For the Bulgarian SFF Panorama, I talked with Valentin D. Ivanov and Kalin M. Nenov.
There is a debate which is the first Bulgarian SF work.
Probably the best-known candidate is Bulgarian mainstream writer Ivan Vazov (Иван Вазов; 1850-1921) with his story “The Last Day of the XX century” („Последният ден на ХХ век“; 1899) where, as the title suggests, he described a prosperous Bulgaria hundred years in the future. Furthermore, he wrote a poem “In the Kingdom of the Fairies” („В царството на самодивите“; 1884) that could easily be called a fantasy.
The second contender is the mysterious author of Veda Slovena („Веда Словена“; 1874-1881). Originally published by Stephan Verkovich (Стефан Веркович; 1821-1893) as folk tales from the Rhodope Mountains area, collected by Ivan Gologanov (Иван Гологанов; 1839-1895) over a period of twelve years. Gologanov worked as a teacher in that area. The content of the book, describing pagan gods and pre-Islamic/pre-Christian myths, cast doubts about its authenticity. Today many scientists consider it a literary hoax, written by Gologanov himself.
Some people think Svetoslav Minkov (Светослав Минков; 1902-1966) was the first Bulgarian SF writer because of his fantastic and diabolic works from the 1920s. He certainly started the Bulgarian horror genre. Minkov was also a co-founder, together with Vladimir Polyanov (Владимир Полянов; 1899-1988) of Argus (“Аргус”; 1922), the first publishing house in the world specialized exclusively in speculative fiction.
Finally, there is the great body of Bulgarian folk tales, but those are usually considered precursors of the fantastic genre. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if SF&F started a decade earlier or later; all the candidates for the title of the first Bulgarian SF&F writer contributed to the rich and diverse genre that we all love so much today.
Which are the most popular SF magazines and fanzines (printed and online) in Bulgaria?
Tera Fantastika („Тера фантастика“) is the oldest surviving Bulgarian printed fanzine. It has appeared at irregular intervals—most recently, once a year—since 1999. Makria Nenov (a pen name of prominent Bulgarian fan and promoter Yuriy Ilkov/Юрий Илков; 1953-) is its founder and editor-in-chief. It won the 2002 Eurocon Award for Best Fanzine. Other paper publications active today are the annual FantAstika almanac („ФантАstika“; since 2008; 2015 Eurocon Award for Best Magazine) and Drakus („Дракус“; since 2012).
Historically, two publications stand out. First, the Kosmos popular science magazine („Космос“; 1962-1993) prominently featured SF stories and introduced a wider audience to the genre. Second is the bimonthly FEP magazine (
„ФЕП“; 1988-1991). It won a Eurocon Award in 1989 and helped discover many young writers.
The answer to this question will be incomplete without the free electronic publications that have made the genre more accessible. ShadowDance („Шадоуданс“) stands out with its active community and forum. Other prominent webzines are The Citadel („Цитаделата“) and SciFi.bg. Each of these three publications probably offers more material than any of our printed magazines. There are also A Gathering of Troubadours („Сборище на трубадури“) and the relatively new Speculative Fiction and Future („Фантастика и бъдеще“).
Which are the SF&F Clubs that have regular meetings?
The only active clubs today are in the capital of Sofia: the Ivan Yefremov club (since 1975); and in the town of Pazardzhik: the Arkady and Boris Strugatsky club (since 1974)—these two hold weekly meetings, organize writing contests and film screenings; and the young adult Lights amidst Shadows club in the town of Kazanlak (since 2003), which is famous for writing and illustrating its own collective novels; this year, they published their eighteenth book. Former or mostly inactive clubs include Terra Fantasia (Burgas; 1968-1972), 21st Century (Plovdiv, 1977-1989), Andromeda (Varna; 1976-1989), Fantastika (Kardzhali; since 1997), Uibrobia (Stara Zagora; since 1999), Earthsea (Varna; since 2002).
Which are the most important local and national SF&F associations?
Terra Fantasia Association of SF&F Writers and Artists (Дружество на българските фантасти „Тера Фантазия“) is the most active organization. It publishes the annual FantАstika almanac, mentioned above, and the Fenternet fanzine („Фентернет“; since 2001; 2003 Eurocon Аward), and records a podcast for Bulgarian science fiction (available on youtube, Google podcasts, Spotify and other platforms; since 2016). The Constellation BG book series („Съзвездие БГ“) started in 2018 and the first three volumes are already out. The association co-organizes an annual writing contest for short stories with a positive (do not confuse with positivist!) outlook and organized two Fantastival cons („Фантастивал“).
Another very active organization is the Human Library Foundation („Човешката бибиотека“; since 2007). It organizes annual writing competitions and publishes a series of humane and humanistic books. It also translated Bulgarian (mostly speculative) fiction into English and promotes it abroad. Members of the foundation are involved in various environmental and awareness-raising activities.
Which are the printing houses that publish mainly SF and Fantasy?
Bulgaria has a long-standing tradition in this regard: back in 1922, Svetoslav Minkov and Vladimir Polyanov, two diabolic writers from Sofia, started the Argus („Аргус“) publishing house—arguably the first specialized spec fic publisher in the world! It lasted only a year but managed to release six books, among them notable titles by Hanns Heinz Ewers, Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London. The brand was revived by well-known fan and writer Emanuel Ikonomov (Емануел Икономов; 1960-) in 1999, and published 48 books—exclusively by Bulgarian writers! – in the next nine years, before disappearing again. The contribution of both Argus reincarnations to Bulgarian spec fic exceeds that of any other publisher.
Bard is a large mainstream publishing house with a long list of genre books, but it is oriented only towards well-known foreign writers that are guaranteed to ensure high sale numbers. Other notable publishers are Georgi Bakalov (121 books in the Galaktika series; 1979-1998) and Iztok-Zapad („Изток-Запад“; since 2002).
Which are the most popular SF&F conventions in Bulgaria? What are their main attractions?
The Bulgacon („Булгакон“) annual national convention turned 20 years in 2020. It usually takes place in early September and typically gathers about 50 fans from across the country. The program includes lectures, films, book premieres, awards and a lot of discussions.
The other regular convention is Talasamia („Таласъмия“), organized by Uibrobia club from Stara Zagora. It is held annually around June 24, the birthday of Saint John the Baptist, coinciding with a pre-Christian Slavic celebration of fertility. This con is more oriented towards fantasy. A hallmark of Talasamia is a mask carnival.
In recent years, it has branched off into another con called Across Nine Lands („През девет земи“), which takes place in the same village near Stara Zagora but during the winter. Its conrunners are considerably younger and offer more interactive events, such as a two-day role-playing game, team computer games, and crafting workshops.
All of the above cons are run by fans. Professional festivals in Bulgaria include Comicons and various anime/manga/cosplay conventions, which sometimes attract up to twenty thousand visitors.
Who are the main author names in today’s Bulgarian SF&F?
Modern SF has many writers, perhaps surprisingly for such a small country. The Bulgarian Speculative Fiction Wiki (http://bgf.zavinagi.org/) lists more than 600 names. We will mention here Yancho Chlakov (Янчо Чолаков; 1967-), who came from a “proper” literary background: he graduated in literature from the University of Sofia. Together with Aleksandar Karapanchev (Александър Карапанчев; 1951-), they are among the foremost stylists in the genre, and their works are cross-overs of post-modernism, Surrealism, Gothic literature and mainstream fiction, with elements of hard SF. Elena Pavlova (Елена Павлова; 1974-) writes more “mainstream” SF, fantasy and horror. Atanas P. Slavov (Атанас П. Славов; 1947-) and Nikolay Tellalov (Николай Теллалов; 1967-) are the visionaries and philosophers among Bulgarian SF writers. Georgi Malinov (Георги Малинов; 1958-) and Ivaylo P. Ivanov (Ивайло П. Иванов 1973-) lead Bulgarian cyberpunk today. Velichka Nastradinova (Величка Настрадинова; 1936-) gave us the first full-fledged female character—and one of our wisest :)—in her connected stories about Marta.
We will take the liberty to add a few names of writers who are not with us today, but their books still tower above the field: Pavel Vezhinov (Павел Вежинов;1914-1983), Lyuben Dilov (Любен Дилов; 1927-2008) and Agop Melkonian (Агоп Мелконян; 1949-2006) made SF a respectable genre in the 1960s-90s. Petar Bobev (1914-1997) introduced SF to adult readers. Last but not least, writer and philosopher Ivan Popov (1970-2019) pioneered the advent of cyberpunk in Bulgaria.
Give us some names of SF&F Bulgarian graphic artists.
Vasil Ivanov (Васил Иванов; 1909-1975) was a precursor of the genre. He illustrated some of the early SF books by Bulgarian authors and held a thematic exhibition titled “Cosmos” in mid-1960s. Aleksandar Denkov (Александър Денков; 1925-1972) and Stefan Lefterov (Стефан Лефтеров; 1945-1992) were other prolific painters of the fantastic. Tekla Aleksieva (Текла Алексиева; 1944-) drew the covers of the books in the notable Galaktika series. Petar Stanimirov (Петар Станиморов; 1952-) is a leading comic artist. Many more names deserve to be added: Dimitar Yankov (Димитър Янков; 1947-), Plamen Avramov (Пламен Аврамов; 1951-), Kain Nikolov (Калин Николов; 1956-) and Atanas P. Slavov (already mentioned as a leading writer), Katherina Danailova (Катерина Данаилова). The list can go on and on.
What makes Bulgarian SF original?
Although we have writers who work in all subgenres—from hard SF and alternative history to Nordic epic fantasy and Gothic literature—it is the folklore elements and themes that make our stories unique. Here, we should give a special shout-out to a duo of collaborating writers: Johan Vladimir (pen name of Angelina Ilieva; 1972-) and Kira Valeri (pen name of Ivaylo P. Ivanov, mentioned above). They capitalize on the folklore connection and reinterpret the Bulgarian legends in the context of the modern SF&F. We should also include Nikolay Svetlev (Николай Светлев; 1953-), Nikolay Tellalov (whose novel Sun Untouchable/„Слънце недосегаемо“ features the most sweeping reinterpretation of Bulgarian mythology so far), Ivaylo G. Ivanov (Ивайло Г. Иванов; 1971-), and many others.
If you want to find out more, we’ll be happy to send you the electronic version of ФантАstika: Almanac of Bulgarian Speculative Fiction, which showcases short stories and novel excerpts by two dozen writers translated into English, along with a hundred pages of Bulgarian fantastic art:
It’s free (but we accept donations :). It’s also looking for a publisher or agent, so we’ll appreciate any recommendations.