I have been approaching several people worldwide to guest blog on this topic. Reactions have been mostly very enthusiastic, and I’m happy to kick this monthly recurring feature off with a piece about optimistic SF in the Ukraine by Sergey Gerasimov.
Some facts about Ukrainian science fiction:
Gogol, Lem and Bulgakov were born in Ukraine, and while it’s good to be born here, it has never been healthy to live in this place, so they wrote their best works in other countries.
The 2004 Eurocon Award, Best Magazine, went to a Ukrainian magazine called Realnist fantastyky (‘Science Fiction Reality’ or ‘Reality of Fantasy’, in different translations). This magazine is published monthly in Russian in Kiev, Ukraine. It publishes Sci Fi, fantasy, and horror. Two hundred pages of quality fiction and articles.
Eurocon 2006 was held in Kyiv. It made Ukraine the first country of the former Soviet Union where this convention was held.
I don’t know if the phrase “Sci Fi is dead” is true anywhere in the world, but it is close to being true here in Ukraine. Sci Fi is in serious trouble. It’s almost lost its ground to fantasy. Downbeat science fiction about wars, Armageddons, and other equally nice things can still be found on the bookshelves, but optimistic Sci Fi has melted like a glacier in the European Alps. I’ve published a few Sci Fi novels and a hundred stories here. Once, trying to remember something optimistic among them, I looked through the titles but didn’t find anything.
Besides resource depletion, climate change, and pollution, there are some special topics in Ukraine: 99 percent corruption everywhere, Chernobyl, and we’ve already lived in a diluted variant of 1984; when reading George Orwell’s book, we don’t find anything surprising in it. That may be why Ukrainian readers don’t look for novels, which describe marvelous possibilities or give social commentaries anymore. With cannibalistic optimism they read another meaty spilling guts story. The best social commentaries are given here in R-rated language.
Hard to believe, but there was time when the main type of speculative fiction written in Ukraine was optimistic Sci Fi. The only subgenres of it I remember were: naive-optimistic and hypocritically optimistic. These soap opera flavored volumes populated with happy future communists illustrated some political issues of the day and the famous Michurin’s motto: “We cannot wait for favors from Nature. To take them from it — that is our task.”
But times have a tendency to change.
Now there are 63 actively published (those who have published three books or more) authors in Ukraine who work in the genre of “Fantastica”. Fantastica is a Russian and Ukrainian umbrella term for Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Wikipedia gives us four pages in the category “Ukrainian science fiction writers”: Fyodor Berezin, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, Vladimir Savchenko, and Alexander Zorich. Out of these four Berezin and Zorich write first, about wars, wars, and wars, second, about plasma rifles, tortures, bloody conflicts, and life after a thermonuclear war. Third, did I mention wars? If not, some titles: “Faces of War”, “Tomorrow war”, “War 2030”, etc. You have to be fantastically optimistic to find a nugget of optimism here.
Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko are very prolific. They have already published more than one million copies of their books. In 1996, at the European Forum of sci-fi and fantasy writers, Eurocon 1996, their novel was recognized as the best debut. In 2005, at Eurocon 2005, they were recognized as the best writers in their genre in Europe. But they are in fact fantasy writers.
Savchenko, who died in 2005, was an optimist, or tragic optimist, to be precise. The main idea of his books is deep and changing the way of thinking:
If a system oscillates at resonance frequencies, it stores the energy, and even a small force can produce large vibrations. This system might be a pendulum, a resonant coil, or our nervous system. If we understand the reality, we resonate with the Universe, and our small energy can do great things, virtually any great things. Our activity can result in either dissipated heat or new knowledge; entropy or information. Intelligent creatures are those who produce maximum information and minimum entropy. Our goal in this world is to change it for the better by means of understanding it, and we are able to fight against entropy and defeat it.
A novel by Savchenko Self-discovery is available at Amazon.com. This is a fragment of a review: Self-discovery (literal translation “Discovery of Self”) was one of my favorite sci-fi books, and Savchenko is one of my favorite writers. Using American scale he is on the level of Bradbery or Azimov [sic: these misspellings of Bradbury and Asimov are from the review, Ed.].”
Well, you can check that out.
Not many Ukrainian authors managed to be published in English.
The most famous is Andrei Kurkov. His work is currently translated into 25 languages including English, Japanese, French, Chinese and Hebrew.
Andrei Kurkov has achieved more commercial success abroad than any other writer from Ukraine in the post-Soviet period. As of fall 2008, three to four million copies of his 25 books have been published in most European languages abroad. Around 150,000 copies of his most popular work, A Picnic on the Ice, were sold in Ukraine alone. He is the only former Soviet writer whose works have made the top 10 list of European bestsellers. His books are full of black humor, post-Soviet reality, phantasmagoria and surrealism.
A very interesting personality was Oles Berdnyk, a well-known Ukrainian science fiction writer, author of about 20 novels, a founding member of the Ukrainian Helsinki group (UHG), twice a political prisoner. You can go to http://www.khpg.org/archive/en/index.php?id=1113844054 to read about him. His best works are bright and optimistic, though they were written at that time when utopian future described with Vernian technical accuracy or without it was an unbreakable cliché. Main themes of Berdnyk’s science fiction are man’s quest for immortality, contacts with alien life forms from distant regions of space, man’s extraordinary journeys through inner and outer space, and accounts of dissident scientists who challenge the established scientific precepts and through their radical approaches achieve extraordinary results.
Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky write fantasy and Sci Fi (mainly fantasy) under the joint pen-name: “Henry Lion Oldie”.
The list of H. L. Oldie’s novels and novelettes (up to June 2007) includes 45 books. At their official website http://www.rusf.ru/oldie/english/ you can learn more about them and read some novels and stories.
In 1991 they founded “The Second Pancake” Creative Studio in Kharkiv. Together with assorted Russian and Ukrainian publishers, The Second Pancake Creative Studio published hundreds books of fantasy and science fiction.
Ukraine is a fantastic Terra Incognita in the very centre of Europe. (Nobody knows where exactly its center is, perhaps in the small town of Rakhiv, in western Ukraine.) But when I ask people what they know about this country, they usually answer: “Pysanki, Chernobyl, and Taras Bulba.” Not more. Yes, Klichko brothers. If you want to have a glimpse at what Ukraine is you can read my article in Strange Horizons, at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2008/20081215/gerasimov-a.shtml. It’s a surrealistic country. Country of total freedom and democracy and total lack of any other vital things.
Country of fantastic people, fantastic ideas, and fantastic fantastica.
I live in Kharkiv, Ukraine. My stories written in English have appeared, besides other venues, in Adbusters, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld Magazine, Oceans of the Mind, and forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine. I write mainly surrealism, which some inattentive editors can take for science fiction or fantasy and publish. If you are interested to know what is a good, solid surrealism in my understanding read my story at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/gerasimov_07_08/. No, better not risk it. It’s too wild for the inexperienced eye.