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.


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.


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


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.

The Hungarian Way of Science Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture

The Hungarian Way of Science Fiction

Sándor Szélesi
Translated by Gergely Kamper

As early as forty years ago, those meddling in the world of speculative fiction in Hungary often joked that defining science fiction is a favored indoor sport among their ranks. It seemed like a nice joke, and it was at least as true as it was funny, although in those days few really grasped this.

Science fiction is a genre of British and American origins which was shaped by the scientific and social changes as much as by literary trends of the twentieth century. Defining it would not be easy even if it could be described by formal or content-related criteria like other genres, but the fact that these have been changing along the way makes the task even more difficult.

In the 1970s, attempts at forming a definition originated from three different sources: academic literary studies, commercial book and magazine publishing, and communities of practice. That decade was when the first theoretical works appeared, and although it was a formalistic approach that first found a way to a definition, a new theory also surfaced emphasizing a historical aspect in the system of genres. Partly motivated by this paradigm shift, SF, still in its infancy, started to seek out its literary antecedents.

Nevertheless, this approach—like the formalistic one—did not result in an unequivocal definition. As a matter of fact, neither answered the question of what science fiction really was. In Hungary not only theoretical research—similar to what was going on in the United Kingdom or the United States—was lacking at the time but there was no de facto SF publishing, either. The authors of  sporadic speculative works were either practitioners of young adult literature—Péter Tőke, Miklós Rónaszegi, Péter Bogáti—or came from ‘high literature’ and only took a short trip to the genre—Péter Lengyel, Dezső Tandori, Gyula Hernádi. Every now and then a scientist—like astronomer György Kulin or biologist Tibor Dévényi—signed on, but their works never received the SF label. They also did not relate to the then-canonized British and American science fiction (not to the current topics let alone the institutions of publishing) or the works of the contemporary authors coming from a world of class struggles and positivistic technology—although educational policies explicitly required the transmission of socialist ideals for the coming generation. (Examples are Földrengések szigete [1957] by Klára Fehér or Endre László’s series Szírusz kapitány, which first found its way to audiences in the form of a radio drama.)

It was high time that a new collection of books labelled as SF came to life. It finally got the go-ahead in 1969 and interestingly enough is associated with the poet Péter Kuczka. The well-connected and pragmatic Kuczka found a market gap he could fill in Hungarian literature. He was fortunate, not only because he got the backing of the socialist cultural leadership, but also because communities of practice similar to those in the United States had not been formed yet, and literary science found SF nor worthy of their attention, which meant that Kuczka did not have these two to comply with.

Three years later Kuczka raised the bar attached to the books and created a more extensive project: an SF anthology, Galaktika. At first, to gain proper intellectual and financial backing, they intended to present the roots of the genre, thus proving the literary legitimacy of science fiction (academics remained silent on the issue). The definition was imported from overseas. The formalistic approach of Serbian-Canadian Darko Suvin was adopted. He defined SF as “the genre of cognitive estrangement, a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (8-9).

Helikon, a periodical dealing with world literature, devoted a whole issue to SF. Besides Kuczka and Suvin, contributors included Stanislaw Lem, Yuly Kagarlitsky, and Philip K. Dick, thus giving international legitimacy to the genre. The above definition presented to socialist cultural leadership imported a formalistic view and later, a historical approach was added to that. This combination allowed the community to search for the first work that could be labeled as SF in the distant past, which led to some theories calling the Epic of Gilgamesh the first example of SF in the world. Going back to ancient times for the roots of SF was no more than an absurd interlude; still, it persevered amongst devotees of the genre. Indeed, it was also accepted by Hungarian persona publica just to legitimize it. With this 1972 definition, Péter Kuczka, who supervised SF publishing, raised a wall around the genre. He let in works that were supposed to improve the literary standing of science fiction (e.g., The Circular Ruins by Borges), at the same time filtering out many of the American works with a basis in popular culture. 

Kuczka’s concept also meant the seclusion of the newly defined genre, which included shutting out all domestic works that were not regarded as high literature. Hungarian authors could only publish in Galaktika or appear in the series “Kozmosz Fantasztikus Könyvek” if they were specifically invited by the editor. Nevertheless, they were not seen as science fiction writers—all they had was knowledge of previous works in the genre. Looking to domestic authors besides the heavily screened British and American writers we find the same categories. Literary giants like Mór Jókai, Frigyes Karinthy, Géza Laczkó; poets or belletrists like Endre Darázs, Lajos Mesterházy, Gyula Fekete, Péter Szentmihályi Szabó, György Gera; or authors of young adult literature like Zoltán Csernai. The esoteric writing of Mária Szepes is a peculiar addition, although her presence strengthens rather than weakens tendencies. Interestingly enough, none of the domestic publishers thought of contributing to the education of SF writers or editors. The literary training in the SF Division of the Hungarian Writers’ Association was more like a PR project than anything else.

During its eighteen years of existence, Móra Publishing House’s “Kozmosz Fantasztikus Könyvek” series published seven books a year on average. This meant seven SF books a year plus five Galaktika anthologies (also published by Móra), that was all. When British and American science fiction was well into its second golden age—the new wave—and the genre started to carve itself a growing slice of cinema, in Hungary these were the only two places where science fiction par excellence could emerge.

But why would anyone have wanted to expand the definition of the genre in a country or a language area where science fiction literature meant the stories in Galaktika magazine or the novels in the attached book series and nothing else? Considering the then-status of the genre, we could simply say that SF was whatever appeared in the anthology and in the series of books. Who needed a new, different definition?

By the end of the seventies, a new participant of the ‘institutional network’—well-known from overseas—appeared: the community aiming at playing an active role in the shaping of SF. Dozens of clubs were established in Budapest and other cities which then contacted one another. These communities of various sizes, while exploring their own identities, expanded the notion of science fiction and started to push the boundaries with their periodical fanzines. These fanzines (Kvark, Metamorf, Supernova, etc.) published one hundred, maybe five hundred, copies by these scattered clubs with the permission of the local city councils and provided several amateur writers an opportunity to appear in print.

Though it remained unsaid, their presence and new approaches threatened the official position. Should SF acquire a different definition, it might be able to separate from the official position, which neither the cultural establishment nor Péter Kuczka, who was very particular about his status, were willing to allow. Ironically, the very existence of Galaktika was speeding up this process, but the publisher did not support any of these communities (even though many of the clubs were actually named after the anthology). The underlying reason was probably the fact that Kuczka saw the power of these organizations. He had written in Helikon recalling the golden age in America: “As early as with the first magazines, so-called ‘fanzines’ appeared created by volunteering fans. In these small mags so proud of their independence, marketing angles were cast aside, and theoretical work began, as serious aestheticians, literary historians or critics had not acknowledged the existence of science fiction for decades—not even as part of popular culture.” In spite of this, Galaktika dissociated itself from the clubs even though its monopoly (along with Kozmosz Fantasztikus Könyvek) in publishing was not threatened at the least in those days.

So the change—just like in the United States much earlier—came from the fans in Hungary as well. Véga,Hungarian SF Society’s publication of works by amateur authors, was the first to penetrate the impenetrable looking political force field around Galaktika. These publications did not only reach readers on HungaroCon, a nationwide convention held from 1980, or via mail but were also distributed in book shops. Véga attempted to lift the amateurs in the clubs from the periphery to the high waters of publishing. 

Galaktika then went on the counteroffensive and started its annual convention, Gagarin SF Days—hosted by the House of Soviet Culture and Science—and organized its own community, Galaktika Friends. The former hardly survived a few years and the latter basically operated as a book club during its eight years of existence. Starting the periodical Robur for the youth did not help, either, as only sixteen issues were ever printed. Galaktika was turned into a monthly, which brought along a conversion of format: more graphical elements appeared at the expense of the written content.

In the end, this battle of David and Goliath had no real winner, as in the eighties a third combatant emerged which subdued both the gigantic Galaktika and the feeble, dying Véga. Popular culture was beginning to gain ground and as the socialist era was coming to an end and the party-state was losing its grip, it was easier to publish light literature that could be sold in greater numbers. And there was a demand for SF, which Népszava Publishing House attempted to fulfill with the novels of István Nemere.

By the end of the decade, the public recognized three authors whose work was mostly in the field of science fiction: the independent István Nemere, and László L. Lőrincz and Péter Zsoldos under the wings of Galaktika. Nemere and Lőrincz were the first representatives of popular culture who started to tear down the wall of socialist cultural policy from the inside. After the change in the political system had brought along a market economy in the book industry, though, there was a higher demand for novels in other genres, and both pushed science fiction to the background. Today, István Nemere is the most prolific Hungarian writer with his eight hundred books (a negligible percentage of which is science-fiction), and László L. Lőrincz built a reputation primarily with his crime novels.

Péter Zsoldos is a different story, though; in this context he is the exception that proves the rule. Zsoldos’s first science fiction novel came out in 1963 with Móra, the last one in 1988 with Háttér Publishing House. After the political changes, he never published again. He did not come from literature but from a different segment of culture: he worked as a music editor in radio. With his exceptional and high-standard oeuvre, he raised SF to the level of high literature, although he did not even think of himself as an author. He was unique in the history of Hungarian science fiction. His intellectual impact and legacy is indisputable; nevertheless, he never had a chance to make an impact on a practical level during the decades when he contributed to literature.

So after the political changes, Nemere and Lőrincz headed in different directions, whereas Péter Zsoldos stopped writing altogether with no one to follow in his tracks. At the same time, the spreading of popular culture and the free market had a murderous impact on Galaktika, whose prevalent position on the market had already faltered. What Kuczka had been afraid of transpired. Suvin’s cognitive estrangement as the grounding notion of publishing was lost without a trace in the melting pot of the domestic market, which now encompassed everything that could go down as speculative fiction in the wildest possible sense: from ufology to esoterica to heroic fantasy books. Finally, Galaktika was discontinued in 1995, along with Móra’s SF book series and Galaktika Friends. In the mid-nineties, everything around Hungarian science fiction literature had to be rebuilt from scratch. 

To recall the (re-)birth of independent Hungarian science fiction we have to check back to clubs of the early eighties, the times before Véga. Like glowing embers beneath the ash, amateur authors survived after the changes, alone and with no opportunities—the age of fanzines declined with the death of the clubs. Several initiatives were launched in the field of science fiction magazines (Vénusz, Birodalom, Nexus and X-Magazin with its record fifteen issues) but these were all discontinued after only a few releases. The most (in)famous publisher with domestic authors on its roster, Walhalla, later Valhalla Lodge, was more of a fortune hunter than a diligent engineer on the book market. Other than the ‘unofficial’ Star Wars and Alien vs. Predator series written by Hungarian authors under Anglophone pen names, it is linked to the role-playing game M.A.G.U.S. and the connected fantasy book series. The latter still runs today, but during its two and a half decades of existence heavy with legal disputes and lawsuits, a special circle of authors have worked within its bounds and they hardly touch on science fiction.

Finally, a one-time Debrecen clubber and his Cherubion genre publisher played a major role in rounding up Hungarian science fiction writers (something similar had happened sixty years earlier in the United States). István Nemes and the authors around him had known each other from these earlier communities. This Cherubion team of writers operated as a kind of incubator for amateur writers, although science fiction only complemented fantasy, which gained ground lightning fast in the nineties. Authors only wrote sci-fi to supplement their portfolio.

In the end, influenced by the market, the genre produced its first authors; nevertheless, they came up with a practical approach: anthologies and novels were mostly adventure stories where the scientific background was only part of the setting. All that mattered was the publisher’s angle on what was going on in popular culture, therefore the Cherubion team never even thought of attempting to define SF. Their main task was to set the genre apart from fantasy and to do that they conveyed a simple rule of thumb for readers: “sci-fi has spaceships, fantasy has magic.”

The transition to the next phase was instigated by a group from outside publishing circles: in 1997 Avana Hungarian SF Society established the Zsoldos Award, which in spite of the ongoing debates gave a huge boost to domestic science fiction. Avana, though, did not consider training Hungarian SF authors as one of its tasks. Defining science fiction was not really an issue during the formative years of the prize. That is the reason why the genre (and sometimes the quality) of some of the winners is questionable. The shift in attitude, which prioritized the definition in the process of evaluation, was first instigated by Margit S. Sárdi in 2005. 

This was a lucky break as academic literary theory met the intentions of a science fiction community. The only definition since 1972 is ascribed to ELTE Institute of Hungarian Literature and Cultural Studies, namely a seminar led by Sárdi (which, in turn, gave rise to Magyar Scifitörténeti Társaság). The concept follows Suvin and reads science fiction along formalistic lines while adopting an approach by Lem. As Sárdi writes in  “Műfaj-e a sci-fi?” [Is SF a Genre?]: “Science fiction is a branch of fiction which deals with as of now non-existent or non-recognised problems, offering sensible solutions; or the other way round, it deals with existing, recognised problems offering non-existent but sensible solutions” (32). However, this definition by the seminar at ELTE is far from flawless. It works fine in the sterile environment of a university (and for the purposes of the decision process for the Zsoldos Award) but it rules out plenty of writings (though still fewer than Darko Suvin’s definition) from the genre which are considered sci-fi by writers, publishers, distributors, readers, critics, and other members of the public.

And now we return to the third branch of science fiction’s institutional network. Almost fifteen years after the political change, SF publishing managed to recover. Finally, contemporary Hungarian writers had the opportunity to publish explicitly SF works. The first attempt at this was Átjáró SF&F Magazin. Átjáró attempted to fill the void after the discontinuation of Galaktika. Along with translated international works, it published short stories by Hungarian authors and reviews of their books. The editors used existing contacts to publish the writings of several Cherubion authors. Some of István Nemes’s writers found other publishers for their novels and at that moment in time it seemed that Hungarian science fiction as such would be a thing. 

A few publishers embraced the genre, up to the economic crisis quite resolutely, after that in a more restrained fashion. Nagual Publishing (later Metropolis Media) resurrected Galaktika in 2004, but Animus, Deltavision, and Tuan also published domestic SF. Around this time Avana took over the anthology Új Galaxis [New Galaxy], which was created by Kódex Press, and only deals with domestic authors, although it is only able to provide amateur authors with an opportunity to publish. 

Having said that, in the 2010s Hungarian science fiction still had no established canon. Metagalaktika 11 by Metropolis Media summarized the history of Hungarian SF, but no serious theoretical work was conceived in the field. We can name a book, or an author or two, but the genre is not really better off than it was at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. The debate is still going on about what should be considered science fiction while the old boundaries are long lost. Without a mutually agreed upon working definition the active participants of this segment of Hungarian popular culture are unable to communicate the genre of the works towards the market. During the past years, for publishers bringing out domestic SF—Ad Astra, Agave, Főnix, Gabó—it is a matter of vital importance how they position themselves for the readers. The latest attempts to influence the market concentrate on the trends in British and American mainstream SF, using their literary prizes (Hugo, Locus, Nebula, etc.) as reference points. There is no such standout reference point for Hungarian authors. 

The more than twenty-year-old Zsoldos Award has been detached from Avana and now fantasy and weird novels can also be nominated. Avana’s recently established Monolit Prize is taking turns to find the best Hungarian SF short story and the best novel in alternating years. The few Hungarian anthologies attached to different teams of authors do not represent the diversity of domestic SF; thus all we have left are sporadic publications that are not defined as SF by familiar authors, like Tibor Fonyódi (Harrison Fawcett), Botond Markovics (Brandon Hackett), and Anita Moskát. New talents fostered by some publishers also appear, but often they don’t find their readers. Könyvmolyképző Publishing House invests a lot of energy to discover new talents, nevertheless, the novels of their first book authors are not published as sci-fi but as parts of a so-called ‘hard selection’ series. Even their resident author, Bea Varga (On Sai) writes her science fiction novels in ‘fine selection’ series marked with a red or gold dot. A perfect example of the disturbance in positioning is what happened to Imre Bartók’s three novels. Libri Publishing House, looking for high literature in SF or postmodernism in high literature, did not indicate the genre on book covers (what genre are they after all?), so hopeful readers ended up like Soviet soldiers in Hungary in 1956 when they tried to find the Suez Canal: it resulted in total confusion at the receiving end.

As of now, SF is dominated by selective traditions within (!) the genre and this could only be helped by the finding of a general introspective definition. The time has come to look beyond the unsuccessful attempts of SF communities and publishers, the sluggish stirrings of domestic literary science with which they turn to science fiction. Scholars still have an aversion to the genre. For instance, the seminar in ELTE’s Institute of Hungarian Literature and Cultural Studies never had the term “sci-fi” in its name but was advertised as a literary review seminar smuggling SF to the curriculum through the methodology. To come up with an up-to-date understanding of the genre we should step outside the traditional paradigm to approach science fiction through popular culture. We must also realize that science fiction is a uniquely interdisciplinary genre. In view of this fact, American scholars in the field have been trying to come up with a new approach. Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint consider SF (and other genres) “fluid and tenuous constructions made by the interaction of various claims and practices by writers, producers, distributors, marketers, readers, fans, critics and other discursive agents” (qtd. in Rieder, 191). If anything, this is definitely true about SF. The genre withstands structural and historical definitions, as these attempts are all static and there are no robes you can force on the corpus of science fiction. 

On the other hand, if we look upon the genre as the dynamic cooperation and connection of publishers, critics and communities with constantly changing boundaries sooner or later every participant may find their place within, even in Hungary. Should this happen, a circle might emerge which will not shy away from putting the SF tag on book covers and the different groups could come to an agreement, which in turn may lead to the establishment of a Hungarian SF canon with authors writing within its bounds.


Rieder, John. “On Defining a Genre or Not.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 37, no. 2, 2010, pp. 191-209. 

S. Sárdi, Margit. “Műfaj-e a sci-fi?” [Is SF a Genre?]. Szépirodalmi Figyelő, no. 1, 2013, pp. 28-36.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. Yale University Press, 1979.

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.

The Formability of History: Uchronia in Contemporary Hungarian Short Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture

The Formability of History: Uchronia in Contemporary Hungarian Short Fiction

Áron Domokos

The idea of “uchronia” is addressed by a number of terms in various lines of intellectual endeavor, such as alternative history, parahistory, allohistory, virtual history, counterfactual history, historiographic metafiction, magical historicism, and “poetic historiography” (Czeglédi). All of these designations denote popular and educational historical narratives based on a “what if” thought experiment reflecting on contemporary social and political issues (Suvin). “Uchronography” (Trencsényi 38), in turn, is the activity that the interpreters of uchronia are engaged in. The reason why I decided to use the term “uchronia” (‘non-time,’ ‘never-time’) is that it has the connotation of “u-topia” in the sense of ‘non-place.’ It has numerous branches and connections to other genres: travel-adventure stories, lost island stories, dystopias, utopias, and satirical visions. What is more, its closest relative is the historical novel.

As a matter of fact, uchronia inherits the fundamental dilemmas of the philosophy of history and historical scholarship and calls attention to the fact that history is created by linguistic means. The main philosophical issues addressed by uchronia are related to time, determinism, and causality (Hellekson). As Angenot puts it: “Uchronia is less the refusal of real history, than the recognition of its ineluctable laws; by altering the course of events the author gives birth to a new history, but one that still contains the same rational determinism and contingency as empirical history” (qtd. in Csicsery-Ronay 105).

The aims of the present study are:

  1. to distinguish uchronia conceived of as literary fiction from uchronias combined with SF; and
  2. to investigate the 281 short prose pieces of Hungarian-language published between 2014 and 2018 submitted in application for the Péter Zsoldos Award.

The analysis of the short speculative narratives identified as uchronia proper or uchronic narratives will lend itself to useful generalizations on contemporary Hungarian science fiction.

Literary Uchronia: Entering SF

In my interpretation, literary (narrative fictional) uchronias are historical novels rather than pieces of SF. They form a special group within the latter, and with a thematic connection they can become SF (uchronic SF). Classification is a much debated issue. In Csicsery-Ronay’s opinion, uchronia is hard to squeeze into “future stories” within SF (102). Rodiek almost disparagingly pushes SF-like works away claiming that their worlds are very different from reality. In my view, the components and characteristics of uchronias are as follows:

  1. They describe an alternative historical world vis-à-vis history as we know it, built along an alternative timeline reaching at least the author’s present (at least at the level of indication) and they potentially show a distant future. The points of connection and correspondence between the present of the author and his or her contemporary readers on the one hand, and those of the hypothetical timeline on the other are key: it is these characteristics that determine whether we are dealing with an alternative history or an alternative universe. Following Jemisin, world construction can be said to be of the following types:
    • superficial: enigmatic, fragmented (my addition);
    • moderately detailed;
    • as detailed as possible (outlining the multitude of subsystems of the society).
  2. There is an indication of the divergence point (or neuralgic point: Nagy 26). That is where the known historical timeline separates into an alternative timeline. In some pieces it is not possible to clearly point to or designate this moment. These can be referred to as “blurred divergence points.”
  3. Uchronia in the uchronia: Another timeline (usually that of history as we know it or something that resembles it) is presented in narration in a mise en abyme-like manner (Bene 202). This feature was already present in works that formed the genre (Geoffrey-Château). It is usually introduced by a text with a different narration and focalization within the larger text: a letter, a diary, a fictional text, an epigraph, a lexicon entry etc. Alternatively, it can be a suggestion of a character. In general, it suffices to include an indication of it (This narrative element is similar to the reference to a season in the classic haiku.).

    If criterion No. 1 is met but criteria No. 2 and 3 are not, the work under scrutiny still counts as a uchronia. If the time factor is different in 1 (e.g. the time span is a couple of hours, days, or weeks), I suggest that we call the piece a “uchronic” text rather than a uchronia proper.

    The “components” of uchronia including SF elements (1 + 2 + 3) are as follows:
  4. Some SF motifs are included or integrated. There is a “(pseudo)scientific” or supernatural explanation for the fantastic diversion of the divergence point and the alternative world with an alternative timeline. This may be:
    • time travel;
    • the theory of parallel worlds (multiverse);
    • virtual reality;
    • an altered state of consciousness (strictly speaking, this is not necessarily SF);
    • a miracle, magic or a supernatural event (qualities characteristic of speculative fiction rather than SF pieces);
    • an absurd, surreal diversion (likewise qualities characteristic of speculative fiction rather than SF pieces).
  5. A technological defamiliarization is present: technology anomalous for its own period is featured in the timeline (We may consider this to be an interference in Kondratyev cycles: the whole steampunk family is an example for this category.).

Alternative Hungary

As a kind of starting point for the discussion of the narratives to be presented, I would like to draw attention to a lesser-known Hungarian uchronic short story. I consider Ferenc Herczeg’s (1863-1954) Szíriusz [Sirius] published in 1890 to be a forerunner of Hungarian uchronic literature. Although Herczeg’s narrative playing with the idea of time travel is not classified as SF by the critical reception because in the end all the actions are disguised as a dream (Sárdi 13), the ideas related to time travel, which have since become widespread, are remarkable. According to the storyline, the protagonist of noble origin, Ákos Tibor, undertakes to test a rocket invented by a “crazy” scientist that would take him back to the eighteenth century. During the preparations, the two men are given to uchronic thoughts: “Beware,” says the scientist, “not to change the events of the last century. I don’t know what would happen if you nevertheless did, but I suspect that a world twisted from its logic would crumble you” (Herczeg 21, translation mine). A little later, the text gains even more momentum: as the hero is substantially dissatisfied with the eighteenth century, he muses in the presence of another character: “Your century is worthless as it is . . . It has to be thoroughly reconstructed . . . I need my Brockhaus lexicon that includes everything in the world. We will take the railway, the steamer, the telegraph, the parliament and the whole progress from there. We will give the army a back loader and a steel cannon so that we can take back Silesia and conquer the whole world” (Herczeg 40, translation mine). Thus we can find the feeling of delay, the belief in progress, the imperial dream, conservatism, and a proto-steampunk idea in one single package from 1890.

On Contemporary Hungarian Uchronic SF Short Fiction

Having applied the above criteria to 281 narratives published between 2014 and 2018 that were submitted in application for the Péter Zsoldos Award, I could identify seven texts as uchronic SF.

The Heating Cold War

There is a multitude of imaginative topics to which a great number of contemporary alternative stories are devoted, yet, as Schneider-Mayerson (68) observes, the Cold War is not one of these. Neither is Hungary’s recent past; for example, the 1989 change of the political regime. Among the short stories submitted in application for the Péter Zsoldos Award, “Pacem” (Judit Áfonya Nagy, b. 1985) is one of the few exceptions, which seems to have combined the movies Gravity (2013), Gagarin: The First in Space (2013), and The Martian (2015), as well as the Cold War dread of James Bond films in a frightening alternate historical, fictional drama written in a diary-like manner. The text views history as the clash between empires and lacks Hungarian references. The Russian and American astronauts’ journey begins at the end of 1972, after the Voskhod program and the Soyuz program, at the height of the competition between the two great powers. The diary entries of the Russian female pilot show the gradual effects that the escalating conflict on Earth has in space. One such triggering event is the Russian invasion of Cuba in 1973, yet there is no exact divergence point here. We also witness turning points of the American pilot’s life, and his descent into paranoia. Having lost her American companion in an accident, the Russian heroine eventually reaches Mars, where she reflects on her errors with little hope for survival.

How Wonderful it is to be Hungarian

Novella [A short story] (György Dragon, 1966-2015) is a sarcastic piece applying the narrative technique used in Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. In an alternate historical world, a fictional work emerges that presents the author’s reality. In the alternative timeline of 2007 (cf. mise en abyme earlier), Hungary is a well-organized, wealthy imperialist global power having won every battle of every war. In the fictional world war, the Hungarian-Inca-Aztec axis defeats the German-Scottish-Frankish coalition. There is no United States, yet there is a country called the Kommancs (pron. “Commountsh”) Republic. South America, Gibraltar, as well as the cities of Munich and London, have all been colonized by the Hungarians. Space research is thriving, and the education system is excellent, paying sufficient attention to the body, health, and exercise while not neglecting the development of cognitive abilities, either. The division of labor is ideal: only one person per family is allowed to work. The mental state of the country is expressed in the proud daily mantra: “How wonderful it is to be Hungarian.” The divergence point of the parallel world is the historical peasant uprising of 1514, which is a successful revolution in the fictitious realm, turning its leader György Dózsa into György (George) I, the greatest Hungarian king.


With the help of Nikola Tesla’s genius, Örökség [The Inheritance] (István Márki, b. 1965) modifies an event in the early twentieth century, as a result of which only one “great war” emerges, and the Second World War is missing. Likewise, there is no Holocaust, no Soviet occupation of Hungary in 1945, no Hungarian revolution in 1956, and no political regime change in 1989. History for Hungary is thus “unwrinkled”: a trauma-free, smooth, and triumphant path. One of the characters in the short story reports how he got from the 1900s to 1955, and how his time travel “distorted” the 1900s and even earlier years. The Spanish-American War of 1898 functions as a point of divergence; the defeat of the Americans ensures that the United States never becomes a political factor. The Great War (WWI) did take place, but with a completely different outcome. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy flourished rather than collapsed, slowly stepping out of the shadow of the German Empire. German became a world language, while the United States and France were turned into German protectorates, with German being a second official language in both. Berlin emerged as the center of the world, the United Kingdom broke down into its constituent parts, the Russian revolution was suppressed, and the Hungarians were given the opportunity to live in an independent Kingdom of Hungary. The manifestation of the alternate history, that is, all the alterations brought about in the past, appears as “History” for everybody in the story due to the historicity of the present. Therefore, all of these changes are self-evident to the protagonist living in the present of the short story. It is no wonder that he ponders: How could the United States be a major power in the global political scene?

Killing Hitler

István Nemere (b. 1944) is a Hungarian cult author having published over 700 titles under about four dozen pen names as well as his own. He has tried his hand at almost every popular genre, and has written about a multitude of topical national and international issues. Hungarian topics that his historical novels, textbooks on history, and works of educational historical nonfiction are devoted to include bloodlines and important battles in the Carpathian Basin, the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, and the 1989 change of the political regime. Interestingly enough, despite his vested interest in both SF and Hungarian history, Nemere has only produced one uchronic short story thus far. His spy narrative, “Időváltó” [The Time Changer], comprises love, technology (a subdermal tracking implant), and the character of the villain, and adds the dilemmas of time travel and the most important challenge it entails, i.e., that the course of historical events must not be changed. Instead, a multiverse is created, that is, a number of separate alternative universes including ones with Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, King Louis XIV, etc. never having seen the light of day. Writing about Hitler’s assassination in Vienna in 1911 is a trite idea, yet due to Nemere’s usage of the multiverse trick the piece is rather appealing.

No Alternative

Dinosaurs, simulacrum, virtual reality, gnosticism, marketing, book publishing, and the matrix are the keywords of Raptor Isten [Raptor God] (István Sas, 1946-2018). A layered narrative exciting both in its choice of theme and way of presentation, it nevertheless tends toward overcomplication. In this short story, a reptilian species is the dominant intelligent life form on the planet. The idea of an alternative evolution is not at all new in SF literature, yet the addition of a SF writer reptile and another reptile character designing computer games is definitely an inventive solution. They are the creators of a virtual reality telling us about the development of the human race and the everyday life of humans. The protagonists’ important existential questions (who they are, what reality is, who the creator / computer programmer is, etc.) are satirically countered by the fact that no matter what the world we live in is like, a market economy dominates with its faithful helper, the God of Marketing. Sas’s text, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is a textbook example of capitalist realism, according to which even the imagination is incapable of creating an alternative that transcends the capitalist way of production (Fisher 15-30).

Muslim-Hungarian Coexistence

The alternative story Kisvárda sejkje [The Sheikh of Kisvárda] (Csaba Gábor Trenka b. 1959) takes place in a parallel world and unfolds before us in the self-narration and recollection of a wandering homeless sage-sheikh able to recount several hundred tales. In addition to the main storyline moving confidently towards its goal, an exciting, complex world emerges through a number of micro-events. According to the Islamic calendar, the narrated events of the Islam-dominated parallel history take place in 1421, which corresponds to 2000 in the standard Gregorian calendar. The setting for the story is Kisvárda, a small town in the rather poor north-eastern part of Hungary populated with Muslim Hungarian inhabitants. Exactly when, why, and how these circumstances came to pass is left unexplained. The environment is Islamized, as exhibited through the names of the public spaces: Chaldeans’ Street, Abu Abbas Shrine, Ramesses II Square etc., resulting in a Hungaro-Islamic hybrid construction. The same happens to personal names: Miriam Horváth, Hassan Marosi-Kun, Omar Lakatos, Abdullah Kiss-Kovács. The coexistence of Hungarians, Muslims, and Roma (the poorest social stratum in the story) is peaceful and inter-religion friendships are common. Christianity is on the brink of extinction, yet there are still some devout believers; at the same time, religion does not occupy a central position and there are no value judgments against any belief system. We are dealing with bradychronia here: the level of technological advancement is relatively low, the streets are lit with kerosene lamps, camels are among the commodities sold in the market, there is no internet, and there are not even computers, but collections and magazines of SF stories abound. Despite the obvious differences, the environment has the feel of the laid-back bourgeois milieu of the late nineteenth-century dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary with some Middle Eastern flavors. We can root for the teenage heroes, especially the young, fiction-loving narrator. Some of the pulp adventures that he reads are inserted into the short story, including a piece about how his first love and his failed attempt at courtship got him into fatal trouble. While definitely a uchronia proper, this extraordinary piece also exhibits characteristics of other genres. I agree with Baka’s (2014) acknowledgment of the short story’s aesthetic merits, as the linguistic-stylistic elaboration as well as the rich and inventive network of narration raise it to a level that stands with the highest literature.

Alternative Cosmology

In the outstandingly amusing Prospektus [The Brochure] (György Horváth, b. 1977), the bifurcation of the past is sometime in the 1850s. Although there is no exact divergence point, this is when the alien race of Tefrits arrive on the planet Earth. Their technological advancement enriches the Habsburg Monarchy in exchange for the construction of the Wall around the Great Hungarian Plain. The originally small ring gradually grows and expands in the course of the story, reaching a height of 2857 meters and an area of 300 square kilometers by the beginning of the twentieth century. Thanks to the knowledge of the Tefrits, Hungary becomes a powerful political actor occupying an area from what is now Miercurea Ciuc (Csíkszereda) to Rijeka (Fiume) and from Graz to Krakow. The brochure mentioned in the title is an informational document on the Wall describing its curious nature, development, and staff regulations. The newly divorced protagonist fails to read some of the sections (e.g., the one saying that vertiginous people must not be employed) and this becomes a source of many complications and much humor. Working conditions on the wall are similar to those in a multicultural organization. Employees speak a mixed language and culinary products from all over the world are available to them. However, occupational safety and health is not a priority and instead of workers’ accident insurance we find a system of employers’ compensation insurance. Not much is revealed about the state of Hungary except that it is presumably a central rather than a peripheral country. NATO definitely exists but no mention is made of the (post)socialist region. There are only enigmatic or fragmented references to what the rest of the countries are like (cf. superficial world construction mentioned earlier). The universe described also becomes “alternative” in the sense that the known natural laws do not seem to apply. The climax of the story is when it turns out that the ominous Wall is the birth channel of the Earth, a viviparous planet. This absurd idea is presented in various ways: techniques of realism are put to work alongside the tools of humor and lyricism. The short story is a playful blend of the hardships of employment, the fear of death, the trauma of the Treaty of Trianon, and the Gaia hypothesis. A remarkable manifestation of what I call a conservative imperial dream (see section V below), this is “a grotesque, thought-provoking story written with a great sense of rhythm” (Böszörményi, translation mine). It is definitely another work of considerable literary value.

General Remarks and Attempts at a Conclusion

Only a few studies published in the last decade have been devoted to the subject of Hungarian-language SF-themed uchronias. Hungarian uchronic novels have received considerable attention (Baka 2014, 2017, 2020, and 2021), as opposed to discussions of short fiction. Keserű and H. Nagy, in their collection of papers, provide an overview of the international theoretical literature, while the works of Hegedűs, Gerencsér, and Pintér form an integral part of the Hungarian-language critical reception of the matter at hand. Some of the above researchers point out that, in their view, strikingly few Hungarian texts have played with historical time and possibilities so far. Pintér (in 2013) mentions seven such novels, Gerencsér (in 2016) refers to eighteen texts altogether, adding short stories and pieces of nonfiction to the novels. As for me, I have managed to identify twenty-four novels, one comic book, and as many as twenty-seven short stories as Hungarian-language uchronic SF stories. That is to say, of the whole pool of Hungarian-language SF pieces, I only consider fifty-two texts to be uchronic SF pieces, and only seven pieces out of the four years and nearly 300 texts examined fall into this category.

Whether we review the history of the genre from as early as the middle of the nineteenth century or only from the end of World War II, it does not amount to a lot. In my opinion, the small number of such texts is attributable to the following three reasons:

  1. Understanding uchronic narratives often requires above-average historical knowledge and/or an extraordinary intellectual-cognitive effort;
  2. “Existing” state socialisms (just like the late capitalism of our time), by their very nature, self-identify/ied as the endpoint of a historical development, and thus reject(ed) all alternatives. Or, if not altogether, they (could) only present them as negative possibilities;
  3. As the number of works written in the genres of “traditional” historical fiction and historical nonfiction taken together is still relatively low, their corpus might not have been able to construct a common national memory or consensus against which alternative points of view can reasonably be formed.

Referring to Wag Moore, Gallagher states that most authors of uchronia “departed from common reality in order to test new political ideas and experiment with alternative social possibilities” (149). The concept of history detectable in the texts I have investigated, on the other hand, can be said to be rather conservative: it does not include a vision of various forms of alternative social organization; neither does it posit that “history” can manifest itself differently to different groups. Rosenfeld sees alternative historiography primarily as presentist, i.e., one that lives in the present. “It explores the past less for its own sake than to utilize it instrumentally to comment upon the present. Based as it is upon conjecture, alternate history necessarily reflects its authors’ hopes and fears” (150). I suggest that we look at the texts at hand in this way, which enables us to identify a considerable number of them as instances of what I call the “imperial dream.” In his paper on utopia, Veres applies a similar label: “Great Hungarian Dream.” The main features of these textual worlds can be summarized as follows: they change Hungary’s geopolitical position from the semi-periphery to the center (being both an affirmative and a revisionist move); they realize imperialist aspirations far beyond the ideas of national sovereignty; they envision a problem-free Hungary with material and spiritual well-being; and they advocate for the ideology and practice of capitalism. We can also witness the practice of naive, joyful colonization in these narratives, in which colonial estates appear as if they were civil props such as a deer trophy or a ski pass. Last but not least, daydreaming is a uchronic act of compensation. That is to say, it always aims to relieve the readers of historical trauma by the elimination of great global and national cataclysms.

The texts that formed the basis of this study lack an “if the Nazis had won” narrative, although the Hungarian corpus is not devoid of the theme (Gáspár, Ajtay, Trenka, Galántai, Szélesi, Gráczer, Horváth). None of the short stories examined are steam-punk texts, not a single piece applies the idea of accelerated technological development (tychycronia), and only one story (“Dragon”) places the divergence point well before the modern era. The stories’ determinism is event-centric, military-historical, or technological. Interestingly enough, there are hardly any women or Gen Z authors, as it seems that Hungarian-language uchronia is a genre of middle-aged men socialized under socialism. The two outstanding collections of Hungarian-language uchronia (Cserna 2016 and 2020) devoted to the events of years 1919 and 1956, respectively, do not change the big picture. Only the collection entitled 48 másképp [1848 from a Different Point of View] (David) shows considerable age and gender diversity.

Apparently, searching for and finding short pieces of uchronia and uchronic short fiction in Hungarian is a challenging endeavor, as is the attempt to make the subject of Hungarian-language uchronias more diverse and the genre more popular in this country. The task may be carried out with the alliance of teachers of history and Hungarian literature. Students’ imagination and belief in the formability of history can be further strengthened by offering them a class session involving creative writing assignments (Deszcz-Tryhubczak-Marecki) or the inclusion of alternate historical computer games (e.g., the strategy game Civilization).


Baka, Patrik. “Mi lett volna, ha: Magyar földön Afrikában.” Partitúra, vol. 9, no. 1, 2014, pp. 101-127.

—. “Az allohistorizmus krónikája.” Kölcsönös átszövődések: A Balassi Intézet Márton Áron Szakkollégiuma 2016. évi PhD-konferenciájának tanulmányaiból, edited by Anikó Novák, Külgazdasági és Külügyminisztérium, 2017, pp. 104-119.

—. “A horogkereszt árnyékában I. (Horváth László Imre: Lett este és lett reggel vs. Trenka Csaba Gábor: Egyenlítői Magyar Afrika).” Erudition-Educatio, vol. 16. no. 1, 2021, pp. 81-95.

—. Teljes gőzzel Bevezetés a steampunk olvasásába. Komárom, 2020.

Bene, Adrián. A relativitás irodalma. Kijárat Kiadó, 2013. 

Böszörményi, Gyula. “Angyalok tolják a mennyei jazzt.”, 2014.

Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan Jr. The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2008. 

Czeglédi, András. “Ukrónia és vidéke.” 2000, vol. 25, no. 11, 2013. pp. 19–27.

Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Justyna and Mateusz Marecki. “The World Turned Upside Down: Exploring Alternate History with Young Adults.” CLELE journal, vol. 1, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1-18.

Domokos, Áron. “‘Minden, ami növekszik, az egyszer elpusztul’: Végidők az irodalomórán.” Anyanyelvi és Irodalmi Nevelés, vol. 3 no. 3-4, 2020, pp. 5-26.

—. “Posztapokalipszisek, birodalmi ábrándok és neutrotópiák: Magyarország-jövőképek kortárs tudományos-fantasztikus elbeszélésekben.” Anyanyelvi Kultúraközvetítés, vol. 3, no. 1, 2020, pp. 10-37.

—. “Világgyár: SF-világépítés és -rekonstruálás irodalomórán.” Anyanyelvi Kultúraközvetítés, vol. 2, no. 2, 2019, pp. 58-96.

—. “A science-fiction mint oktatási eszköz.” Danubius Noster: Az Eötvös József Főiskola tudományos folyóirata, Különszám, 2019, pp. 35-48.

Fisher, Mark. Kapitalista realizmus. Nincs alternatíva? Napvilág, 2020.

Gallagher, Catherine. Telling it like it wasn’t. The Counterfactual imagination in history and fiction. U of Chicago P, 2018.

Gerencsér, Ádám. “The first ‘Third Reich Triumphant’: The World’s Earliest Hitler-wins Scenario and Other Alternate Histories in Hungarian Literature. A Complete Survey from 1915 to 2015.” Hélice: Reflexiones críticas sobre ficción especulativa, vol. 3, no. 6, June 2016,  pp. 13-30. 

Hegedűs, Orsolya. A mágia szövedéke. Bevezetés a magyar fantasy olvasásába. Lilium Aurum, 2012.

Hellekson, Karen. The Alternate History. Refiguring Historical Time, Kent UP, 2001.

H. Nagy, Péter. “A képzelet nagymesterei Dicktől Robinsonig.” Kontrafaktumok. Spekulatív fikció és irodalom, edited by József Keserű and Péter H. Nagy, Selye János Egyetem, 2011.

—. “Imaginárium IX. SF: A képzelet mesterei.” Opus, 2009/2. 23-32.

Jemisin, Nora Keita. “Growing Your Iceberg.” 2015.

Pintér, Bence. “A Brief Summary of the Alternate History Genre in Hungary.” Alternatehistory; 23 Aug. 2013,

Rodiek, Christoph. “Potentielle Historie (Uchronie) Literarische Darstellungsformen alternativer Geschichtsverläufe.” Romanische Forschungen, vol. 104, no. 1/2, 1992, pp. 171-180.

Rosenfeld, Gavriel D. “Miért a kérdés, hogy ‘mi lett volna, ha …?’ Elmélkedések az alternatív történetírás szerepéről.” Aetas, vol. 22, no. 1, 2007. pp. 147-60. 

Sárdi Margit S. “Amíg a sci-fi megszületett. Források és elődök.” Metagalaktika 11. Kazinczytól egy új reformkorig. A magyar SF krónikája, edited by István Burger, Metropolis Media, Budapest, 2009.

Schneider-Mayerson, Matthew. “What Almost Was: The Politics of the Contemporary Alternate History Novel.” American Studies, vol. 50, no. 3-4, Winter 2009, pp. 63-83. 

Suvin, Darko. “Victorian Science Fiction, 1871-85: The Rise of the Alternative History Sub-Genre.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 10, no. 2, Jul. 1983, pp. 148-169.

Trencsényi Balázs. “A tegnap árnyékában. Bibó István és az Uchronia.” A politika nyelvei. Eszmetörténeti tanulmányok. Argumentum – Bibó István Szellemi Műhely, 2007.

Veres Miklós. “A nagy magyar álom.” Metagalaktika 11. Kazinczytól egy új reformkorig. A magyar SF krónikája, edited by István Burger, Metropolis Media, Budapest, 2009.

Uchronic Fiction Analyzed in the Paper

Ajtay, Miklós (alias Robban, Randolph). Si l’Allemagne avait vaincu… Latour Dugyet, 1950.

Cserna-Szabó, András , and Szálinger Balász, editors. A másik forradalom. Alternatív ötvenhat, Cser Kiadó, 2016.

Cserna-Szabó, András , and Renátó Fehér, editors. Nézzünk bizakodva a múltba. Alternatív Trianon. Cser Kiadó, 2020.

Dávid, Ádám, and Péter Dóka, Péter, editors. 48 másképp, Ifjúsági novellák a múltból. JAK.Móra Könyvkiadó, 2019.

Dragon, György. “A novella.” Galaktika, vol. 299, 2015, pp. 49-55.

Galántai, Zoltán (alias W. Hamilton Green). A negyedik birodalom [The Fourth Reich]. Valhalla Páholy, 2002.

Gáspár, László. Mi, I. Adolf [We, Adolf I.]. Magyar Téka, 1945.

Gráczer, László Tamás (alias G. L. Thompson). Germánia. Kossuth, 2013.

Herczeg, Ferenc. “Szíriusz.” A rádiumkirály. Science fiction történetek, edited by Zoltán Cserna, WORLD SF Magyar Tagozata, 1989, pp. 11-57.

Horváth, György. “Prospektus.” Falak mögött a világ. SF-antológia, edited by Szélesi Sándor, 2014, pp. 297-324. 

Horváth, László Imre. Lett este és lett reggel, Magvető,2014.

Márki, István. “Örökség.” Galaktika, XXXVII, 327, 2017, pp. 30-42.

Nagy, Judit Áfonya (alias Dyta Kostova). “Pacem.” Új Galaxis 25. Kódex Nyomda, 2016.

Nemere, István. Időváltó, Galaktika, XXXVII, 2017, pp. 70-88.

Sas, István. Raptor Isten, Galaktika, XXXVI, 306, 2015, pp. 72-86.

Szélesi, Sándor. (alias Sheenard, Anthony). “Vitézi becsület.” A csonkolás művészete. Novellagyűjtemény, by Anthony Sheenard, Portal Press, 2006.

Trenka, Csaba Gábor. Egyenlítői Magyar Afrika [Hungarian Equatorial Africa], Agave, 1991.

Trenka, Csaba Gábor. “Kisvárda sejkje.” 2045. Harminc év múlva. SF-antológia, edited by Szélesi Sándor, Ad Astra, 2015, pp. 133-164.

Author’s Note

The webpage is a source of further pieces of relevant information for the interested reader.

Áron Domokos, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer at MATE, Kaposvár. A graduate of ELTE, Budapest (M.A.s in Hungarian & library science, Ph.D. in library science), he was editor of the cultural magazines Könyvjelző [Bookmark] (2005-2010) and Hungaricum [Hungarian values worthy of distinction] (2009-2010). A member of the selection panel of the Péter Zsoldos Award (2014-2018), Domokos’s scholarly output includes four published Hungarian-language papers related to recent Hungarian SF short fiction. His investigations are informed by the history of ideas, social philosophy and criticism, the history of books, as well as studies on literary readership and the production/consumption of popular literature.

Interview with Csilla Kleinheincz

SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture

Interview with Csilla Kleinheincz

Csilla Kleinheincz is a Hungarian-Vietnamese SFF writer, author of the Ólomerdő [Leaden Forest] trilogy, and co-editor of Az ​év magyar science fiction és fantasynovellái [The Best Hungarian Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year] for Gabo publishing house. Her short stories A Drops of Raspberries, After Midnight, Before Dawn, Rabbits, Last Service Line and A Single Year have been published in translation in various magazines and anthologies such as Expanded Horizons, Black Petals, Interfictions, The Apex Books of World SF, Heiresses of Russ, and Sunspot Jungles.

Guest Editors Vera Benczik and Beata Gubacsi: How do you see the development of the Hungarian fantastic over the past ten years? The 2017 launch and continued popularity of the Best Hungarian Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthology series you’ve been co-editing with Gábor Roboz is undoubtedly a significant part of this. Could you reflect on the origins of the projects and how it has shaped your own perspective of Hungarian SF?

Csilla Kleinheincz: The development of the Hungarian fantastic and fantastic fiction available on the market are inextricably bound together. Since fantastic literature, like any other literature, does not exist in a separate space, there’s been a shift toward publishing more translated fiction from contemporary authors and relatively new titles, sometimes only a few months after the international publication, and also publishing works that have won some kind of award and therefore are considered the “best,” as opposed to the previous practice of leaning heavily on classics and/or franchise literature lead to an opening horizon for Hungarian authors as well, not all of whom read in English. Mainstream and literary fiction also have had a great impact on Hungarian SF writers, and the publishers have been also more open to experimental and unconventional fiction, seeking unique visions and voices.

The Best Hungarian Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthology project stemmed from the realization that such new voices need to be heard, and that there are few open (and paying) anthologies or magazines that are not organized around a specific theme or that gather only authors of a particular publishing house or circle. The first time we opened the submissions to the public we were amazed at the diversity of topics and styles, and as the years passed, the ratio of unique and daring visions just increased—I like to think because, by selecting interesting ideas and exciting narratives the writers felt encouraged to experiment.

Guest Editors: How does the Hungarian fantastic incorporate and/or subvert the themes and tropes of Anglo-American fantastic tradition? Do you think there’s a pressure to follow international trends?

Csilla Kleinheincz: There is certainly a pressure, if by pressure we mean that Hungarian SF has to compete with translated works (dominantly Anglo-American) on the market, and readers compare Hungarian sci-fi and fantasy to award-winning titles.

I think it is important to mention here that while my colleague Gábor Roboz and several other editors in the field are advocates of the “new Hungarian SF,” and encourage writers to diverge from mainstream science fiction and fantasy, other editors or publishing houses have different preferences and are more open to SF that resemble successful imported story types. This is especially true for YA, heroic fantasy, and space opera, and Hungary has its own kind of RPG literature as well. [Editor’s note: The M.A.G.U.S roleplaying handbooks were first published in 1993 by Valhalla Páholy publishing house, and the latest one came out in 2007.]

What Hungarian SF can offer is its own unique blend of the fantastic that could be written only by Hungarian authors, reflecting on our own cultural and historical influences and leaning on our own surroundings. Hungarian weird fiction is especially strong nowadays, perhaps because our history and our present are so rich in grotesque and dystopian elements and also because a small but very active creative community has formed around the main publisher of weird fiction, The Black Aether.

The trending topics of science fiction also find their way into Hungarian SF: artificial intelligence and uploaded consciousness, climate change, biohacking and the future of current power structures, and entertainment media. These global phenomena can all be viewed through the lens of our small, central-European country and I think this angle can be really interesting. Although there are plenty of Hungarian SF works that follow Anglo-American traditions, even using American characters and settings, or copying story structures seen in Hollywood films, the exciting part is where Hungarian writers find ways to utilize their own personal experiences, living here to bring about something new and refreshing.

Guest Editors: Hungarian folklore seems to inspire a whole new generation of Hungarian SF writers; your own fantasy novels draw upon this rich tradition. How does the uniquely Hungarian storytelling appear in the Hungarian fantastic, and how does the fantastic as a mode itself aid and amplify the Hungarian perspective?

Csilla Kleinheincz: Fairy tales and myths always had a strong presence within fantasy, and it was only a matter of time until Hungarian writers realized the immense possibilities in Hungarian folklore. Many of the classical fantasy stories are based on Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, and Germanic mythologies so it is easy to forget that these are not required to be incorporated into a fantasy novel just so it can be considered “fantasy.” Archetypes and mythical symbolism provide a great structure to tell new stories about ourselves and our place in the world, and the familiar mythology brings these stories closer to the readers. My own Ólomerdő trilogy is based loosely on Hungarian fairy tales. Túlontúl by Ágnes Gaura and A látszat mesterei by Krisztina Tímár both draw upon Hungarian folklore while Kukoricza by Csaba Csurgó retells and modernizes one of the most famous epic poems of Hungarian literature. Also, Hungarian folk tales provide a rich basis for weird and horror stories stemming from local legends and mythological creatures (like Túlpart by Zsolt Jónás, or Attila Veres’s many short stories, for example).

The unique position and historical background of Hungary within Europe provide advantage in the genres that are so interested in the Other. As someone with mixed nationality I am perhaps not the most authentic person to talk about the soul of the Hungarian people, but this otherness, this feeling of not quite fitting into the tapestry of our surrounding countries is very close to the sense of alienation and strangeness that is permeating the fantastic.

Guest Editors: In the field of Anglo-American SF, generic boundaries have become increasingly porous, and experimenting with different genre-bending practices has been encouraged and celebrated. How do you think fantastic genres appear in Hungarian fantastic literature and culture? How do you think this might affect your own writing?

Csilla Kleinheincz: While genre-bending works definitely exist within Hungarian literature, most of these are not traditionally published by genre publishers. The magical realist stories of Ervin Lázár, László Darvas, and György Dragomán, or the magical historical novel of Zsolt Láng (Bestiárium Transylvaniae) and several short stories that could be considered fantastic, are published by literary publishers and magazines and are marketed as literary or mainstream fiction. This distinction makes reader orientation difficult and creates a rift between “traditional” and “literary” fantasy.

Even so, I see a shift in the perception of fantasy in Hungary, and works by, for example, Anita Moskát, László Sepsi, and Attila Veres serve both as bridges and are amalgams of many literary and fantastic influences.

As for myself, I find my own writing changing. Not so much because of the trends but because I have gained the necessary confidence to freely experiment and write what I want, to use the fantastic as a finely honed tool, and I don’t let myself be restricted by what I perceive as “what is expected of fantasy writers.” Fortunately publication of unconventional fantasy is easier than it had been even ten years ago, and readers acquired a taste for the unexpected and the unique. Or rather, they were always hungry for it, just didn’t get it before in this quantity.

Guest Editors: Based on your work as co-editor of The Best Hungarian Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthology, what aspects do you consider the strengths of the Hungarian fantastic?

Csilla Kleinheincz: What came as a surprise to us was how many well written weird and dark stories we get. The dominance of science fiction is a thing of the past—truly, we struggle to find enough science fiction short stories to merit the title . . . Fantasy is in abundance, and stories are no longer limited to tolkienesque fantasy or spaceships and robots, but most of them have strong Hungarian elements in them as well. Many works reflect on the socialist era of our history, bringing a “retro” feel, but also indicating that this part of our history is still not fully processed within the fantastic.

The city/countryside polarization of the Hungarian nation is also represented in the stories we read. The sociological aspects of this distinction find their way into the SF and the specific neuroses associated with what living in Budapest or in the country power these dark stories. The fabric of Hungarian society leaves its imprint on the fantastic as well, and the symbols of the fantastic can capture our everyday struggles perfectly.

Another important revelation was the high percentage of women within the fantastic. Compared to the SF publications of the nineties it is very refreshing to see the number of women who produce high quality, innovative and exciting stories, and I very much hope we will see more novels by them also. The knee-jerk reaction of “women can’t write SF” starts to wear out, and women’s perspectives enrich the Hungarian SF.

Guest Editors: Anglo-American SF has become the site and source of exploring women’s experiences and role in socio-political and economic systems, which appears in your own writing as well. How do you see the position of women’s SF and YA in the field of the Hungarian fantastic? How does the fantastic itself negotiate women’s experiences and social discussions around gender roles?

Csilla Kleinheincz: Feminism and the discussion about gender has taken a different road in Hungary than in the US, and feminist science fiction and fantasy were mostly imported, with only a few Hungarian SF stories here and there. The great Hungarian SF boom was mostly run by male writers and editors, and for a long time, women were mainly portrayed only as love interests or sexy enemies. The romantic fantasy genre has always been dominated by women, but its readership was not open to other kinds of fantasy (and certainly not to science fiction), and “traditional” fantasy readers considered disdainfully romantic fantasy as a completely different genre.

After 2000, I see a turn in Hungarian SF as more women wrote and published short stories and novels. I think Raana Raas’s (Etelka Görgey) Csodaidők series was a paradigm-shifting endeavor that completely changed the way Hungarian science fiction viewed women and families. Written by a Hungarian pastor, the series explored the role of traditions and faith in a futuristic setting and had a huge impact: it introduced science fiction to a great mass of readers who never would have discovered the genre otherwise. The women readers stayed and voted for SF stories that were written by and for women. The market expanded and soon more and more women began to publish at the bigger publishing houses.

Exploration of women’s experiences and gender roles brought a fresh breeze into Hungarian SF as well. I think the most important, groundbreaking novel was Anita Moskát’s Horgonyhely, a dystopian fantasy set in a world where everybody was bound to the place they were born, and only pregnant women could travel. It’s a violent, dark story about gender roles and dominance that can be compared to Naomi Alderman’s The Power.

YA fantasy and science fiction is dominated by women in Hungary, probably because the readers, the editors and publishers of YA are also mostly women. I would say writers of YA SF now have every opportunity to be published, although publisher’s expectations can be more restrictive as in the case of “adult” SF, and there is a greater tolerance for formulaic stories.

Guest Editors: Considering current trends in the production and consumption of fantastic literature and media, how is the Hungarian fantastic likely to change in the future? What new directions do you think are possible? How do you think the anthology can affect and showcase these changes?

Csilla Kleinheincz: Based on my experiences with the anthology and what is published at other publishing houses, the two genres where I expect the greatest changes and the most buzzing are the weird, the slipstream and the unconventional fantasy, and many of the new writers will be women. They are already present with their short stories, and soon novels will follow, and of course the leading Hungarian writers of today will also bring new visions.

Interview with István “Steve” Szabó

SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture

Interview with István “Steve” Szabó

Translated by Beata Gubacsi

István Zoltán “Steve” Szabó is the founding editor-in-chief of Próza Nostra, a literary journal dedicated to fantastic literature. He received his doctorate in comparative literature at the University of Szeged for his work on the role of technology in William Gibson’s novels. His research interests are technology, deconstruction and postmodern American prose. He is a lecturer at the University of Szeged, and “off duty” a technical writer at an American IT company. 

The interview was conducted in writing in the summer of 2021, and translated by Beata Gubacsi. 

Guest Editors Vera Benczik and Beata Gubacsi: How do you see the development of Hungarian fantastic since the 1980s? What aspects do you consider the strengths of the fantastic in Hungarian literature and culture? How can you see these changes through Próza Nostra?

Steve Szabó: This can be approached from different directions. The first thing that comes to my mind is the sheer number of new authors who have appeared on the scene of the Hungarian fantastic since the 2010s. I would highlight two of them, Anita Moskát and Attila Veres, who could be considered the most important debut authors. A number of new publishers specialising in fantastic literature have entered the market, and the field has expanded. There are also more thematic calls for manuscripts year after year. The increasing numbers, however, do not necessarily mean an improvement in quality. I do think that as time goes by, publishers and authors are giving us so much that it is becoming more difficult to survey the field, and see the big picture without getting lost among all the texts. 

Próza Nostra has never claimed to serve as a catalogue and report on everything. In this way, it does not reflect all the changes in the scene, and I think this is fine.  Our team is seeking to filter and introduce books we deem worthy of the readers’ attention via reviews and review essays, through the lens of literary criticism. We want them to be noticed. 

Guest Editors: How does the Hungarian fantastic incorporate and/or subvert the themes and tropes of Anglo-American fantastic tradition? 

Steve Szabó: This is really hard to answer because when you say “Hungarian fantastic,” it sounds like some kind of a homogenous entity, but this is not the case. Hence there is no straightforward answer. The readers’ expectations for the fantastic for quite some time have been no more than getting pretty much the same thing as well-known Anglophone texts. I’m mostly thinking about fantasy here. The situation of science fiction is a lot more complicated since it follows a completely different tradition, and the weird and horror are, again, another beast.  

If we stay with fantasy for now, Anglophone themes and stylistic features have dominated the field for a long time. There was a huge demand for fantasy but at the same time a kind of resistance toward Hungarian authors of fantasy. In the 1990s it was common practice to publish Hungarian fantasy authors’ work under Anglo-American pen names because that is what readers would pick up from the shelves. Nowadays, this is not the case, but the writers still active today have kept their nom de plume. Good examples would be Botond Markovics (Brandon Hackett) or István Nemere (John Caldwell), among others. It’s interesting to note that Botond Markovics’s—one of the most important contemporary authors—writing career is as a science fiction writer, but at the beginning of his career similar SF authors faced similar expectations, meaning that they could not use a Hungarian name. The reason for this being that Soviet and Eastern European SF became less relevant after 1989 for a while.  

The themes and motives of the Anglophone fantastic have appeared obligatorily in these books—but with modifications—because the author’s cultural background would inevitably seep into the texts. As fantasy started to gain momentum in Hungary this process became more conscious, and there was a greater demand and appreciation for it. At the same time the elements or even clichés of Anglophone fantasy are sometimes still noticeable in the contemporary fantastic. And that’s fine. A literary tradition has been adopted, then adapted, shaped by our own cultural traditions.    

Guest Editors: How does the uniquely Hungarian storytelling appear in the Hungarian fantastic, and how does the fantastic as a mode itself aid and amplify the Hungarian perspective? 

Steve Szabó: This question logically follows from the previous one but it is more exciting. The main strands of the fantastic—I’m primarily talking about fantasy, science fiction, horror/weird, and their various subgenres—are naturally encouraging writers to integrate their own cultural and historical backgrounds, folklore, mythology, and archetypal stories into their fiction. There are plenty of examples for this in recent years in the field of the Hungarian fantastic. Just to mention a few, Csilla Kleinheincz’s Ólomerdő [Leaden Forest, own translation] trilogy or Mónika Rusvai’s debut novel Tündöklő [Shimmer, own translation] come to mind. These novels rely heavily on traditional Hungarian folk tales. They amalgamate the rich tradition with fantasy, a genre with Anglo-American roots. Yet, they don’t feel like experimental “crossovers,” but rather like genuine Hungarian fantasy. 

However, at the same time, not every aspect of fantastic poetics and rhetoric support the integration and representation of the Hungarian folk tradition, or at least not without difficulties. There seems to be a trend in contemporary fantasy that worldbuilding allows the use of fantastic elements, but it also requires a certain level of realism. This approach couldn’t be further from the traditions of Hungarian folk and fairy tales and generally genres originating from oral storytelling, so merging these thematic and aesthetic trends is no easy feat.  

This issue is apparent in other genres, as well, not just the fantastic ones, where a given genre predominantly draws on Anglo-American culture, and so Hungarian authors find it difficult to come up with a believable story within the Hungarian cultural context. I would refer to an example here that Attila Veres brought up at a literary event in Szeged. Crime fiction is a difficult genre in Hungarian literature because—despite the end of the Soviet regime—people still distrust the police as they used to be seen as part of an oppressive force. Consequently, in Hungarian crime fiction, if someone approaches the police with trust, Hungarian readers will be thrown off, feeling that something is not quite right. 

Horror has also been looking for its typically Hungarian form before it flourished. To do so, initiatives like The Black Aether fanzine and its fanbase, a group of readers and writers, have been vital. When it comes to fantastic genres, they can’t be defined as culturally homogenous. Finding those entry points where they can be cracked open to let in specific cultural representations is a huge and incredibly exciting mission. We’ve seen many wonderful examples in the past decade. 

Guest Editors: In the field of Anglo-American SFF generic boundaries have become increasingly porous, and experimenting with different genre-bending practices has been encouraged and celebrated. How do you think fantastic genres appear in Hungarian fantastic literature and culture? What is the role of Próza Nostra in representing genres and generic hybrids? 

Steve Szabó: I’m not a fan of labels. Genres are undoubtedly useful: literary critics can describe complex ideas through them fairly easily, in the bookstore we know which section has the books we are looking for, and they are also useful in dividing passionate readers, and beyond this there are other practical uses. Yet, reading reviews one gets the feeling as if genre and its characteristics were more important than the actual text. I think it’s more exciting to read fantasy than an essay trying to disentangle the subgenres of fantasy. These categories have become increasingly hybrid. Of course, you can find buzz words to render texts to certain categories. I’m glad we can allow these genres to blend on a theoretical level as well. 

It would be hypocritical to start talking about what’s happening to the principal fantastic genres in Hungary and how they could mix and match. I would still suggest—even if it means putting some of the above thoughts in brackets—that weird/horror and fantasy typically blend well with Hungarian themes. While there’s a significant tradition of combining typically science fiction and horror elements—not only in literature—I can see fewer examples of this in the field of the Hungarian fantastic. 

The criticism of the Hungarian fantastic definitely suffers from genre fetish, and Próza Nostra is no exception, not really. The website’s tags are based on generic labels so the readers can quickly find what they are most interested in.  This is a good example to show how we think of texts, systematically. Criticism observes and thematizes hybrid genres and crossover texts, and the entanglements of their characteristics. So, while we celebrate this kind of experimentation, using the same labels we simply reinforce the genres’ taxonomy. 

Guest Editors: What aspects do you consider the strengths of the fantastic in Hungarian literature and culture, and how could they be supported?

Steve Szabó: The greatest strength seems to be—and I’m thinking about the outstanding texts that will be considered milestones as we look back at them in a few years—is that they can be topical without losing their global perspective. The majority of fantastic fiction, including the international scene, as far as I can see, is not like that. What I mean is that the way they reflect on current socio-political issues puts an expiry date on them. 

Literature and the arts have to reflect the world but I still think this is done most successfully when it does not remain mundane and it can reflect something of the human condition. From where I stand, the fantastic engages with contemporary issues in a way that it uses genre features to convey a message metaphorically, so the fantastic itself is just a shell. I can’t say this trend can’t be seen in the Hungarian fantastic, or that this is exclusive to fantastic literature, but I still think the biggest achievement of the Hungarian fantastic is that it can reflect on the problems honestly and uniquely in a timeless way. 

Guest Editors: How do you see the development of fan communities in Hungary? How do they shape and reflect changes the fantastic is going through?

Steve Szabó: In the past decade, quite a few new communities have formed that remained and developed further. I don’t know the statistics, but I feel like these groups are massively influential. They are instrumental in spreading information quickly, and through them readers can find books easily; they make it much simpler for writers to enter the market. The work of these vibrant communities comes to fruition. 

Just to mention my own journal first, Próza Nostra has had several offline events in Szeged and Budapest as well. We’ve got book launches, meet and greets, Q&As, conferences. We also have an active role in organising the inaugural convention ViTA or Világok Találkozása [Wor(l)ds Collide]. These events create their own communities.

I’ve already mentioned Black Aether. It began as a fanzine, supplying niche demands, warranting scepticism whether it’s got a future in the digital age. Yet, it was capable of reaching the fans of Lovecraftian horror, and readers of horror and weird in general. The above-mentioned Attila Veres debuted in the fanzine, and Balázs Farkas and Zoltán Komor also published there. The community surrounding the magazine has founded the Hungarian Lovecraft Society, which is equally visible in this field. 

The Facebook group, F.I.O.K.—Fantasztikus Irodalmi Olvasó Kör [Reading Group for Fantastic Literature], includes several writers, readers, editors, and publishers in their ranks as active community members.  The Spekulatív Zóna [Speculative Zone] is one of the most important resources when it comes to the fantastic scene. Bence Bukta’s podcast, Booktár [Bookhoard], specialises in the fantastic. These are all grassroot projects, they’re not backed by a publisher, it’s just a few passionate people who love fantastic genres. 

This is, of course, not a comprehensive list but I think it shows that these literary communities not just follow the changes in the field of the fantastic but also shape it, make it more accessible with the intellectual material they accumulate. 

Guest Editors: Considering current trends in the production and consumption of fantastic literature and media, how is the Hungarian fantastic likely to change in the future? What new directions do you think are possible?

Steve Szabó: Someone in publishing should be able to provide a more accurate picture since they see the commercial data. Looking at the current trends, I would say the weird and horror are going to become more prominent. This would be great since there are fewer books published by Hungarian authors compared to other strands of the fantastic. At the same time, there’s considerable interest in the genre, so I can definitely see the increase of debut novels in the field. I also hope we are going to see more volumes that reach back to Hungarian myths, folklore, and storytelling traditions. This might be wishful thinking, though. I firmly believe, however, that unless there’s a huge global crash that changes everything, I can’t see the Hungarian fantastic become tepid or irrelevant. It’s definitely coming up, strongly. 

Interview with Margit Sárdi

SFRA Review, vol. 52, no. 2

On the Edge: The Fantastic in Hungarian Literature and Culture

Interview with Margit Sárdi

Translated by Beata Gubacsi

Margit Sárdi is a literary historian, specialising in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Hungarian historiography and women’s writing. In the 1990s she began offering a regular science fiction course at Eötvös Loránd University—the first and only available at the time. Her dedication to science fiction studies led to the foundation of the Magyar Scifitörténeti Társaság [Society for the History of Hungarian SF]. 

The interview was conducted online in the summer of 2021, and translated by Beata Gubacsi. 

Guest editors Vera Benczik and Beata Gubacsi: How do you see the development of Hungarian fantastic from the 1980s? What aspects do you consider as strengths of the fantastic in Hungarian literature and culture? How can you see these changes through the Magyar Scifitörténeti Társaság [Society for the History of Hungarian SF]?

Margit Sárdi: Hungarian science fiction (or fantastic literature as a whole) has been on a wild roller coaster ride for the past few decades. Following a brief period of flourishing in the 1980s, in the 1990s writers and publishers fell into a difficult situation. There were fewer opportunities: book publishers were suddenly facing a competitive market, and magazines and series ceased to exist alongside the small fanzines SF readers and their communities had created and supported. The majority of accomplished authors began writing in other genres. The 2000s was a period of stabilisation; of the few communities and organisations that survived this murky phase, publishers and magazines were able to begin operating with greater security, providing a platform for new groups of predominantly young writers. Compared to these shifts, the changes in 2010s have been less transformative. I think these cliques continue to be relevant: it’s easier to publish if you belong to one or the other community, so it’s harder for new talent and creative practices to emerge. At the same time, there’s a growing discontent among “outsider” readers and writers, who dislike current, leading forums and organisations, and who wish to see a greater variety and diversity of writing. In the past few years, the Society has mostly felt difficulties caused by the pandemic: due to the lack of regular meetings and events, we can’t really see how Hungarian SF is currently changing. 

Guest Editors: How does the Hungarian fantastic incorporate and/or subvert the themes and tropes of Anglo-American fantastic tradition? 

Margit Sárdi: First of all, I have to admit that I don’t read in English; I encounter Anglo-American fiction in translation, so my knowledge of it is sporadic. As a researcher I regard my call to be unearthing and documenting the history of Hungarian SF (and so does the Society). 

As a literary historian, I believe that SF, just as other literary genres, is embedded in its era and responds to it, but science fiction uses a completely different set of “codes.” (This is why we often refer to SF as “hidden literature.”) The influence of Anglo-American literature has gradually increased over the past two decades. However, the Hungarian fantastic remains predominantly concerned with and responding to specifically Hungarian issues, so there might be huge differences. For instance, overpopulation, increasing crime rates, urban alienation, and artificial environments are not pivotal concerns in Hungary, so these provide little inspiration for writers; cyberpunk, steampunk and dieselpunk themes and aesthetics are mostly utilised by small groups to express their identities. Hungarian authors are more partial to the topics of soft SF. Depictions of diverse human and sentient non-human groups in future societies and civilisations is quite common, but even among these trends Botond Markovics’s (Brandon Hackett) engagement with transhumanism, the range of biological and augmented humans, or the biologically enhanced non/humans in Zoltán László’s fiction feels exciting and innovative.

Guest Editors: How does the uniquely Hungarian storytelling appear in the Hungarian fantastic, and how does the fantastic as a mode itself aid and amplify the Hungarian perspective? 

Margit Sárdi: A peculiar characteristic of early science fiction writing in Hungary is that compared to other genres’ spatial journeys, they tend to focus on time travel or exploring the future. This can be explained by the possibilities utopia can offer: in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, political factions of both sides would use the rhetoric of utopia for expressing their views (and for propaganda purposes). Utopia as a genre needed the toolkit of SF to be able to imagine the future and depict a utopian society for which the present has no blueprint, and which thus remains unattainable. This literary tradition is still strong, however, these days you mostly see dystopias in Hungarian SF, and this seems to be true for the other strands of the fantastic as well. It is no surprise that these imagined futures tend to be inspired by the future of humanity’s relationship with the environment, and as a result, an apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic scenario. 

Guest Editors: In the field of Anglo-American SF, generic boundaries have become increasingly porous, and experimenting with different genre-bending practices has been encouraged and celebrated. How do you think fantastic genres appear in Hungarian fantastic literature and culture? 

Margit Sárdi:  Mixing different genres and tones can be seen in the earliest SF authors, from the mid-nineteenth-century (SF and transcendent worlds, SF and crime fiction, see Miklós Jósika), or the twentieth century (Mária Szepes, András Gáspár). In the past two decades genre-blending has become increasingly present, especially with new SF authors. Yet, perhaps the most outstanding examples for these experiments would be more accomplished writers who work in a wide range of modes (Sándor Szélesi, Tibor Fonyódi). It’s worth mentioning that the Hungarian SF readership is not considerable enough to be able to maintain continuous support for a variety of approaches. For this reason, publishers are more inclined to group together works with different genres and tones, which doesn’t help readers to navigate these differences. 

Guest Editors: What aspects do you consider the strengths of the fantastic in Hungarian literature and culture and how could they be supported?

Margit Sárdi: Hungarian SF is often concerned with future societies, and the relationship of people and power. (This seems to be a common Eastern-European concern). Twentieth-century Hungarian SF often blends into social satire. Since many traumatic events of Hungarian history have not been dealt with, they’re still painful and present in everyday conflicts; it is understandable that FF writers are drawn to alternate histories, where they can envision positive outcomes to real, tormenting issues. So much so that our time travel narratives are never concerned with the theoretical/technological aspects of time travel—they are a chance to resolve the sins of the past, committed by us or by others, even on historical scales. It is perhaps another typical Hungarian thing that short fiction has developed and reached a higher aesthetic quality than long-form prose, and short fiction is still a distinguished form, with well-known writers embracing it and using it as their first line of experimentation. 

Guest Editors: How do you see the development of fan communities in Hungary? How do they shape and reflect changes the fantastic is going through?

Margit Sárdi: In the 1980s and 1990s small SF fan communities played an important role in rural areas and universities; their fanzines represented modernity and a chance for renewal. Current laws regulating the foundation and operation of societies and small organisations complicate things, and in the past decade several SF communities have ceased operating. Websites and the fan communities attached to them took their place, with the intent of influencing SF writers and publishers with their critical engagement and reviews. The significance of their impact was especially felt during the discussions surrounding the only existing SF award, the Zsoldos Award, which resulted in the award being split. 

Guest Editors: Considering current trends in the production and consumption of fantastic literature and media, how is the Hungarian fantastic likely to change in the future? What new directions do you think are possible?

Margit Sárdi: Whatever I say here, it won’t be more than fortune telling. It’s hard to see how social circumstances will change, and what direction the trends building upon them will take. The situation of fantastic fictions will remain to be impacted by the publishing industry and the respectively small readership, the readers’ and writers’ disorganisation, the isolation of these communities due to the pandemic, which has, for example, affected the Hungarian Writer’s Alliance’s SF Division, as well as the regular meetings and events they organised. There’s still a lack of expert criticism, and I think for a long time, we won’t see critical, literary historical surveys or public databases, which could showcase the directions and values of the Hungarian fantastic.