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The SFWA European Hall of Fame

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame

edited by James and Kathryn Morrow

Tor, 352 pages

Every few years, American editors seems to rediscover that there is science fiction beyond the borders of the United States. When this happens, collections appear spotlighting the work of Australian, or Canadian, or European science fiction authors. The latest rediscovery has now been made by James and Kathryn Morrow, under the auspices of the SFWA and has resulted in The SFWA European Hall of Fame, an anthology of sixteen short stories by European authors representing thirteen linguistic traditions.

One of the problems with the various translation anthologies that have previously been published is that they have either relied on existing translations, or have used translations which are of lesser quality.  James and Kathryn Morrow resolved to avoid those problems with SFWA European Hall of Fame by getting new translations which have been created with the input from science fiction authors, to make the stories as literate as possible.

Jean-Claude Dunyach creates a world with two characters in “Separations” His dialogue is set on a distant spaceship traveling to the only human colony, but the real story appears to be in the different philosophies of Captain Bascombe and his passenger, the tridichoreorapher Contrapunt. Neither man is willing, or able, to give the other what he needs, and their relationship appears headed towards a stalemate, when Dunyach throws a curve in the strange manner in which his universe works, although neither the dialogue between the two men or the world in which they exist seem to come fully to life.

One of the standard ideas in science fiction is the exploration of a new world. In “A Birch Tree, A White Fox,” Elena Arsenieva has a trio of cosmonauts exploring a brutally hostile planet, although it seems more a fantasy world than a science fictional world. Two of her characters, Miroslav Gurov and Sasha Lapushkin learned that the sound of a human voice would bring instant death.  Even as Arsenieva deals with their silences and what that means to their humanity, she provides the reader with a travelogue of an interesting, and strange, planet.

Sepultura” by Valerio Evangelisti, is set in Brazil and is the first story in the anthology to take full advantage of the author’s native culture.  In the near future, Brazil treats its political dissidents in a ghastly and inhumane manner, made possible by the discovery of a new polymer.  Although Evangelisti includes a few hooks that don’t have a pay-off, overall, “Sepultura” named for the prison in the story, is a very satisfying story.

In “The Fourth Day to Eternity” Ondrej Neff produces a portrayal of paranoia in the scientist Drabek, who is holed up in a chateau where he is convinced his enemies attack him every four days.  The only real indication that the attacks don’t actually occur is from the arms dealer Sapkowski, who provides Drabek with his needs, but questions the lack of damage to the chateau.  Neff clearly desires the reader to accept Sapkowski’s vision of Neff, and when an attack on the chateau does occur, the reader questions the reliability of the narrator, even as Drabek’s research is revealed and ties in to the frequency of the attacks.

Johanna Sinisalo’s story “Baby Doll” is a disturbing look at the maturation of young girls in an increasingly sexualized world.  Focusing on eight-year-old Annette and her eleven-year-old model sister, there is no judgmental reaction to the girls’ desires and attempts to increase their sexuality or their parents’ support of Lulu’s career as an underwear model.  Into this mix, Sinsalo adds traditional sibling rivalry as Annette feels that her needs and desires are overlooked by parents who are too focused on Lulu’s career, eventually leading to the possibility that the cycle will be repeated.

Just as Arsenieva examined the meaning of humanity, so, too, does Marek S. Huberath in  “Yoo Retoont, Sneogg. Ay Noo”. Huberath’s world is a post apocalyptic world in which his characters seem to be strange creatures raised in a crčche type situation.  What is happening, however, doesn’t become fully apparent until Snergg,  Huberath’s protagonist, escapes from the crčche, even as he acknowledges its importance in making him the person he has become.  The second half of the story, focusing on Snerg’s post-crčche life, is stronger, although it builds on the earlier portion of the story to provide both its emotional and plot denouement.

An earlier translation of “The Day We Went Through the Transition” by Ricard de la Casa & Pedro Jorge Romero was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History.  This new translation is based on the earlier work. Mostly a time travel story based around a minor event in Spanish history, de la Casa and Romero manage to bring a thoughtfulness to time patrol stories which is too often lacking as they examine not only the romance of the two main characters, but, more importantly, the nature of cause and effect.

Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound” is a story that looks at the power of music (or, really, any other art form), by Panagiotis Koustas.  As a war appears ready to unfold, a strange peace movement, guided by mathematics and music, appears to be unfolding.  The story, broken into short segments, each introduced by a mathematical formula, tends to be fragmented in its telling, partly by the division of such a short story into sections.

Lucian Merişca  provides the first real dose of humor in the collection with “Some Earthlings’ Adventures on Outrerria” The story of human mercenaries on an alien world looks at the problems of imperialism, but does so with a background that is almost absurdist in nature, reminiscent of the work of Jasper Fforde and including the first laugh-out-loud moments in the anthology.

Destiny, Inc.” seems like a standard story of the magical shop, although rather than just appearing on a street at random for a short period of time, the store in Sergei Lukyanenko’s story.  “Destiny, Inc.”  is open full time and provides its clients with a chance to trade portions of their destinies with other people. It is an interesting concept and its affect of Sors, who initially visits in order to deal with his aviophobia, eventually comes to see the full potential of the shop and make use of it, eventually coming to realize that the shop isn’t as wonderful as he hopes.  It is an entertaining story, although Sors’s revelation is based on, perhaps, too literal interpretation of a conversation he has.

Andreas Eschbach explores the issue of mortality in “Wonders of the Universe” an ironic title since his narrator, pilot Ursula Froehlich is preparing to die on Europa and practically ignores the wonders of the universe around her to focus on her internal failings and angst.  At the same time as Ursula realizes that rescue is not coming for her, she reveals that there is wonder even in the most mundane of lives, whether people realize its existence of not.

A Night on the Edge of the Empire” demonstrates the difficulties inherent in interspecies relationships when the alien Croap’tic tries to find a location for an embassy in an Earth city in Joao Barreiros’s tale.  Appearing as a giant peacock, the ambassador, VibrantSong, is accompanied by a mammalian Chriptic, which can provide the Croap’tic with abilities the Croap’tic does not have.  Throughout the story, humans completely misunderstand the aliens’ relationship, sometimes to humorous, sometimes to tragic results as Barreiros points out the inherent differences between human cultures.

Transfusion” by Joëlle Wintrebert is an existential and almost minimalist story of Barbel Hachereau.  As Barbel wanders through a strange and hallucinatory garden, she comes into contact with her past and present, but the tale seems more less a piece of science fiction, or even fantasy, and more a music on life.

Verstummte Musik” is a strangely dystopic vision of the future by W.J. Maryson in which humans are culled from an over crowded world by the calculations of a computer.  When Ana Laďra Jermina Von Fuchs goes for her periodic rating, her husband gives her a cryptic message.  As Laďra waits her turn, a variety of thoughts about her world going through her head until the computer makes its decision and she must deal with the aftermath.

José Antonio Cotrina looks into the difficulties surrounded a complete change of worldview in “Between the Lines”.  Alejandro, of course, does not feel there is anything wrong with his worldview.  In fact, he feels life is going splendidly.  In the final semester of college, he has found a position at an ad agency and simply wants to take his courses on his own time, rather than at the lecture times that would conflict with his work schedule.  A chance encounter with Professor Herman Müller, however, results in him signing up for a course he has no interest in and finding that opening himself up to new things might be just what he needed.

The anthology closes with “A Blue and Cloudless Sky” by Bernhard Ribbeck.  This is the most overtly religious story in the book, taking place on a planet with a strong Christian basis and the threat of oblivion in their sky in the form of the Crown of Stars.  It also has a messianic story which creates a cyclical history for the planet.  While this could have been a safe and familiar story, Ribbeck provides an excellent switch at the end which raises it above the expected.

Copyright © 2007 Steven H Silver

Reposted with the author’s permission and SF Site’s Editor, Rodger Turner. We’re thanking them.

First publication in SF Site: http://www.sfsite.com/07b/eh252.htm

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

The SFWA European Hall of Fame : Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent

edited by James and Kathryn Morrow, 336 pages, first edition : Tor Books, 2007

Summary (From the publisher):

„This is the best book of its kind in at least two decades. It is a literate, intelligent book of powerful SF stories from across Europe. These tales are representative of the best writers and stories of the last twenty years, written in most of the major contemporary European languages.

The SFWA European Hall of Fame includes some of the biggest SF names in Europe, including Jean-Claude Dunyach,  Andreas Eschbach, Joanna Sinisalo and Elena Arsenieva. The appeal of this anthology rests first upon the venerable SFWA Hall of Fame imprimatur, and secondly on the sterling reputation of co-editor/writer James Morrow. Morrow and his wife Kathryn spent years arranging for translations of the best in European SF, and working with translators to achieve sharp, polished, and entertaining English versions of the stories. James Morrow has written a thought-provoking introductory essay, as well as informative story notes throughout the collection.”

Table of Contents :

Introduction: Extrapolations of Things Past James Morrow

“Separations” by Jean-Claude Dunyach (France) ; translated by Sheryl Curtis

“Birch Tree, a White Fox” by Elena Arsenieva (Russia) ; translated by Michael M. Naydan & Slava I. Yastremski

“Sepultura” by Valerio Evangelisti (Italy) ; translated by Sergio D. Altieri

“Fourth Day to Eternity” by Ondrej Neff (Czech Republic) ;  translated by Jeffrey Brown

“Baby Doll” by Johanna Sinisalo (Finland) ; translated by David Hackston

“Yoo retoont, Sneogg. Ay noo“ by Marek S. Huberath (Poland) ; translated by Michael Kandel

“Day We Went through the Transition” by Ricard de la Casa and Pedro Jorge Romero (Spain) ; translated by Yolanda Molina-Gavilán & James Stevens-Arce

“Athos Emfovos in the Temple of Sound” by Panagiotis Koustas (Greece) ; translated by Mary & Gary Mitchell

“Some Earthlings’ Adventures on Outrerria” by Lucian Merișca (Romania) ; translated by  Cezar Ionescu

“Destiny, Inc.” by Sergei Lukyanenko (Russia) ; translated by M. Naydan & Slava I. Yastremski

“Wonders of the Universe” by Andreas Eschbach (Germany) ; translated by Doryl Jensen

“Night on the Edge of the Empire” by Joao Barreiros (Portugal) ; translated by Luís Rodrigues

“Transfusion” by Joelle Wintrebert (France) ; translated by Tom Clegg

“Verstummte Musik” by W. J. Maryson (Holland) ; translated by Lia Belt

“Between the Line” by Jose Antonio Cotrina (Spain) ; translated by James Stevens-Arce

“Blue and Cloudless Sky” by Bernhard Ribbeck (Danemark) ; translated by Niels Dalgaard

EUROPA SF comment: An italian translation of the anthology “The SFWA European Hall of Fame“, was launched in november 2010 by A. Mondadori  publishing press (Urania Millemondi collection No.53) with the title “Pianeti dell’impossibile” (Planets of the impossible) and a preface by Giuseppe Lippi.

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