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Science Fiction – Memory

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Reading Italian Science Fiction

by Giulia Iannuzzi (University of Trieste)

Established as a recognizable genre and publishing label since the late 1920s, science fiction in English-speaking countries is a well-established topic of both research and teaching. Its definition and origins, meaning and sub-genres are objects of ongoing and refined debates, and it is held as a potential tool to critically investigate reality – from contemporary epistemology to society and politics, from new technologies to linguistics and anthropology, from the outer space of other planets and galaxies to the inner space of the human mind. Science Fiction Studies embodies, in other words, a broad, interdisciplinary academic field, with an extensive critical production, discipline associations, journals, prizes, conferences.[1]

In Italy, Giorgio Monicelli, editor of Urania, first coined the word fantascienza to translate the English term science fiction in 1952. The invention of the word as a translation is significant: fantascienza meant something written mostly by English or American authors and sold cheaply at news-stands. All too often marginalized within the Italian literary canon and by academia, Italian science fiction has nonetheless been able to count on innumerable passionate readers over the years as well as on many specialist publications.

In the 1950s, when science fiction was mainly associated with the American blockbusters seen in the cinemas, a few Italians began writing adventure novels under English pseudonyms, which appeared in Mondadori’s Urania series (called I Romanzi di Urania at the time), and the similar series I Romanzi del Cosmo, both of which were sold, most revealingly, as periodicals at news-stands, and were not available in bookshops. Urania was (and still is) the most popular science fiction magazine in Italy, with sales of around 25-30,000 copies in the early 1950s; of the first 267 issues, however, only 11 featured complete novels by Italian authors. Here, Luigi Rapuzzi wrote as Louis R. Johannis, Maria Teresa Maglione as Elisabeth Stern, Maria De Barba as Marren Bagels, Ernesto Gastaldi as Julian Berry, and Adriano Baracco as Audie Barr; while Emilio Walesko’s and Samy Fayad’s names figured on the cover precisely because of how foreign they sounded.Nevertheless, in the late 1950s, magazines such as Oltre il Cielo started to feature a few Italian authors (with their real names!) and Italian science fiction began to take off, with events such as the launch of the first Sputnik (in October 1957) and the first manned space flight (in April 1961) stimulating interest in the new genre and leading to the birth of many (though often short-lived) publications.

Then, during the 1960s and ‘70s, the genre found expression in a whole series of new literary publications, ranging from Galassia (edited by Roberta Rambelli, Ugo Malaguti, Vittorio Curtoni and Gianni Montanari) to Gamma (to which a young Vittorio Spinazzola and Carlo Pagetti contributed), and from Futuro (founded by Lino Aldano, Carlo Lo Jacono and Giulio Raiola) to the Interplanet anthologies (edited by Sandro Sandrelli) – by then, many authors were prepared to experiment and do more than simply show that they had assimilated the Anglo-American models.

While Galassia promoted authors such as Pierfrancesco Prosperi, Mauro Antonio Miglieruolo, and Vittorio Curtoni, keenly aware of the latest trends in the new generations of Anglo-American science fiction writers, Futuro interviewed intellectuals such as Elio Vittorini and Ennio Flaiano, in an attempt to free the genre from the cultural ghetto in which it seemed to have ended up.

In the meantime, Italian fans of science fiction were also taking initiatives. From the early 1960s onwards, a whole range of non-professional publications were printed and exchanged during conventions and festivals. Like in other European countries, the Italian market was dominated by Anglo-American products, but it was in Italy that the first ever European Science Fiction Convention (EuroCon) was organized in the city of Trieste (in 1972), just a few years after the same city had held the first International Science Fiction Film Festival (in 1965).

During the 1970s, the extraordinary success of films like Star Wars and E.T. brought a new generation of readers to science fiction, and specialized medium-sized publishers appeared (such as Nord in Milan, and Fanucci in Rome), but the genre was still largely ignored by non-specialized writers and critics in Italy.

On the issue of critical reception, the interview with Pierpaolo Antonello in Academy and the piece by Elio Baldi on Italo Calvino both throw light on the problematic relationship between the genre and the canon. Interestingly enough, in the years following the first important conference on science fiction ever to be held in Italy, organized by Luigi Russo in Palermo in 1978,[2] Italian science fiction in the 1980s went into the doldrums.

Things woke up again with the arrival of post-humanism, computers and cyborgs near the end of the decade, and again during the 1990s, with the tardy but vibrant flowering of an Italian cyberpunk movement, led by Antonio Caronia, Domenico Gallo, and Daniele Brolli, along with many other writers and activists, especially in Milan and Bologna.

Another phenomenon especially worthy of note in the early 1990s was the arrival of Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), soon followed by the spread of the World Wide Web, which enabled science fiction fandom to start a whole series of initiatives in the virtual spaces opened up by digital media.

The queen of the Italian science fiction market is still Urania, currently edited by Giuseppe Lippi and now in paperback format, but still sold at news-stands. Since 1989, Urania has also organized an annual competition for Italian sci-fi authors, with the winner of the award being published in the series.[3]

As for the other publishers, while the more traditional houses such as Fanucci and Nord (the latter nowadays part of the Longanesi group) are gradually abandoning science fiction in favour of fantasy, teen literature and other genres, the new techniques of digital printing and print-on-demand are making it possible for small publishers with clear ideas to make a living: from Delos books (Milan) with its magazines and series, to IF. Insolito e fantastico published by Solfanelli (Chieti), from Hypnos (Milano) to Edizioni della Vigna (Arese), and Kipple Officina Libraria (Livorno) with the review NeXt, connected to the transmedia group Connettivisti.

But science fiction, with its wide repertoire of themes and imagery also seems to be finding a role in literary works lacking in any clear label as to genre. Novels appearing in the 2000s, by authors such as Tullio Avoledo, Antonio Scurati and Antonio Pennacchi (see the review by Massimo Mongai) seem to indicate that the sci-fi genre is providing fruitful material in areas outside its usual specialized market.

Despite this, nothing much has changed on the Italian academic scene. Science fiction is a well-established area of interest in Media Studies departments, but the scholars working on Italian science fiction literature are usually to be found either in English departments (as in the case of Carlo Pagetti, Salvatore Proietti and Umberto Rossi), or working in other subject areas (as with the philosopher Giuseppe Panella and the sociologist Carlo Bordoni), or outside Italy, like Roberto Bertoni and Arielle Saiber. Many other critics, journalists and editors, such as Domenico Gallo and Gianfranco de Turris are active in various ways, promoting science fiction within the publishing market and in periodicals.

[1] For an overview and further reading on science fiction history and criticism: The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, eds. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts and Sherryl Vint (London-New York: Routledge, 2009); The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, eds. Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003); A Companion to Science Fiction, ed. David Seed (Malden, MA-Oxford: Blackwell, 2005). Principal academic associations are the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) and, with interests not limited to science fiction but strictly related to, the Society for Utopian Studies and the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA); well established academic journals are Extrapolation, Foundation, Science Fiction Studies, The Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction, SFRA Review.
[2] See the proceedings: La fantascienza e la critica. Testi del convegno internazionale di Palermo, ed. L. Russo (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1980).
[3] Winners from 1989 to 2012: Vittorio Catani, Virginio Marafante, Francesco Grasso twice, Nicoletta Vallorani, Valerio Evangelisti with the first Eymerich novel, Massimo Pietroselli, Luca Masali, Massimo Mongai, Franco Ricciardiello, Claudio Asciuti, Donato Altomare, Lanfranco Fabriani (twice), Alberto Costantini (twice), Paolo Aresi, Giovanni De Matteo, Donato Altomare, Francesco Verso, Alberto Cola, Maico Morellini, Pietro Schiavo Campo.
Essential bibliography

– Pierpaolo Antonello, La nascita della fantascienza in Italia: il caso «Urania», in Italiamerica. L’editoria, eds. E. Scarpellini and J. T. Schnapp (Milan: Il Saggiatore-Fondazione Arnoldo e Alberto Mondadori, 2008), pp. 99-123.

– Roberto Bertoni, Casi di ibridazione tra romanzo d’autore e fantascienza, La Fusta 1 (1990), pp. 83-95.

Catalogo SF, Fantasy e Horror, eds. E. Vegetti, P. Cottogni and E. Bertoni, <http://www.catalogovegetti.com/catalogo> (1602-2009).

– Luigi Cozzi, Storia di Urania e della fantascienza in Italia, 4 vols (Rome: Profondo Rosso, 2006-10).

– Vittorio Curtoni, Le frontiere dell’ignoto. Vent’anni di fantascienza italiana (Milan: Nord, 1978).

Cartografia dell’inferno. 50 anni di fantascienza in Italia 1952-2002, ed. Gianfranco De Turris (Verona: Biblioteca Civica, 2002).

– Alessandro Fabozzi and Adolfo Fattori, Fantascienza, in Letteratura italiana, ed. A. Asor Rosa, vol. 12 (Turin: L’Espresso-Einaudi, 2007 (1989)), pp. 344-371.

– Giulia Iannuzzi, Fantascienza italiana. Riviste, autori, dibattiti dagli anni Cinquanta agli anni Settanta (Milan-Udine: Mimesis, 2014).

– Arielle Saiber, Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction, California Italian Studies 2 (2011), pp. 1-47 (http://escholarship.org/uc/item/67b8j74s).

Giulia Iannuzzi obtained a BA and MA at the University of Milan, and completed a PhD on Italian science-fiction at the University of Trieste in April 2013. She is currently working on a research project entitled Translations and film adaptations: the creation of a science fiction imagery between USA and Italy.

Her research interests include: science fiction, cultural relationships between the USA and Italy, the history of publishing houses, relationships between literary writing and new media, and ecocriticism.

In addition to various essays, she is the author of L’informazione letteraria nel web. Tra dibattito, impegno e autori emergenti (Milan: Biblion, 2009), Sotto il cielo di Trieste, Fortuna critica e bibliografia di Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini (Milan: Biblion, 2013). She recently published Fantascienza italiana. Riviste, autori, dibattiti dagli anni Cinquanta agli anni Settanta (Milan-Udine: Mimesis, 2014).

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One comment on “Science Fiction – Memory

  1. Andrea Tortoreto
    July 13, 2014

    Good job Giulia! A Way to give, at last, academic dignity to SF! Italian SF in particular!

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This entry was posted on June 3, 2014 by in Memory.
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