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Science Fiction in Croatia

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1. The Beginnings

Although the elements of fantastic and speculative (as far as science in the modern sense is concerned) in the Croatian literature can be traced back to the years immediately before and after World War I (for instance, the novel Crveni ocean (The Red Ocean, 1918/1919) by Marija Jurić – Zagorka and the story “Red Tank” by Vladimir Nazor), it is generally agreed today that the first true Croatian SF novel was Na Pacifiku 2255. (On the Pacific in 2255) by Milan Šufflay, first serialised in 1924 and re-issued in a book-form in 1998.

In 1932, Mato Hanžeković published Gospodin čovjek (A Man of Rank), a utopia about a group of people rebuilding the civilisation destroyed in a new world war. Even more novels and stories appeared in Zagreb during the 1920s and 1930s, mostly by authors using pen-names, initials, or altogether omitting to sign themselves.

Claimed by some authorities to be the best are Muri Massanga (1927) by Mladen Horvat, and a series of novels by Aldion Degal (a pseudonym of Josip Smolčić): Atomska raketa (The Atomic Rocket), Zrake smrti (The Death Rays) and Smaragdni skarabej (The Emerald Scarab), all dating from the early 1930s.

Also worthy of mention is the novel Majstor Omega osvaja svijet (The Omega Master Conquers the World) by Stan Rager, serialised in 1940. Stan Rager was a pseudonym used by Stanko Radovanović and Zvonimir Furtinger (whom we’ll encounter later) writing in tandem. Very little is known of these texts today, most of them being serialised in newspapers and magazines. They are seldom available and they need to be more thoroughly studied and critically evaluated. The same goes for some proto-SF works dating as far back as the Renaissance.

Better appreciated are the early Croatian SF comics from the 1930s. The first-ever was Gost iz svemira (The Guest from Outer Space) by Božidar Rašić and Leontije Bjelski, published in 1935 in Zagreb, and followed by Krešimir Kovačić’s and Andrija Maurović’s Ljubavnica s Marsa (The Mistress from Mars) and Podzemna carica (The Underground Empress).

2. Croatian SF Comes Of Age

Some SF stories by Croatian authors, still using pseudonyms, were published even during World War 2. Immediate post-war years, with the war-winning Communist Party becoming the ruling political force in Yugoslavia and Croatia, represented a short lull in the continuity of the Croatian SF. However, the 1950s saw an increase in number of translated novels (by American, Soviet and European authors) published by various Yugoslav publishers. Such renewed interest in SF coincided with rapid industrialisation, consequent urbanisation and widespread education carried out under Tito’s rule.

As far as Croatia is concerned, late 1950s and early to mid-1960s were definitely marked by Mladen Bjažić and Zvonimir Furtinger, writing in tandem. Both stemmed from the juvenile magazine Plavi vjesnik, where Bjažić was the editor, while Furtinger contributed stories (most notable being his SF novelette Vila na otokuThe Villa on an Island) and scripted comics.

Their first collaborative effort was Osvajač 2 se ne javlja (The Conqueror 2 Does Not Reply), first published in 1959. Svemirska nevjesta (The Space Bride), Varamunga – tajanstveni grad (Varamunga – The Mysterious City) and the juvenile novel Zagonetni stroj profesora Kružića (The Mysterious Machine of Professor Kružić) followed in 1960, Mrtvi se vraćaju (The Dead Return) in 1965 and Ništa bez Božene (Nothing Without Božena – being an updated version of The Mysterious Machine of Professor Kružić) in 1970. Well-written, these novels deal with cosmic catastrophes, aliens visiting Earth, artificial intelligence and robotics, and various machines, such as matter replicator and anti-gravity device. Character-oriented, action-packed and spiced with humour and fine irony, they often include elements of the mystery genre. Bjažić and Furtinger novels were the pioneering works in Croatian science fiction, introducing many new and fresh ideas, and it is no wonder they were very popular. Being reprinted several times, they undoubtedly influenced many fans and subsequent writers, which makes them even more important. Both Bjažić and Furtinger were very prolific authors of popular and juvenile literature, but Furtinger remained more faithful to SF, writing a considerable number of SF stories and radio-plays on his own.

After Bjažić and Furtinger, the second most important author was Angelo Ritig with his novels Sasvim neobično buđenje (Quite an Unusual Awakening, 1961) and Ljubav u neboderu (Love in the Skyscraper, 1965). As opposed to Bjažić and Furtinger, who were concerned with action and humour, Ritig was more interested in psychological development of his characters facing technologies such as brain transfer and a mind-reading device. It is a pity he wrote only two science fiction novels, because he was successfully combining mature literary style with interesting scientific speculations and convincing futuristic settings.

Silvije Ružić published the juvenile Uspavani diktator (The Sleeping Dictator) in 1961, while Milan Nikolić, otherwise a very prolific and skilful crime and mystery writer, ventured into SF with his 1960 novel Zovem Jupiter … Beležite (Calling Jupiter … Take Notes).

Other Croatian authors of that period were mostly writing SF novels for children, the tradition continuing to the present day.

3. The Sirius Years

The crucial year in the history of the Croatian SF was 1976. In July of that year, the first Croatian SF magazine Sirius was started. Sirius was published by Zagreb newspaper and magazine publisher Vjesnik, one of the largest such companies in socialist Yugoslavia. It was started by Borivoj Jurković (its first editor) and Damir Mikuličić, no doubt inspired by a growing interest in SF manifested in Yugoslavia in the early 1970s. Despite severe economic difficulties in the 1980s Yugoslavia (resulting in inflation and chronic shortage of paper), Sirius maintained a regular monthly rhythm throughout most of the period of its publication, lasting until December 1989, when it reached issue number 163/164. It had a circulation reaching 30 000 in its heyday, and was elected twice (in 1980 and 1984) the best European SF magazine. After Jurković edited Sirius for more than 100 issues, he was succeeded by Hrvoje Prćić, although Milivoj Pašiček was signed as an editor for some time.

Sirius was modelled after American SF magazines and published stories of various lengths, mostly by English-speaking, but also Soviet and European (particularly French) authors. In more than thirteen years, Sirius introduced the Croatian readers to the stories by the best SF writers in the world, authors both classic and recent ones. Sirius was also opened to various theoretical works, reviews, biographical texts, interviews and fandom news, and all this had considerable influence on the development of SF in Croatia.

Most important of all, Sirius offered Croatian (and Yugoslav) writers an opportunity to publish. Having the full-colour cover and later even black-and-white story illustrations, Sirius also became a sort of exhibition hall of the SF art.

Several writers became well-known on the pages of Sirius.

While Branko Belan and Zvonimir Furtinger were the best of those already established on the Croatian cultural scene (Belan was a film director and lecturer, as well as writer, and Furtinger was a journalist and writer, both being in their mid-sixties when Sirius was started), Predrag Raos was certainly the greatest among the young writers beginning their career in Sirius. The most prolific Sirius authors were Branko Pihač and Živko Prodanović, and we should also mention Neven Antičević, Radovan Devlić (otherwise a comics author), Darije Đokić, Damir Mikuličić, Slobodan Petrovski, Zdravko Valjak and many others.

The pages of Sirius also revealed the significant presence of women-writers, such as Vera Ivosić-Santo (a.k.a. Veronika Santo), Vesna Gorše, Biljana Mateljan, Vesna Popović, Tatjana Vranić and several others. We can state without any doubt that women publishing in Sirius were on the average superior writers to their male colleagues, both thematically and stylistically, particularly when their relatively small outputs are considered.

Although it is really impossible to draw any common denominator for some 500 Croatian SF stories (including short short ones) published in Sirius, some trends are obvious. For instance, it’s easy to notice a large number of anti-utopias, most often post-nuclear. This was an obvious comment on the Cold War, as well as the Yugoslav single-party socialist society. (We must point out, however, that socialism in Yugoslavia was much more liberal than in other East European countries, let alone USSR. Yugoslavia was not a member of the Warsaw Pact, and indeed maintained a delicate balance between West and East, being opened to both.) Other classic SF subjects and subgenres were also present, such as space-opera, hard-SF, first contact, time travel and ESP. On the other hand, some of the then-popular subgenres were almost completely missing, such as cyberpunk. There was also a total lack of alternative histories and parallel world stories. Due to the strict editorial orientation towards SF, encouraged by contemporary readers, there was no fantasy or horror on the pages of Sirius.

Between 1976 and 1989 – the years now dubbed the Sirius period – some very important SF novels appeared.

Predrag Raos published his two-part epic Brodolom kod Thule (Shipwrecked at Thula) in 1979. Mnogo vike nizašto (Much Ado About Nothing) followed in 1985 and Nul effort in 1990. Shipwrecked at Thula, almost 850 pages long, is the most important and possibly the best Croatian science fiction novel so far. Describing the utopian, but stagnant human society 600 years in the future that sends the first faster-than-light expedition to Alpha Centaury, and the disaster striking this expedition, it is brilliantly written and never boring despite its length. It is at the same time great literature and great science fiction, firmly based in sound scientific speculation. Shipwrecked at Thula, Sirius stories, Much Ado About Nothing (about an expedition to Mars) and Nul effort (about a space expedition caught in a middle of an intergalactic war) firmly established Predrag Raos as one of the finest Croatian writers.

In the mid-1980s, Neven Orhel wrote two medical-SF novels, Uzbuna na odjelu za rak (Alert at the Cancer Ward, 1983) and Ponoćni susret (The Midnight Encounter, 1985).

Branko Belan published the anti-utopian Utov dnevnik (Ut’s Diary) in 1982, incorporating some of his stories previously appearing in Sirius. In the same year, Damir Mikuličić published a collection of his stories entitled O. Hrvoje Hitrec, well-known Croatian writer, published his SF novel Ur in 1982, and is also famous for his SF novel for children Eko eko from 1978. Some other mainstream writers also incorporated the SF and fantastic elements in their novels, most notably Pavao Pavličić and Goran Tribuson, two of the most prominent and prolific of several so-called Croatian Borgesians appearing on the literary scene in the early 1970s.

So far the only two Croatian SF movies also appeared in this period. The first was Izbavitelj (The Rat Saviour) in 1977, directed by Krsto Papić and awarded at the Trieste SF Film Festival. The second was Dušan Vukotić’s SF comedy Posjetioci iz galaksije Arkana (Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy), shot in 1980.

4. Future With Futura

The untimely death of Sirius in December 1989 is still mourned by many. Although there were rumours in the following year or two that Sirius will be revived, nothing ever came out of it. In the meantime, the clouds of war were gathering over Croatia …

The early 1990s, marked by the fall of socialism and the violent break-up of Yugoslavia, seemed hardly an appropriate time for the Sirius successor. So it came out of the blue when, in late autumn 1992, a small Zagreb graphic design and publishing company Bakal introduced Futura to the news-stands. Less than a year after the war in Croatia was stopped by an uneasy cease-fire, and with war at full swing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, here we were, bewildered, holding a new SF magazine in our hands!

Basically, Futura was not very different from Sirius. It was a monthly and it opened its pages to the Croatian artists and writers almost immediately. However, the times had changed. Futura’s circulation was much lower than that of Sirius. Denied the support of the major state-owned publisher and faced with a general drop in income and living standard in Croatia, Futura had financial problems. It changed several editors (they were: Vlatko Jurić-Kokić, Krsto A. Mažuranić, Mihaela Velina, Davorin Horak and Milena Benini) and was sold to another publisher (Strip-agent) in 2001. Eventually, it became very irregular, not appearing at the news-stands for months. The last issue (December 2010) was #131, and Futura is now defunct.

Futura had similar importance for the Croatian SF as did Sirius. It became the place where authors could publish. However, in 1995 Futura stopped being the only such place.

5. New Vibrations

In spring of 1995, a new and important project in the Croatian SF was started. The SF club SFera from Zagreb issued the first of their story-collections, entitled Zagreb 2004 and edited by Darko Macan. Zagreb 2004 collected stories by young (the oldest being 32) writers, about Zagreb 10 years in the future. The collection was actually prepared in 1994 – hence the reference in the title – but was somewhat delayed, and the primary subject of the stories was obviously the war in Croatia, at that moment still unresolved. Although many featured writers had already published, mostly in fanzines and Futura, this collection proved a new generation of SF authors had arrived. At the same time, it seemed the Sirius generation had mostly faded away, at least in their capacity as writers.

Not that nothing was heard of them. Predrag Raos was vehement as a member of the opposition against President Tuđman’s authoritative rule. However, only two of the books he published in the 1990s were true SF: Mayerling and the children’s novel Od rata do zvijezda (From the War to the Stars), both from 1996. Raos is also a well-known translator and controversial public persona, always opposing any authority.

Zdravko Valjak collected his old Sirius stories in Plastična duša (The Plastic Soul), published in 1997. Živko Prodanović published the somewhat old-fashioned Tamara in 2000 and Smrt među rimskim ruševinama (The Death Among the Ruins of Rome) in 2003. Damir Mikuličić became an important SF and popular science (Einstein, Hawking, etc.) publisher. Neven Antičević, too, became one of the most important Croatian publishers. Vesna Gorše, also one of the Sirius writers, but today better known as an ethno-jazz musician, collected some of her stories in the book Dar (The Gift), published in 2003.

In the meantime, SFera continued producing its annual collections, timing them to coincide with the annual SFeraKon convention held in Zagreb. After Zagreb 2004, Dnevnici entropije (The Entropy Diaries) followed in 1996. Then, there were Kvantni portali imaginacije (Quantum Portals of Imagination, 1997), Zagreb 2014 (1998), Krhotine svjetova (Fragments of the Worlds, 1999), Dvije tisuće šarenih aliena (Two Thousand Gaudy Aliens, 2000), Jutra boje potopa (Deluge-Coloured Mornings, 2001), Alternauti (Alternauts, 2002), Djeca olujnih vjekova (Children of the Stormy Eras, 2003), Zagreb 2094 (2004), Kap crne svjetlosti (A Drop of Black Light, 2005), Zagrob (Aftergrave – a collection of horror stories, 2006), Trinaesti krug bezdana (The Thirteenth Circle of Abyss, 2007), Zmajev zlatni svitak (The Dragon’s Golden Scroll, 2008), Strune nemira (The Strings of Restlessness, 2009), Parasvemir (SteamSpace, 2010), Lakuna (Lacuna, 2011) and this year’s SMAK! (Judgement Day!).

The editor of – and the driving force behind – most of these collections was Darko Macan, alone or together with Tatjana Jambrišak and, recently, Darko Vrban. Quantum Portals Of Imagination was edited by Davorin Horak, while Tatjana Jambrišak and Darko Vrban edited A Drop Of Black Light, Zagrob and The Thirteenth Circle of Abyss. They were joined by Mihaela Marija Perković for editing work on The Dragon’s Golden Scroll, Irena Rašeta on The Strings of Restlessness and Bojan Popić on Lacuna.

Because of the careful selection and editing, these collections became the cutting edge of the modern Croatian SF. The stories published in them were on average much better than those in Futura, firmly establishing the new authors.

Interesting comparisons can now be made between stories in Futura and SFera collections, and those published in Sirius. The approach to various themes and subjects became more modern and diverse in 1990s. Young writers now pay more attention to characters and plotline. The stories are no more just an excuse to elaborate some SF idea, which was a frequent shortcoming of numerous Sirius stories. New generation of authors devoted more time to literary qualities of their texts, employing modern story-telling techniques, some even showing tendency towards radical literary experiments. Finally, the 1990s authors freely introduced Croatian themes, characters and settings into their stories. Why was the majority (not all and not always, but majority nevertheless) of Sirius authors reluctant to do this, even when appropriate, opting instead for stereotyped American and/or European characters or choosing some neutral settings, remains open to discussion. Whatever the reason, it seems as if the future finally started happening to Croatians in Croatia, and this is a considerable and very important quantum leap, implying a further maturing of the Croatian SF taking place in the 1990s.

One of the results of the SFera books was the spreading of the story-collection bug from Zagreb to Istria, so, starting in 2002, short short story-collections were promoted at annual Istrakon conventions held in the small town of Pazin. These collections are: Tvar koja nedostaje (The Missing Matter), Svijet tamo iza (The World Beyond), Bolja polovica (The Better Half), Ispod i iznad (Below and Above), Sami na svijetu (Alone in the World), Krivo stvoreni (Wrongly Created), Dobar ulov (The Good Catch), Treća stvarnost (The Third Reality), Dimenzija tajne (Dimension of the Secret), Deseti krug (The 10th Circle) and this year’s Astrolab gladi (Astrolabe of Hunger). In recent years, theme collections are prepared for the annual The Festival Of Fantastic Literature, also held in Pazin. The books appearing so far are Vampirske priče (Vampire Tales), Priče o starim bogovima (Tales of Old Gods), Priče o divovima (Tales of Giants), Priče o dinosaurima (Dinosaur Tales), Priče o zvijezdama (Star Tales), Turističke priče (Tourist Tales) and Priče o vinu (The Tales of Wine).

Another story-collection, Priča o Anđeli Novak (The Story of Anđela Novak) was published in Osijek in 2006. Irena Rašeta edited story collections blog.sf (2006) and Bludućnost (The Future Lust, 2007), thus beginning an ongoing TranSFuzija (TranSFusion) series. In 2009 and 2011, Zoran Krušvar edited two story collections entitled Laboratorij fantastike (The Fantasy Laboratory), resulting from writing workshops he was running in Rijeka.

Beside Futura and the annual collections, there were several mainstream magazines where an occasional SF story could be found, particularly the defunct Plima that regularly published stories and plays with elements of the fantastic. Since late 1998, short stories have been published in the juvenile Sunday-supplement of the Jutarnji list newspapers, and we must not forget various fanzines.

By 2003, ten years of writing and publishing resulted in enough material for some authors to plan their own story-collections.

The edition SFera was started by Zagreb publisher Mentor, with four story-collections: Duh novog svijeta (Spirit of the New World) by Tatjana Jambrišak, Purgeri lete u nebo (Burgers Fly Up to the Sky) by Igor Lepčin, Teksas Kid (i još neka moja braća) (Texas Kid (and Other Brothers of Mine)) by Darko Macan and Slijepe ptice (Blind Birds) by Aleksandar Žiljak.

This project was continued in 2004, with another series of four books: Najbolji na svijetu (The Best in the World) by Zoran Krušvar, Preko rijeke (Across the River) by Dalibor Perković, Čuvari sreće (Keepers of Happiness) by Zoran Pongrašić and Frulaš (The Piper) by Zoran Vlahović.

Finally, in 2005, the third set of four books was published. These were Jednorog i djevica (The Unicorn and the Virgin) by Milena Benini, Jeftine riječi (Cheap Words) by Goran Konvični, Zvjezdani riffovi (Star Riffs) by Krešimir Mišak and Zeleno sunce, crna spora (Green Sun, Black Spore) by Danilo Brozović.

This edition brought together twelve of the best and most prolific of the new generation of Croatian SF authors. It also spans the entire spectrum of interests and themes covered in their stories. However, compared to writers in the West, the individual output of Croatian authors is quite small. The reason is simple: SF writing in Croatia is not commercial and cannot be turned into a profession. Therefore, it is merely a hobby for most of the authors. This also results in writers who show up with only a story or two and then disappear for good, a phenomenon observed as long ago as the Sirius days.

Another consequence during the 1990s was almost total lack of true (much less good) SF novels. However, beginning with the new century, this started to change. Publishers, previously reluctant to publish Croatian SF, now show much more interest. This resulted in a steady stream of at least one or two very good SF novels published annually.

In 2002, two SF novels appeared, both including considerable amount of humour. These were Topli zrak (The Hot Air) by Davor Slamnig and Ja i Kalisto (Me and Callisto) by Dejan Šorak. They were followed by two very good novels for children, Prsti puni mora (Fingers Full of Sea) by Igor Lepčin and Pavo protiv Pave (Paul vs. Paul) by Darko Macan.

In late 2003, the best Croatian SF novel in more than a decade was published. It was Sablja (The Sabre) by Ivan Gavran. A fast-paced and superbly written space opera about a group of post-apocalypse Earth pilots fighting with their F-86 Sabre jets in a galactic air combat tournament, Sablja remains a unique blend of space-opera, military SF and a sharp comment on the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the author being from Sarajevo. His new SF novel is Božja jednadžba (The God’s Equation, 2008), the first part of the planned trilogy.

Another excellent novel appearing in 2003 was Christkind by Boris Dežulović, otherwise a well-known journalist and columnist. In 2004, a three-part epic Araton by Oliver Franić was published, while Dalibor Perković published his first novel Sva krv čovječanstva (All the Blood of Mankind) in 2005.

Predrag Raos also returned to the SF scene with his first major novel in years, Vertikala (The Vertical) from 2006, dealing with moral dilemmas faced by the designer of an orbital elevator and spacecraft-launch system. The Vertical was followed by two story-collections: Škorpion na jeziku (A Scorpion on the Tongue) and Hrvatski bog s Marsa (The Croatian God from Mars). While A Scorpion on the Tongue collects three of Raos’s best Sirius novelettes, The Croatian God from Mars contains humoristic SF, most of it previously unpublished, editorial censorship being one of the reasons. His 2007 fantasy novel Let Nancija Konratata (The Flight of Nancio Konratat) confirmed his status as a writer.

In 2006, Veselin Gatalo published Geto (The Ghetto), an action-packed allegoric vision of future Bosnia and Herzegovina. His 2007 novel Cafe Oxygen, while well-written, is probably best considered a juvenile fiction. Danilo Brozović caused quite a furor with his 2007 political cyberpunk novel Bojno polje Istra (Battlefield Istria), while Marina Jadrejčić – well-known from the early days of Futura – published her story-collection Tužna Madona (Sad Madonna) in 2008.

Two SF serials were also initiated in the past few years, one being Zoran Vlahović’s cyberpunk-noir Strijelac (The Shooter), the other being Lovina (The Prey), created by T.H. Knight (a pen-name) and Marin Medić, combining vampires and cyberpunk.

Three SF novels by newcomers to the scene created quite an interest: Pobjednik (The Winner, 2008) by Tamoya Sanshal (a pseudonym), Xavia (2009) by Damir Hoyka – otherwise a renown photographer – and Strašni (The Horrible, 2009) by Rade Jarak. Ivana D. Horvatinčić drew considerable attention with her first juvenile novel Pegazari (The Pegasus Riders, 2009). We must also mention Luna (2010) by Robert Naprta, following in the footsteps of various globally popular juvenile horror/fantasy serials, and developing into a series of books in the second half of 2012.

Among the most recent novels, let us mention Kriza (The Crisis, 2010) by Marko Mihalinec and Velimir Grgić, Lomljenje vjetra (The Wind-breaking, 2011) by Edo Popović, Formula za kaos (The Chaos Formula, 2011) by Franjo Janeš, Irbis (2012) by Aleksandar Žiljak, and Mačje oko (The Cat’s Eye, 2012) by Branko Pihač, a Sirius veteran now living in Canada.

One of most important events in the last few years is the first collection of stories by Veronika Santo, entitled Vrt pramčanih figura (The Figureheads Garden), published in 2008. While known from the pages of Sirius, Veronika Santo, now living in Rome, was absent from the Croatian scene for almost fifteen years, publishing sporadically in Serbia. The Figureheads Garden collects her most important stories, ranging in subjects from classic SF to Borgesian fantasy and firmly establishing her as one of the finest Croatian story-tellers, with very few peers indeed. In 2012, The Figureheads Garden was published in Italy as Il giardino delle polene, with content somewhat different from the Croatian version.

Another classic Croatian SF woman-writer got her first story collection, albeit posthumously. It was Vesna Popović, whose limited-edition book, published in 2009, is entitled Miran san do odredišta (A Quiet Sleep till Destination). Also in 2009, Irena Rašeta published her first story collection Cabrón, while Darko Macan collected the large part of his story opus in a book entitled 42. In 2010, a story collection Psihophor was published, collecting all the available stories by the classic Croatian SF writer Zvonimir Furtinger. Another classic story collection is Sindrom vlasti (The Power Sindrome, 2010) by Radovan Domagoj Devlić. In 2011, Najveća igra u svemiru i šire! (The Biggest Game in Space and Beyond!) was published, being the first story collection by Danijel Bogdanović, one of the most important young authors.

As far as other speculative fiction genres are considered, fantasy is represented by several novels so bad they don’t even desert mentioning. Two notable exceptions are juvenile Čudesna krljušt (The Miraculous Scale, 1995) by Zvjezdana Odobašić, and fantasy spoofs by Vanja Spirin. Recently, a good fantasy story or two can be found in Grifon magazine, published by the Zagreb re-enacted history, medieval culture and fantasy society Red Srebrnog Zmaja (The Order of the Silver Dragon).

Horror scene is somewhat more lively, with the most prominent and prolific author being Viktoria Faust (a pen-name), called “the first lady of Croatian horror”. Beside numerous horror and SF stories (collected in several collections), her novels include U anđeoskom liku zvijeri (In The Angelic Image of the Beast, 2000), Neizgovorena priča (The Untold Story, 2005), Nasmrt preplašen (Scared to Death, 2005), Anastasia and Solarne mačke (The Solar Cats, 2009), as well as numerous books on supernatural.

Denis Peričić collected his horror stories in Krvavo (The Bloody), published in 2004. In 2006, Boris Perić drew a lot of attention with his novel Vampir (The Vampire), inspired by actual events. Zoran Krušvar’s novel Izvršitelji nauma Gospodnjeg (The Executioners of Lord’s Intention) from 2007 developed into a multimedia project, involving heavy metal bands and video artists. Darko Macan ventured into juvenile horror with his 2007 novel Dlakovuk (The Hairwolf) and Jadnorog (The Poorhorn) from 2008, followed by Pampiri (The Pampires, 2009) and Djed Mrz (Santa Claws, 2011). A novel Zvijeri plišane (Beasts of Plush) by Zoran Krušvar is in the similar vein.

6. Translations, Art, Comics, etc.

Some fifteen to twenty SF, fantasy and horror novels, almost exclusively by American and British authors, are being translated annually into the Croatian language. Despite the 1991-1995 war, books published in Serbia were also available through various channels. Naturally, the choice of imported books (exclusively in English) is much larger.

The SF art, being tied to book and magazine covers, is not particularly developed in Croatia. Several artists created quite an enviable amount of artwork on the Sirius covers, the best being Miroslav Sinovčić, Vjekoslav Ivezić and Igor Kordej. Among the artists producing in some quantity during the 1990s were Igor Kordej, Esad T. Ribić and the author of this text. Karlo Galeta and Robert Drozd monopolised the Futura covers for several years with their 3D computer art. A much better computer artist is Goran Šarlija, while Miljenko Zvonar produced a large body of SF art, illustrating the already-mentioned Jutarnji list’s Sunday-supplement stories. Željko Pahek also returned to the Croatian art scene, working mostly in Serbia before the war. He is famous for his SF art, but also for his hilarious comics, spoofing almost every SF cliché known to mankind.

We have already seen that the tradition of SF comics in Croatia dates back to the mid-1930s. During the 1950s and 1960s, the best SF-comics authors were brothers Norbert and Walter Neugebauer, who also started their career before the Second World War. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, the best new authors were Radovan Devlić, Igor Kordej, Goran Delić and Krešimir Zimonić. During 1990s, the situation with comics in Croatia was poor indeed. No comic magazine succeeded in running regularly and for any period of time, so the scene was mostly oriented towards fanzines and school-magazines. Foreign comics translated into Croatian were also quite sparse. Things have recently improved considerably, however, with new SF comics being translated into Croatian in ever-increasing numbers, and magazines gaining some hold. More important, the Croatian comic artists have a relatively long tradition of working for foreign publishers. This continued in the 1990s with the breakthrough on the American market, mostly in the franchise-universe and super-hero series by Dark Horse, Marvel, DC and Antarctic Press. The best-known writer in this field is Darko Macan, while the art was produced by late Edvin Biuković, Igor Kordej, Goran Parlov, Esad T. Ribić, Goran Sudžuka, Milan Trenc and Danijel Žeželj.

The SF theory work was, until very recently, sporadic at best, but we must mention Darko Suvin here. One of the world foremost SF theoreticians, he was born in 1930 in Zagreb, but, after editing the anthology Od Lukijana do Lunjika (From Lukian to Lunik) in 1965, he continued his career in the USA and Canada from the late 1960s. His seminal work Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979) was published in Croatia only in 2010.

Recently, however, new books appeared, dealing with various aspects of fantastic literature. In 2011, Pričalice – o povijesti djetinjstva i  bajke (Tale-tellers – On History of Childhood and Fairy Tale) by Marijana Hameršak was published: a study of cultural impact of fairy tales in the 19th century Croatia. This year, Petra Mrduljaš Doležal published her study Prstenovi koji se šire: junačka potraga u djelima J. R. R. Tolkiena (The Spreading Rings: Heroic Quest in the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien), being a valuable contribution to the scientific study of heroic fantasy.

7. F Is For Fandom

The organised fandom in Croatia dates back to 1976 (the year of Sirius!), when the SF club SFera was founded in Zagreb. It was followed by more clubs, particularly since 1990. As usual, these clubs have been involved in convention-organising and fanzines-publishing, the oldest fanzine being SFera’s own Parsek, started in 1977. Parsek reached issue #120 in April 2012, thus being by far the longest-running fanzine in Croatia. Considering the current absence of a monthly magazine, the importance of Parsek exceeds that of a regular fanzine. Since early 1990s – beside Parsek, and not counting various bulletins, news-letters and address lists – we know of at least 15 or so printed or web-issued fanzins, published by clubs or individuals.

Perhaps the true phenomenon of the Croatian fandom are conventions. At this moment, Croatia has annual conventions in Zagreb, Kutina, Pazin, Opatija, Rijeka and Osijek. To these, one must add gaming conventions and LARP events, as well as the Jules Verne’s Days and The Festival Of Fantastic Literature, both held annually in Pazin.

SFeraKon in Zagreb is the oldest convention in Croatia, running from 1977. It is organised by the SFera club and is now held on the last full weekend of April at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences in Zagreb. SFeraKon attracts up to 1000 visitors (other conventions are smaller), offering the usual convention programme, lectures, movies, costumes and gaming, as well as being an opportunity for fans and professionals to meet and exchange ideas. SFERA Awards are also given for the best SF stories of various lengths, plays, novels, art and life-achievements. These are the traditional annual awards, first given in 1981.

In recent years, SFeraKon invited quite an enviable number of foreign GOHs, including Martin Easterbrook, Gay Gavriel Kay, Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber, Walter Jon Williams, Lois McMaster Bujold, George R.R. Martin, Ken MacLeod, Michael Iwoleit (German writer, editor and translator), Michael Swanwick, Bruce Sterling, Richard Morgan, Robert Bakker, Ian McDonald, Dave Lally, and this year’s (SFeraKon 2012 also being the Eurocon) Tim Powers, Charlie Stross, Dmitry Glukhovsky and Cheryl Morgan. This is a continuation of good international relations maintained during the 1970s and 1980s, when names such as Frederik Pohl, Jack Williamson, Brian W. Aldiss, James Gunn, Bob Shaw, Richard D. Nolan, Sam J. Lundwall, Joe Haldeman, Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri, Gianfranco Viviani and Gerald Webb visited Zagreb and/or Croatia, either as SFeraKon or Eurocon 86 guests, or on some other official occasion.

Istrakon in Pazin is now firmly established as the second-largest Croatian SF convention. Held in March, it is attracting some 500 visitors looking for a lot of fun and good times in the beautiful landscapes of central Istria. Istrakon begun inviting foreign GOHs in 2006, the first being Brian W. Aldiss. Essekon in Osijek is also a convention with some tradition, while Liburnikon in Opatija and Rikon in Rijeka are rapidly establishing themselves as popular events. Unfortunately, Kutikon in Kutina seems defunct, but there are new conventions and events being planned all over Croatia.

The spread of Internet provided a further impetus to the growth of the Croatian fandom. There is a number of web-sites and forums dedicated to all aspects of speculative fiction in the broadest sense, and there is also a marked rise of the blog scene. Beside the usual fandom communication, the Internet scene in general supports new aspiring writers, through on-line magazines (most notably, NOSF – www.nosf.net), on-line literary workshops and blog-stories, thus alleviating the present lack of a regular (semi-)professional magazine.

8. Fast Forward Into Future

Science Fiction is now becoming accepted as part of Croatian popular culture. The history of SF in Croatia includes two long-running magazines, important annual story-collections, numerous author collections and several good novels, all appearing under difficult, if not severe, economic and political conditions. Indeed, younger people in Croatia, including the author of this text, spent most of their lives living in some sort of crisis, culminating, but not ending with the 1991-1995 war. Several authors are now well-known and established on the Croatian SF scene, and the next logical step – already taking place – is their breakthrough into the international market.

A process of thorough evaluation of the historic development of SF in Croatia is now under way. The first major step was Ad Astra, an anthology of the Croatian SF story from 1976 to 2006. This mammoth 640-page book was edited by Tomislav Šakić and Aleksandar Žiljak and published in April 2006, after two years of work. It contains 40 stories by the most important Croatian SF writers. Also included are theoretical and historical texts, biographic notes on authors and other prominent characters in the Croatian SF, as well as the reasonably complete bibliography of the Croatian SF story in the aforementioned 30-year period.

Another problem addressed by the editorial tandem Šakić-Žiljak is the lack of a professional-looking SF magazine publishing Croatian authors. While Parsek partly filled some vacuum created by the de facto closure of Futura, something better was needed.

Thus, in November 2007, the first issue of UBIQ was introduced to the public. UBIQ is a 260-page literary magazine devoted (for a time being, at least) exclusively to Croatian writers. It also publishes theoretical and bibliographical texts, thus creating a completely new and desperately needed niche. Two issues are planned annually. UBIQ – issue 11 scheduled for November 2012 – brings high-quality stories and serious essayistic works by prominent Croatian writers (including the veterans such as Veronika Santo, Biljana Mateljan, Branko Pihač, Lidija Beatović and Vesna Gorše, as well as established and new-generation authors such as Ed Barol, Milena Benini, Jasmina Blažić, Danijel Bogdanović, Katarina Brbora, Danilo Brozović, Josip Ergović, Marijo Glavaš, Gordana Kokanović-Krušelj, Zoran Krušvar, Darko Macan, Nada Mihaljević, Kristijan Novak, Dalibor Perković, Irena Rašeta, Dario Rukavina, Igor Rendić, Tereza Rukober, Iva Šakić Ristić, Sanja Tenjer, Zoran Vlahović, and others) and theoreticians, most famous being Darko Suvin. Although small-press and state-sponsored, UBIQ already caused quite a commotion on the Croatian literary scene, getting very favourable reviews and, apparently, finally drawing the attention of the so-called mainstream and academic circles to the science fiction. On Eurocon 2011 in Stockholm, UBIQ was voted the best European science fiction magazine.

While the future of UBIQ, within non-paying small-press limitations, now seems assured, only time will tell what its ultimate reach will be. UBIQ cannot alleviate the lack of a regular monthly magazine, which currently seems to be commercially unfeasible. (However, as the most recent development, we must mention the new magazine Sirius-B, four issues being published since November 2011.) What UBIQ can do is provide space for contemporary Croatian SF prose and theory.

This project was expanded in 2010 by the Edition UBIQ, dedicated to story collections, short novels and theory works. The first three published books were the collection of fantasy stories Božja vučica (The Divine She-wolf) by Aleksandar Žiljak, the short novel Koža boje masline (The Olive-coloured Skin) by Darko Macan and the book of essays on fantasy Kad je svijet bio mlad (When the World was Young) by Zoran Kravar. In 2012, Preživjeti potop (Surviving the Deluge) by Darko Suvin was published, containing three essays on fantasy.

In the meantime, we hope this text, with all its shortcomings, will provide the basic insight into the past, present and possible futures of the Science Fiction in Croatia.

Translated into English by the Author

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