of life with a strange, sometimes sarkastic, humour on his work. His novel “Schedio Fractal” (The Fractal Plan) is a book that has it all. CERN researchers, Computer addicts and Greek boats that wreck on Summertime! I also consider quite promicing the short stories written by Stamatopoulos Brothers, as they tend to stick on political aspects that are very dear to me.
Vasso Christou – “Oi Lakseftes tis Paliroias” (Tide Chiselers)
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of fantasy. But I did enjoy every page of the 3-volume book “Oi Lakseftes tis Paliroias” (Tide Chiselers) by Vasso Christou. Vasso also delivers high-quality science fiction stories that reverbarate cruelty and kindness at the same time.
A great horror writer is Abraam Kawa, a rather unique voice too hard to describe. His novels “To asimi pou ourliazei” (Silver Screaming) and “Nekro Derma” (Dead Skin) are his best works up to now.
Panagiotis Koustas – “Eksi Disekatomyria Tropi Zois” (Six Billion Ways of Life)
Michalis Manolios : In Science Fiction, “Eksi Disekatomyria Tropi Zois” („Six Billion Ways of Life”) by Panagiotis Koustas is a collection of rather optimistic political and social SF short stories. There is also Alekos Papadopoulos with his very interesting “Lathos Odigies” („Wrong Instructions”) collection and Kostas Charitos’ “Schedio Fractal” („Fractal Plan”) a novel which deals with the discovery of the Higgs particle before it was actually discovered.
Kostas Charitos – “Schedio Fractal” (Fractal Plan)
In Fantasy, we have Vasso Christou with her impressive worldbuilding trilogy of “Oi Lakseftes tis Paliroias” (Tide Chiselers) and the equally detailed „Koraki se aliko fonto” („Crow in Scarlet Background”) by Eleftherios Keramidas. I mention only contemporary writers and, since no greek SF/F writer is widely known outside the domain of the imaginary, this is a non-exclusive list and a one of absolutely personal taste.
Eleftherios Keramidas – “Koraki se aliko fonto” (Crow in Scarlet Background)
Kostas Paradias : I assume when you mean main, you also mean the best known of them, as well. From the top of my head (and after some long research that yielded few results), we have Makis Panorios with his collection of literary works Tomorrow. It was avery interesting story collection, which focused on a number of stories on the clash of AI and humanity not in a planet-shattering confrontation a la Terminator, but instead showed the social problems of their co-existence and the implications of concious machinery’s servitude towards man. Georgios Balanos was one of those few brave actual academians who attempted to delve into the academic side of examining SF&F, with his most notable work being In the Shadow of Cthulhu, which was a professional look into the themes of horror and 20th century science fiction tropes. It was, of course, not taken seriously by his colleagues as an actual academic work, which is a crying shame. Nick Vlamis wrote the stunning black comedy SF book called Bartleby the Computer Nerd, which took Melville’s original idea of Bartleby the Scrivener and turned it on its head, adapting it to the needs of the 21st century. He transformed the neurotic little mess of a man that was the original Barteby into an insecure computer wiz, who gives up his boring life and his dead-end job and becomes a cyber-nomad, living his life on the road opting out of human relationships for long-distance, internet-based ones. Freddy Germanos, one of Greece’s most renowned modern writers, also wrote a short story anthology, titled The Hostile Planet. It was a great piece of sociopolitical satire that reflected the trends and fears of the average Greek reader, with a score of great time-travel stories and an AI-based romance that unfortunately was read by very few. Then there is Kira Sinou, who wrote her book The Great Experiment, about a brain-damaged man who has his IQ increased a hundred-fold, turning him from a good-natured average Joe into a comic-book worthy supervillain. And that’s not even going into the older experiments of Greek SF&F writers, like Penelope Delta’s Fairy Tale with No Name, or Kontoglou’s The God Konanos and Tzortzoglou’s This is Selene. There is a lot of work out there, great, important, excellent work that the Greek public chooses to ingore, to their literary detriment.
Cristian Tamas : How would you describe the Greek SF&F scene between 2000-2014 ? Writers, titles, publishers, magazines, fanzines, anthologies, collections, sites, clubs, self publishing, digital format, etc. ? In average how many Greek SF&F titles are published yearly ? What’s the average print run ? And how many translated SF&F titles ? What’s the average print run ? Is any printed SF&F magazine existing ? What about the online SF&F magazines ?
Panagiotis Koustas : From 2000-2009 things looked rather promicing. From 2009-2014 things are going down the drain, as the SFF scene landed in the Crisis Zone like everybody else in Greece. The hardcore hasn’t change much, but its influence changed dramatically. Big publishers are off the market, small publishers are in a zombie condition. „9” magazine that supported local and international SF by publishing one short story per week (and paid for it both writers and translators) closed. Today the situation is really bad. There is some self publicing in small print run. Not much in digital format. One or two collections and anthologies per year. ALEF holds its ground with big problems in financing the annual SFF-Rated International Film Festival. SFF.gr remains the only web space for the gentre, while fanzines and semi-pro magazines are in a „lost in space” situation.
Michalis Manolios – “…kai to teras” (…and the beast), Triton Publications, 2009.
Michalis Manolios : There are a few tens of titles per year, most of them by new writers. Self publishing is on the rise–often with less than good results as far as the quality is concerned. Print run is generally small and digital format is gaining ground but in a rather slow pace. Apart from a few small and dedicated Houses, publishers are reserved with SF&F, which means that the readers don’t see enough greek books and tend to trust mainly the foreign authors–a vicious circle. Collections and anthologies of short stories are more frequent than one would expect. With such a small production and virtually no publicity at all, big sales and decent translation chances are almost out of the question.
ALEF, the Athenean SF club, is the most active one, organising events every two weeks, and SFF.gr is the most complete forum with thousands of topics and short stories (in Greek).
A number of magazines and fanzines are currently in print. “Fantastika Chronika” by ALEF, “EF zine” (Ioannina), “News from Bree” (Tolkien Club, Athens), „Symbandikes Diadromes” (Larissa), „Universe Pathways” (Larissa, in English, not an English-language edition of the previous), „SubTales” (Thessaloniki).
Kostas Paradias : I could give you numbers, but to be absolutely honest, I would be either insencere or beat around the bush, simply to provide an adequte answer. 2000-2014 was the decade that saw the decline of Greek SF&F publishing. The economic crisis helped to shut down a number of publishing houses that specialized in these genres and it was then that the audience turned fully on only international SF&F authors.
At any time, there is a staggering number of writers in Greece (current published ones are somewhere between 100, in SF&F alone), with anthologies being very few and far between. With the exception of those sponsored by publishing houses like Ars Nocturna or, until recently, Universal Pathways, we hardly ever get to see any domestic anthologies come out. Webistes and forums on the genres do exist and are doing well, however: SFF.gr has managed to put out its very first anthology just 6 months ago if I am not mistaken (even if there was no means to pay the authors for the accepted works that made it in print). Clubs and fan-clubs do exist, but they feature the few gung-ho fans who are willing to accept the mantle of the nerd, despite the social stigma (you would think with all the nerdy movies being made and grossing millions that people would have gotten over that already).
An average print run of an SF&F book reaches at the thousands, though a large number of those copies might never be sold. A few hundreds of them will be bought by the writers themselves and readers, but they will be overwhelmed by the release of a translated version of some fantasy hit sequel.
Webines seem to be making a dent, however: besides Universal pathways, there is Redworlds.gr and Alef. Gr that form the caucus of the Greek SF&F webzine fandom. They are still small, but they have a dedicated following.
Cristian Tamas : Can a Greek SF&F writer just make a living only by writing ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Definitely not.
Michalis Manolios : I honestly don’t believe that there are more than twenty greek writers (meaning writers who live and write in Greece) who are able to make a living only by writing fiction, which means not adding extra income from articles, other forms of non-fiction writing, seminars, workshops etc. So, as you can imagine, when it comes to greek SF&F writers, such a notion can only be considered as an amusing joke. The money involved in SF&F writing in Greece is so insignificant, that one can as well forget about it.
Kostas Paradias : A Greek SF&F writer cannot hope to make a living writing even if he is internationally acclaimed and published. The thought of someone pulling it off in Greece (without being a filthy rich dilettante) is simply impossible.
Cristian Tamas : What are the first SF Greek texts ? Modern ones, not Plato’s “Timaeus”, its appendix “Critias” and Lucian of Samosata’s “The True History” and „Icaromenippus” !
Panagiotis Koustas : To my opinion the works of Dimosthenis Voutyras and Petros Pikros are the ones that mark an interesting turn on the Greek Fantastic Literature.
Michalis Manolios : I asked Spyros Vretos for help about this one. In his own words:
The first fantasy text in Greek is by Stephanos Dimitriadis who wrote “Selections” (1797); it was an adaptation of “L’An 2440: by Louis Sebastien Mercier (1771).
The first Greek fantasy novel, a satirical text published in instalments, was “O Pithekos Xouth” (“The Ape Xouth”, 1848) by Iakovos Pitzipios; it was -in part- about a human that had devolved into a big ape.
One of the most important precursors was Penelope Delta, an author of historical novels for children and young adults, who wrote an early fantasy novel, “Paramythi khoris onoma” (The Nameless Story, 1921), an allegory that inspired generations of readers and writers. Another forerunner was Petros Haris (nom-de-plume of Giannis Marmaridis, later of the Athens Academy), who published his novella “The Last Night of the Earth” in book form, in 1924.
The “official” coming-of-age of Greek SF dates to 1929 when Dimosthenis Voutyras, an important author and intellectual, published his novel “Apo tin Gi ston Are” (From the Earth to Mars). He also published “Kalpikoi Politismoi” (Counterfeit Civilisations, a tale of lost worlds) in 1934.
Petros Pikros, a left-wing intellectual and journalist wrote “O anthropos pou ekhase ton eauto tou” (The Man who lost himself) in 1930 and another two novels in 1931 and 1933.
Giorgos Tsoukalas was a prolific writer of mostly pulp fiction; his first appearance was with “O Aoratos Anthropos” (The Invisible Man, inspired from Wells, 1930, in two volumes). Tsoukalas also wrote numerous adaptations of Tarzan, and original novels about a “Greek Tarzan”.
Giorgos Aspreas wrote “O Gyros tis Gis” (Around the Earth), a tale imitating Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires published in 42 instalments in the magazine “Astir” (Star) in 1931. Heraklis Zakhariadis followed with his novel “O Kosmokrator” (The Master of the World, written as an outline for a film, only marginally inspired by Verne, 1937).
Probably the first Greek SF/Horror magazine was “O Chalyvdinos Anthropos” (The Man of Steel, 1931-?, 24 known issues, Publisher: Astir, editor: G. Tsoukalas), published in the early 1930s, that offered a combination of horror, jungle and mystery stories as well as SF; it published diverse stand-alone novellas.
The two most influential editors of the 30s were Apostolos Manganaris and Nikos Theofanidis who produced the two most important pulp magazines of the pre-war as well as the post-war era, Maska and Mystirion respectively (both launched in October 1935); they dealt with thrillers and whodunits mostly, but some (especially Maska in its second incarnation, 1946-1950, 188 weekly issues) included a healthy dose of fantasy/horror and, sometimes, SF.
Kostas Paradias : You have done your research, I see. Then I guess I have to go with Byron Aptosoglou’s and Stelios Anemodoura’s The Little Hero. It was the first (and only) instance of a fully original, wholly Greek pulp superhero, published in 1953 with a 15-year print run. It was a comic book that featured a 13-year-old Allied superspy, named George Thalassis and man, it kicked ass. The kid was too young to shave, but he could drive every land and sea vehicle and figured out how to pilot a plane, after shoving the dead Nazi pilot mid-freefall. Oh and he could tame guard-dogs and had a special nerve-pinch like Mister Spock.
And did I mention that he took his orders from General Freaking Patton ? No ? How about that one time he sneaked into Dachau and extracted a Jewish prisoner by his own damn self and brought him back to Thessalonica ? And he was a crack shot and a hit with the frauleins, though he shared a platonic love interest with Katerina because hey, you can gas a platoon of fascists with nerve gas and laugh as they choke on thier own blood, but write a single love scene and you’re out of print.
The comic had to be pulled, however, as it was particularly racially insensitive. Perhaps a newer, modernized version could work. There is definitely a modernized audience for it, these days.
Cristian Tamas : The comparatist perspective of the Eastern European/South-Eastern European region (I want to avoid the term ”Balkans” due to its pejorative connotation) reveals that in the EE/S-EE countries (not exactly in the fore front of the industrial revolution) science fiction texts appeared (with the exception of Russia, in 1785 : Mikhail Shcherbatov – „ Journey to the Land of Ophir”) relatively late (Romania – 1873 : Al.N. Dariu – „Finis Rumaniae” ; Greece – 1887 : Andreas Laskaratos, „Trip to planet Jupiter; Serbia – 1889 : Dragutin Ilić – „A Million Years After”; Bulgaria – 1921 : Svetoslav Minkov – „The Blue Chrysanthemum” ; Albania – 1978 (!?!), Ukraine – (? ). Greece was the only country from the region not invaded by the soviet army and not communized after World War II and its literature and its science fiction were created in the conditions of freedom of expression and the lack of censorship (minus the Colonels Dictatorship/Military Junta, 1967-1974). This particularity created relevant Greek science fiction ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Well, freedom of expression in Greece was limited. Although only people who had to deal with the Censorship Service are aware of the fact, this Censorship in the era of the Public Arts worked non-stop from 1900-1983! It was harder or softer, according to the political situation or the persons involved, but it worked constantly. That’s why a lot of songs, like the Rebetica (that often relate with the use of hassis) were only recorded in USA in their original lyrics. The Censorship Service was co-rulled by the Greek Orthodox Church in matters related to ethics. What is interesting, though, is the Science Fiction as an allegory that still survive in Greece. Many leftish writers in the post World War II era used it to manipulate the Censorship Service.
Michalis Manolios : Certainly, but as I said it is yet quite difficult to decide how exactly this exclusive political and religious past of Greece affected the greek science fiction, because of the small production. As many things in Greece, I think it’s a blend of modest capitalism, freedom of speech and, at the same time, ill-operating state, small market and immature industrialisation.
Kostas Paradias : No. No it did not. Science fiction was always viewed, by most Greeks, as „an example of the invasion of the American culture”, even before the Junta. Greece, despite its position as the country bridging the gap between three continents, fought tooth and nail to maintain its cultural identity, reaching almost a point of isolationism. The Soviets might have been bad to East Europe and to any countries that fell under their sphere of influence, but our own approach did not truly help us, either.
While Greek literature bloomed during the 50’s and a number of its greats tried their hand at Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, producing a very small but wonderfully written body of work, the majority of the Greek audience and academics refused to acknowledge it and in fact did their absolute best to obscure these works from the public eye, burying them under far inferior literary drivel or by exulting very few other, internationally-acclaimed works in their stead.
From a literary standpoint, I believe that while us Greeks did not suffer the severe censorship of the countries that suffered under the Soviet heel, our own narrow-sightedness and tunnel vision hurt our literary output and served in producing a nation that thrives on erotic drivel and political biographies, while forcing its SF&F genre writers to turn to international markets.
Cristian Tamas : What do you recommend from the Greek SF&F to the EUROPA SF readers ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Anything that they can get on the internet without paying for it. We need to start reading & feeding each other…
Michalis Manolios : The short stories by Panagiotis Koustas, Karakouda and Vembos of the previous question are well-written and very interesting. In addition, “Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound” was in the preliminary list for the 2007 Nebula Award, which makes us think that we are in the right path, and only need a few more chances to be read.
Kostas Paradias : That’s a tough one. But in a pinch, I suggest you begin with “Argo” by Vasileios Kalampakas. It came out just last year on smashwords and it is pretty much one of the best modern scifi noveellas to come out of Greece, lately. Then there is “Love is the Law“, by Nick Mamatas, an urban fantasy story heavily based off the works of Aleister Crowley.
And if you can’t stand books without pictures, then you can try “Homo” by Dimitris Kamenos, currently prepared for an international release by Jemma Press, a comic book series about racism and Darwin as a supervillain, as well as “Origins” by Elias Kyriazidis.
Cristian Tamas : What do you know about the neighbours SFFs, bulgarian, romanian, serbian, croatian, hungarian, czech, polish and russian speculative fictions ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Very little. Although I worked as a translator at „9” magazine and I know how hard we tried to get short stories from these countries, the language gap was always there. I’ve read Lucian Merisca’s story in the “The SFWA European Hall of Fame” anthology, a story that I loved. I also have heard of an anthology published in English containing romanian short science fiction stories in one of the Utopiales Festivals that I attended but never got to get a copy of it.
Michalis Manolios : I have to admit that, apart form a couple of stories that I have read in the afformentioned anthology, “The SFWA European Hall of Fame”, and a few russian books (mainly Strugatsky brothers), I don’t know much about non-english SF.
Kostas Paradias : While I have had very little chance to look into the classics or the current scene of science fiction in these countries, I have had the honor of working with the romanian origin american author Caesar Voghan (who is currently publishing Misbegotten, a religious scifi thriller), Alex Shvartzman (an american of ukrainian origin, who has recently published the anthology Unidentified Funny Objects! 2 with tremendous success) and Justin Case, a russian author/artist who currently operates in the US.
As of this time, I am reading the Metro 2033 series and from what i have seen from the quality of work that has come from these authors internationally, I am honestly looking forward to delving deeper into eastern European 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 ?
Panagiotis Koustas : Well, I am not really optimistic about the languages at all. As I see it, the new generation is creating a new lingo, that can be tweeted or texted. They also use pictures or emoticons to express their feelings. The whole area of verbal communication is changing.
Michalis Manolios : In Greece there is the common argument that goes like „Our language was here before most of the other languages of the world. It has survived wars, invasions, centuries of occupations and it will live through language globalization too”. In general I agree but, on the other hand, I sense that this one is a different kind of attack. The enemy is not so clear any more. The ever developing technology is, as always, a useful tool and at the same time a dangerous toy. Of course I fear the sometimes brainless, poor vocabulary, almost orwelian abuse of any language–not only English. But then again, there are people who consider modern greek as mcdonaldization of the ancient language, a view with which I certainly don’t agree. Languages are living things, they change, they play with one another and they evolve every day. I think we should see them as children: learn them as best as we can, take care of them, but finally let them free to choose their own lives. Time will tell.
Kostas Paradias : Not to sound too cynical, but I do not think they will. And at the risk of angering the readers, I think this is a good thing. As far as literature goes, we (Greeks and East Europeans alike) exist in our small pocket worlds of our language, plagued and burdened by our own taboos and stupid restrictions, which have kept us mired to the same old adages. And while Eastern European writers have managed to pull through, their worked is swamped by the likes of US authors, who are pounded down on our skulls until they stick.
Our only option for survival is to maintain our identities, even as we are assimilated. The world isn’t being mcdonaldized. McDonald’s is changing to suit our needs. We need to step out of our bubbles, to overcome the borders and boundaries imposed to us by the literary taboos of our home and push forward. It is the only way to ensure our survival, or perish in a pig-headed haze.
Cristian Tamas : Kindly address some words to the EUROPA SF readers !
Panagiotis Koustas : We all share the same area for a very long period. It’s about time to share our works and ideas too…
Michalis Manolios : Until I noticed the word „translation” in its subject, I was about to delete the first email from Romania as spam. I’m so happy I didn’t! Now we know you exist and you know we exist, and this is one of the most interesting first contacts I’ve ever made. Science Fiction and Fantasy have the power to broaden the human mind and, as O.W. Holmes said, „Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions”. Keep up the good stretching!
Kostas Paradias : You, yes, you the person holding this book. You might be a woman or a man. You might be an aspiring writer or a voracious reader. You might be young, or old, rich or poor. But no matter who you are or what you do, know this: you have the power to change this. We the writers, we write for you; we make up worlds for you, we weave words together for you, we change histories and spill blood and ink and crack bones for you. We make impossible machines to change reality for you. You are our driving force, our purpose, our lifeblood.
If we make you happy, if we scare you or make you escape, even for a few words’ worth of stories, then we have done our work. But we need you to fight for us and only you can change this. Only you can fight for the writers, because the writers cannot fight for themselves. The writers are a sorry, poor sort: they can only write and write until they are old and then they die. But you give their work meaning.
Don’t think that the taboo of your favorite genres will ever be lifted because of one genius. Tesla was a genius and he died in the gutter. Mozart was a genius and he perished while choking on his own blood. It is you who makes the difference and will make our voices heard. And if you think you are small and unimportant, then know that you are the sole heir of our worlds. Do with them as you will.
Cristian Tamas : Thank you very much !
© Cristian Tamas
Panagiotis Koustas : Born in 1965, in Athens, Greece, Panagiotis Koustas studied Economics and Drama, then proceeded to “work very hard at not having a career”. So far this noncareer has embraced translation, journalism, scripts for television and comics, science fiction short stories, and a great number of day jobs. His first book “Eksi Disekatommyria Tropoi Zois” (a rough translation of the title could be “6.000.000.000 Lifestyles“) was published in Greece, by Triton Books, in July 2007.
“Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound” is, up today, his only short story translated in English, as a part of the anthology “The SFWA European Hall of Fame“, edited by James Morrow & Kathy Morrow, Tor Books, 2007. The story first appeared, in Greek, as “O Athos Emfovos sto Nao toy Ihou”, in “9” magazine, #133, January 22, 2003. The same magazine, a weekly supplement for comics and science fiction of the major Greek newspaper “Eleftherotypia”, also published most of Koustas’ short stories up to now.
Panagiotis Koustas is also a member of ALEF (Science Fiction Club of Athens) and part of the production team of the annual SFF-Rated Film Festival, that “started out as a retrospective of Greek genre Short Films, but it quickly evolved into a truly international event, always in the SFF-rated land of moving images, because: Science Fiction & Fantasy is where imagination doesn’t just play the game -it makes the rules” His blog is called “TALES OF A CRAZY WORLD”.
SOURCES: A) Writer’s Bio in “The SFWA European Hall of Fame” B) SITE: www.alef.gr (MEMBERS/ Panagiotis Koustas) C) BLOG: TALES OF A CRAZY WORLD (http://keipi.blogspot.com) D) BLOG: SFF-rated Athens Intl Sci-Fi & Fantasy Film Festival (http://sffrated.wordpress.com)
Michalis Manolios : Born in 1970 and he’s supposed to be a mechanical engineer. Collections of short stories:
- “Sarkino Frouto” (Fleshy Fruit), Triton Publications, 1999.
- “…kai to teras” (…and the beast), Triton Publications, 2009.
He has published short stories in the Greek Edition of “Asimov’s Science Fiction”, the comics and science fiction magazine “9” of the newspaper “Eleftherotypia”, and other Greek magazines and anthologies.
He is having a good time with his family in Athens.
“Aethra” was published in Greek in “9” (2001) and later in the short stories collection “…kai to teras” (Triton, 2009). It was the winning story of the AEON AWARD 2010 International contest. The Greek text was translated in English by Thalia Bisticas.
Kostas (Konstantin) Paradias: His short stories in English have been published in the “Unidentified Funny Objects! 2 Anthology”, “Third FlatIron’s Lost Worlds Anthology” and Horrified Press’ “Nightmare Stalkers and DreamWalker”s. His short story, ‘The Grim‘ is nominated for a PushCart award. Website: Shapescapes