Greek SF&F is a terra incognita not only in Romania but also in Europe and in the world. Why is it so ?
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.
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 EFS monography ?
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.
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 ?
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.
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 ?
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.
How you characterize the Greek science fiction ? What’s its unique voice ?
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…
Who are the main Greek SF&F writers and which are their relevant works (novels and short stories)?
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.
George 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.
How would you describe the Greek SF&F scene between 2000-2013 ? 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 ?
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. 2000-2013 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.
Can a Greek SF&F writer just make a living only by writing ?
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.
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 ?
There is, actually, a very intersting piece of work by Greek writer 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: http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/79/pastourmatzi.htm
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” !
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.
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 ?
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.
Has anything from the Greek SF&F being translated into english, french, german, spanish, italian, etc. ?
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 probablhy the most depressing answer in the entire interview, but it is, sadly, true.
What do you recommend from the Greek SF&F to the EUROPA SF readers ?
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.
What do you know about the bulgarian, serbian, croatian, hungarian, czech, polish and russian science fictions ?
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 romanian origin author Caesar Voghan (who is currently publishing Misbegotten, a religious scifi thriller), Alex Shvartzman (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.
What do you think about the „vernacular” languages and „vernacular” literatures’ future ? Will they resist to the mcdonaldization of the world ?
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.
Kindly address some words to the EUROPA SF readers !
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.
Thank you very much !
© Cristian Tamas & Kostas Paradias
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 DreamWalkers. His short story, ‘The Grim‘ is nominated for a PushCart award. Website: Shapescapes