On Romanian speculative fiction

Mihai Adascalitei is a reviewer and blogger.

The Berlin Wall raised a physical boundary between West and East, but during the reign of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe censorship built an invisible and even stronger barrier. Romania was no exception and that lead to an isolation felt at every level. Culture, in every form, suffered greatly during that time and the niche of speculative fiction was no exception. In some ways it suffered more, since speculative fiction was seen as the product of the capitalist and imperialist enemies. Heavy names, such as J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen King, rarely passed the wall raised by censorship and I can’t recall seeing any of their works before the 1989 Revolution in Romania. However, the unseen hand of restrictions didn’t stop at holding “dangerous material” at the nation’s borders, it worked successfully in the opposite direction as well. Plenty of voices had their say on the local speculative fiction scene, only to be largely heard and known solely by their countrymen. The Revolution of 1989 brought the desired freedom from every point of view and with it speculative fiction finally found its way to Romania. Only timidly in the beginning, but with a more and more assured gait with the passing of time.

Nowadays, we live in the age of globalization as opposed to the feeling of oppression and restraint we experienced a little over 20 years ago. When it comes to my favorite niche of speculative fiction things have moved slowly. Promising conditions exist, as can be seen in the crime fiction market where the Northern European countries export the intellectuals products of their writers with intensity. A small ripple seems to find its way towards speculative fiction as well, but with only small effects for the moment. The global market will only gain from the addition of the new voices, and by the discovery of new writers, who in their turn can take full of advantage of the globalization, and also from the generation of Romanian speculative fiction writers affected almost completely by the censorship of the Communist period, turned into classics for the local readership but not in the least less valuable for appearances on the foreign markets.

The times are always changing and we did not throw away only a political and economical regime, but also we experienced a spectacular move in the medium of reading, from paper to electronic devices. Because of it, the readers and writers of the world alike have easier access to the global market and one Romanian writer taking advantage of the new aroused situation is Marian Coman. Marian Coman is a writer from the younger generation, but with an exceptional talent. He has published two well received volumes of short fiction so far, White Nights, Black Days (Nopți albe, zile negre) in 2005 and The Chocolate Testament (Testamentul de ciocolată) in 2007. The former was rewarded with the local Kult Award for Personal Volume and the European Science Fiction Society Encouragement Award in 2006. A small selection of Marian Coman’s works became available in English on August 2011 when “Fingers and other fantastic stories” was released in electronic format through the efforts of the author.

“Fingers and other fantastic stories” is of very modest size, but as strong flavors are kept in small vials, it is generous in the rewards offered by its pages. Characters that are not easy to forget, a sad image of the Romanian Communist regime in which the banal orange fruits lead to a conflict of global proportions for those involved, one of the local legends and myths twisted to accentuate its psychological and human aspects for more emphasis on the tragedy behind it, in a phrase rewards in the form of stories that cannot leave the reader indifferent. Possessing an assured voice that doesn’t betray his age, Marian Coman tames the language with ease, unleashing it with best effect for the bittersweet tone of his stories. “Fingers and other fantastic stories” is only a small personal effort to bring more attention to Marian Coman’s talent, but let it be only the first stone on the foundation of a career that reaches the universal level.

And if Marian Coman makes the first step into the English market there are other talented Romanian speculative fiction writers who deserve world recognition too. The first who leaps to mind is Michael Haulică. One of the key figures in the promotion of Romanian speculative fiction Michael Haulică is also one of the distinguished voices of that scene. The latest volume released by Michael Haulică, Fantastic Stories (Povestiri Fantastice), gathers the works written over 30 years of career. The thirty-five texts of Fantastic Stories show a resourceful and polyvalent author, a writer who is not afraid to cross genres and subgenres with equal facility. Michael Haulică skillfully creates characters and settings intimately connected with the reader, the sense of familiarity ranging from vague to overwhelming but always there. Some of the characters become almost close friends with the reader due to the transit they make from one story to another, taking a more important role in one or a lesser position in another. The situations are never common, the stories intense and ever surprising. No matter the sub-genre area of the tales–cyberpunk, fantasy or magic realism–they hold a deeper meaning. Every time there is a philosophical current running underneath and each time they provoke the reader. Michael Haulică’s fiction has a poetic touch, grazes constantly the artistic quality and breathes originality. It might not be always easily digested and suited for every single reader, but the high quality of it is undeniable.

I mentioned earlier the globalization age, but this process is not flawless. The ease with which the doors to various cultures are opened and the blend that globalization seems to make from them might lead to a leveling of these cultures. And that would be a shame, because Marian Coman and Michael Haulică deserve an international audience not solely due to their talent, but for their uniqueness and diversity as well. Marian Coman and Michael Haulică are two of the eloquent voices of the Romanian speculative fiction scene, two of the most talented writers I read and their works should not be missing from the library shelves of any book lover–regardless of the location of the reader or the library.

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