An interview with the Austrian writer Nina Horvath on European SF issues

Nina Horvath Eurocon 2013

Nina Horvath is a known and talented SF&F writer within the German speaking European countries, an energetic and enthusiastic person, dedicated to the European SF idea, participating to the European SF&F events and projects as EUROPA SF.

What’s your opinion on the new European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) Board? Is it a feminine or feminist ESFS Board with a male minority? Putting ladies in charge equates automatically with “problem is solved”?
I neither see that there was a problem with the old board, nor do I see any with the new one. There were already men AND women in charge, so what? Now there are more women than men. I do not think we need a rule on genders like “at least x percent have to be (fe)male”. I believe that people in international fandom have come to a point, voting for and listening to someone because they think he or she will or already does a good job or as they are interested in the point stated by him or her – and not because this person is male or female.

There was and there is a horizon of expectations concerning the new European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) Board. Cheryl Morgan was keen and swift to mentioned it, “there appears to have been something of a revolution… for as long as I can remember, the European Science Fiction Society has been run by the same small group of people. Now we have a new committee…That’s a much more diverse group than before, and one I expect to be a lot more open and proactive”. What is your opinion?
Well, a lot of people had been disappointed especially when Dave Lally, the former chairmen, wanted to give up his job. I was one of them, but well, I think it is a good decision to end working on a project when it becomes too much and giving it into other hands at that time and not when the project already has servere problems due to that. It is really responsible giving a job to someone else instead. And I guess the leopard cannot change his spots, so I do not think that anyone of the old board will completly stay away from any matters concerning it anyway.
There is a new board, all the people in charge are from different countries … this is good. More variety and probably a better understanding that the situation in fandom is simply different in different countries.

EUROCON was founded in 1972 by European professional SF writers and became a fans’ organization. What do you think the results are after 40 years?
A woman does not tell her age, but I am on the one hand not that old, on the other hand I just joined the fandom outside the German speaking one (I have been active there for over ten years) lately. So I am not the right person to be asked about the development. I can only speak about the situation in the German-speaking countries: These days professionals usually do not write much science-fiction, even if it is their passion. Because professionals have to earn money with that and there is hardly any way of earning a serious amount of money – I am not talking about becoming rich, but earn a living, probably together with a few editing jobs – by writing science-fiction. As a result, the really good ones very often switch to other genres, such a thriller. So I guess it is probably not the ESFS “scaring off” professionals these days, it could simply be the market.
But well, I am just talking about the surrounding I know. It might be totally different in other countries. Probably readers of this interview can tell me by commenting here as soon as it is published? I would really love to know more on this topic!

Do you think that a strategy concerning European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) will appear? Or everything is just perfect as it is, once a year some SF tourism and some Eurovision type awards? Do you think we’ll see an assumed European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) Board’s agenda, with clear objectives, with terms and priorities?
Keeping a project alive for such a long time tells us that it had been successful. The Eurocon is a great event and you can get to know a lot of interesting people – probably you´ll even find a possibility to work together afterwards for a project (I did so, for one example one of my stories will be translated for a Slovenian fanzine) – so I do not see the point of changing this! Of course one can always do more – but finally you have to stay realistic. You need the equipment for doing so, some money too, but especially manpower. Most fans are already giving their maximum of power for such projects for free. I experienced a lot of fans who always wanted more and more – and finally, they burnt out and were totally lost for fandom.

What could be the responsibility of the European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) Board?
I guess it is to organize the Eurocon together with local fans and to give away the ESFS Awards. Of course there are side effects like net working for everyone involved.

Is such a thing as European SF&F? If, yes, what is and what should be the input of the ESFS Board?
Of course we all know that science fiction is written in WHOLE Europe! But there are a lot of language borders. There is also much more SF translated from English to other languages than from any other European language to any other. Usually people in my country rather see an “Anglo-American SF” and a “rest of Europe SF”. Russia is taking another part. One the one hand the country just belongs partly to Europe, on the other hand they have a big market themselves. Usually we are feeling miserable being among the “rest of Europe-SF”.

EUROCON is not a service mark as “Worldcon” and “World Science Fiction Convention” (“World Science Fiction Convention”, “Worldcon”, “World Science Fiction Society”, “WSFS”, “NASFiC”, “Hugo Award”, and the distinctive design of the Hugo Award Rocket are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society. These names are owned by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), an unincorporated literary society whose purpose is to promote interest in science fiction. The most important standing committee is the Mark Protection Committee (MPC), which is responsible for maintaining the society’s trademarks and domain names.“ – http://www.wsfs.org/). The result is that the EUROCON acronym became generic and it’s used by anyone who wants to use it, religious organizations, technical organizations, etc. What do you think about it?
Oh yes! I accidentally joined a group on facebook called “Eurocon”. I thought it would be about the SF event, but in fact on a fair for computers or anything like that. But well, I do not know … were the people with the Eurocon as a SF event even the first ones? It is not such a creative name, so I believe that even forty years ago somebody else might have used this expression for another project. But I do not see such a big problem – short and reasonable names are simply used quite often.

There are 24 official languages of the European Union, 25 with the Croatian starting with the 1st of July 2013 (“The European Commission employs English, French and German in general as procedural languages”) and 38 official languages in Europe. A real linguistic Babylon! The European Union supports the inter-EU literary translations via specialized programs. What about any European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) translation projects to EU for the inter-European languages SF&F texts? What about the non-EU languages as Russian, Ukrainian, etc.? ESFS is a pan-European organization with an EU majority, isn’t it?
The ESFS has just four major languages. That is already a statement.
Does it in fact have an EU-majority? – I am not sure. And what is this majority? There are a lot of countries that could join in ESFS-activities, but in many there has not a single volunteer been found for decades. So it is in my point of view not telling us a lot of the current situation to count all these nominal countries. Or do you count people from different nationalities joining the ESFS-meetings? – Well, I guess this year there were a lot of Russians, certainly more than from any other country but probably the host.
So far I have seen no problem with non-EU-countries – and did not even noticed that anyone could have one. The last two Eurocons were not in the EU. I would not like to loose a single European non-EU-country!
But I think the ESFS does not have the means to translate anything. Probably some short articles on their activities, but certainly not literature. Not even from one of the major languages to another. So there does not have to be a discussion about languages like Ukrainian or Czech or whatever.

What about a possible individual European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) membership open to anyone who adheres to the ESFS rules?
One can get an ESFS membership any time anyway, I thought? I just think that not many people who do not want to attend the Eurocon will get this. There is also the problem of the fees of bank transfer: The membership is about 30 Euros. If you transfer it, you will have to pay another useless 30 Euro for the transfer.
Exceptions are for the Eurozone in the EU – there bank transfer does not cost fees at all. But the previous treasurer was off the Eurozone and now the treasurer is in a country that is not part of the EU yet. This makes it complicate for people to get memberships without a personal meeting.

Should European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) be reformed?
There is a new board. They will reform it anyway. For my point of view, I would see small steps more reasonable than a revolution. Most likely we do not need to make a lot of changes of the system, but improve the public appearance. We all know that it could be better. But this is no problem, it is just a challenge. And the new board should not hesitate to ask people interested in this matter for help.

Do you think that it will be possible to bring back the European SF&F professional writers within European Science Fiction Society (ESFS)?
I do not think that the ESFS should act like a head-hunter for the most famous authors – there is anyway the possibility to invite interesting writers to the Eurocons as guests of honour and hopefully they will be amazed by the idea and probably want to participate in the ESFS activities in future. Or probably nominees and winners of the awards will be captured by the idea of supporting European science fiction by working for or with the ESFS.
The ESFS should rather support new authors and encourage them to become professionals. A lot of them are frustrated as they are skilled authors, but just with little success. They usually either give up after a decade or change their genre – and suddenly an author who had just a very few, but passionate SF readers, has commercial success with thrillers or historical books. The ESFS should help SF books to get more readers – by advertising all this and making the ESFS awards really valuable (so that potential buyers will think: “Wow, it won, I have to read this!”) to prevent that scenario.

The European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) site (www.esfs.info/) is completely outdated. Should ESFS try to improve it?
Yes, but the focus should stay on the info. I do not mind about an old-fashioned style. We need up-to-date information on the awards and also very important would be explanations on the categories that even somebody who has never heard of the ESFS ever before can join the process as a delegate. This way the ESFS can probably encourage inhabitants from countries that haven´t been into the process ever before or not for a long time to join it (again).
Introducing nominees and winners on the page would also be nice – the national delegates have to send short description and weblinks anyway. Probably also delegates can be introduced and e-mails published – I have been asked by others on the internet who their delegates are and I did not know. And it was also not my job as Austrian´s delegate for this year to find out who is for Spain!
Another idea could be to offer short introduction texts about the ESFS Awards in different languages. Not too much, as it would rather bore and confuse people who are not into that much, just a very few sentences. I am sure a lot of people would help, especially as this is not literature, it does not have to be too accurate. The list of nominations and winners could be spread on national discussion boards, weblogs and in online-magazines. But it must be easy for everyone. The magic formula would be a really short, easy to understand explanation (also for people who have never heard of the ESFS ever before – and there are lots! Even a nominee from my country asked me what this is!) that can just be taken by copy and paste to have new content for national media.
There is a yahoogroup. There is facebook. E-mail addresses of former delegates are known to the ESFS. It is no shame to ask for help on small matters, like translating a very few sentences and to spread the news. Or whatever comes up. The board is not the only one who are willing to support ESFS-matters, in fact a lot of other fans are as well but don´t know how.
What we do not need for the homepage in fact is useless trash like a flash intro – this especially annoys if you visit the page more than once. Also consider that a homepage that is too modern, can only be updated by skilled persons. If the webmaster “disappears” (due to a stressful job, problems in the family … – that happens quite often), it is a huge problem! If the homepage is plain and simple, even an average person, starting at teenage age, can easily update it. We have also been discussing switching to wordpress at the Eurocon. This blogging system is free and has a lot a possibilities these days. And it´s not more complicated than posting on a discussion board.

EUROPA SF and International Speculative Fiction had launched a digital European SF Anthology in English, collecting stories from eight European countries. Why isn’t European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) launching its own brand of yearly European SF anthologies?
The ESFS does not have the means to translate stories. That´s it.
I know from other projects, I could easily publish in several international projects, but that does not support me, as the attitude is: “Bring your own translator.” But where to find a skilled person who does this for a project that is for free? – And no, authors are usually not translators. Claiming that every good author who has learned English at school can do this, would despise the work of a real translator. And is really supporting if an author translates instead of writing? – I doubt.
But I am asking: Why do these anthologies always have to be online and free? A book is still better than some data on the internet. It gives a better feeling to the authors involved, it is easier to explain to outsiders that it has real value – and it more useful for the bibliography of an author or anthologist if ever applying anywhere else.
Also consider that a lot of people download, because it is free, but hardly anybody finally reads it! I do not simply claim it, it is a fact. So if such a project should be made, the best way in my point of view is to find a publisher and skilled people working together with him/her. And the books should be sold. It is an interesting matter and people can simply pay for it, like for a ticket to a concert or a DVD. There is really no reason why literature has to be free, while other kinds of art are not.

EUROPA SF, the European SF Portal, had been awarded by the European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) with the occasion of the 2013 Eurocon in Kiev, “The Best European Website Award”. How could EUROPA SF help the European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) and the European SF&F fandom?
Yes, I am really proud that we achieved this award and I was honoured that I could receive it at the Eurocon in Kiev at the big stage for our team! – The best way to help the ESFS and any other European SF fans and professionals such as authors, visual artists, publishers, organizers of conventions, readings and concerts and whatever one can imagine is to offer our platform to spread their news. We are already doing so.

Kindly address some words to our European and worldwide readers.
Thank you very much to give me the possibility to state my point of view on this interesting matter! I have been into fandom for a long time, but finally getting into international fandom made me feel like a modern Alice in Wonderland. I have seen and experienced so many new things and got to know a lot of interesting, clever, creative and crazy people. I was totally amazed about the warm welcome I had, going to conventions to foreign countries. So there is really no reason for feeling insecure and to hesitate to broaden the horizon – none will be annoyed when you show up – everyone is just happy dealing with someone with similar interests. Let´s come together!

I thank you very much, Nina!

© Cristian Tamas & Nina Horvath

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