Call for Submissions: Fiction



Call for Submissions: Fiction

The Editorial Collective


The SFRA Review welcomes well-written and carefully edited pieces of short fiction that conform to the following guidelines:

  • Submissions (stories, poetry, drama, etc.) should be no more than 4000 words.
  • Submissions must be original works that have not been previously published; if, for example, a submission has been previously posted on a blog or similar medium, please include a note explaining when and where.
  • Submissions should be clearly recognizable as SFF.
  • Submissions should not be thinly disguised social or political rants.
  • Submissions should be clearly germane to the issue’s topic.
  • Submit Microsoft Word .docx files only. If you are unable to access Word, please use Google Docs.
  • All files must include a brief (100 words or fewer) bio of the author and proper contact information; however, stories can be published under a pseudonym.
  • All stories must be sent as attachments to sfrarev@gmail.com with the subject “Fiction Submission: Autumn 2021”.

Stories will be read and edited by at least two members of the collective. We will be much more likely to reject submissions out of hand than to request revision, though we may do the latter.

The Autumn issue does not have a particular topic, so feel free to submit stories on whatever topic you desire.

Subsequent issues will have different topics which will be revealed in the issues immediately preceding them.


The SFRA Review’s Transition to Partial Peer Review



The SFRA Review’s Transition to Partial Peer Review

The Editorial Collective


With the explosive growth in scholarship on SF in recent times, the Editorial Collective feels that there are more scholars who need peer-reviewed scholarship to obtain and advance in their positions. As of the Winter 2022 issue, the SFRA Review will move to a peer-review model for some of its feature articles. This will happen gradually over the course of 2022: by the end of that year, we hope to be publishing three or four peer-reviewed articles per issue. We will of course need established scholars to perform peer review: you are more than welcome to volunteer by emailing us at sfrarev@gmail.com.

Scholars wishing to submit their articles for peer review should take care to properly edit and format their manuscript before sending it to us, and to clearly notify us that they wish their article to go through the peer-review process.

  • Articles should be a maximum of 8000 words in length, including notes and works cited.
  • Articles should conform to MLA 8th edition standards throughout.
  • MS Word .docx format only, or Google Docs should you not have access to Word.
  • Your first page should be a title page containing only your name and affiliation and
    the paper’s title.
  • Please anonymize your manuscript by making sure your name appears only on this title page; we will take care of disabling the automatic user tagging before sending the manuscript to peer reviewers.
  • Please make sure pages are numbered.
  • Please use endnotes, not footnotes. Do not link the note to the in-text number; this will require you not to use Word’s automatic notes.
  • Please avoid discursive notes when possible.

Articles not conforming to these guidelines will be returned rather than sent to peer review.

Once an article is received, two of our editors will review it and discuss its suitability for peer review. If the editors do not believe it suitable, we will either return it or propose that it be published as a non-peer-reviewed article. If the editors do believe it suitable, the submitter will be informed that it has been sent for peer review. For such articles, our intention is to have it reviewed by two scholars who are qualified to evaluate the work. Our intent is to spend no more than 60 days on the peer review process.

After receiving the results of the review(s), the journal editors will decide whether the article in question should be accepted as-is, perhaps with a few minor edits, or accepted only after major revisions, or rejected entirely. We will notify the submitter as soon as is practically possible after this decision is made.

Again, we will be doing this slowly and carefully. While scholars are encouraged to submit their work for peer review beginning now, please note that we will only accept two articles into the process for the Winter and Spring 2022 issues. This is not because we do not value your contributions; rather, we want things to move as smoothly as possible and are therefore being as careful as possible.

We are also planning a move away from WordPress to an established academic publishing platform, one that will allow for indexing in scholarly databases and DOI numbers. This will also be a gradual process, not least because it involves the appropriation of funds; we will keep you posted as the process unfolds.

We look forward both to your submissions and to bringing the Review, gradually, into the ranks of peer-reviewed journals in SF.

Note to “On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture”


SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture


Note to “On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture”

Beata Gubacsi and Vera Benczik

Introducing the special issue and the concept behind might as well begin with a brief explanation of the title. It is worth mentioning that the original title, as evidenced by our “call for papers” was “On the Edge: Hungarofuturism.” While we intended to use the term as an alternative for “Hungarian futurisms,” it would have led to ambiguity, due to the term’s association with the 2017 “Hungarofuturist Manifesto”, a satiric response to and parody of contemporary nationalist myth-making. Another pragmatic reason for changing the title was that it simply did not cover the scope of the papers we had received. More importantly, however, “futurism” in Hungarian has different connotations to that of the Anglo-American usage, and here we talk about the satirical reaction to certain nationalistic rhetorics rather than a proper artistic movement. For this reason, we felt we cannot offer relevant parallels to more established or emerging futurisms such as Afro, African and Sinofuturism, among others. The remaining part of the title “On the Edge”, on the one hand, refers to the geopolitical situation of Hungary, and its historical, philosophical and spiritual position as a “border” between Western and Eastern Europe, resulting in a continuous struggle with belonging, and forming a stable identity.

On the other hand, we felt, it also refers to the presence, reception and development of fantastic genres in Hungarian literature and culture: they have been gradually moving from the margins to the very centre of mainstream attention, meaning that they are “on the edge” of a great paradigm shift. The centralization of the fantastic owes greatly to the concentrated efforts of all participants—writers, publishers, fan communities, and audiences in general—within the field. While the 1990s still saw the fantastic as cheap and inferior mass market products, publishing houses, like Agave, Gabó or Könymolyképző, since the early 2000s have devoted increasing time and effort not only to produce good translations and quality editions of international SFF texts, but also to discover and mentor a new generation of Hungarian writers. Fan groups have grown into communities which embrace the complex layered meanings of texts, and especially the online communities have evolved into sites for sharing and communication.

There is a visibly growing interest in not just the fantastic itself but the study of it. In the past few years, major Hungarian literary journals and portals have published special issues dedicated to fantastic genres. Helikon published Posztmodern Gótika [Postmodern Gothic] in 2020, Ildikó Limpár’s ’s edited collection Rémesen Népszerű: Szörnyek a populáris kultúrában [Bloody Popular – Monster in Pop Culture] also came out in 2020, and the first issue of Prae’s Spekulativ Fikció [Speculative fiction] series appeared in March 2021. They do not only share several authors—some of whom are also featured in this collection—they also share similar, recurring critical approaches, namely the hybridisation of genres, the revival of post/apocalyptic and Weird fictions, as well as a focus on ecocriticism and posthumanism, trends which also appear in this special issue.

Considering all this, it is not surprising that the papers presented in this special issue are largely concerned with time, historicity, spatiality and material culture. While the articles, published in two part in the Winter and Spring issues of 2022, can be read in any order, we arranged them in four distinct groups, exploring different areas from the history and historicity of science fiction, Kádár era science fiction, the emerging New/Weird scene of Hungary, to folklore, and the fantastic representations of the country’s capital, Budapest.

The collection starts off with Sándor Szélesi’s “The Hungarian Way of Science Fiction” (translated by Gergely Kamper), an invaluable introduction to the history of science fiction in Hungary, and an overview of the different magazines and fanzines, book publishers, and fan communities that defined the understanding of science fiction in Hungary. This historical context is further established and complicated by Ádám Gerencsér’s “Alternative Histories: A Survey of The Alternate Histories of An Isolated Literary Corpus” and Áron Domokos in “The Fight For Uchronia: Counterfactual Histories in Contemporary Hungarian Short Fiction”. Both texts are concerned with the representations of alternate histories as early, fairly mainstream examples of science fiction/speculative fiction, re-imagining some of the most traumatic events of the 20th century.

These perspectives on historicism, alternative histories and science fiction allow for the exploration of the fantastic originating in the Kádár era, spanning three decades from the 1950s to the 1980s. This coincides with the Golden Age and New Wave of Anglo-American Science Fiction, and sees the beginnings of Hungarian Science Fiction television and film, magazines and anthologies, borrowing from, mocking, and amalgamating the clichés of both Western and the USSR SFF production. Ildikó Limpár in “Undead Culture in the East: The Hungarian Vampire Negotiating the National Past in Comrade Drakulich” demonstrates how the fantastic facilitated political criticism and Daniel Panka in “Lemon Juicers in Space: The Adventures of Pirx (1972-73)” explores the material culture of the Kádar era and how the rhetoric of science fiction is utilised for political satire in times where open political criticism and discourse was not possible. Finally, in “Star Girl on the Time Train: Children’s science fiction by Hungarian women authors in the Kádár era (1956-1989)”, Bogi Takács maps women’s participation in SFF production despite the difficulties they faced, and offers brief portraits of a spectrum of well-known and almost forgotten women who wrote fantastic stories.

The last group of articles focuses on fantasy. Mónika Rusvai’s “Copper, Silver and Gold: Metal Woods Set to a New Purpose in Hungarian Folk Fantasy” provides a great overview and introduction to the history of folk and fairy tales, and explores the “metal woods” motif in Csilla Kleinheincz’s seminal fantasy trilogy. Éva Vancsó in “The Representation of Otherness in Contemporary Hungarian Urban Fantasy” and András Molnár in “Poetic Justice for the Nonhuman Realm: Anita Moskát’s Irha és bőr as a Tool to Reflect on Public Life” both analyse Anita Moskát’s most recent novel, signalling how the Hungarian fantastic begins to address entering the Anthropocene through human-animal relationships. Continuing and further complicating the discussion of Weird spatiality, András Fodor in “Amongst you, we are the witnesses of withering: Hungarian New Weird spatial formations in the short fictions of Lilla Erdei, Balázs Farkas, and Attila Veres” provides a great overview of the emergence and emerging literary infrastructure of weird fiction in Hungary.

Finally, in many ways Péter Kristóf Makai’s article “The Austro-Hungarian Melting Pot: The Mythopoetics of Borgovia in The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing” ties in the different themes we have introduced and seen in the collection from historicism and cultural memory politics to cultural identity, material culture and spatiality.

As the closing section of the collection, we solicited five interviews from prominent authors, editors and scholars—all of whom represent and excel in more than one of these categories—to reflect on their experiences witnessing, documenting and mapping, and changing the meaning and relevance of the fantastic in Hungarian literature and culture. In order to emphasise these unique points of view, we asked largely the same questions regarding the changing fantastic scene in Hungary, the way genres themselves are interpreted differently, and interrogating artistic practices which subvert the Anglo-American SFF traditions.

Margit Sárdi, perhaps one of the first SFF scholars in Hungary and the founder of the Magyar Scifitöténeti Társaság and István “Steve” Szabó founding editor-in-chief of Próza Nostra, a web platform that serves as a hub for critical and creative discussions about the fantastic represent different generations of science fiction fans, scholars and critics, giving insight into the state of the fantastic from the 1980s to the 2020s. Csilla Kleinheincz, author of the Ólomerdő [Lead Forest] trilogy and co-editor of the annual Hungarian SFF anthology series, and Bogi Takács, award-winning SFF author and critic have both contributed tremendously to the reception and shaping of the fantastic discourse in Hungary. In their respective interviews they also talk about their own creative practice, and approaches to writing SFF, as well as their insight into the future of the fantastic in Hungary. Last but not least, we were privileged to interview Theordora Goss, Hungarian-American author of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel of the Monstrous Gentlewoman, The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, and ask about inspiration, diaspora and creative practice.

The articles and the interviews themselves are in conversation with each other. The first six papers, focusing on time and historicity and the Kádár era, can be juxtaposed with Margit Sárdi’s insights on unaddressed historical trauma, and how fantastic tropes from vampires to space and time travel can shape them, as well as the socio-political discourse surrounding these traumas. My intuition is that the current burgeoning interest in Weird and Horror genres in Hungary, as noted by all interviews, is a sign of the re-emerging of these traumas, and the need to engage with them, as well as picking up on the current anti-capitalism, posthumanist and ecological re-evaluation of the human-non-human relationships. Perhaps the writer and fan communities whose importance the interviews noted can shape how these traumas—old and new—can be expressed, processed and discussed. Related to this, Bogi Takács in their interview notes that there is no shortage of inclusive SFF texts in Hungary but there is a visibility problem. An important takeaway for us readers, fans and critics would be to give the necessary attention to these historically marginalised voices.

We believe the collection is timely and topical, and hope the increasing attention will catalyse the further development of fantastic scholarship in Hungary, perhaps even beyond our borders. We also hope that the critical interest will lead to the translation of the wonderful works our authors have covered, and more. Finally, we would like to thank all the contributors for sharing their great scholarship, knowledge and experience, and the SFRA Review’s editorial team for the opportunity and their tremendous work putting everything together for publishing.

Beata Gubacsi is a PhD candidate at the University of Liverpool, and columnist at The Polyphony, the UK’s largest medical and health humanities web platform, affiliated with Durham University. She’s recently received the ECR Foundation Award of the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Medical Humanities for a short project, “Neurodiversity in SFF”. To learn more about her work on “Medical Humanities and the Fantastic”, follow her on Twitter @beata_gubacsi and @fantastic_mhs.

Vera Benczik, PhD, is senior lecturer at the School of English and American Studies at Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where she teaches courses on American and Canadian literature, as well as popular culture. Her area of research is science fiction: she has published extensively on the science fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin, the fantastic in Margaret Atwood’s fiction, and the spatial formations of post-apocalyptic narratives.


Poetic Justice for the Nonhuman Realm: Anita Moskát’s Irha és bőr as a Tool to Reflect on Public Life


SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture


Poetic Justice for the Nonhuman Realm: Anita Moskát’s Irha és bőr as a Tool to Reflect on Public Life

András Molnár

Speculative fiction bears much relevance to how we experience the twenty-first century. After having been relegated to popular culture and discredited for offering nothing more than cheap and superficial entertainment for the masses, not only does speculative fiction constitute a sizable portion of contemporary entertainment nowadays; its tropes address some of humanity’s most salient issues in the twenty-first century. 

Hungarian speculative fiction has gained a strong momentum throughout the past decade. The 2010s witnessed the emergence of a new generation of authors with unique voices, new regular anthologies, and an intensified discussion of issues related to speculative fiction. Research groups and conferences are devoted to exploring the ways this subset of fiction reflects contemporary issues, and new thematic and annual anthologies are being published. Perhaps the most salient attribute of this new wave of Hungarian speculative fiction is that it is imbued with “local color.” Several stories are located in an all too familiar Hungary––either in the capital or in various country regions—and the plots are embedded in the cultural, social and political context of present-day Hungary (e.g., events take place in decaying villages or rural pubs, locations well known to many readers who grew up after the transition). There is also a marked usage of motifs from Hungarian folklore, exemplified by Attila Veres’s short story “Kisgömböc” [Little Hog Maw] [1], a reinterpretation of a popular Hungarian folk tale with the same title, or Alfonz Fekete I.’s A mosolygó zsonglőr [The Smiling Juggler], a collection of short stories that reach back to Hungarian folklore and the surrealist fiction of fin de siècle and early twentieth century Central Europe. The characteristic tropes of the various genres within speculative fiction, and speculative fiction’s now generally acknowledged role as a tool to reflect on contemporary challenges, are combined with regional topography and cultural background.

This article is an analysis of Anita Moskát’s 2019 novel Irha és bőr [Hide and Skin] by utilizing Martha C. Nussbaum’s approach, which views novels as a useful tool to recognize and appreciate the plight of others. For this reason, it can enhance empathy in public life. My point is that while Nussbaum’s focus was aimed at the modern realist novel, Moskát’s novel also has the potential to serve as a similar tool for present-day public discourse. The plight of nonhuman animals, their moral status, and our relationship with them are becoming increasingly important matters to deal with, not only because the harm humans cause Earth’s ecosystem may result in harm to humanity itself (e.g., by the perils of the decline of biodiversity), but also because the treatment of sentient beings is a matter of moral deliberation. Irha és bőr distinctively focuses on the perspective of its nonhuman (or perhaps semi-human) characters who need to cope with the mostly hostile attitudes and prejudices of the human world surrounding them, and this feature makes it eligible for an analysis within Nussbaum’s theoretical framework.

Irha és bőr at the Crossroad of Genres

Wolfe and Beamer’s suggestion that it is preferable to avoid “replac[ing] meaningful critical discourse with ingenious tagging” (164) seems especially well-founded in the case of Irha és bőr considering that the novel evades categorization particularly well. Perhaps it is not entirely unfounded to claim that the novel bears the characteristics of the urban fantasy subgenre as it takes place in contemporary Hungary, and quasi-supernatural events play a crucial role in the narrative. I think “quasi-supernatural” is the proper word to use here, because while some of the phenomena in the fictitious setting are indeed not possible in real life—or at least not today and not exactly the way they are presented to the reader—they cannot be said to be supernatural in the common meaning of the word. So while the plot does take place in an urban environment, and it contains some mythic elements, it does not feature the horror tropes that, according to Peter S. Beagle, are part of the subgenre (n.p.). On the other hand, the hybrid, asymmetrical, and sometimes dysfunctional bodies of the “sentient creatures,” their sometimes grotesque and repulsive appearance, and the sometimes gruesome, visceral descriptions give the novel a tinge of horror, calling to mind Carroll’s thought on impurity and fusion in the horror genre (Carroll 42–45).

Irha és bőr takes place in Hungary in an imagined world, in which millions of animals cocoon themselves and undergo inexplicable transformations. The result of these transformations is the emergence of a large group of half-human, half-animal beings called “chimeras” or “sentient creatures.” For the record, it should be noted that the original Hungarian text uses the derogatory word “fajzat,” a word used to emphasize the tainted bloodline or descendancy of its object. The chimeras are in no way “regular” hybrids; the proportion of their human and animal organs and the degree of their transformation are absolutely arbitrary, nor do they necessarily serve any meaningful purpose. They are more or less capable of rational thought (this feature also varies according to the development of their human brain). Humans are dumbfounded and disgusted by the inexplicable appearance of the new race and restrict them to ghettos and meticulously regulate their social life. At the time of the novel’s plot, tension mounts as the dissatisfaction of chimeras in the ghettos rises. In Hungary, a referendum is being initiated with the support of August Dahl, an activist of the International Organization for the Cause of Chimeras (Nemzetközi Fajzatügyi Szervezet, hereafter NFSZ) and a protagonist of the novel. Meanwhile, a mysterious, sect-like organization, led by the Black Sheep, a sheep-human hybrid, is causing revolt among chimeras. The incredibly complex and multi-layered novel relates the conflicts and struggles of chimeras in the shadow of an overheated discourse of nonhuman rights.

Partly through an omniscient, third-person narrator, partly through the narratives related in the blog posts of one of the protagonists, Kirill, a deer-human hybrid, the novel tells about the calamities that ensued after the inexplicable transformation of millions of animals all over the planet. There are three main protagonists of the novel. The aforementioned Kirill is an activist for the oppressed, who wants to uncover the atrocities the chimeras have to suffer. He is animated by an unrelenting desire for justice and revenge. His curiosity leads him to the Black Sheep, but it is his desire for revenge that makes him the Sheep’s follower and finally becomes his undoing. August, the NFSZ activist, is sincerely, even desperately, concerned with the plight of chimeras, but he is forced to face conflicts and difficulties that arise from the differences between his seemingly upper-class position as opposed to the underclass position of his impatient and ghettoized protégés who, under the influence of the Black Sheep, consider him a traitor to the cause of chimera liberation. The appearance of the Sheep also unfolds a series of events that make August face his true origins. Pilar, the badger-human hybrid, was initially exploited by her former master who posted footage of her to social media and thrived on her ever-increasing fandom. Pilar, after her master gets rid of her, begins learning about and wondering at the real world while gradually leaving the mediated illusions of her former life behind. This journey is full of perils and misunderstandings, but in the end, she becomes an indispensable key to discovering the origin of the chimeras. Through the omniscient, third-person narrator, the reader gets to understand the perspectives and ambitions of the various characters.

The novel focuses sharply on the emotions and motives of its characters, but the abstract issue at stake, equality of human and nonhuman (or partly human), is not marginalized as the plight of chimeras is one of the primary factors that influence the decisions of the characters and creates tensions. The reader is driven to experience what it’s like to belong to an outcast group. Paradoxically, the excluded group does not consist of ordinary humans—its members are beings that could easily be monsterized in a B-movie and are in fact monsterized by the millions of humans in the story who are perplexed at their emergence; yet the novel lets the reader see the plot through the eyes of three chimeras. Mentally, the chimeras are often closer to humans than animals, even though they display various animal features—for instance, the collective consciousness of Kirill and his herd of does—and this makes it easier for the reader to empathize with them. So much so that some passages in Irha és bőr, like the one about the “galambok[, ]akik gyermeket akartak” [“doves who wanted a child”] (93), describe emotions in a way that if one did not know the context, they could be about any human beings who behaved contrary to negative expectations.

Irha és Bőr and Literary Imagination

Recent advances in cognitive science concerning literature confirm the suggestion that reading fiction enhances people’s ability to be more empathic and receptive to the feelings of others. For example, Oatley argues that fiction is not so much an imitation of life as “a kind of simulation that enables exploration of minds and their interactions in the social world” (626). Fiction can engage the reader by inference (the skill of understanding others by indirect signs), transportation (being capable of involvement with the fictional situations), and pluralism (fiction’s tendency to introduce alternate realities) (621-624). Overviewing related research, Wolf concludes that “the capacity for compassionate knowledge of others may be our best antidote to the ‘culture of indifference’” (53). These findings correlate with Martha Nussbaum’s theory, elaborated in the 1990s, that the novel can construct a “paradigm of a style of ethical reasoning”: it takes a “general idea of human flourishing” and couples it with a concrete situation. As a result of this pairing, we can obtain “universalizable concrete prescriptions” (8). In other words, novels can confront us with imaginary situations. These imaginary situations are related to certain general principles of right and wrong, and contrasting these two, the reader can draw their own conclusions about the issue at hand. Nussbaum herself exemplifies this in her chapter on Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, arguing that that novel “contains a normative vision of a scientific political economics and of the scientific political imagination,” making these ideas the target of “withering satirical attack” (13).

Nussbaum carefully explains why she chose the novel as a subject of her inquiry. In her view, the novel has a peculiar commitment to the individuality of persons; it attributes importance to what happens to individuals; it describes the events of life from an inner perspective; and it pays special attention to the ordinary, the everyday life and struggles of people (32). Of these four attributes, only the last one can be said to be untrue of speculative fiction for the obvious reason that this genre presents “modes of being that contrast with their audiences’ understanding of ordinary reality” (Gill 73). While of course we should not be encountering chimeras any time soon—at least in the sense of the hybrid beings in Irha és bőr—the problem of  animal rights is an all too real one, more timely than ever, and the issue is basically a moral one. Protecting the environment in general, and the animals in it, is a goal that serves the interests of human society as well, because the effects that come from subverting nature’s processes can be harmful to humans too. However, there is also the question of whether we should consider nonhuman animals as beings with inherent values and the right to be treated accordingly. This latter viewpoint is distinct from direct advantages, and concerns whether nonhuman animals are entitled to a respectful treatment. This is the approach the novel takes, and it is aided by representing the dynamics of the psychology of the mostly nonhuman characters in a subtle, complex, and realistic way. We may also tangentially mention that “chimeras,” in the sense of human/animal admixed embryos utilized for scientific and biotechnological purposes do exist, and pose a significant challenge to human identity as contrasted with nonhuman animals (Sharpe 130–33). Aside from the aforementioned nonconformity with the virtues of the novel as described by Nussbaum, Irha és bőr fits well with the other elements of the enumeration: the feelings, motives, and acts of the individual characters play a crucial role in the story, and their individual personality is detailed and realistic.

The plot of Irha és bőr takes place in an environment of outright inequality between humans and nonhumans. Chimeras are abhorred by humans because of their monstrosity (by human terms) and the prejudice that they are inherently inferior because of their half-animal state. The situation evokes a debate that is analogous to the issue of animal rights. Jeremy Bentham, one of the earliest open proponents of animal rights, argued that the common denominator that may one day ground animal rights is their capacity to suffer (Bentham 142-143., n. §). Pioneering animal rights activist Peter Singer agreed and dwelled extensively on the factors that underlie the argument (9–17). He goes on to consider the question of killing animals, arguing that to avoid speciesism, animals should be granted the right to life, just like humans, because species borders cannot constitute a legitimate reason for the different treatment of humans and nonhumans (19). The capacity to feel pain and the deconstruction of borders between species is demonstrated in the novel as well. Singer attempts to prove indirectly that animals have the capacity to feel pain: “there are no good reasons, scientific or philosophical, for denying that animals feel pain. If we do not doubt that other humans feel pain we should not doubt that other animals do so too” (15). This argument is, of course, intuitively appealing, and supported by scientific evidence. However, it is still presented from an external point of view. Singer, obviously, cannot flawlessly reconstruct the experience of other—nonhuman—creatures because his imagination and experiences are inevitably human so they:

will not help to try to imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high-frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one’s feet in an attic. (Nagel 439)

Moskát’s novel seems to take this a step further to understand the perspective of nonhuman animals by the means of fiction. One of the novel’s tools to create an approximate phenomenology of nonhuman animals is the use of chimeras, who are partly human, which makes it easier for the reader to empathize with them, and partly animal, which leaves its mark in the characters’ consciousness and behavior. This motif is most salient in the representation of Kirill, who experiences a telepathic bond with the community he is related to, be it his herd (9) or the Black Sheep (332-333). More importantly, the evolution of the chimeras into a conscious, semi-human state is often accompanied by a power to express themselves by language, which makes their voice heard. From his infancy, Kirill was convinced that “a történeteknek erejük van” [“stories have power,”] (577), and it was this conviction that motivated him in writing a blog to relate the plight of chimeras throughout the world. Writing the blog, on the one hand, made the voice of chimeras heard: they could express themselves by the very means humans use to convey messages about oppression, unfair discrimination, and exploitation. On the other hand, giving the chimeras a narrative is more than that: it is about giving them an identity, and in this regard, one should be very careful about what narrative one relates. This is the very reason Kirill refrains from telling their origins after learning that the “creation” of the chimeras was unintended and imperfect.

The chimeras’ struggle for legal recognition is fraught with distrust, and the individual stories that are presented to the reader give a glimpse of why this could be so. The three main protagonists of the novel have markedly different backgrounds. August, the activist of the NFSZ, is introduced as an upper-class human man. Kirill is relegated to a small flat in a ghetto, experiencing poverty and oppression first hand. Pilar—whose role in the store is less important for this study—is found abandoned in a garbage deposit. The issue at stake: the “general idea of human flourishing” is the equal legal acknowledgment of sentient beings in an environment where human exceptionalism is the self-evident and unquestioned norm, and the situation is worsened by fears of the unknown posed by the absolute lack of knowledge concerning the reproduction of chimeras. The “concrete situations” that are contrasted with the general idea are forcefully expressed in the intermittent blog posts that report on dehumanizing, humiliating, and outright abusive practices like illegal experimentation (124-126), uses of chimeras as live target for bow shooting (167-168), lynching (282-284), or sexual exploitation (458-460). In the meantime, not only do we learn that mutually respectful relationships can be formed between humans and chimeras (283), but also, and more importantly, due to the novel’s focus on the viewpoint of chimeras, we can identify with their emotions and experiences, and understand their decisions.

These and other instances of discrimination presented in the novel make the tension more palpable as the reader can relate to the anger felt by many chimeras, and the conflict of August and the Black Sheep becomes more vivid. August strives to achieve legal equality by negotiation and persuasion; the Black Sheep takes a revolutionary stance that draws on the vengeful bloodlust of his followers. One manifestation of this conflict is the spectacular and brutal murder of Theodor Holm and the gruesome profanation of his corpse, which possibly contributed to losing the referendum because of the general fear such a crime arose in the public (343). Another manifestation is the debate between the Black Sheep and August about the former’s implausible and impractical list of demands (505).

While the sectarian fanaticism of the Black Sheep is doomed to failure, the drawbacks of August’s campaign are also vividly demonstrated in the novel. The figure of the activist is presented as a different type of fanatic, who stops at nothing to arouse sympathy among the public: he comes out as a chimera in a live interview for the benefit of the equal rights referendum campaign (40), he is prone to using others for his goals (253-254), and he arranges a failed attempt of assassination against himself so that he can morally triumph as a martyr of his cause (453). All these sacrifices deserve attention not only because, at this point, the novel reflects on the hardships of being an activist, but also, and more importantly, because the various personal conflicts that ensue from August’s decisions highlight new aspects of the characters’ emotional lives.

Conclusion

Irha és bőr is an odd mixture of the realist novel and speculative fiction; its quasi-supernatural elements are placed in a very real-life Hungary. This exceptionally multi-layered novel reflects on a variety of issues out of which I attempted to focus on the struggle of chimeras for legal recognition. I applied the thesis contained in Martha Nussbaum’s Poetic Justice, according to which the realist novel can be used to imagine social situations that are related to principles of right and wrong, and by this, the novel can become a tool of public discourse. My hypothesis was that this thesis can be extended to works of speculative fiction too, because even though this genre focuses on the irregular and the extraordinary—instead of the ordinary like the realist novel does in Nussbaum’s view—speculative fiction is capable of achieving the emotional involvement and empathy in the reader that helps them understand the situation and the dilemmas of the characters. Therefore, deliberation on public affairs is no less possible. Moskát’s novel frames the issue of legal equality between human and nonhuman, sentient creatures. The individual narratives in the fables within the novel illustrate vividly what fates may befall the chimeras in a regime where they are not protected by law. The behavior of the chimeras as rational agents provides a contrast with, and makes the reader reflect on, the self-evident norm of the essential difference between the human and the nonhuman.

NOTES

[1] All translations are my own unless otherwise noted.

WORKS CITED

Beagle, Peter S. “Introduction.” The Urban Fantasy Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Joe R. Lansdale, E-book, Tachyon Press, 2011.

Bentham, Jeremy. “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation.” The Works of Jeremy Bentham, edited by John Bowring, Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1843, pp. 1-154.

Carroll, Noël: The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart. Routledge, 1990.

Gill, R. B. “The Uses of Genre and the Classification of Speculative Fiction.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, vol. 46, no. 2, 2013, pp. 71-85.

Moskát, Anita. Irha és bőr [Hide and Skin]. GABO, Budapest, 2019.

Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It like for a Bat to Be a Bat?” Philosophical Review, vol. 83, no. 4, 1974, pp. 435-450.

Nussbaum, Martha C. Poetic Justice. The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Beacon Press, 1995.

Oatley, Keith. “Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds.” Trends in Cognitive Science, vol. 20, no. 8, 2016, pp. 618-628.

Sharpe, Andrew N. Foucault’s Monsters and the Challenge of Law. Routledge, 2010.

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. HarperCollins, 2002.

Wolf, Maryanne. Reader, Come Home. The Reading Brain in a Digital World. E-book, HarperCollins, 2018.

Wolfe, Gary K., and Amelia Beamer. “Twenty-First Century Stories.” Evaporating Genres. Essays on Fantastic Literature. Edited by Gary K. Wolfe, Wesleyan University Press, 2011, pp. 164-185.

András Molnár is senior lecturer at the Institute for Comparative Law and Legal Theory, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, University of Szeged. He is also a Ph.D. candidate at the Doctoral School of Literature of the Faculty of Arts, University of Szeged. His main research interests are the theoretical aspects of the relationship between law and neuroscience and the connection between law and speculative fiction.


Call for Papers: Masculinities and Science Fiction



Call for Papers: Masculinities and Science Fiction

Michael Pitts


In the introduction of Gender and Environment in Science Fiction (2018), Bridgitte Barclay and Christy
Tidwell note the suitability of sf texts for gender readings since such “texts often ask questions such
as where is nature, what is natural, and who is equated with nature” (ix). Sf calls into question traditional,
essentialist understandings of femininity and masculinity. Close analyses of gender in speculative
texts therefore illuminate how sf normalizes and in turn marginalizes divergent performances of
gender.

The intersection of masculinities and speculative fiction makes up an overlooked site at which
normative and alternative conceptions of gender may be analyzed. Since its inception, sf has played
host to the so-called crisis of masculinity. Fearing the loss of a mythologized, essentialized man,
adherents to traditional ideals of manhood have contributed speculative works that attempt to
stabilize essentialist, patriarchal views of manliness. A.E. van Vogt’s “The Changeling” (1944), E.E.
“Doc” Smith’s Lensman (1948-1954) novels, and Frank Robinson’s The Power (1956), for example,
vilify newly imagined forms of masculinity and frame patriarchal conceptions of manhood as both
natural and pivotal to the stability of society. Each narrative therefore contributes to the crisis within
sf concerning masculinity.

In contrast, other writers have contributed diverse works united by their socially-situated, radical
presentations of masculinity. Golden age texts such as Stanley G. Weinbaum’s The New Adam (1939)
and Jack Williamson’s Darker than You Think (1948) undermine the traits historically associated with
manliness. Carrying forward this project, contemporary novels such as Ursula Le Guin’s The
Dispossessed
(1974), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood
(1987-1989) trilogy, and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth (2015-2017) series reimagine masculinities in
radical and promising ways. Analyses of this historic and ongoing conflict of masculinities within sf
illuminate the ways the genre shapes and is in turn shaped by divergent understandings of gender.

This symposium seeks papers that discuss topics at the intersection of masculinity studies and
science fiction studies. It seeks to understand how masculinity, presented as divorced entirely from
or inextricably linked to biological sex, is negotiated in speculative fiction. According to influential
masculinity studies scholar Michael Kimmel, analyses of manliness should consider both those
masculinities idealized by a culture and the alternative versions with which they compete (4).
Accordingly, articles should seek to complicate the history of science fiction and illuminate conflicts
between its competing portrayals of masculinity. Papers may focus upon a single text and its
encoded messages regarding masculinity. Papers may also analyze historical trends within the genre
or compare multiple texts and their presentations of manliness. Moving beyond simple descriptions
of such presentations of gender, these papers should make novel arguments about the centrality of
divergent masculinities to science fiction and the manner by which they shape and are shaped by the
genre.

Submissions

SFRA Review seeks essays of c. 2,000–3,000 words for a special issue analyzing the intersection of
traditional and alternative masculinities and science fiction. Submissions may address, but are not
limited to, the following:

Eco-Masculinities
Race and Manhood
Female Masculinities
Afrofuturism and Conceptions of Manliness
Cyborg Masculinities
Manhood in Utopian and/or Dystopian Science Fiction
Cyberpunk Masculinities
Speculative Masculinities and Sexual Violence
The Super Men and other Golden Age Masculinities

Abstracts of c. 250 words and short author bios should be submitted by email to the symposium
editor Michael Pitts at mpitts@jcu.cz using the subject line “Masculinity and Science Fiction” by
June 1, 2022.

Abstracts should specify the text(s) the author wishes to write about and how they will approach
masculinity within the chosen text(s). Prospective authors are encouraged to reach out to Michael if
they wish to discuss their essay concept; however, a discussion does not mean automatic acceptance. Authors will be notified of acceptance (or rejection) by June 15, 2022.

Accepted drafts of 2,000–3,000 words will be due at the beginning of August and should be
prepared in MLA style with a Works Cited list in MLA 8th edition. A full project timeline is listed
below.

Timeline

June 1, 2022 = Abstracts due

June 15, 2022 = Authors Notified of Acceptance

August 1, 2022 = First Drafts Due

August 15, 2022 = First Draft Edits Returned

September 1, 2022 = Second Drafts Due

September 15, 2022 = Second Drafts Edits Returned

October 15, 2022 = Final Drafts Due

Early November = Publication of symposium in SFRA Review 52.4

The SF In Translation Universe #15



The SF In Translation Universe #15

Rachel Cordasco

Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! As often happens, we may not have a boatload of new SFT available this spring, but what is available packs a real punch. Especially exciting is the arrival from Aqueduct Press of the first work of Basque science fiction in English translation. From Japan we get two new works of horror fiction—one of which comes from the pen of internationally-acclaimed horror writer Koji Suzuki. Finally, we’re treated to one of German modernist author Peter Weiss’s works, thanks to New Directions.

One of the most interesting phenomena related to the upswing in SFT is that, as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Sure, the usual source languages are well-represented each year (Spanish, Japanese, etc.), but along with them, over the past several years, have come Czech, Hebrew, Arabic, Hungarian, Galician, Korean, and others. Italian science fiction, for instance, has also made its way more often into English, despite the fact that the genre is still not overly popular in Italy and very little funding is available to bring Italian literature into English.

Basque can now be added to this list of source languages gaining attention through SFT. Thanks to Aqueduct Press, which published excellent feminist science fiction from Spanish authors Lola Robles and Sofia Rhei in 2016 and 2019, respectively, Anglophone readers can now get a taste of Basque author Mayi Pelot’s unique perspective on writing and the future. Considered one of the first writers to have crafted science fiction in Basque, Pelot (who died six years ago) co-founded a literary magazine, participated in a Basque-speaking radio station, and contributed to a French-Basque dictionary. Her collection Memories of Tomorrow (tr. Arrate Hidalgo, April)–written between 1982 and 1992—includes five short stories and one novella, all focused on the aftermath of an imagined third world war. Each story zeroes in on just one or two characters trying to scratch out a life after widespread destruction. In her foreword to the book, Hidalgo looks forward to readers appreciating “the lyrical possibilities of [Pelot’s] elliptical, synthetic style of writing.” Having sat on many an SFT panel with Hidalgo, I can say with confidence that she understands not just the mechanics of translation but also the complex issues surrounding it as a craft. It’s always been a pleasure for me to talk to Hidalgo about translation and many other subjects, and I want to congratulate her on bringing Pelot into English where more readers can enjoy her creative mind.

For those of you who are more into surreal horror fiction, April and May have you covered. It should come as no surprise that both of these books are from Japan, since that country has given us more horror fiction in recent years than almost any other (besides Spain and Sweden). First up is Masatugu Ono’s At the Edge of the Woods (April), translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, known to the SFT world for her Kobo Abe translations. In this unsettling story set in an unnamed country, a family has just moved into a new house in the woods. The ghostly coughing and laughing drive the pregnant mother back to their previous home, since she’s worried about the growing fear in the house causing another miscarriage. Thus her husband and young son are left to face the isolation in an area rumored to be haunted by fantastic creatures and warriors from ancient history. And yet, this disquiet seems downright cozy compared to the increasing violence and environmental catastrophe that the two watch on tv every night. Even the mail carrier brings bad news of the outside world. This swirling mix of myth, fantasy, horror, and the surreal make At the Edge of the Woods a book you’ll likely want to read on a bright summer’s day, surrounded by cheerful people and chirping birds, because, man, that sounds scary.

“Scary” is also something Koji Suzuki knows well, having written a tetralogy that blends horror and science fiction. The Ring books focus on a psychic virus that spreads through various media, including film, video, and television; some Anglophone readers will recognize this story because of its own jump from book to tv and film. In his latest book in English, The Shining Sea (tr. Brian Bergstrom, May), Suzuki weaves a story about a pregnant woman left behind by her lover, who went to sea on a tuna boat. Feeling desperately alone and hopeless, the woman had tried to drown herself but was ultimately rescued and now remembers almost nothing. Over the course of the book, Suzuki explores the intersection of human fate and the indifference of the universe, and how relationships are either strengthened or frayed by this reality.

You might be thinking “yes, well, these sound interesting but I’m more of a Modernism fan,” so you’ll be glad to hear that German modernist author, playwright, and filmmaker Peter Weiss is in English again with Conversation of the Three Wayfarers (tr. E. B. Garside, April). Redolent of Kafka, Music, and Gombrowicz, Conversation features Abel, Babel, and Cabel monologuing about a steeplechase that occurs on a floating pontoon. Though each narrator describes the incident from his own perspective, the lives of the three men start blending together until the question arises as to whether or not these men are really just one person.

In terms of short SFT so far, April brought us another story by Chinese writer Pan Haitian. Titled “Hanuman the Monkey King” (tr. Emily Jin, Clarkesworld Magazine), this story imagines the complicated interactions between humans and an alien species in a spaceport city.

The rest of the year promises some further exciting SFT, including Shimon Adaf’s Lost Detective trilogy and Lavie Tidhar’s anthology The Best of World SF 2 (which includes my translation from the Italian of Clelia Farris’s story “The Substance of Ideas”).

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and what you’re looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!


“Writing on the Stone”



“Writing on the Stone”

Csaba Béla Varga


Secret societies do not like eyewitnesses. This antipathy is mutual.

Next to the wall of the graveyard, sitting on a half-sunken bench I was waiting for the Morning Star, herald of the darkness, outrider of the morning. I had plenty of time, no urgent business waited for me in this city I used to call home once. I wasn’t too afraid.

Well, I didn’t have much to lose either.

I had spotted the statue at my last returning from abroad when I couldn’t find the grave of my grandmother at the base of the ancient wall of this cemetery. I asked people about it. They told me that the upper part of an old crypt had collapsed when the graveyard was enlarged. One of the big machines hit and destroyed it. That is how the pale woman appeared. They realized only days later, after that famous cloudburst, which had wiped out three villages in the eastern counties, that she was made of white marble.

I went into the graveyard to say farewell to my grandmother. I was surprised when I saw how beautiful the shining female figure was. And I was not so taken aback that I couldn’t read the text on her pedestal. In those days I was annoyingly vain because of my supposed importance and higher education. I regarded myself as an expert of ancient languages and scripts. But that time I was in a hurry and didn’t have much time for questions. Later, I traveled half the globe and the will of Fate brought me here again, although I felt not a single spark of desire to be there.

When I returned, I already knew quite a bit about the World on This Side of the Dreams, about the Powers, and I had just started to suspect something about the Ways. I brought a bouquet of yellow roses to the place where the grave of my grandmother was supposed to be. This was the moment when I again caught sight of the statue.

The text in Latin still seemed to be gibberish for me. The groups of letters divided from each other by Maltese crosses showed no resemblance to the words of any language I knew. However, the short line under it, chiseled deep in the shining marble nearly cried out for my attention. I had learned a few things on my long quest. I stepped near the statue and let my fingers touch the text. Now in hindsight I realized that I hadn’t even looked at the temptingly beautiful female shape above it.

Probably that is why I am still alive.

I was quite surprised to see the Old Tongue on a Christian holy site. The Elder Kin didn’t come often to this part of ancient Europe. A long time ago, at the dawn of history, the Bronze Age People of the Spirals blocked their way at the Danube.

They only left a few marks behind, which wasn’t alive in the human flesh of the later generations. The Inquisition tried everything they could to erase these marks, just like the Turkish Empire or even the heretic sects did.

Not that I blame them for it. They had every reason to act that way. Still, this stone stood here, in the shade of the church and I could read the writing on the stone. Only me, no one else.

The full Moon wakes your desire,
The flow of time burns like fire.
Your bad fate is the red rooster’s Moon.
Can you hear him? He calls your doom.”

Once, I read these sentences on the other side of the globe. And I knew how they would go on. I turned slowly and I wasn’t surprised at all to see the huge red bird on top of the gray concrete wall which separated the graveyard from the four-lane highway. He could have been the pride of any chicken yard and sported a crest like a crown. The bird looked at me with angry stern eyes. I bowed my head and put the triple sign of Thot on myself with my right hand. The rooster kept on watching me for a while then his gaze left my face and stopped at the statue.

I felt the old one coming right before he had appeared on the muddy path winding between the plots. I knew that when he reached me, he would talk to me.

“Praised be…” he looked at me with an expectation, “…our Lord… Jesus Christ.”

“Now and forever… Amen” I pronounced the word with one m only, but that did not seem to disturb him.

“This is a heathen statue. It shouldn’t be allowed to be here.”

“What is wrong with it?”

“It spoils young people. It is immoral. Lecherous. And… you know, heathen too.”

“It is not that old,” I protested. “Not older than three hundred years.”

“Still, it is. It radiates the spirits of the unbelievers. It should be broken. It hosts the dead. It is strange and dangerous.”

“Dangerous?”

“Not even the grass grows around it. Look, it is bare stone at this very place where there was a lawn not long ago. As if poison was leaking out of it. Two people have already committed suicide at its feet. A month ago, that boy. They say he was lovestruck. Two months ago, the woman. A painter. She cut her veins. And then the gypsies. They wanted to steal it. The next morning, they were found here, cold like stone. At the roadside, the engine of their van was still warm. Murder, it was. It was written in the newspapers.”

“Did they get killed?”

“All of them. The investigator said it must have been a gang warfare. Nowadays they like to carry swords. But I am asking you…” He stopped for a second, looked around with a sly glance, then gave me a sign to lean closer to him. “So, what I really would like to know is why the hair of all the five gypsies turned white? Like snow. That’s what happened!” It started to rain. I stayed there for a long time, even after the limping old one had disappeared in the bushes.

First, I had to settle an old score, after that, ten days later I could return.

This time I was sitting on the moss-covered bench and watched the slowly fading shadow of the tower of the church. The setting sun painted the yellow wall pinkish for a short time, then I could spot my star.

By that time the graveyard had already been empty. Not many people had the habit of coming this way at all. They hadn’t buried anyone here since the end of the war. Among the twigs of the dark pine tree a stunted crow made grotesque movements but when it heard the voice of the roosters, got scared and flew away. Not only one rooster was bidding farewell to the Sun, but several.

I was wearing an old Soviet officer’s coat with no insignia on the shoulders and a leather hat with a broad rim. I thought it was not necessary to put any kind of sign on me, I came only to observe. Curiosity is not a serious sin.

Hopefully.

I wasn’t too surprised that I had to wait till midnight. Usually, one has to wait till then. At eleven the fog came. That thick, yellow kind of fog that seemed to possess its own will to suck out life from everything that exists.

Although I was wearing a thick pullover and a coat, I started to shiver. The sounds gradually became dull, and after a while even the roar of the discotheque near the outer wall of the graveyard seemed to be a mere whispering only.

I shuddered at the thought of the hundreds of young people dancing there with no knowledge of the thousands of their age who had been buried at that very place after the outbreak of cholera. Hopefully nothing infiltrates their room; nothing emerges from the wet cold earth. Whose feverish mind gave birth to the crazy idea to build a place of entertainment on that cursed spot?

Somehow, I couldn’t imagine that I would have to wait in this disgusting soup long. Certainly this fog, with its bestial smell of rotting flesh, scared passers-by home. Even the night wards looked for asylum in the pubs instead of letting all warmth from their bones be sucked out.

And then the deep sound of the bell in the tower announced midnight. Wind came again, chased away the clouds and the fog and then with haughty majesty the full Moon appeared. In the dumping grounds not far away, the dogs started to howl.

We can call the ones who now arrived dramatis personae easily. They were self-confident, almost arrogant, and both of them paid attention to make a very impressive entrée.

They might have been necrophile amateur actors. But they weren’t.

The black knight entered through the huge gate, which dominated the side wall. The wrought iron wings of the door were opened by invisible hands and the dark hero walked with deliberate steps, slowly past the angels that adorned the entrance.

He radiated a halo of self-assurance and something else. An elemental menace.

With his right hand he pushed back his long cloak and his left rested at the basket of the sword. Made in Toledo, I was absolutely sure of it.

He stopped in front of the statue. He touched the Latin script with his gloved right hand, then his fingers found a rest at the foot of the lady of marble. Motionless, he admired the face of the woman.

His nemesis chose this very moment to enter the scene.

He might have seen far too many Hong Kong-style action movies. This was my first impression when I saw him making a perfect triple somersault above the fence.

After finishing the jump, he froze in an immaculate kung fu position while cutting the way of retreat of the black knight. The moonlight sparked on the shaking edge of a Chinese blade. The Asian was wearing a loose red coat and a helmet, which had a crest not very different from the crown of a rooster. On his breastplate the ancient four-armed symbol of the Sun gloomed in a golden light.

The one in the black cloak turned slowly. His hand left the foot of the woman with a hesitation, but after a while it slowly moved towards the grip of the sword. Now his face reminded me of a Carthaginian High Priest.

A priest of Baal, to be precise.

They slowly moved closer to each other. The movements followed a conscientious choreography. They felt no need for words while facing each other and that was a pity, because I really wanted to know their real names. I could swear that they had met many times before. Wolves faced each other like this.

The frosty air seemed to start glowing between them, so deep was their mutual, ancient hate for the other. Whatever they felt, they didn’t allow their feelings to sweep their attention away. Sharks circled around each other like this.

The black knight could have been welcomed on the shining floor of every ballroom in the world. I had no doubt that the ladies of the upper classes would cover him in roses after a dance. On the other hand, the way the red rooster was moving would have made even the most brutal boot camp sergeant smile with satisfaction. The way he was moving was death incarnate.

At this moment I was already thoroughly scared. Seeing the two picadores, I regretted a thousand times not having stayed in the guest room of the fraternitas.

I was too frightened even to breath, so I decided to slow down. In my chest my heart was pounding in a slowing rhythm. My body was not a single spark warmer than the stone bench I was sitting on, as if I was carved out of stone myself.

As long as one could see the Moon in the sky the warriors were just circling around each other. At the very moment, however, when a ragged piece of gray cloud covered the skull-white celestial lamp, the two blades sparked to life in the blood red echo of the light from the lasers in the discotheque so damned close to us. The men launched their attack at the same time.

They were fast, incredibly fast. Chinese steel hit the blade from Toledo. The macho elegance of the neo-Latin fencing schools met the deadly techniques of the sword-masters of the Forbidden City. I couldn’t really imagine that any mere human being could have even the smallest chance against either of the battling ones. But they both knew each other quite well.

The Chinese blade, sharper than any razor, moved faster than any eye could have seen, but to no avail because the Spanish knight knew exactly where to defend the thrust.

Just the same way, his effort to impale the Asian warrior in the very heart of the swastika was absolutely futile, as his adversary had moved away a thousand times from the very same slash during their previous encounters. Neither of them backed away, neither of them yielded to the force.

The very strength and violence of their clash would have broken even the best swords of the common men into shards. It would have broken the weapon and the arm that was holding the blade as well. Just like so many times in the past.

I have no idea who helped the black knight. Not that I think he asked for any help.

Nevertheless, the help came.

More than a hundred young people paid for that with their lives.

As the newspapers wrote later, a mustard gas bomb from the World War had exploded under the floor of the discotheque.

When silence filled the place of the loud music, when lightning of the laser beams from the other side of the fence disappeared, I had the feeling that a black wind swept over the graveyard. It took only a mere minute for the leaves on the trees to get yellow and dry and it made the bats drop dead from the night sky. Had I been breathing, I would have died too. But my body quietly rested and only my mind kept me on this side of the Gate.

The red rooster-warrior nearly faded out into the dark storm. Where his body wasn’t covered by thick temple-clothes or armor, his skin was boiling with blisters. Of course, that alone wouldn’t have been lethal for him.

But the evil knight literally drank himself full of the black fog. As he grew, he dwarfed his enemy. The stolen life force of the dead made him unbelievably strong.

He needed only one cut to destroy his nemesis.

The black cloud was nowhere to be seen when the survivor moved at last. He gripped the body of his victim and lifted him. I could see the wound quite well, and the blood. A light brown, slowly dripping fluid, Vitae angelis.

Angel’s blood. The most potent, most expensive medicine in the world of the living. One drop of it can cure AIDS, one glass of the elixir mixed in wine can bring back the faded years of long-gone youth. These valuable pearls were raining in a slow shower on the white grass when the body of the dying angel fell in front of the feet of the statue.

I could feel it in my own chest when the heart of the victim stopped beating. The earth in front of the marble figure became like a greedy mouth and swallowed the fluid life-force.

The woman seemed to be the twin sister of the long-gone model of the statue. Her skin was gleaming in the pale light of the Moon in the very same color as her white skirt. Around her feet the wind was playing with the stolen ashes from the silent discotheque then it raised the fine dirt of the graveyard too.

It seemed to me that two transparent spirals emerged from under the withered grass. As they lifted higher, they became white and faded into the clothes of the woman. The pale beauty seemed to become more and more real with each passing moment. She really started being there.

They just watched each other with the knight. For a long time neither of them made any movement. If they talked, I couldn’t hear it.  Then the man opened his arms and stepped next to the lady. He wanted to embrace her. His arms went through the body of the woman, although it seemed to be as real as the statue above them.

I couldn’t see the face of the knight but on the face of the woman disappointment, then flaring up anger, and at the end a deadly despair could be seen. Now she tried to embrace her beloved one, but to no avail. She couldn’t succeed.

The angry knight hit the pedestal with his gloved fist. He still seemed to be as huge as he was when he slew the angel. The column cracked by the sheer force of the impact; the statue however remained as immaculate as before. He tried to caress her face, but his fingers sank under the white marble skin.

The call of the bells urged them to a swift decision.

He turned, looked at his sword, down at the earth, and then at me.

He gripped the blade under the golden basket. He was moving in my direction. The terror on the face of the lady was obvious. She hurled herself after the man, but she couldn’t move away from the statue. So, she had to remain there in her desperation, she could only reach out with her hands after the knight.

He came to a halt in front of me and grabbed my face. As if acid had been poured on my face, my skin felt as if on fire. During an incredibly fast moment my heart accelerated back to normal speed. That shock nearly killed me. My senses were no more reduced to the seeing. They were unfortunately active again. The last time I sensed the stench of human bodies so close to me was in the hell that was the Cambodia of Pol Pot.

The howling of the dogs couldn’t oppress the sirens of the fast-approaching cars of the fireguard anymore. My will however was not commanding my muscles. I had to endure helplessly as the dark being lifted me on my feet. His black eyes looked deep in the abyss of my mind.

And the king will meet the queen.
Because death is just a dream.”

The grip of his sword, inlaid with gold, hovered only an inch away from my face. I took the weapon and followed the knight. In front of the statue, the red clothes and the golden armor covered now only withered carrion. The woman was standing hunched next to the statue. Her pale, bloodless fingers gripped the feet of the statue with such force that for a moment I thought they actually sank into the stone.

The sword was light, perfectly balanced by a great weapon-smith but such cold radiated off from it that my hand nearly froze. I knew quite well what I was supposed to do, and the task was not against my liking. Not at all, even if the order would banish me for that.

They, the man and the woman, just kept looking at each other. I realized it would be impossible to hold the sword for long. My arm had already started to get numb, and the cold reached my shoulder. So, I raised the basket to my face and saluted them.

The warrior of shadow turned towards me. It seemed to be a huge effort for him even to keep his shape. He gripped his black shirt and with one sudden pull bared his chest. The woman, this unbelievably beautiful being of white marble, stepped behind him. She embraced the knight. Her small, delicate, transparent hand found a rest on the left chest of the man. Between her fingers I could see rather well the three numbers and the oddly shaped tattoo, similar to a wound. I knew where to thrust the blade.

It went through two bodies. I put all my strength into the thrust. For a second nothing happened, then I slowly sensed the beats of a non-human heart. The basket of the sword pressed the hand of the woman onto the chest of the man.

It was not angel’s blood which splashed from this wound, not at all! The thin, burning fluid splashed like flames upwards on her hand. Her skin gradually became pinkish, her lips reddened, her eyes suddenly showed color. I was glad that she wasn’t looking for me. I pulled the sword out of the wound. The blade was clean, it was immaculate.

The cold nearly reached my heart. I dropped the weapon and staggered away. In the meantime, the fire brigade had arrived, and on the other side of the graveyard’s wall rescue started. Determined, firm voices shouted orders. I heard the noises of heavy boots. From the mountains a helicopter was approaching. The world was as it had to be.

Of course, I looked back from the gate. Who could have resisted the temptation? They were standing next to the column. They were embracing each other. She wasn’t white, he wasn’t black anymore. Their shapes faded away. When I pulled the wrung iron wings of the gate shut, no one was standing on the burned-out grass.

Somehow, I managed to struggle home. I escaped into a dreamless sleep. But then, at dawn, I heard in the urban heart of the great city the call of the rooster. I knew I had succeeded again in gaining a few new enemies. And of course, a good sword as well.

A Hungarian writer and translator, Csaba Béla Varga was born in 1966 in Budapest and published his first science fiction short story in 1996 in the Hungarian magazine Galaktika SF. He has published six novels and three educational books. In his work, he is interested in the effects of technological development on mankind and on everyday life in our near future. Married with three children, Csaba has been a freelance writer and translator since 2010. The list of hobbies and leisure activities he enjoys but is extremely clumsy at is embarrassingly long and includes hiking, Japanese go, collecting SF figures, books, comics, swimming, traveling, and yoga.

“How Long is the Road?”



“How Long is the Road?”

Anthony Sheenard
Translated by Gergely Kamper


How long is the road in metres
from the sun down to the blood-orange?
–Pablo Neruda

The two of them were sitting on top of a hill near the city staring at the distance where they knew the sea was stretching.

“They wanted to take a sample of Jensen,” Kathlen said. “The fool walked into a zemota-park to take a look around and they attacked him just like that.”

She laughed so hard she cried. Her laughter was missing the easiness of candor, though, it was somehow forced. Kathlen felt it wasn’t all right and paused. Only a faint, sad smile lingered on in the corner of her mouth.

“He couldn’t get himself out,” she went on in a more withheld manner. Meekly even. “He tried to talk them out of it but in the end the only thing he could do was run. Which would have been okay, but he couldn’t find the way out, and he would still be tumbling up and down between the nestbeds if he hadn’t realized in the nick of time that the number of the zemota nests decreases farther from the sea. I’d told him about this some time ago and he remembered.”

Kathlen glanced at the small squatting zemon next to her.

“This is the time for taking samples,” Artonoto said. He shaped the earthly sounds clearly in the hoarse, whispered voice of the natives.

“Yes, but Jensen is human. What could they do with his cells? This is not how we produce our offspring.”

“This is the time for taking samples for everyone living here. Whether they be from your race or mine. The night is due soon… The sky is getting dark above everyone who lives here now.”

Kathlen folded her arms around her legs and laid her face on her knees. The sun, red seal of wax, hung low in the sky above the distant horizon of woodland. The sun, around which a year equaled a day, as the planet only revolved twice while it navigated around its star.

After ten months of daylight, night was dangerously close. Darkness and frost, which also meant death for the natives. The earth woman couldn’t answer the small zemon; she was just sitting there next to him, and fell asleep. She hadn’t slept for twenty-eight earth hours, and although she had got used to the rhythm of life on the planet, these twenty-eight hours exhausted her both physically and emotionally.

Later, when she woke up, she was alone. She felt awkward as she stood up. She adjusted her clothes and hurried to Artonoto’s home. The zemon was out, and he didn’t even leave a message as to where he had gone.

“And he left alone?” Kathlen was astonished.

“That’s how it is,” another zemon whispered. He spoke like Artonoto: he could hardly make himself understood. He must have learnt it during a unification and may have never used it since. Kathlen leant closer. Natives only reached as high as her waist.

“Where could he have gone?” she asked.

“He may be looking at the forest… Many are looking at the forest now.”

The woman pulled herself upright, and set off among the tube-like, adjoined, erratically winding homes to find Artonoto.

In the distance the trees cracked as the sun lowered its weight on the forest. She was heading in that direction. She found the little zemon faster than she’d hoped she would.

“A trick of the light,” Kathlen said.

“No,” whispered Artonoto and he waved his hand around. From the top of the look-out tower they could see quite far. “The trees are rematerializing. They’re gathering light now. It’s as if their hearts were starting to beat. Up till now they had just stood there, but soon they’ll possess souls. The gates of the fields of the overworld are being opened… Look!”

Kathlen didn’t answer. She had been near the mystic forest, not too close, though, as she didn’t want to offend the zemons’ faith. Then she hadn’t seen any light filtering from the roots of the trees. Neither sacred, nor simple. On the other hand, the natives have much more complex eyes, and this is their world.

“The wind,” she said, “bends the tops of the trees. Nothing happens, but the wind is rising. The wind moves the branches.”

Artonoto didn’t look at her.

“I know,” he said.

Kathlen felt ashamed.

“They’re standing guard,” the zemon added with heartfelt piety. “They’ve been standing guard there for centuries, for millennia even, and they’ve seen all our generations. They may be older than even your race. They’re as old as the universe.”

The woman knew that the forest was inconceivably old, but there was no way he could believe that they were born together with the planet. She didn’t say a word, though. The doubts of science had no say in this matter. The zemon was preparing for death… and he was no different from a human preparing for death.

He was afraid.

As the night approached, the cold arrived in waves from the dark side of the planet. The air had become agreeably mild, at least mild for the earth woman after the long months of unbearable heat.

Artonoto was shivering with cold.

“Let’s go down,” he breathed.

Five hundred steps led from the look-out tower to the ground.

From up there the exhausted ball of fire seemed to provide some more time for the forest, but at the bottom of the tower they were greeted by the sight of trees burning in the light of the setting sun.

The city of the zemons was unusually empty. Kathlen made a remark on that.

“This is so because of the separation,” Artonoto whispered, and he started towards the inner streets. “It’s only natural.”

“Why don’t you stick together?” Kathlen asked.

The zemon chose not to tell her that even the assumption was considered rude. Only a human could ask anything like that. A nice, lovely human.

“Sample taking and then preparation. You’ll have to get ready for the road.”

“Together. As you live, as you think, as you feel. What if you went together, everybody with their spiritual companion?”

Artonoto shook his head like humans do.

“No. We share the light, but we keep the darkness to ourselves. We must tread the road to the overworld alone.”

They were ambling on deserted streets. Kathlen and the tiny zemon by her side with small, limping steps. The town was a maze. It had only one face that looked the same wherever she went, and if she stretched a bit, above the pipes she could see the arching grey or sometimes pink stone roofs, and she could perceive how far this system of tubes reached before it turned back to bite its own tail.

“Where are we heading?”

She couldn’t make sense of the answer.

“Who to?” she tried again.

“I’d like to present you with something.”

Kathlen was watching Artonoto. The zemon was walking on the edge of the lengthened shadows of the walls, on the borderline of light and shadow. The red of the sun took over everywhere: it descended from the sky and settled on the city like a gloomy dream.

One that you can never avoid whether you want to dream or not.

They proceeded through familiar and unfamiliar parts of the city. Kathlen had long been tired, and Artonoto looked exhausted as well. By their own measures the zemon was very old, and he was aging ever faster. She considered carrying him, but even if she was strong enough, she respected him too much to dare suggest anything like that. They walked on in silence.

“Here we are.” Artonoto suddenly stopped.

Kathlen looked around for familiar signs that might help her find out where they actually were. She was sure she’d been here before, but she’d met so many zemons through Artonoto, so many seemingly identical natives, and now she had no idea which one of them they were visiting.

“I’ve already brought you here on a few occasions. True, that was a long time ago,” Artonoto helped. “To Okava’s home.”

Okava was waiting for them in the door covered with a thick curtain. He used to be an abrupt, fast breathing little zemon, but by now his movements had slowed down, and he even seemed smaller as his back got bent. This is just the exterior, she warned herself, but Okava (like Artonoto) became reserved, somehow more distant than he had been a few months before when Kathlen had first met him.

Kathlen had to crawl into the zemon’s home on all fours. It was but a single room, although a two-story one. The furniture and all the objects in the room were made of stone. Pulling her legs under her she knelt down. Her head almost touched the ceiling anyway. Meanwhile Okava took a shapeless object off one of the shelves and gave it to Artonoto, who handed it over to the woman.

“He had fetched it himself from the spreading dark side,” Artonoto whispered.

“What is this?” she asked.

“A flower. It blooms early in the evening and radiates light. It had to be covered.”

Kathlen knew what the approaching night meant to the natives, and now watched the two zemons dubiously.            

“He crossed the boundary of light?”

“He entered the nowhereland,” Artonoto nodded. “Night brings death, and death brings night… And still, Okava crossed the line. He had planned it for long, but he could do it only after the night had crept up from above the eastern sea to the mainland.”

Kathlen was studying the small package in her hands, and she wasn’t about the lift the shawl that was covering it for the world.

“Even in the night, this is the present of our sun,” Okava interrupted quietly. “May it remind you of us.”

“You have no idea how much you have given us.” Artonoto turned away. “You’ve told us about your world, about the people. And I can’t even take this with me.”

Kathlen suddenly felt a lump in her throat.

Outside, the sun was slowly diving under the horizon. Above, the sky was ripped apart, the clouds were the gaps, foam on the back of the blood red sea.

She waited for Artonoto outside the house. Though she had been introduced to the secrets of the zemons’ unification, and she had been present on a few such occasions, now she chose to leave the room. After this one the separation will be final.

Okava didn’t inquire where they were going, and Artonoto didn’t say. Everything that they had ever offered each other during their lives was taken back now. Artonoto couldn’t see with Okava’s eyes any more, he couldn’t hear with his ears, and he couldn’t feel anything through the other. They were separated.

 “Okava was the imagination,” Artonoto whispered later. “Everyone thought I was the imagination, but they were wrong. I was the hand and the mouth…”

Kathlen remained silent.

By then the forest had overcome the sun.

Every city in the west had its own forest, which meant three enormous forests on the only continent of the planet.

 “Go home,” Artonoto whispered.

 “No.”

 “You’re tired.”

 “Just like you. I’m not going.”

Artonoto bent his head aside and looked Kathlen in the eye.

“Why aren’t you going to leave me alone?”

They were rambling aimlessly in the city, but Artonoto didn’t speak any more. The zemons avoided them because of the woman. The streets were deserted now, the natives were trying to find their place, and started towards the forest… They feared they wouldn’t have the strength later.

Kathlen felt the tiredness, too. Although the long walk and the time that passed hung heavily on her shoulders, and her legs were aching, she was faithfully following Artonoto. Once she tried to start a conversation.

“How did Okava dare to cross the boundary? To enter the territory of darkness?”

“Only tradition is stopping us,” the zemon whispered without turning back.

“I thought some ancient fear is what holds you back.”

“That may well be so.”

The kizant was a scrub-like plant which was cultivated outside the city for its fruit, but Kathlen knew that for humans only the leaves proved edible. Artonoto led Kathlen to an orchard of kizants. He himself didn’t eat anything; he was just staring at the woman.

The fruit was sickly, anyway, and fell off at the slightest touch. The taste of the leaves had changed, they’d lost their moistness and were crackling painfully when her teeth started grinding them.

“It would be pointless to head westward,” Artonoto whispered. “The sea is the boundary. We are born out of the sea, the zemota nests are placed there, and that is what would stop us if we wanted a longer life. If we intended to follow the sun. Or the spin of the planet as you suggested.”

Kathlen knelt by his side.

“A long time ago,” the zemon continued, “darkness brought on death. Now darkness rises within ourselves, not in the sky. It is not the night that overcomes us, but our faith. The sentence that is passed is written in our own souls. And that’s something we cannot run away from.”

“You could build ships,” Kathlen said. “In our world there’s a story of a man who built the largest ark in the world so that he’d be able to survive the flood with all the animals. You could survive the night. Together we would build several ships… Plenty of ships. With the aid of human genetics, we could extend your lifespan. I would help you find the antidote for aging, and then you could see your children hatch from those nests.”

She’d been saying that for weeks, but the zemons didn’t accept her proposal. Kathlen had even conducted secret experiments, but the lack of support hindered her efforts so much that she had no chance to make much progress. Not one of the natives was willing to help her. Had they learnt what she was getting at, they might have made her and Jensen leave the planet.

“No one would board those ships.” Artonoto shook his head. “You know it as well as I do.”

Far away in the distance the sun finally slipped under the horizon for another half a year. Fear filled Kathlen’s heart. She turned around.

Behind them, in the east, the dark ribbon of night unfurled.

“Do you know how long you’ll be staying? You and Jensen?” Artonoto asked. They were once more sitting on top of the hill, on the silky, drying canopy of plants. Kathlen may even have slept some while Artonoto was watching the long stretch of fields that were full of small figures trotting towards the forest. The twilight had taken their faces and their names. They were but shadows, feeble, fragile, tired, lonely shadows.

Kathlen pretended not to have heard the question.

“Until the first stars appear.”

Some of those on the field collapsed and they had to stand up without any help from the others. They toiled and strained themselves but not one of them remained lying there.

“It’s far too late,” Artonoto sighed. “They’re the last ones. Most of us have reached the haven. They’re resting now.”

“Okava must have seen the stars,” Kathlen noted quietly.

“He’s seen them, and he showed them just before the separation… But I want to see the lights of the night with my own eyes, and I want to know that one of them is your star.”

“My star.” Kathlen produced a faint smile and lay back on the grass. “Where’s my sun?”

“The stars give us nothing. It was you and Jensen that first told us about the stars.”

“And you…?”

“It can’t be taken from us, neither from those following us. We’ve bequeathed it to the generation after our death. The knowledge lies dormant in the zemota nests.”

From behind their backs the dark ribbon sent grey troops to seize the sky. Even if the night arrived as a murderer, it wouldn’t interfere with the offspring of the zemons. With their inheritance.

The sample takers had already trusted the zemota nests to the stream in the sea that would carry them after the sun, and in which the tiny creatures would hatch. They’d spend the first part of their lives in the water. They’d swim around the planet. They’d start from the western shore of the continent but they’d arrive at the eastern shore – together with the dawn.

“I’m glad you’ve been with us,” Artonoto whispered. It was a very human confession. Tears filled Kathlen’s eyes.

She had long stopped counting how many times she was on the brink of weeping.

“I’m glad, too, that I could be here. With you.”

They were silent for some time.

 “I’m grateful. No one had ever taught me as much about the world as you did…”

Ever since the sun had sunk under the trees it had been gradually becoming colder and colder. Artonoto curled up, shivering with cold. Kathlen put the covered plant on the ground and folded her arms around the zemon.

“From the tower perhaps we could still see the sun,” she said.

“No. It’s a long way away. And I… I’d like to see the stars now… For the first and last time.”

Two colors had taken over the sky by now – grey and red. Two entwining giant specters that stole the physical presence of objects, along with the third specter, the wind. Gentle movement, dazzling shadow-play turned transient into eternal.

The growing blackness of the sky had nothing to do with the mating of the red and the grey: it was conceived as the child of outer space. And it brought on death.

“Do you know how long you’ll be staying? You and Jensen?” Artonoto asked. They were once more sitting on top of the hill, on the silky, drying canopy of plants. Kathlen may even have slept some while Artonoto was watching the long stretch of fields that was full of small figures trotting towards the forest. The twilight had taken their faces and their names. They were but shadows, feeble, fragile, tired, lonely shadows.

Kathlen pretended not to have heard the question.

“Until the first stars appear.”

Some of those on the field collapsed and they had to stand up without any help from the others. They toiled and strained themselves but not one of them remained lying there.

“It’s far too late,” Artonoto sighed. “They’re the last ones. Most of us have reached the haven. They’re resting now.”

“Okava must have seen the stars,” Kathlen noted quietly.

“He’s seen them, and he showed them just before the separation… But I want to see the lights of the night with my own eyes, and I want to know that one of them is your star.”

“My star.” Kathlen produced a faint smile and lay back on the grass. “Where’s my sun?”

“The stars give us nothing. It was you and Jensen that first told us about the stars.”

“And you…?”

“It can’t be taken from us, neither from those following us. We’ve bequeathed it to the generation after our death. The knowledge lies dormant in the zemota nests.”

From behind their backs the dark ribbon sent grey troops to seize the sky. Even if the night arrived as a murderer, it wouldn’t interfere with the offspring of the zemons. With their inheritance.

The sample takers had already trusted the zemota nests to the stream in the sea that would carry them after the sun, and in which the tiny creatures would hatch. They’d spend the first part of their lives in the water. They’d swim around the planet. They’d start from the western shore of the continent but they’d arrive at the eastern shore – together with the dawn.

“I’m glad you’ve been with us,” Artonoto whispered. It was a very human confession. Tears filled Kathlen’s eyes.

She had long stopped counting how many times she was on the brink of weeping.

“I’m glad, too, that I could be here. With you.”

They were silent for some time.

 “I’m grateful. No one had ever taught me as much about the world as you did…”

Ever since the sun had sunk under the trees it had been gradually becoming colder and colder. Artonoto curled up, shivering with cold. Kathlen put the covered plant on the ground and folded her arms around the zemon.

“From the tower perhaps we could still see the sun,” she said.

“No. It’s a long way away. And I… I’d like to see the stars now… For the first and last time.”

Two colors had taken over the sky by now – grey and red. Two entwining giant specters that stole the physical presence of objects, along with the third specter, the wind. Gentle movement, dazzling shadow-play turned transient into eternal.

The growing blackness of the sky had nothing to do with the mating of the red and the grey: it was conceived as the child of outer space. And it brought on death.

The first star shone brightly but modestly. Kathlen gently shook Artonoto’s shoulder and showed it to him. When the old zemon turned around, and allowed his face to be seen, Kathlen was aghast.

“You’ll have to carry me a short distance,” Artonoto whispered.

 “I will.”

“Let’s wait some more, though.” Artonoto was practically entranced by the only star that ruled the sky. “Where are the others?”

“They’ll come up soon.”

“Suns, like ours?”

“Not this one. It’s only a planet.”

They waited but Artonoto lost his patience. He felt the urge to go and there was nothing he could do to fight it. He tried to hang on as long as possible, but he could just not be left behind.

 “Now,” he said suddenly. “Pick me up, please.”

The field, now immersed in infinite calm, didn’t care for the lean, tall figure that was tumbling towards the forest with its burden. A single shadow in sight and beyond. Kathlen’s steps were becoming shorter and shorter, but the forest hardly came any closer…

“Do the roots of the trees glitter?” the zemon suddenly asked, and he started to squirm in Kathlen’s arms.

“They’re still very far…”

About a hundred steps away from the forest Artonoto asked the girl to lay him down on the ground. A second star appeared. Kathlen held up Artonoto’s head.

“Another planet, right?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll stand up, you’ll see.”

“I believe you.”

“I’ll be met by warmth and lucidity.”

Artonoto was gasping for air. The girl was kneeling by his side watching the little zemon fight his age. As the last trace of daylight, the floating red robe vanished, Kathlen realized the glow spreading from among the roots.

The small creature struggled to his feet, and gathering all his strength, he started for the last few yards alone.

The trees stood far apart, still, their roots and branches made up an entangled mesh. Though the roots were rigid they slid under one another like winding tentacles. The trunks were huge, rock-like giants that reflected the several millennia they had survived. It seemed impossible to capture all of it with just one glance. The foliage started as high as a human head, and the bottom was straight as if it had been cut. Some bare branches broke this order, turning it into a chaos.

Artonoto held the protruding roots, and either climbed over or slid under them while he was heading deeper and deeper into the forest.

“Stay,” he called back feebly. “I’ll find my place.”

“No,” Kathlen answered, and she climbed after him.

“You can’t come any further. Look, how it shines. Nice place.”

“I’m coming with you.”

But Kathlen was unable to follow the zemon as fast as he was crawling with what was left of his strength, and she lost sight of him among the high arches of the roots. The intruding fog blurred her vision.

“Wait! Artonoto!”

The fog was whirling coldly. The light came from the pits at the roots of the trees. In this mystic glow the roots cast ghastly shadows as they strived upwards.

The sound of rolling stones came from the right. Kathlen turned her head, but her eyes were deceived by the reality transformed by the peculiar light.

“Artonoto! Stop! Stop for a moment!”

She slid through under a bunch of roots and kept struggling forward. From the foliage leaves were falling down.

“Just for one word.”

Kathlen slipped on the treacherous surface, and she only avoided falling into a pit by grasping at a root at the last moment. As she grabbed the root, she peeled off some of the bark. From the wounded tree pale magenta drops pearled.

She tumbled past two more trees then stopped, exhausted. She perceived no movement and no sounds. She’d lost track of Artonoto. Darkness had fallen, and the little zemon came here to die, as generation after generation had come since the beginning of time.

They had to meet their death alone by following the sun when it dived under the horizon to promise eternal life in another distant realm.

Kathlen was cold now. The cool drops of sweat drew icy lines along her spine. From the foliage frost set upon her and she suddenly realized that the roots were radiating heat.

This heat, just like the light, streamed from the pits under the trees, through the gaping openings on the surface. Kathlen was sitting on a root swinging to and fro. She kept repeating a nursery rhyme but even she wasn’t aware which of the many she had learnt as a child. She was cold and she had no idea where she was.

The ever-thicker shower of the falling leaves was accompanied by a strange rustling noise.

Jensen would be looking for her, he surely would. And he’d have no problem finding her. Only the plants and the two of them would be alive on this blasted continent.

The light radiating from the pit under her feet was cut off for a blink. It looked as if something stirred down there in front of the source of the light.

Kathlen froze and was waiting for another blink. The first one was too feeble, too uncertain in this ghostly twilight under the cover of the whirling roots, in the ever so heavy shower of leaves.

The light flickered for a second time. If possible, it was even more uncertain—faster and ghostlike. Maybe nothing but an illusion.

Still, hope returned for Kathlen. She took a step, tumbled, and fell over a high protruding root, and into the pit. She slid to the bottom of the hole on her side.

“Artonoto!” she shouted desperately and faced the hole gaping at the bottom of the delve.

There was no answer. Nothing moved in the sharp light filling the delve.

She started digging. She tried to make the hole bigger. Her fingers touched cool, moist earth. When the hole was large enough for her hand and arm to get in, Kathlen lent closer.  The giant old tree silently watched from above.

“Artonoto!”

Did she hear something?

“Artonoto!”

It was really warm down there, but the blinding white light had a strange, distressing effect.

Voices and more voices came from the depth. Not words, but sighs and whispers. Without really knowing what she was up to, Kathlen pushed forward. Meanwhile the trees were bare, their leaves riding on the wind.

After she had fallen through the gap, Kathlen rolled down on a slope. She arrived headfirst. Though a bit dizzy, she felt all right.

As she looked up, she suddenly felt a strong, putrid smell. The smell of corruption, sweet blood, and something unknown: the smell of death.

Kathlen was retching. Everything that had ever been earthlike in this world had come to nothing now. She slowly pulled herself upright. In the incredibly intense light radiating from the stones at her feet she caught a glimpse of a body lying on the ground.

The cave was enormous, she could hardly see the opposite wall. It was freezing. It wasn’t a passage to a better world, as the natives thought. It didn’t lead anywhere. The ceiling was made up of roots, among which some slight tremor started, but Kathlen took no heed, as her attention was occupied by the body in front of her.

She took a step towards it. The movement above her head was getting more and more lively. Drops fell on her face.

Kathlen discovered more humps a bit further. Their outlines suggested that other zemons lay there. She convinced herself, though, that she could only see large stones.

The body lying in the middle was wet from the liquid dripping on top of it and reflected the light. Strings of fiber kept falling on the body and on Kathlen’s head.

She took two more steps.

The zemon was lying on his belly and his face was turned towards a distant corner. Kathlen realized, though, that it wasn’t Artonoto lying in front of her. She didn’t have to stoop and turn him around to take a closer look: she just knew that it wasn’t him.

Suddenly Kathlen had a feeling like she had just woken from a dream. The smell gripped her stomach again and penetrated her mind. She gasped. She had hardly stood up when something jumped on her back, and she fell on her knees. As she stretched her arm to reach for something solid, she touched the dead zemon. Her palm became smeared, the pieces of the bark wriggled as if they were alive.

It felt like a snake sliding along her spine. She crawled away from the carcass, and she only dared to look back then.

She screamed. The roots seemed to be alive as they were wriggling wildly like the legs of a spider. She was lying under the thorax of the imaginary monster. But they were only roots, though not ordinary ones. Their outer bark hung like torn rags uncovering the naked flesh of the tree that was sweating some sort of grey phlegm. Something seemed to be moving behind the cover of the roots.

Meanwhile more and more drops fell from above. The unknown liquid started to burn Kathlen’s hands and face. She tried to wipe it off with her sleeve, but soon her clothes were soaked, too. The pieces of bark, like giant worms, were coiling, trying to get under her skin. She felt a minor dose of electric shock.

She looked around for the way out, but she couldn’t see the gap anymore. She was turning about hopelessly; the walls had dissolved in the dim light. Kathlen had lost her orientation and felt claustrophobia taking over.

She heard her own voice shouting for help while trying to tear the living, wriggling pieces of bark off her skin. The drops falling from above had turned the isolated little puddles into an unbroken body of whirling muddy water that covered the radiating stones. It was darker and darker in the pit.

She could still not see the exit; it was covered by leaves.

She chose one side of the pit at random, climbed as high as she could, and as she had no use of her eyes she tried to feel for the passage to freedom with her fingers. Every now and then she slid on the slippery ground, and she didn’t dare to hang on to the roots wriggling above her. She tried hard not to be sick, but there was no way she could keep the nauseating smell out of her nose. After a few minutes of desperate exploring, she was covered with a thick layer of mud.

She grabbed mud, and only mud. She felt her prison eternally sealed, the time that passed seemed like centuries. Kathlen kept on struggling in the cold, stinking darkness. Panting, with tears in her eyes, she was scraping the ground. Leaning on her elbows she didn’t feel her hands anymore. All her life she’d never felt so squalid.

The pit seemed to have shrunk. The liquid at the bottom was coming up, the roots were coming down, and even the earthen walls seemed to be pushing closer and closer. Kathlen was convinced they’d tumble over and bury her. She was choking, her muscles cramping helplessly.

Her fingers grasped leaves – her arm suddenly disappeared in the opening. The unexpected movement and surprise made her pause for a moment and that was enough for her to lose balance and start sliding down the slope. She couldn’t find anything to hold on to, her nails were gauging deep tracks in the wet clay, and she would have shrieked if she’d had the strength to do so.

Someone grabbed her hand and steadied her in the nick of time. Kathlen’s feet found some solid ground and she started climbing. She held on tight to her savior, who was hidden from her by the thick canopy of leaves covering the exit. His touch was telling, though: it wasn’t human, it wasn’t Jensen.

“Artonoto,” Kathlen moaned. “Artonoto.”

She pushed her head through the leaves then managed to squeeze her shoulders out. She still couldn’t see anything, but as the smells had released her she now felt more or less relieved.

It wasn’t Artonoto that saved her. A tiny zemon was standing in front of her, one she’d never seen before. A weary looking unknown zemon late for his own death. Kathlen staggered to her feet, looked down on him and mumbled something in their language.

Later she never remembered what she might have said.

The zemon gently touched Kathlen’s waist to show that he’d like her to step aside. She wished she could hold him back but obeyed without saying a word.

At first she thought she’d tell him what was going on down there, what would happen to anyone descending into the pit: no warmth, no peace, but gluttonous haste and murderous timelessness. In the end she didn’t have the nerve to say anything. The words just didn’t come.

Kathlen stepped aside and silently watched the zemon as with slow, calculated motions and with an odd, expectant smile on his face he descended into the pit. In a matter of seconds leaves rolled on the hole again closing the lid over this strange tomb.

Through the now bare branches Kathlen looked up to the austere sky. Above the forest whished the first wave of an approaching gale. “The moon. When does the moon rise?” Kathlen asked barely mouthing the words. She sat on the ground and wept.

The flower was as beautiful as could be. Kathlen was standing wrapped up in her coat outside her house, holding the pot in her hands. Jensen had flown to the sunny side for a few hours, but she’d chosen to stay. Something had held her back.

The clear sky was full of stars. After the winds that accompanied the darkness, even the thunders that brought the frost had passed by now.

The flower was radiating crimson light.

Jensen had found both of them easily. On the little screen of the biometer she was the lonely yellow dot on the black background. After he’d taken her out of the forest, he went to find the flower she’d left on one of the hills west of the town. Kathlen seemed to be beside herself demanding him to do so. The wind had blown the shawl off the pot and the dim light it radiated made it easy to find the flower. It was shining lonely on a downtrodden field where nothing was alive now. It would have been far too early.

“Fodder,” Jensen said after Kathlen haltingly told him her story. “This is how the trees make it through the winter. On one hand they squeeze out all the fluids so they can’t freeze… On the other, it’s active secretion… It happens elsewhere.”

They were sitting on a desolate world talking.

“…the leaves drift in, too,” Jensen went on. “The wind sends them in. They decay and are absorbed.”

The spaceship that had been sent for them was nowhere to be seen but Kathlen was constantly spying the sky for it.

“Ghost forest,” she said softly. “It feeds on itself and the zemons. Scavenger trees…”

“Yes. Only these trees survive. They are the only ones that don’t have to retreat to their bulbs, their seeds or underground or into the sea.”

“Ghost forest,” repeated Kathlen.

Yellow and red glowing from the south announced that the fluorescent flowers of the night would grow there until the next storms arrived. She took a closer look and saw that the blooming, glowing field in front of her stretched as far as the horizon.

Suddenly the frosty night wind arrived and tore all the flowers apart.

Only one remained: the one Kathlen protected.

Now she was shivering with cold with her flower in her hands in a ghost town. She could have accompanied the man to the sunny side, but she didn’t feel strong enough. This is how they’d started exactly a year ago: by studying the newborn offspring escaping to the ocean from the zemota nests. They’d discovered the towns and knew that those small creatures were somehow linked to them.

It was then that Kathlen chose Artonoto. She studied him, got to know him, and she was there when this stage of the zemons’ lives came to an end. And after a painful metamorphosis as fully developed and conscious beings he and the other creatures of his species took possession of those towns, the tube-like houses and the knowledge their ancestors had left them. Childhood ended, and Artonoto, who had then long been much more than just a creature to study, became a co-worker, a friend – someone inseparable from Kathlen.

At least they’d thought so for a long, long time.

They’d learnt a lot from each other, the human and the zemon. Slowly, clouds floated in front of the stars depriving the moonless night of this lonely planet from the comforting light of distant suns.

Kathlen turned around. She was on her own in this corridor of the space cruiser. She hurried along the empty walls with the covered pot in her hands.

She had already prepared the isolated cabin for her flower in the botanic garden: a square yard of separated world. Earlier she’d asked Jensen whether the plant would survive in the artificial environment, and he assured her that it would be all right, and she might have two or three flowers the following year. Nevertheless, it would rarely bloom, only for a short period after half a year of daylight at the arrival of the half-year-long night.

It may bloom in the dark, Kathlen thought, but it is the child of that star, too.

She took the flower out of the pot with a small ball of earth and planted it into its new dwelling. She flattened the soil, sprinkled over it a few handfuls of that dry pale blue grass-like something that covered the fields on the planet. She pulled her hands out of the protective gloves reaching through the glass and drew a curtain over the window of the little chamber.

Having done that, she could have switched on the lights in the garden, but didn’t. She went over to the window, and for a long time she was just watching the planet. They were hovering above the sunny side. Below them there was the endless light blue ocean, an unfathomable body of water.

How different the boundary between light and darkness was from up here! To get outside a world full of life is to get outside life itself and to leave time behind.

“I’ll be leaving you,” Kathlen said out loud to the planet, to the continent, to the ocean, to the trees, to the new zemota generation, which, wandering under the water was waiting for the chance to set foot on the continent in half a year’s time. She turned away from the window. With a single glance she took in the earth trees and bushes crowded in the garden of the space cruiser. “We’re going home… Home.”

Sándor Szélesi (Anthony Sheenard) is a multi-award-winning Hungarian SFF and crime fiction writer, screenwriter, and editor, and the head of the Hungarian Writer’s Alliance’s SF Division since 2018. He is the author of over thirty novels and over a hundred short stories.

From the Editor


SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

From the SFRA Review


Spring 2022

Ian Campbell
Editor, SFRA Review


As I write this, the ghastly oligarch Elon Musk has just purchased Twitter, the ghastly platform for racism, misogyny, and encroaching fascism. Twitter can, if extremely carefully curated, be a medium for discovery, but mostly, a tremendous amount of energy is spent by people trying to earn the title of Cleverest Person of the Last 30 Minutes. I suppose I can hold out hope that un-banning Golden Toilet’s account will result in another Trump/Biden election, which is the only way we’re going to stave off Braindead Gilead for another four years. Musk and Twitter are both part of a Bad Science Fiction future. We wanted space communism and jetpacks; we got uncharismatic oligarchs and micro-rants. I wanted to find a source where someone discussed this at length, but the first thing I found was, of course, a Tweet:

I have a special loathing for Musk because, in addition to everything else questionable about him, he claims to be a fan of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels and to have read them multiple times: he’s even named some of the SpaceX ships after ships in the novels. While it’s definitely amusing to see a rocket recovery ship called Of Course I Still Love You, it’s also clear that he either didn’t understand the books or has chosen to serve as a counterexample. In the Culture, everyone has the freedom to do as they wish; many people have speculated that Musk is buying Twitter purely so that he can ban the account of the teenage boy who tracks Musk’s private jet. More than anything, Musk is the villain from a Banks novel. Specifically, he’s Joiler Veppers from Surface Detail: an archcapitalist with vile appetites who profits from the suffering of others. Had we the technology to capture people’s mindstates after death and send them to a digital hell, Musk would surely try to leverage it—but of course, we already have Facebook and whatever the Metaverse is going to be.

In this issue of SFRA Review, we have elements of a better SF future: specifically, the second half of our Hungarian Futurisms symposium. We very much hope that in some way, the essays, fiction and reviews herein can help us to understand how things might, could or should be better.

From the President


SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

From the SFRA Executive Committee


From the President

Gerry Canavan

I could not be more excited by the Oslo conference—Bodhi Chattopadhyay and the CoFUTURES group have planned a simply incredible event (including an ambitious hybrid structure, half a dozen keynotes, nearly 200 presenters from six continents, and no conference fee!) that I really think will put our organization on the map in a new way. The conference registration page is now live at https://sfra.org/sfra-2022-conference/sfra-2022-conference-registration/ for both presenters and non-presenting attendees so I would ask you to sign up and let me know if you have any issues or concerns. (Presenters must be members of SFRA, so be sure to renew your membership as well.)

Thank you to Bodhi and to CoFUTURES for everything you’ve done and are doing for SFRA.

We are moving forward with our plans to expand the executive committee. We have issued recent calls for the outreach director and the web director and will name those new officers soon; we are also reaching out to people we believe might make a good development officer and seeing if they have interest and capacity to take this on. Aisha Matthews has generously agreed to chair the new conference committee, and will be working with the organizers of recent conferences, as well as the 2023 and 2024 conferences, to set policy and guidelines for future SFRA conferences; she will also help us select a site for 2025 and beyond. (Thank you Aisha!) Perhaps most importantly, our elections this fall will include votes for president and secretary under the new guidelines, and will also include one-year pilot terms for the new “at-large” exec seats; this one-year pilot will help ensure that procedures and expectations are clear in time for the scheduled at-large election (for the full three-year term) in 2023.

This fall’s election will of course also mark the end of my time as SFRA President and my assumption of the “Immediate Past President” role. I look forward to assisting the new exec in that new position, but I’ll look back very fondly on my time as SFRA president (despite all the COVID-related chaos that dominated the last three years). Thank you all for the trust you’ve placed in me these last three years, and thank you for all the work you all do to keep SFRA humming. See you in Oslo!