Representing Russian Fantasy Worldwide

Earlier this month, the annual Hugo Awards Ceremony took place at the WorldCon convention held in Helsinki, Finland. The award, one of the oldest and most respected in the industry, has been commemorating science fiction authors and artists worldwide since 1953, notable recipients including Isaac Azimov, J. K. Rowling, Ray Branbury and Orson Welles.

According to records, more than 8,7 thousand visited WorldCon this year, the majority representing the States and Finland. Strikingly, only 26 attendees identified as Russian.

The surprisingly low number raises the issue of representation of Slavic fantasy on the worldwide market, and why awareness is low among Western readers.

Of course, the issue of translation is at the core of that reason. The Russian language is notoriously difficult to transfer into American terms, and much of the pressure falls on the translator themselves. At times, the cultural rift between the two cultures causes even more to be lost in translation.

Be that as it may, Sergey and Marina identify another possible reason for this issue in the modern context: the differing roles of multimedia in the two fantasy traditions. Fantasy films and TV shows are a huge chunk of the American film scene, pulling strings behind book sales and merchandise, which is not the case in Slavic countries.

It’s a difficult rift to mend, but Russian fantasy ought to take steps to put itself out there.

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Food for Thought

“To be alive is to be vulnerable. The depths of hell are a soap bubble’s membrane away. Ice on the road. An old cell’s error. A child picks up a pill from the floor.”

– an excerpt from Vita Nostra.

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Draconic Sequel In The Works

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A few days ago, director Igor Tsay – known for his work on Day Watch (2006), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012), and Lucky Trouble (2011) – pitched the sequel to He Is A Dragon on behalf of Bazelevs to the Russian Film Fund. The story will bring to life character from the original novel by the Dyachenkos, and will explore love in long-term relationships and modern romance. The film is to be produced in collaboration with Chinese film companies.

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He’s a Dragon: International Titles

In the world of dragons, one’s name bears sacred meaning and tells tales of ancestries and bloodlines. Interestingly, the title of the film adaptation of The Ritual has been translated in a variety of ways. Worldwide, the film is known as He’s A Dragon (as seen on this page) or Dragons. In France, the title was translated to Dragon Inside Me, in the UK to I Am Dragon, and in Germany to Dragon: Love Is A Scary Tale. Which title speaks most to you?

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Concept Art for He’s a Dragon

In honor of the recent release of He’s a Dragon in France earlier this month, here is some beautiful concept art created by artist Dmitry Dubinsky during pre-production. These are some of the original ideas later developed into the film, exploring perspectives and interpretations of the fantastic locations. Is this close to your vision of the story?

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Vita Nostra arriving 2018 at HarperCollins!

20170427_123047We’re happy to announce plans for Vita Nostra by HarperCollins in Fall of 2018!

Here are David Pomerico, our editor at Voyager, Julia Hersey, translator of Vita Nostra and core member of Team Dyachenko,  and our literary agent Josh Getzler after a productive meeting on April 27th at Harper Collins.

Lots to look forward to in the comings months and years, stay tuned!

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Living Room Conversation: Henry Lion Oldie

Dear Readers!
Today’s guests are old friends and fellow fantasy writers. Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky (working under the pseudonym Henry Lion Oldie) are Kharkov-based writers, dramatists, poets and publicists working in tandem. Awarded “Best Author” at Eurocon 2006 among many others. Oldie have published more that 230 books (including translations and new editions), selling two million copies in various languages. They also published some musical albums based on their books, and a rock opera.
The topic of today’s conversation is the art of epigrams – humorous rhymes and quips – something the Oldies are well-known for. Since these are rhymed, a translation is unlikely to do them justice, so we offer a short digest instead. Here’s a link to the original interview in Russian: https://vk.com/theworldinsideout?w=page-62438024_52815647
We discuss the art of humor, its place in the literary world and life in general. It’s fitting that this conversation happened on April first, although we did touch on serious subjects, such as the future of fantasy, cinema and television – how they’re threatened by low-quality blockbusters and a lack of depth in mainstream entertainment.
Even so, hope is not lost for good art, and it’s great to talk to our old friends!
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Grossman, Gaiman, and Gogol: Harper Voyager Acquires English Translation of Russian Fantasy Vita Nostra

Cover illustration by Elena Gondik for Vita Nostra, Eksmo Publishing House edition.

From tor.com:

The words vita nostra, or “our life,” come from an old Latin student anthem “Gaudeamus”: “Vita nostra brevis est, Brevi finietur” or “Our life is brief, It will shortly end…”

In Sergey Dyachenko and Marina Shyrshova-Dyachenko’s fantasy Vita Nostra, described as “The Magicians but set in a rural Russian technical college,” Alexandra (Sasha) Samokhina is forced into a seemingly inconceivable situation: Against her will, she must enter the Institute of Special Technologies. A slightest misstep or failure at school—and the students’ loved ones pay a price. Governed by fear and coercion, Sasha will learn the meaning of the phrase “In the beginning was the word…”

The recipient of eight literary prizes and much critical acclaim in Russia, Vita Nostra has been translated into several languages. Harper Voyager has acquired Julia Hersey’s English translation of the novel, which was named the best novel of the twenty-first century in the sci-fi/fantasy genre at Eurocon-2008. The Magicians author Lev Grossman has described it as “a book that has the potential to become a modern classic of its genre.”

According to the publisher, Vita Nostra is a thrilling journey into the deepest mysteries of existence, a dizzying adventure, an opening into a world that no one has ever described, a world that frightens and attracts readers. The novel combines seemingly incongruous aspects—spectacular adventures and philosophical depth, incredible transformations and psychological accuracy, complexity of ethical issues and mundane details of urban life.

Sergey Marina Dyachenko

Marina and Sergey

This was a key acquisition for Harper Voyager Executive Editor David Pomerico, who has been building a steadily more diverse literary list for the imprint. “As editors, we’re rarely in a position where an agent is so confident a project is right for you that they say, ‘I haven’t gone out with this to anyone else—I think you’re just the perfect person for this project,’” he said. “So when you hear that—and after you deflate your ego just a touch—you are excited to dive right in. When the Dyachenkos’ Vita Nostra came to me, I was already intrigued by the premise: basically The Magicians, but set in a rural Russian technical college. But when I finally got into the narrative, it was almost as if I was hypnotized, especially when Sergey and Marina’s story were combined with Julia’s incredible translation. There were aspects of Grossman’s novels, but also a bit of Gaiman… and a bit of Gogol. The effect was lyrical and immediate, and I had to know not only what kind of magic they were learning, but how it would change Sasha. And maybe that’s ultimately what drew me in: that the fantasy was couched in something incredibly real, and yet told in a way I’d never quite experienced. I’m hoping that’s what others feel when they read it, too.”

Julia Hersey translator Vita Nostra

Julia Hersey

Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov has optioned Vita Nostra, which he describes as “a fantasy so authentic that, having turned its last page, I thought that Marina and Sergey Dyachenko somehow know everything that happened to me during the first year of my adult life. I am so grateful to them for giving me another chance to relive those experiences; with all the means of cinematography at my disposal, I will do my best to convey the magic of those times.”

Vita Nostra will be available in hardcover November 2018 from Harper Voyager.

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Living Room Conversations: Eugene Lukin

Dear friends!
Today’s guest is a very unique author. Eugene Lukin writes humorous fantasy, which traces its roots to Apuleius’ The Golden Ass and  Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. In Russian literature, this genre was developed by Gogol, Bulgakov, the Strugatski brothers, and others. Contemporary humorous fantasy in Russia, in our opinion, tends to be uninspired, but Lukin’s work is real literature: a unique combination of humor and psychology, irony and satire. It is topical, timely and poignant, and his style is impeccable. He is a real master of short fiction, which is nowadays almost extinct.

Here is some information about him:
Eugene Yurievich Lukin was born on March 5th of 1950 in Orenburg. He graduated the Volgograd Pedagogical University in 1972, and became a member of the Russian Writer’s Union in 1992. Until 1996, he wrote together with Lubov Lukina. His specialty is poetry and prose, mostly fantasy. He holds countless awards, such as Aelita, The Wanderer, the Bronze Snail, ABS Award and others. In 2015, The European Science Fiction Society (ESFS) gave him the prestigious title of European Grand Master. These days, he lives in Volgograd.

We’ve known him for a long time, and enjoy his prose, poetry, and songs. He is also a talented bard, and is associated with the ginger pirate Barbarossa, the hero of his romantic ballad. As his friends, we can allow ourselves to have this conversation with him the way we did during various cons and festivals: with a glass of cognac in our hands. Plus, the topic of our conversation won’t be fantasy as a whole, but the concept of humor as a phenomenon, if you will, from the point of view of a psychiatrist (keeping in mind Sergey’s first profession).

—  Dear Zhenya! You specialize in humor. Evolutionary psychologists think that humor serves as a sort of peacock’s tail to demonstrated good genes to females. What do you think?

The fact that Kozma Prutkov was not an evolutionary psychologist is evident from this phrase: “Don’t joke with women, these jokes are stupid and vulgar.” Besides, the very idea that a sense of humor is somehow connected to one’s genes seems to me highly doubtful. Who has always been the symbol of laughter? The jester. Jesters in Russia used to be called something like “fools,” and they were usually disabled. Even if somehow the jester was a regular fellow, he had to don a ridiculous outfit, make-up, wig, and so on. A strange way to display dominance.

However, it’s not out of the question that society (secretly afraid of laughter) could in this way be paying back the ones who carry it, though that was also often reflected by the witty jester.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a Lexus, or a company, or a bank account, how do you charm a woman if not with humor?

 Sigmund Freud once said that wit is an expression of feelings of hostility towards others that cannot be satisfied otherwise. Does this mean that you are a very hostile person?

Who are these “others?” What are we talking about, society or people individually? The thing is that society, which I hate, consists of people, who I love. That’s the paradox. That’s why when somebody starts speaking on behalf of a group, party, or a community, I begin to feel uneasy. How can one fare without a sense of humor? If you take the universe seriously, you’ll strangle yourself.  Nothing but natural selection: galaxies destroy galaxies, people destroy people. In other words, humor is a way of surviving for me. Speaking of Freud, all my life I’ve felt a sort of aversion towards him, until I finally managed to read  some of his work.  It turns out that he’s a born wordsmith and not just obsessed with sex, and the quote you mentioned is appropriate. Though the word “hostility” doesn’t seem right. I am not hostile towards society, it is hostile towards me. As they say in kindergarten, “They started it.”

Freud also said that wit and humor are created when the mind attempts to express something that is suppressed or frowned upon by society. How does that sound to you?

Seems a bit simple to me. It would be far more interesting, in my opinion, if my mind was trying to suppress something that I myself frown upon. For example, here I am, writing a novel, and trying to express my current views. But the novel refuses to let me. The characters rebel, the plot winds in different directions. I begin to fight with the disobedient text, and inevitably I fail. Only a couple of years later do I realize that the novel was right, and I was an idiot.How do you like that: the author is scared by his own story, so much that he only dared to write it out in joke format. That’s Freud’s inner censorship in its purest form.

The question, though, was about outer censorship, that is by society and popular opinion. Society, as we all know, is a huge force, especially when armed with sticks and baseball bats. In these cases it’s better to avoid being serious and tell a joke, that’s what I try to do.

—  Freud defined three types of humor: jokes, comic humor and impressions. What kinds of humor do you define, and which one is closer to you?

Being a humanitarian, I have a hard time counting to three. Dividing things into two feels more natural to me. So, let’s divide into two. We have the regular kind of humor, just for humor’s sake. Just like tickling one’s feet. And then there’s humor that acts as an instrument. It can be used for learning about oneself and the world. I think it even surpasses logic in effectiveness. Sometimes it goes into the absurd, but logic does as well! Achilles hasn’t caught up to that tortoise yet.

I’m a fantasist. As in, a person who constantly questions declared truths. Declared truths as sacred: if your ancestors said that if a bunch of sticks sinks faster than individual sticks, that means that’s the way it is. So, propagating sacred misconceptions should be done with a smile, not with reverence. Take, for example, the wonderful Asimov story where a cryogenic brain was forced to develop a sense of humor simply to keep its sanity.

Speaking of which, the scalpel with which one tries to slash at the surrounding reality dulls with time and frequent use, and then what comes out is not funny at all. That happened with some of my works, so I suppose I’m not a great comedian.

— Speaking of fantasy, I remember you at some occasion saying that “War and Peace” is the most fantastical thing you’ve read. You seemed to be convinced in it. Do you think everything is fantasy? Is anything real in this world? 

Fantasy has a direction called cryptohistory. Events in these works, as far as I understand, remain unchanged, but the underlying causes are different. Tolstoy created a wonderful world where the role of personality in history is reduced to zero. Even if the personality happens to be Napoleon. What, then, in his opinion, moves history? Random combinations of infinite and minor human actions. To confirm this, all one has to do is discard everything they were taught in school and read the book anew. You’ll agree that few are up to the task.  A normal reader is contented with peripeteia of the characters, but ignores the author’s thoughts. They’re either too bored to do so, or too afraid.

“Is there anything real in this world?” This happens to be a pretty popular topic nowadays (“you know, it turns out we’re all holograms,” “you know, it turns out we’re all living inside a black hole,” “you know…”) For God’s sake, what does is matter what we consist of and where we live? Even if it’s on the inside of a soap bubble! We live among people and events, we love and suffer. That means that we are real and what surrounds us is real. What we call fantasy is that which we’re not yet used to. With time, though, we’ll get used to them. If we have the time….

—  For us, the peak of humor in recent decades is associated with the Strugatsky brothers, with their fantastic story “Monday begins on Saturday,” as well as the paradoxical short stories by Robert Sheckley. You and I were lucky to know these writers personally. Did they influence you? In general, who do you consider to be your teachers? And who would you single out in modern humorous literature? 

I’m thankful to the Strugatsky brothers, to Robert Sheckley,  and to many others who I’ve read and fallen in love with. All of them are in some way my teachers. Concerning modern authors in this genre… Contemporary satirists inspire fear in me more than laughter. So I stick to the classics. Maybe I’m just getting old.

— Dear Zhenya! You’re a very strange humorist – most of the time we see you sad and somewhat pessimistic. It brings to mind Somerset Maugham’s quote “Kindness is humor’s defense mechanism when faced with the tragic meaninglessness of fate.” Indisputably, you are a very kind person. But how do you perceive fate? What do you expect from life and from the future? 

Why would an optimist even need humor? Something seems wrong here. If an optimist starts needing humor, it means something has contaminated his mind. Why else would he need this potent medicine against sadness? This quote from the venerable Somerset Maugham, to be honest, surprised me, and in some ways reminded me of my own motto: “Variety is the key to irrigation!”  Something seems off about this phrase. Am I a kind person? In our times, it is hard to really be kind. it is enough to not kill anybody. As for fate, I would gladly accept another fifteen years or so, on the condition that my brain remains intact. Maybe I could even write something.

___

Dear Zhenya! That you for getting back to us! We’re waiting to hear about your new works and wish you creative successes. We really wish for you to be happy. As Bernard Shaw said, “My jokes consist of me telling people the truth. That is the funniest joke of all.”

We’re looking forward to hearing your truth about us and our world.

 

based on material from vk/theworldinsideout.

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Images inspired by The Scar – courtesy of our VK fan page run by Artem Tsvetkov, theworldinsideout. Perhaps, an idea for a weekly post? 

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