Kontakt, An Anthology of Croatian SF

Cheryl Morgan is a critic and editor.

For the 1995 Worldcon in Glasgow a group of local writers got together to do some mutual PR. They produced Shipbuilding, an anthology of speculative fiction by Scottish writers. It was a good idea, and amongst the people to copy it were some fans and writers from Croatia. Despite some optimistic bids, they haven’t yet lured Worldcon to Zagreb. They do, however, have a thriving local convention scene. SFera, the Zagreb science fiction club, has got into the habit of producing an anthology each year and giving it away to attendees at their annual SFerakons. The idea has worked well for 16 years and so, when they won the right to host the 2012 Eurocon, SFera decided to produce an edition translated into English. And yes, they gave it away to the foreign attendees.

Kontakt was the name of the Eurocon, and is also the name of the book. The anthology is edited by Darko Macan and Tatjana Jambrišak. The credits state that Macan selected the stories and Jambrišak oversaw the translations, though it seems from the author introductions that they both had a hand in the selections. Both also have stories in the book, though Macan notes in his defense that his contribution won the Lapis Histriae Award, a mainstream literary contest. Besides, both of the editors are very fine writers, and it would have been wrong for such an anthology to have omitted their work.

The obvious question with such a book is, “how good are the translations?” In general the quality is excellent. I’ve spotted a few things that a diligent editor could flag, but the stories are very readable, and in some cases manage interesting experiments with style.

The book contains 12 stories from 8 men and 4 women. Croatian fandom is run by women, but they haven’t quite achieved domination of the author community yet. The stories range in subject matter from hard SF to mythic fantasy, surrealism, erotica and zombies. I don’t have room to review them all, so here’s a selection of my favorites.

Macan’s “The Corridor” is, as noted above, the winner of a mainstream literary award. It is a wonderfully surreal story of a young soldier who is given the task of guarding a door in a seemingly endless labyrinth of underground passages. The years pass, and he gets occasional visits from his Lance Corporal, but his primary contact with a fellow human is via his enemy, the man guarding the door from the other side.

In “The Dead” Aleksandar Žiljak provides an innovative twist on the zombie story by imagining a future in which the dead are reanimated to work as cheap labor in factories. The assumption that they are mindless proves tragically wrong.

Zoran Vlahović riffs off classic SF stories such as Starship Troopers and The Forever War. His far future conflict imagines an elite corps of heavily bio-engineered space marines who keep mankind free from the alien menace, and the equally bio-engineered corps of wives whose job it is to provide a home life for these stressed out killing machines between tours of duty. “Every Time We Say Goodbye” is a SFera Award winner, and deservedly so.

A full table of contents for the book is available here, along with the contents of the anthology of new fiction produced for the local fans. Croatia clearly has some fine SF writers. I hope we hear more from them soon.

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