THE FICTION OF ITALIAN SCIENCE FICTION
di Arielle Saiber
Arielle Saiber, docente di Italiano nel Dipartimento di Romance Languages presso il Bowdoin College dell’Università Brunswick nel Maine (USA), è autrice di un lungo ed esauriente saggio sulla fantascienza italiana redatto per una rivista accademica americana, di cui pubblichiamo qui una ghiotta anticipazione.
Worse, perhaps, than calling Italian science fiction “derivative”—as has often been recited by science fiction readers and critics, Italian and not—is thinking it does not, or could not, exist. Consult a science fiction (hereafter, “SF”) anthology in English, the “it” language of SF, from any period and you will be hard-pressed to find a single author from Italy. The same goes for encyclopedias of SF and companions of critical studies of SF written in English, where French, German, Russian, Polish, Japanese, Chinese, and Latin American authors are, on the other hand, discussed.
A large number of monographs in English on international SF has been published in the last few decades, including SF from Germany and Austria (The Black Mirror) and Latin America and Spain (Cosmos Latinos), as well as African American SF (Dark Matter), feminist SF (Women of Other Worlds), gay SF (Kindred Spirits), Canadian SF (Northern Stars), Russian and Eastern European SF (Beneath the Red Star), and Jewish SF (Wandering Stars). One can also find translations into English of SF novels and anthologies written in Romanian, Czech, Chinese, Hebrew, Croatian, Serbian, Finnish, Ukrainian, not to mention French, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese. A study dedicated to Italian SF in English, or an anthology of Italian SF, however, has yet to see any light.
Ask a non-Italian to name an Italian SF author, and you will get a blank stare. Ask a non-Italian SF fan to name an Italian SF author and they will laugh, pause, and realize sheepishly they do not know. Similarly, ask an Italian non-SF fan the same question and they may even be proud not to know (or maybe to know only one: Valerio Evangelisti).
And if you dare ask an Italian SF fan, be ready for a long conversation. Some people (Italians and not) may propose the Futurists, or Italo Calvino as possible SF authors, and then retract that offer, realizing that these authors’ future-related or science-related writings do not, for the most part, quite fit the genre, at least not the “generic,” Anglo Saxon one (although this could be debated, I would say the Futurists—Marinetti in particular—have more in common with genre SF than Calvino does). Others might think of Tommaso Landolfi, Dino Buzzati, or Primo Levi—who did write what would be considered superb genre SF—although not be able to name a SF novel or short story authored by them. A few people might have heard of, or even seen, Gabriele Salvatores’ 1997 cyberpunk film Nirvana, or Mario Bava’s classic Terrore nello spazio (1965; based on Renato Pestriniero’s 1960 short story “Una notte di 21 ore,” translated as Planet of the Vampires and inspirational to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, Alien). Some may have caught an episode of the widely popular A come Andromeda (1972), an Italian adaptation (by Inìsero Cremaschi) of Fred Hoyle and John Elliot’s British show. Some might think of the humorous writing of Stefano Benni in Terra! Others might cite a adventure comic books that included SF episodes, or focused on SF themes, such as Nathan Never. But even the few writers and scholars who have championed Italian SF have often done so with careful, almost apologetic terms. As SF author and critic Vittorio Catani has written, “in principio fu il Verbo: USA” (Catani, 2002).
“In cinquant’anni di fantascienza in Italia n’è apparso un solo scrittore: Valerio
Evangelisti.” While Evangelisti is certainly a superb and prolific writer, this provocative sentence by SF critic and author Domenico Gallo is, of course, not true, although it is seemingly such, given how Italian SF is characterized, at home and abroad. The editors of the 2007 SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) European Hall of Fame volume—who include a short story by Evangelisti—note how Italian SF has “rarely been garnered even the begrudging critical acceptance accorded the genre in other European countries,” and has been allocated to the “ghetto of the ghetto” of World SF (Morrow and Morrow, 60).
Copyright (C) 2011 by Arielle Saiber
I would like to thank the following invaluable interlocutors for their time, thoughts, and exceedingly generous help in acquiring texts, images, and difficult to find information: Mauro Catoni, editor of SF quadrant; Giuseppe Lippi, author and editor of Mondadori’s “Urania” series; Carlo Bordoni, author and editor of the magazine If; Silvio Sosio, author and editor of Delos Books and Fantascienza.com; Armando Corridore, author and editor of Elara Press; Ermes Bertoni editor of the Catalogo SF, Fantasy e Horror; author Giampietro Stocco; Luigi Petruzzelli, editor of Edizioni Della Vigna; and Luigi Lo Forti, Christian Antonini, and Vito Di Domenico, editors of Altrisogni. Thanks also to Marco Arnaudo, Pierpaolo Antonello, and Lisa Yaszek for their insights, reading, and commenting on early drafts of this study, and to Katharine Verville, fantascientific research assistant extraordinaire.