Interview with the Czech SFF writer Lucie Lukačovičová by Cristian Tamas

Cristian Tamas : ”The Czechs appear to believe that the Earth is the centre of the Universe, Europe is the centre of Earth and Czechia (Česko) is at the centre of Europe. The Czechs have no one-word term to denote their homeland and will forever have to be content with merely an adjective for their nation. The Czechs would like to be seen  as modern, rapidly developing country full of promise, opportunites and educated people ; as being not only the link between the West and East, but also the cauldron in which all that’s good from West and East melts; as if not the best, then at least one of the top nations in the world. A Czech sees himself as the hero of a novel. Not the hero warrior from old Czech legends. But … the good old soldier Švejk” – Petr Berka, Aleš Palán, Petr Štastný ; Is it just self-ironical czech humour, self-deprecatory central European auto-irony ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : Even the title of the book which is quoted here – „Xenophobic Guide to Czechs“ – is full of irony. We Czechs love dry humor, overstatement, satire, irony, even black humor. It’s our way how to deal with a situation, to make things bearable. On various occasions, other nations might have been shocked that the Czechs were able to joke about serious or even tragic events like disasterous floods in our country or about September 11th. Specific Czech humour  should not be considered as a sign of disrespect to others – or to ourselves.

Private Eye Agency Sirius” by Lucie Lukačovičová

Cristian Tamas : Any educated person heard about (and any cultivated person read, saw and listen to) Václav Havel, Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal, Jaroslav Hašek, Josef Škvorecký, Pavel Kohout, Miloš Forman, Jirí Menzel, Vera Chitilová (the Czech New Wave), Leoš Janáček, Antonín Dvořák, Bedřich Smetana, Bohuslav Martinů, Alfons Mucha and František Kupka. Still, Karel Čapek, Josef Nesvadba and Michal Ajvaz are internationally the best known Czech Fantastika writers. Why is that ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : In every art, in every genre, we have our “immortals”. They are immortal because their work is still inspiring after many years have passed. I am looking forward to learning more about Romanian authors.

Cristian Tamas : There are people who wish that America would one day civilize old Europe as Europe once civilized the old empire of the Aztecs. I admit that this prospect terrifies me, as the cultural ideals of the European conquerors terrified the old Aztecs, and in my Aztec tongue I utter a war cry against this threat to our European reservation.” – Karel Čapek ; How do you comment ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : Čapek in his essay on Americanism makes interesting observations, which I could confirm during my visit in Florida. The American „efficiency“ is about working more and living faster. „Rush, success, quantity!“ Does it mean a better life? I do not comment on what it might mean for  Americans, I only assume it’s an unhealthy ideal for Europeans.I think it’s a very universal idea about an encounter of different cultures. Learning from each other – yes. Working to understand each other – yes and again yes! But imposing one’s culture upon the other? The strength of the world is its diversity. Attempts of unification would be like importing and blindly enforcing human culture on an alien planet. It simply does not work. It does harm.

“Armida Station” by Lucie Lukačovičová

Cristian Tamas : Has Czech speculative fiction developed in recent decades in constant reference to American SF and only under the influence of translations of the contemporary flowering of  SF in English? Is Czech SF today a secondary, derived product of the anglo-saxon commercial speculative fiction ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : The Czech SF is very diverse. It draws inspiration from American authors, it sometimes even copies them (either in blind adoration, or in hope for a bestseller). But at the same time Czech SF keeps its own voice, its inventiveness, its spark.

Cristian Tamas : How do you depict for a non-fan of speculative fiction the last 25 years of the Czech SF&F ? How you’ll describe the actual status of the Czech Fantastika : main authors, books, awards, magazines, printing houses, conventions, etc ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : I’ll try to be brief.  Since 1990, the main platform for SF short stories and articles has been the magazine Ikarie, now XB-1. Recently we have also the magazine Pevnost (Fortress), focused more on fantasy, LARP and history. The main awards are Karel Čapek Award since 1982 and Academy of Science-fiction, Fantasy and Horor Award since 1996. There are big publishing houses which print SF from time to time (recently more often) and besides them there are small specialized SF and Fantasy publishing houses: Straky na vrbě (Magpies on the Willow), Poutník (Pilgrim),  Brokilon, Laser-books and others.

The Conventions? Fénixcon (formerly Dracon) in Brno, Pragoffest (formerly Pragocon) in Prague, Parcon migrating among cities, Festival Fantazie (in Chotěboř) and many others, smaller ones.  There are some authors which I would recommend, but that’s according to my personal taste, so beware!: Františka Vrbenská, Vilma Kadlečková, Sanča Fulle, Karolína Francová, Daniel Tučka, Jan Kotouč, Jan Hlávka and Julie Nováková. I unintentionally forgot somebody for sure.

“Christmas Story” by Lucie Lukačovičová and Marek Dobeš

Cristian Tamas : Is the Czech Fantastika part of the Czech literary canon ? Did you notice from the part of the literary/cultural establishment a high brow attitude concerning the „Trivialliteratur” of speculative fiction ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : Yes, classics like Čapek, Arbes and Čapek-Chod are a part of the canon and we learn about them at school. It is funny, how some teachers talk e.g. about magic realism with reluctance and much suspicion – and then the pupils find out that some of the classics can be understood as e.g. urban fantasy. Suddenly the students are much more fond of them.

Cristian Tamas : Entertainment vs ideology? Mercantilism & consumerism vs. communist governmental status (and state control & state censorship)? Private initiative vs. state monopoly? The former Czechoslovak SF vs. the actual Czech SF ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : No ideology for me, please. It can spoil any form of art. I always like plurality of views among literary characters – when I read and when I write. As to the former SF – I don’t think it’s inferior to the actual SF. It can tell us about the thoughts of people back then, it can even make us think in new perspective about our contemporary selves.

“Dark Times”, Czech Fantasy Anthology edited by Martin Fajkus

Cristian Tamas : What is the Czech speculative fiction’s specificity, and performances (if any) in the last 25 years ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : Maybe that the specific feature of the Czech SF is its enormous diversity. We had and still have very different world-views, ideas, dreams, concerns and fears. I personally like to explore “the otherness”, strange cultures, symbols and mythology – in reading and writing. But I wouldn’t dare to generalize it.

Cristian Tamas : Culturally, continental Europe is dominated nowadays by the English language translations, by the English language culture and visual entertainment. („English literature has sometimes been stigmatized as insular. It can be argued that no single English novel attains the universality of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace or the French writer Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.” – Encyclopedia Britannica

“The Voyage of the Red Dancer” by Lucie Lukačovičová and Petra Lukačovičová

Why is it so ? By the way, do you think that the European SF (and the European popular culture) suffers from an inferiority complex in face of the anglo SF and is desperate for the angloSFere’s validation? Should European SF emancipate itself from “the yoke of the American hegemonic consumer culture” ? 🙂

Lucie Lukačovičová :The English speaking – and reading – market is simply big. It doesn’t mean American literature is better or worse. In any language, in any genre, there is a good art and trash. European SF is by no means inferior. We only need to search a little for the diversity – which means paying attention not only to our native SF, to European SF, but also to African, Asian, Australian authors. For me the difference between American and European SF is like a difference between huge monolites of marble and tiny diamonds on my palm.

Cristian Tamas : What Czech SF&F titles and authors do you recommend to our readers? What are themes, the obsessions and preoccupations, the trends of the Czech SF&F ?

Lucie Lukačovičová :I made some recommendations when answering the question 5.As to the interesting topics and genre trends – steampunk is gaining ground. And so is space opera. And my secret love, urban fantasy, the literary world of modern myth.

“Green Dragon, Crimson Lion” by Lucie Lukačovičová

Cristian Tamas : Is the Czech SF&F known in Europe and in the world ? What do you think about the “vernacular” languages and “vernacular” literatures’ future ? Will they resist to the “mcdonaldization” of the world ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : The Czech SF is known, there were many famous names mentioned in the second question. And we – the contemporary authors – still have to wait and see if we can pass the test of time, if our work is remembered or forgotten. We should cultivate our literature but we should not fear English. English language should be our medium, our helper, our supporter, not our slave-driver. Via English language we can understand each other and are able to translate Czech literature to Romanian, Romanian to Spanish, Swedish to Czech and so on. We can understand each other at conventions and literary workshops. That doesn’t make our native languages inferior.

 Cristian Tamas : Which were the first SF texts and books that you read ? Did you follow the developments within the imaginary domain from the last decades ? What is your conclusion ? Has science fiction any meaning and any relevance for the earthlings ? Why read and write literature as it wouldn’t make you rich and famous ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : I started my lasting relationship with SF and F by reading Ray Bradbury and J. R. R. Tolkien. SF literature always reflects the dreams, hopes, worries and nightmares of its authors. It is a testament of the present, evaluation of the past and prediction of the future – more than any other genre. As for money and fame, they are nice to have. But good art – even appreciated after its author’s death – is a way to immortality.

“Toki No Shujin: Masters of Time” by Lucie Lukačovičová

Cristian Tamas : Do you read Fantasy ? What is Fantasy in your opinion ? In continental Europe we’re differentiating between Fantastika (grosso modo la litterature fantastique) and Fantasy, the later being mainly imported from the anglo-saxon countries, and having conquered the market of the world imaginary domain…Do you think that Fantasy and Fantastic Literature is representing the same thing, covering the same themes and tropes ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : Yes, I do. I hereby admit reading fantasy. I think that the genre has not so sharp borders anymore. Science-fantasy, urban fantasy, sword and sorcery – and they can come in a mixture with nearly any other subgenre, with horror or SF. It has a lot to say and a lot of space to develop.

Cristian Tamas : Is an European Science Fiction existing or it’s just a theoretical concept ? Could European Science Fiction be defined, does’it has a specificity and it’s own originality ? Could be promoted worldwide ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : If Czech SF is diverse, European SF is even more so. I believe it is possible to achieve mutual exchange of literary influences between Europe, America and the rest of the world. But it requires hard work. Like anything what we want to achieve.

Cristian Tamas : The Euro-continentals are mainly watching US and UK movies and series, reading mainly US and UK novels and comics, playing US videogames, using US e-tools as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Microsoft, etc, following like lemmings US trends and crazes…Globalization means Americanization? Has Euro-continental popular culture (and the world’s, too) been Anglo-colonized? On the other side, there are 3% countries of the AngloSphere  :„When it comes to international literature, English readers are the worst-served in the Western world. Only 3% of the books published annually in America and Britain and Canada and Australia are translated from another language; fiction’s slice is less than 1%. This means (at least) two things: books written in English are at an enormous advantage against books written in any other language; and “whatever language you write in, the translation that counts is the English one”. English is the floor, the language of international competition, the language of visibility. Sans English, you do not pass go. Sans English, there is no go.”

Lucie Lukačovičová : No flood lasts forever.

Cristian Tamas : There are non-Anglo European SF authors writing directly in english as the french Aliette de Bodard, the finnish Hannu Rajaniemi and Emmi Elina Itäranta, the latvian Tom Croshill,  the result being that their talent and originality are worldwide known. Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad  and Jerzy Kosiński are also fine examples of European authors writing in English. However, Zoran Zivkovic, the Serbian Fantastika author is saying that in spite of being a professor of English language and literature, he will never write in English: “I would never write my fiction in any other language than my native Serbian. It is the language of my art. When I wish a prose text of mine to be available in English translation, I rely on a good English translator”. Should one cultivate only one’s native garden?

Lucie Lukačovičová : I have to confess I love learning foreign languages. If I had the chance to meet  elves or aliens, I would study their language and culture fervently. I don’t think it would rob me of my own language and culture – it would widen my horizon. Therefore I write in Czech and in English, experiment with German and Spanish and mourn my forgotten Japanese and Sanskrit. But I respect and understand anybody’s preference to write in his native language – because if that is the language in which the ideas come, it’s not good to bend them and force them in another form. It has nothing to do with being or not being famous. It’s about art.

Zavřít okno

“Terra Nullius” (Nobody’s Earth) : Czech SF transhumanist short stories by Martin Gilar, Tomáš Petrásek, Tomáš Dostál, Karolína Francová, Alexandr Kazda, Julie Nováková, Petra Pecharová, Lucie Lukačovičová and Hanuš Seiner edited by Julie Nováková.

Cristian Tamas : Shall we fear globalization and the soon-to-come posthuman society ?

Lucie Lukačovičová : Humanity evolves. It’s our path, our nature, our state of being. Is a human being entirely different from an ape from which he evolved? There could be the same difference between a human and a posthuman. Are they different beings altogether? What do we keep, what do we lose and what defines us as humans? Could we find new humanity in posthumanity? These are questions for us SF writers – and for time itself – to answer. I do not fear the future, even if sometimes it gives me goose-bumps.

What are your actual and next projects ?   

Lucie Lukačovičová : I am working on a steampunk novel called “The Hunchback’s Wings”. It takes place in steampunk India during British Raj, the main characters are a Portugese inventor and his beautiful immortal wife, who is not a human being. It is about adventure, relationships, clash of world views and of cultures.

I am also currently at work on a novel in English, which is called „Children of the Metal Whales”, it is a murder mystery and takes place in a world after an energy crisis, far north, amidst ice and snow. I hope some of the Romanian readers would enjoy it.

Would you be interested in an European Fantastic Arts Association or an European Speculative Fiction Society?

Lucie Lukačovičová : I would. I would like to have access to a platform for exchange of ideas, trends and literature.

Kindly address a few words to the EUROPA SF  readers! Thank you very much!

Lucie Lukačovičová : The world of human imagination is a fantastic place to explore. I would love to join you on this voyage and I would be honoured if you joined me.

© Cristian Tamas & Lucie Lukačovičová

Lucie Lukačovičová (born in 1980 in Prague) is a Czech Republic fantasy and science fiction writer. She studied cultural anthropology and librarianship at Charles University, Prague. She teaches creative writing and works as a pedagogue of free-time, organizing activities for children and young adults.

Lucie was the editor of six anthologies of young authors (starting with “Stíny věcí” (Shadows of Things) in 2005) and translator from English (L.K. Hamilton: “Guilty Pleasures”, “The Laughing Corpse”, “Circus of the Damned”).

Lucie received twice the Karel Čapek Award  in 2001 and 2007.

Lucie herself published nearly one hundred short-stories and many articles, three novels in collaboration with other authors (“Město přízraků” (The City of Wraiths);” Tajná kniha Šerosvitu” (The Secret Book of Chiaroscuro); “Cesta Rudé tanečnice” (The Voyage of the Red Dancer) and three novels by herself (“Toki no shujin: Vládci času” (Toki no shujin: Masters of Time); “Stanice Armida” (Station Armida); “Detektivní kancelář Sirius” (Private Eye Agency Sirius). She very frequentely co-writes with her sister, Petra Lukačovičová.

Cristian Tamas

Cristian Tamaș is a romanian editor, essayist, translator and SF fan active within the speculative fiction domain since the beginning of the 80s.

He is a founding member of the Romanian Science Fiction&Fantasy Society (SRSFF = Societatea Română de Science Fiction&Fantasy, www.srsff.ro/) since January 2009,  he’s a member of the jury of the SRSFF Ion Hobana Awards (http://www.srsff.ro/premiile-srsff/),

he coordinatesProspectArt (http://www.srsff.ro/cenaclul-prospectart/), the SRSFF’s SF club relaunched in April 2009 in Bucharest (Romania), the yearly Ion Hobana Colloquium (http://www.srsff.ro/colocviile-ion-hobana/), Fantastica, the online SFF magazine of SRSFF (http://fantastica.ro/) and EUROPA SF, the pan-european portal dedicated to the support and promotion of the European speculative fiction (www.scifiportal.eu).

“Fantastica” SFF online magazine (http://fantastica.ro/) is dedicated to the promotion and support for the romanian SFF and the European SFF (special dossiers dedicated to France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria), the international SFF : Brazil, India and in the future special issues will be dedicated to the Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Finland, etc.

He is a member of the International Speculative Fiction site and magazine.

He is co-editor with Roberto Mendes of ”The Anthology of the European SF”, co-editor of „Bella Proxima”, a trilingual croatian SF anthology (english-croatian-romanian), together with Antuza Genescu and Aleksandar Žiljak (Eagle Publishing House, Bucharest, 2012), editor of the SRSFF yearly short stories collections “Alte Tarmuri” (Other Shores), “Pangaia” and “Bing Bing Larissa“.

He had interviewed the SF writers David Brin, Cat Rambo, Jason Sanford, Nina Allan, Gérard Klein, Ugo Bellagamba (french SF author awarded with Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire & Prix Rosny ), Francesco Verso (italian SF writer and editor), the dutch writers and editors Jan J.B. Kuipers, Mike Jansen, Floris Kleijne and Roelof Goudriaan, the peruvian-finnish writer Tanja Tynjala, the greek SF writers Michalis Manolios, Panagiotis Koustas, Kostas Voulazeris and Kostas Paradias,  Alexandre Babeanu (Prix Solaris awarded canadian SF author), J.S. Bangs (american writer), Heather Anastasiu (american fantasy writer). the scholars Prof.Dr.George Slusser (University of California in Riverside), Prof. Rachel Haywood Ferreira (University of Iowa), Prof. M.Elizabeth Ginway (University of Florida), Prof. Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin College, USA; research focus : italian science fiction), Prof.Sonja Fritzsche (Illinois Wesleyan University, Bloomington, Illinois, USA; research focus : german science fiction), Gloria McMillan, research associate (Ph.D. in English at the University of Arizona, USA), Lars Schmeink, Co-founder and President of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (Association for Research in the Fantastic, Hamburg, Germany), Prof. Dr. Domna Pastourmatzi (Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece), Mariano Martín Rodríguez (SF scholar, Spain), Prof.Maria-Ana Tupan (University of Bucharest, Romania), the austrian writer Nina Horvath, the italian writer Debora Montanari, the croatian writer Mihaela Marija Perković, the hungarian writer Judit Lörinczy, the bulgarian SF writer and astronomer Valentin Ivanov, the European Science Fiction Society’s Board; the romanian SF&F writers Marian Truță, Cristian Mihail Teodorescu, Dănuț Ungureanu, Liviu Radu, Sebastian A.Corn, Silviu Genescu, George Lazăr, Dan Doboș, Antuza Genescu, Cosmin Perța, Feri Balin, Diana Alzner, Aurel Cărășel, the romanian editor Mugur Cornilă, the romanian SF translators Mihai Dan Pavelescu, Laura Bocancios, Adina Barvinschi, the romanian film critic Andrei Crețulescu.

He wrote articles and essays on the British science fiction (“Rule Britannia”, serialized in Nautilus, romanian online SF magazine), French science fiction, Spanish science fiction, Italian science fiction, Latin-American science fiction (focus on Brazilian SFF), German science fiction, Greek science fiction, Croatian science fiction, Bulgarian science fiction, and the speculative fiction from India.

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