SFF in Hungary: A Status Report

By Bence Pintér: Mandiner.sci-fi celebrated its first birthday this October. I used this joyful occasion as a pretense to ask bloggers, critics, fans, writers, publishing professionals and other luminaries of the Hungarian SFF-scene to answer the question: where are we now? And while the respondents were not exactly like-minded, some aspects of the answers I got were surprisingly similar. The following is a summary of the dozens of answers I get.

  1. Being up-to-date. Hungarian SFF-publishing nowadays is up-to-date, professional and thorough like it never was. The most popular English-language titles are on the shelves in translation in the same year they were published in the USA. The Hungarian publishing houses offer a wide scale of subgenres of speculative fiction. They are mostly translated from English, but there are some books from Russia, the Czech Republic and Estonia.

  2. Publishing classics. There is a never-ending debate about publishing the classic authors of SFF in Hungary. In fact, during the communist era a lot of books by the contemporary SF masters (Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, etc.) were published, and a lot more was published in the last two decades. But everyone can name five favourite authors, ten favourite books, which were never translated into Hungarian. And probably they’ll never be. Small market, small opportunities: only the really big names could make it.

  3. Domestic authors. Short fiction could be the best training ground of a genre author, but in Hungary there are just few opportunities. The only monthly magazine dealing with domestic SFF stories is the infamous Galaktika. There is also the quarterly Új Galaxis (New Galaxy) which is publishing novice writers’ work; and Aranymosás competition with a similar approach. We have a shortfall of online venues also. There aren’t any serious writers’ workshops. There were some really good books and we saw new talents emerging in the last few years. The respondents’, and also the genre readers’ favourite seems to be the fantasy novel Horgonyhely by Anita Moskát. But generally we can not be satisfied. A part of the respondents think that Hungarian authors need to be more open-minded and they have to read more to be able to compete with foreign titles. Others think that the publishing houses have to take part in bringing up a new generation of Hungarian SF writers.

  4. Establishments. There is a Hungarian sci-fi award, the Zsoldos Péter Award. It is an understatement that it has limited reputation: a lot of prominent authors refused to take a part in it in the last few years. There is also a debate about HungaroCon, the only convention of SF literature in Hungary. One representative of a publishing house also expressed concerns about Hungarian fan’s willingness to visit events. There is a growing need for the academic discussion of genre fiction.

  5. What we need to do? The majority of respondents think that the mentioned trends and facts indicate that we are heading in a good direction, although we have to be more open-minded to put together the fragmented puzzle which is now the Hungarian SFF fandom.

*

So that’s the situation now. On our part, I can say that Mandiner.sci-fi, the first professional Hungarian news site in the field had a very exciting first year. We wrote countless reviews about Hungarian and English books, comics, TV shows and movies, made interviews with Hungarian authors, while reporting on the events of domestic fandom. And also we managed to shock the national (and also the international) genre community by revealing the extensive copyright infringements made by Galaktika in the last twelve years. You can read the two-part article here and here. (These ones are also Hugo-eligible in the Best Related Work category. Just sayin’.)

In one year we built a solid readership amongst the hardcore SFF fans, but we look for more. For the next year our aim will be to invite new readers to the field of speculative fiction. It will be a great challenge, finding the ways to do that. But we will try.

Pixel Scroll 7/14/16 I Am the Pixel in the Darkness

(1) READERCONTROVERSY. Mikki Kendall’s “#Readercon: Low Point & Lessons” rounds out an ongoing conversation about a panel at last weekend’s con.

For those who weren’t at Readercon—or who didn’t attend the Beyond Strong Female Characters panel—Sabrina Vourvoulias’ post lays out the panel I was going to write about as my low point for the weekend. I expect a certain amount of fail at sci fi conventions, and as failures go this wasn’t one of the majors for me. (Ellen Kushner has already apologized to me on Twitter, and I will be talking to her shortly after this post goes live. I accept the apology and this post isn’t really about Ellen so much as the phenomenon she was a part of at this particular panel.)….

Ultimately, cons are supposed to be fun. They’re a chance to meet people who love the same kinds of things that you do, a chance to geek out with them about whatever it is that you love. They are also a major part of networking in the industry. You can share a table with an agent, an editor, and your potential audience. Cons are important for fans, for authors, for the publishing industry as a whole.

Dissuading new authors and fans from con spaces this way won’t keep them out of publishing. It might make it more difficult, it might make for fewer amazing stories. But mostly it will make for the end of con culture. Maybe that’s the point. If the panels aren’t welcoming, if some con spaces feel closed, then as sad as it might be to lose con culture, maybe that’s for the best because endlessly fighting for space at the table is energy that can be used to build a new table.

(2) POLLBUSTERS. FiveThirtyEight uses Ghostbusters as a springboard to examine the problems with online ratings systems.

But this “Ghostbusters” thing? It lays bare so, so much of what we’re investigating when it comes to the provenance and reliability of internet ratings.1 Namely, they’re inconsistent, easily manipulated and probably not worth half the stock we put in them.2 Here are a few stats I collected early Thursday for the new “Ghostbusters” movie:

The movie isn’t even out in theaters as I’m writing this, but over 12,000 people have made their judgment. Male reviewers outnumber female reviewers nearly 5 to 1 and rate “Ghostbusters” 4 points lower, on average.

(3) STUDYING THE HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS. This week on James Davis Nicoll’s Young People Read Old SF the panel looks at Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall”. Jamie comments —

I’ve actually read this one before, in a collection of Asimov stories. I had forgotten the details but knew what the big reveal was. Maybe because I read and liked the Foundation stories I don’t find the prose in this story so foreign. And foreign is the word for all these stories. They were clearly written by people who lived in a different time and place. People just don’t speak like that anymore and writers don’t write dialogue like that anymore.

The format is one that I’ve seen in other stories, a journalist chasing a story as a means to give the scientists someone to explain to. It’s a good trick, and kept the story moving.

(4) MANY AUTHORS NOTIFIED. Bence Pintér sent the link to the final article in his investigation of a Hungarian sf magazine – “Piracy by Galaktika: They Are Doing It Since 2004”.

Galaktika placed emphasis on reprinting stories by the grand masters of sci-fi, fantasy, horror genres dating back to even the 19th century. This can be witnessed from the very beginning when in the first edition in November 2004 authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen Baxter, Isaac Asimov, Robert Sheckley and Poul Anderson were included. We were able to reach the agencies of Poul Anderson, Stephen Baxter and Arthur C. Clarke, who stated that Galaktika magazine had no right to publish their clients’ work (not only in this case, but in all concerned cases). The agency representing the Asimov estate has only recently taken control and therefore was unable to give a statement.

When we last contacted the agency representing the Anderson estate (and fifteen other affected authors), they claimed that negotiations were underway with the publisher – more on that at the end of the article. The agency representing the Clarke estate stated that after our first article on this issue all previous debt was settled by the publisher. ?Copyright protection is essential to the survival of these stories and our industry, and we are very reassured to know that there is such a strong SF community in Hungary which is holding those like Galaktika to account for their actions? – stated that representative of the company towards Mandiner. We also inquired towards the books of Arthur C. Clarke reprinted by Galaktika. It turned out that besides the reprinted short stories, there was also at least one novel that needed to be discussed between the parties; but we have no further information about this issue. (Sources tell us that this novel may be 2001: A Space Odyssey reprinted last year.)

Coming back to the grand masters: besides Clarke, Anderson, and Baxter, the agencies of Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin, Robert J. Sawyer, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Heinlein, Nancy Kress, Jack Williamson, Michael Flynn, Kim Stanley Robinson, Hal Clement, Leigh Brackett, Cordwainer Smith, Philip José Farmer, Jack McDevitt, Robert Silverberg, Connie Willis, Jack Vance and Richard Matheson also gave no permission for the reprinting of the authors’ works; similarly, Larry Niven was also not informed that his works were being reprinted. Vance’s agency later informed us that the two parties came to an agreement. A regularly occurring author was Michael Swanwick, winner of the Nebula Award and nominee for many others; he too was oblivious to his works being reprinted; neither were the successors of Philip K. Dick or Tanith Lee informed. These authors alone had a work reprinted nearly every year, all of which were illegal. This however is only the tip of the iceberg….

(5) AMAZON BITES. Mary Rosenblum’s guest post at the SFWA Blog, “Amazon Bites Author”, argues that a client’s receipt of a warning letter that they were about to suspend his Amazon account and stop selling his books shows writers can innocently run afoul of the online bookseller’s anti-fraud algorithims.

Meanwhile, I’ve been changing my client advice for career authors regarding Amazon.com. I no longer suggest going the Select/KU route. Clearly, Amazon is casting a net for scammers there and if you use book discounters and other promotions well, you may find yourself in Brad’s shoes. You can make your ebook free in other ways. Use the book discounters and free downloads to reach a lot of new readers and stay off the KU system. If your book is good and readers like the freebie, they’ll pay for the next book and become loyal fans.

Here are my new ‘rules’.  It’s a depressingly long list, isn’t it?

  • Never offer any kind of thank you gift, incentive, or what have you for a review.
  • Never post a free book offer on your Facebook page to solicit reviews.
  • Use only the email list you’ve acquired from your website (and this is why that list is SO important) to send an offer of an epub or mobi or pdf copy of the new book to those people and ask them to review the book when it’s out.
  • Never ask for a positive review, only ask for an honest review.
  • Never let family members review your book.
  • Never use a paid review service.
  • Use only honest book discounters such as Fussy Librarian and BookBub.
  • Never swap reviews with other authors.

(6) HARDY OBIT. Robin Hardy, director of the horror film The Wicker Man (1973), died July 1 at the age of 86.

When Mr. Hardy, a television director, decided he wanted to make a horror film, he found an enthusiastic collaborator in Anthony Shaffer, who wrote the play “Sleuth” and the screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock film “Frenzy.” Mr. Hardy and Shaffer, partners in a production company, were avid fans of the horror films made by Hammer Studios. Together they set about making a film that would take the Hammer approach in a new direction.

Shaffer, using the novel “Ritual” by David Pinner as a basis, came up with the story of a devout Christian policeman, Sergeant Neil Howie, who travels to a Scottish island to investigate the disappearance of a girl. In Mr. Hardy’s hands, the island and its inhabitants — led by the priestlike Lord Summerisle, played by Christopher Lee, took on a mystifying aura, with bizarre events unfolding….

(7) TODAY’S BIRTHDAY BOY

  • Born July 14, 1910 – William Hanna: The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Top Cat etc.

(8) ANIME. Petréa Mitchell runs down more than 20 stfnal anime premieres for Amazing Stories.

Gray-man HALLOW premiere – In Fairytale Britain, a villain called the Millennium Earl is creating demonic constructs and sending them out to take over the world or somesuch. Opposing him is a vaguely religious order armed with everything from magical powers to amped-up mundane weapons. At the center of it all is Allen Walker, a particularly talented exorcist, who is slowly being taken over by the personality of one of the Milliennium Earl’s former allies. There are people in the power structure moving against him, and something unfortunate is about to happen to his mentor.

While most of this episode is spent catching new viewers up, there’s still room for some supernatural monster-killing action. It does a decent job at both. All around, it’s a perfectly serviceable action-adventure.

The big caveat for a Western audience is that it takes the European setting and religious trappings and does very weird things with them. It operates at about the same level of fidelity in its depiction of Japanese culture as a typical Western cartoon.

(9) PUMPKIN IS THE NEW ORANGE. The Halloween Daily News urges one and all to sign a petition to make Ray Bradbury’s favorite day of the year a real holiday. (They don’t mention Ray, but we know it’s true.)

Have you ever wished that your favorite day of the year, Halloween was recognized as an actual federal Holiday like Christmas and Thanksgiving? Of course you are not alone, and one person is taking this request to the White House in the form of an online petition that needs at least 100,000 signatures by July 25 to be taken seriously. But we can do that, right?

(10) THE VOTE. Hugo ballot picks for Novella by Jonathan Edelstein.

I wasn’t able to put the best novella of 2015 on the top of my Hugo ballot, because that story, The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn by Usman T. Malik, didn’t make the finals.  That said, I can’t complain too much about the choices I had: the novella can be an awkward length, but most of this year’s entries carried it off and some were very good indeed.

(11) TEMPERATURE RISING. Kate Paulk’s comments in “Hugo Finalist Highlights – Best Short Story and Best Novelette” for once venture beyond indifference. There were some stories she even warmed up to.

“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld, January 2015) – Another cute piece, but with a liberal side of “hmm” that kept me thinking after I’d finished. This is one of my personal contenders for this category.

(12) THE ANSWER MY FRIEND. Teri Windling shares ancient knowledge in “Hedgies”.

“Aristotle says that hedgehogs can foretell a change of wind,” writes mythologist J.C. Cooper, “and accordingly shift the outlook of their earth-holes.”

Aristotle!

(13) SIDE OF HAM. Entertainment Weekly’s view is that Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is a movie about acting”.

For the moment, stuff the subtext: The Kobayashi Maru is a scene about the Enterprise crew – highly-skilled space-naval pioneer coworkers – putting on a show. They’re performing. And “performance” is both running plot point and underlying theme in Wrath of Khan. Khan fools Kirk with a performance, and Kirk fools Khan with three performances. In the second scene, Spock performs the opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of…” etc. In the penultimate scene, Kirk quotes Dickens’ closing: “It is a far, far better…” etc.

(14) ABOUT FACE. Handimania supplies a recipe for the head in a jar prank.

The thing is to blend two pictures together in order to prepare flat image of a human head. Afterwards, the photo has to be laminated and placed in a jar filled with fluid to create the illusion of a decapitated head. This nasty prank was prepared by Instructables’ user, mikeasaurus, who advises to personalize the gag for the best effect.

(15) E.T. ON LINE 1. Listserve knows “10 Bizarre Ways Scientists Believe Aliens Will Contact Us”

  1. Flashing A Billion Stars

Astrophysicist Ragbir Bhathal works with SETI to scan the skies for possible communications from extraterrestrial intelligence. Unlike most SETI facilities, which look for radio signals, Bhathal’s facility looks for laser pulses at his lab. The pulses sweep a nearby volume of space—within about 100 light-years—to find laser bursts that come in regular patterns. Scientists are now capable of detecting signals as faint as a single photon of light every few fractions of a second.

Lasers can, in principle, help transmit messages over extraordinary distances. While scientists have monitored a large number of stars looking for alien laser signals—like the facilities at Harvard and Princeton that scanned more than 10,000 Sun-like stars for several years—no evidence for any alien communication has been found.

(16) RESPECT. In “Should Pokémon Go?”, Kim Stahl offers a defense of Pokémon Go at the Holocaust Museum.

Following the articles about the D.C. Holocaust museum’s reaction to Pokémon Go, it struck me how very differently game-theory people and other people react to what’s going on with this game. The spots in the museum have been targets in another game (Ingress) for a few years, apparently without incident. Hundreds of thousands of people play that game, and many have played it inside the museum. But Pokémon is a very different sort of game. It is much more popular, and appeals to younger people, and unlike a game that is essentially a game-ified version of Geocaching, Pokémon is lighthearted and people are excited about it because it is new….

But the important difference I’m seeing is that the challenge the museum is facing made me think “great! People are visiting a place with so much to teach them because of the game! Now, how should they take the next step to encourage appropriate behavior from those visitors?” In other words, “how could the museum gamify getting the behavior they want from visitors instead of the behavior they don’t?” Quiet, respectful behavior and attention to the exhibits presumably.

When I was in Milan, one of the official pamphlets from the Duomo had information for Ingress players about a mission there. One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, a historical wonder intended for silent, respectful contemplation of God, used a game to get more people to visit and to get them to see the best parts of the church. That surprised and impressed me, of all of the places I would expect to clamp down on frivolous things or modern things, instead they embraced the possibilities.

(17) GO FOR PARENTS. Matthew Johnson wrote “A Parents’ Guide to Pokémon Go” for MediaSmarts.

Over the last week our world has been invaded: cute cartoon creatures can now be found lurking in parks, restaurants, museums, and even people’s houses. If you haven’t seen them, it’s because they’re only visible on a smartphone screen, and only if you’re playing the new game “Pokémon Go”.

While most parents are probably at least a bit familiar with the thirty-year-old Pokémon franchise, Pokémon Go is something new: the first widely popular alternate reality game (ARG). These games use GPS and similar location-finding technologies to overlay a game onto the real world. As a result, both public spaces and news stories have filled up with people looking to “catch ‘em all.”

Although most people playing Pokémon Go are probably adults, Pokémon’s popularity among kids means that many of them will want to play it too. Here’s a quick rundown on what to consider if your kids ask if they can play: ….

(18) POKESONG. Then Matthew Johnson took a break and insta-filked a bit of Pokémon trivia.

Darren Garrison on July 14, 2016 at 5:50 am said: My son sez Mew is the rarest Pokémon.

Okay, somebody, quick–filk “Mew is the rarest Pokemon” to the tune of “One is the Loneliest Number” for Paul_A.

As you wish:

Mew, is the loneliest Pokémon you’ll ever do
Mew is just the saddest one, he’s so lonely that they had to clone Mewtwo
It’s just no good anymore since Mew went away
I spent my time just catching Grimers yesterday
Pokémon Go is the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Yes, it’s the saddest experience you’ll ever know
Because Mew is the loneliest Pokémon
Mew is the loneliest Pokémon
Mew is the loneliest Pokémon you’ll ever do

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Aziz Poonawalla, Chip Hitchcock, Will R., and Petréa Mitchell for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Greg Hullender.]