ROMANIA


ROMANIA
   Romanian sf is over a century old. 1873 marked the appearance of the novelette "Finis Rumaniae" ("The End of Romania") by the obscure writer Al. N. Dariu; two years later came a future UTOPIA, Spiritele anului 3000("Spirits of the Year 3000") (1875) by Demetriu G. Ionnescu (the form ofhis name used by the statesman Take Ionescu (1858-1922). The earliest sf writer proper in Romania was Victor Anestin (1875-1918), whose first novel was In anul 4000 sau O calatorie la Venus ("In the Year 4000, or A Voyage to Venus"); 1914 marked the almost simultaneous appearance of two "classic" novels of Romanian sf: O tragedie cereasca ("A Sky Tragedy")(1914), again by Anestin, and Un roman in Luna ("A Romanian on the Moon") (1914) by Henri Stahl (1877-1942). All these belong to the tradition of the "astronomical" novel, as it was known before WWI.Between the Wars the range of themes widened, the most notable novels being no longer "astronomical": examples are Baletul mecanic ("The Clockwork Ballet")(1931) by Cezar Petrescu (1892-1961) and Orasele innecate ("The Drowned Cities") (1936) by Felix Aderca (1891-1962). There were also some valuable short stories, including "Groaza" ("Horror") (1936), "Manechinul lui Igor"("Igor's Mannequin") (1938) and "Ochiul cu doua pupile" ("The Two-Pupilled Eye") (1939), all by Victor Papilian (1888-1956); a scientific fairy-tale,"Agerul Pamintului" ("The Deft Giant of the Earth") (1939) by I.C. Vissarion (1879-1951); and above all 2 sf novelettes set in India (see below), by Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), better known in the West for his studies in comparative religion; he was Professor of the History of Religion at the University of Chicago 1956-86, and author of fundamentalworks in this field, written in French and translated all over the world.As a writer of fiction, Eliade belonged entirely to Romanian literature: he became one of the nation's major writers before WWII, while still living in Romania, and, when abroad afterwards, continued writing fiction exclusively in Romanian. He wrote both realistic and fantastic fiction, the latter including some genuine masterpieces: the novels Domnisoara Christina ("Miss Christina") (1936) and Sarpele ("The Snake")(1937), the novelettes "La tiganci" (1959; trans as " With the Gypsy Girls"1973 Denver Review) and Pe strada Mantuleasa ("On Mantuleasa Street") (1968 France), and many others, including Foret Interdite (1955 France; in original Romanian as Noaptea de Sanziene 1971 France; trans Mac Linecott Rickette and Mary Park Stevenson as The Forbidden Forest 1978 US), a huge novel in which the search for IMMORTALITY is parallelled to a myth-saturated history of Romania. 5 of his writings are (somewhat borderline) sf. From his rich knowledge of Indian culture (he studied at the University of Calcutta 1928-31), Eliade extrapolated hypotheses drawn from, for example, Yoga and Tantra in a sciencefictional manner, as in the title story of Secretul doctorului Honigberger (coll 1940; trans William Ames Coates as Two Tales of the Occult 1970 US; vt Two Strange Tales1986); the title story (here trans as "Doctor Honigberger's Secret") is about time distortion and INVISIBILITY; the volume also contains "Nopti la Serampore" (1939) (here trans as "Midnight in Serampore"), in which timereversibility reduces individual lifespans to infinitesimal proportions compared to the great time-intervals of supra-individuality. The short story "Un om mare" ("A Big Man") (written 1945; 1948) is about a giant and is partly reminiscent of H.G. WELLS's The Food of the Gods (1904); it is included in Fantastic Tales (coll trans E. Tappe 1969 UK). The last 2 of his works of sf interest are novelettes written in Paris much later, both on the theme of MUTANTS: the hero of "Tinerete fara de tinerete . . ." (written 1976; 1978 Germany), which appears in English as the long titlestory of Youth without Youth (coll trans 1989 UK), is a mutant who becomes young and immortal after a thunderbolt; and in "Les trois Graces" ("The Three Graces") (1976) Eliade transforms an idea he found in the Apocryphain a cruel story about a rejuvenation treatment given to three old women suffering from cancer - they become unhappy mutants. A further English-language collection of Eliade's stories is Tales of the Sacred andSupernatural (coll trans 1981 US).Postwar Romanian sf can be thought of in terms of 3 generations of writers. To the first of these (now called "the old generation") belong Ovidiu Surianu (1918-1977), Mihu Dragomir (1919-1964), Mircea Serbanescu (1919-), Vladimir Colin (1921-1991),Adrian Rogoz (1921-), I.M. Stefan (1922-), Victor Kernbach (1923-), Sergiu Farcasan (1924-), Camil Baciu (1926-), Georgina-Viorica Rogoz (1927-), Horia Arama (1930-), Ion Hobana (1931-) and many others including Romulus Barbulescu (1925-) and George Anania (1941-), who collaborated 1959-77 on 6 sf novels and several short stories. This generation was able to publish in the bimonthly Colectia 'Povestiristiintifico-fantastice' ("The Collection of'Scientific-Fantastic Stories'"), the longest-lasting Romanian sf review, with 466 issues 1955-74 (editor-in-chief Adrian Rogoz). During its last years this review also published the early stories of a number of the then young writers (now known as "the middle generation"): Miron Scorobete (1933), Leonida Neamtu (1934-1991), Constantin Cublesan (1939-), VoicuBugariu (1939-), Gheorghe Sasarman (1941-), Mircea Oprita (1943-) and others. They continued their ascension in the period 1974-82, when the Romanian literary scene was deprived of any sf periodical. Starting in1982 the "new wave" of the 1980s emerged, the younger generation of writers who have succeeded during the past decade in changing the landscape of Romanian sf. This was a period of new outlets for sf writing, including Almanah Anticipatia ("Anticipation Almanac"), with 8 annual vols each over 300pp (editor-in-chief Ioan Eremia Albescu), and some sporadically appearing magazines and FANZINES, the most regular being from Timisoara: Helion (editor-in-chief Cornel Secu) and Paradox(editor-in-chief Viorel Marineasa). Writers of this "young generation" include Marcel Luca (1946-), Gheorghe Paun (1950-), Mihail Gramescu (1951-), Constantin Cozmiuc (1952-), Lucian Ionica (1952-), LeonardOprea (1953-), George Ceausu (1954-), Cristian Tudor Popescu (1956-), Dorin Davideanu (1956-), Ovidiu Bufnila (1957-), Dan Merisca (1957-1991), Lucian Merisca (1958-), Alexandru Ungureanu (1957-), Danut Ungureanu (1958-), Rodica Bretin (1958-), Silviu Genescu (1958-), Mircea Liviu Goga (1958-), Stefan Ghidoveanu (1958-), Ovidiu Pecican (1959-), Viorel Pirligras (1959), Bogdan Ficeac (1960-) and Mihnea Columbeanu (1960-).Another writer who, like Eliade, cannot be accommodated into this generational classification is Ovid S. Crohmalniceanu (1921-). He is contemporary with the "old generation", andas a literary critic has accompanied the whole sf movement since the 1950s. Suddenly this distinguished professor of Romanian literature burstforth as an sf writer in the 1980s - simultaneously with the turbulent young writers of the "new wave", yet quite distinct from them and from FANDOM - with 2 masterly volumes of short stories: Istorii insolite("Unwonted Stories") (coll 1980) and Alte istorii insolite ("OtherUnwonted Stories") (coll 1986).Though, naturally, each of these writers has a distinctive voice, the generational differences do have an effect. Ideologically shaped in the hard times of proletcult and "socialistrealism", then of "socialist humanism", most of the "old generation" took an illusory refuge in the "humanistic credo" cynically imposed by an inhuman communist dictatorship. Most of the young writers of the "new wave", however, despite the even harder times of the 1980s, intuitively accepted the elementary truth that a humanistic sf is an oxymoron. Thus the older writers are generally more inclined to a hollow, programmatic optimism: sweetened visions and lyricized epic sf motifs, with antagonisms avoided and happy endings mandatory. The younger ones are more misanthropic and sarcastic; sentimental lyricism is mocked, and the full power of the epic is rediscovered. The result is a smouldering bitterness, a cruelty of perception, an acknowledged auctorial "ruthlessness" that recognizes conflict and does not flinch from unhappy endings.On the other hand, there is a national context to be considered as well as the international nature of sf itself, and this to a degree binds all the generations. Romanian sf writers - most of them, at least - are seductive storytellers, for palatable storytelling has always been praised in Romanian literature. Thus the spirit of "finesse" conflicts with thespirit of geometry, and extrapolation tends to be of only a loose logical rigour (although not so with Eliade and Crohmalniceanu). Romanian sf has a native propensity for analogy rather than extrapolation, soft sf rather than hard, psychology rather than ontology; the thrill of science itself, the true SENSE OF WONDER, is unusual in Romanian sf, though the sense of HUMOUR is all too common, with parody sometimes ebulliently outrunning itsrather negligible objects.In place of thorough extrapolation is a rich harvest of allegories, parables and dystopian visions, most of them antitotalitarian. However, the best stories-including "Pianul preparat"("The Prepared Piano") (1966; rev 1974) by Horia Arama, "Evadarea lui Algernon" ("Algernon's Escape") (1978) by Gheorghe Sasarman, "Merelenegre" ("Black Apples") (1981) by Mihail Gramescu, "Domenii interzise"("Forbidden Domains") (1984) by Leonard Oprea, "Omohom" (1987) by Cristian Tudor Popescu and "Deratizare" (1985) by Lucian Merisca - are not merepolitical pamphlets or moral essays but genuine stories, though equivocal and allusive. The habit of double-thinking and half-speaking has deep roots in history, and was exacerbated by the necessity of deceiving the obtuse but draconian censorship imposed by the Communist Party and the Romanian Secret Police. No matter how heart-relieving such Aesopianstories may be, they limit their writers (and readers) to a minor aesthetic. Now, with the risks diminished, Romanian writers - not only of sf - realize they have forgotten how to express themselves directly, if they have ever known; the Aesopian mode has become second nature, difficult to eliminate if they are to face the major aesthetic challenge of their art.
   CR
   Further reading: "Brief History of Romanian SF" by Florin Manolescu, in Romanian Review \#5 (1988); "Milestones in Postwar Romanian Science Fiction" by Cornel ROBU in Foundation \#49 (Summer 1990); "About the Stories and their Authors" in Timpul este umbra noastra ("Time is our Shadow") (anth 1991) ed Robu; "Romanian 'Science Fantasy' in the Cold War Era" by Elaine Kleiner, in Science-Fiction Studies, Mar 1992.More information is available in Romanian: Virsta de aur a anticipatiei romanesti ("The Golden Age of Romanian Anticipation") (anth 1969) ed Ion Hobana; Literatura S.F. ("Sf Literature") (1980) by Florin Manolescu;Anticipatia romaneasca ("The Romanian Anticipation") (1993) by Mircea Oprita.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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