Note: this article expresses only the author’s own opinion – it is neither a G42 editorial, nor a critic’s column, and has no other value or intent then purely a subjective opinion.
What would the Romanian genre literature need, in order to finally make a break “outside”? In my humble opinion, in fantasy it lacks a Witcher series, and in scifi a Roadside Picnic novel.
How that? Well, I think the first (and very difficult) step is to grab the foreigners’ attention with something so different, so exotic, it makes the readers ask themselves ”what (and where) is the land such strange stories come from”? That remarkable step has already been accomplished, very recently, in the US by Marian Coman and Liviu Surugiu. Hooray and congratulation to them both!
But remarkable as it is, it’s far from a war-winning battle: it’s just a short story breakthrough, that needs to be reinforced long-term, through novels. And in novels exotic is not that good anymore – most people don’t really enjoy reading hundreds of pages of too different. In novels, I think the best approach is the middle ground: a clear, specific and distinct “local flavor”, but also still perfectly accessible to the Western and global audiences, too.
That’s what Witcher did in fantasy: Slavic mythology and a Polish historical background, but molded into a fantasy series structure not overly unexpected, and including tropes the world is familiar with (like elves and dwarves, not Slavic at all). The fantasy public is actually quite conservative, so it needs series that are not 100% local. We do have excellent folkloric fantasy already (from Marian Coman and Flavius Ardelean), but no middle ground series yet – therefore, I think we really need a Romanian Witcher.
For the scifi crowd, much more open to strangeness, conservatism and middle ground are not a problem. The mind frame and references are, though – so a scifi novel is welcomed to be very different, but it must have a high potential for generality (at least regional) in order to succeed internationally. Therefore, the Roadside Picnic example: it is something else entirely, but it expressed a mood and a background familiar to the entire Communist Camp, not just the Soviet readers, and it was still accessible (even as very different) to people from any industrialized country. Had it appealed only to Russians, it would have been a success only in the USSR, like other Strugatski novels. Same here: we need a scifi novel very different from the Western ones, but capable to strike a chord at least into all the East European readers.
But who could write the Romanian Witcher or Roadside Picnic? I looked at the new F&SF generation from our country and readily saw seven “young guns” from which I trust at least one could (and would) eventually conquer the Western market with a novel (or series). So here they are, in a somewhat top-style order…
I. THE POTENTIALS
Some of them are not yet editorially accomplished or haven’t been published in volume, but I still see great potential in them; and since in the F&SF genre the underdog potentials often save the world(s), these guys have just the same chances for a breakthrough as the more published ones:
7. ANDREI DUDUMAN
So far, Duduman has been published in prose only with a short story, Eroi fără voie / Unwilling Heroes, so not yet accomplished is far from an overstatement. Yet, that story is so good that it convinced me he is the Romanian fantasy writer (true, the story is science-fantasy, but I feel he is purely a fantasy writer). Not only the (potentially) best of us all, but also the only one with the obvious capability to reach exactly that Sapkowski-style fantasy middle-ground I was talking about. He can clearly write a completely original fantasy world that is credible, realistic and functional. As complex as Steven Erikson’s, but without his overburdened style – on the contrary, Duduman’s writing is as alert as it is catchy. Andrei can not only write very good battle scenes and natural dialogues, but also balance them with the general narration, well-dosed descriptions and exquisite attention to details and cultural subtleties.
So, Duduman could be Romania’s Andrzej Sapkowski.
6. ROBERT GION
Till now, Robert Gion has published a number of short stories (like Inimi de hârtie / Paper Hearts, Părăsitul / The One Left Behind, În numele Tatălui / In the Name of the Father, Chipul unor zile fericite / The Face of Happy Days) in magazines and anthologies, but does not have his own published book yet. Gion doesn’t even usually write F&SF, but he impressed me with his works in the closely related genres of horror and policier. I was surprised by his perfect mastery of the rhythm, fluid writing, good twists and extremely life-like, totally believable situations. A major advantage is that his writing, exactly because of that specific rhythm, seems perfectly suited to be translated into English without losing much of its impact – unlike most of the other Romanian authors.
So, Robert Gion could be Romania’s Stephen King.
5. MIHAI ALEXANDRU DINCĂ (MAD)
Unlike the previous two authors, MAD is not a potential for not having been published – he does have two books of his own, both well received by the public and the critics (Înainte de Neant / Facing the Void and Narcopunk), plus stories in various anthologies. He is a potential for having been disappeared for a while – and I have no idea whether he’ll return to writing or not (I do understand his decision very well, though, but that’s a discussion for a different article). MAD has clearly defined his own, easily recognizable style, a heavy-impact, dense and overwhelming blend of dark (hard) scifi and horror, with a Lovecraftian tinge and bouts of introspection, but about very nowadays subjects. Once you read MAD, you will never forget MAD – and his characters and tales are already very Western, even though translating his literary writing style might prove quite a challenge. A big advantage for him would be the fact that his dark scifi comes perfectly timed into a larger, global dark scifi trend.
So, MAD could be Romania’s James S.A. Corey.
II. THE ACCOMPLISHED.
Well, of course the really accomplished scifi writers of Romania are those of the previous waves, masters like Dănuț Ungureanu, Sebastian Corn, Michael Haulică, Florin Pîtea and the most loved of them all (at least by the public), Dan Doboș. But since I’m writing about the new, latest wave, by accomplished I mean the “youngsters” that have already been published with novels (even series):
4. FLORIN STANCIU
Remarkably, Florin Stanciu is one of those rare (at least in our country) science fiction authors that are actual scientists (a geneticist). So it might not come as a surprise that his writings are deep-rooted in science, even though never technical or boring, but what is surprising is the fact that he made a name for himself with a hard scifi novel that is not about clones or any other DNA-related subjects. Instead, he impressed with a book about aliens, AIs and far future humanity speculations, the Omnium novel. In it, he built up a very original future world (and the said very original aliens), a deep atmosphere with captivating mysteries, amazing, utterly unexpected twists, strong realism and tension, plus a very believable and unsuspected villain of global proportions. The main idea of the book proves shocking and unheard of, but it grows on a rich sea of very well researched details that not only educate the reader, but also challenges him/her to think and scientifically analyze possibilities and values. In short, science distilled into not only entertaining, but also scary and credible scifi. A book that revealed Stanciu is an author that could easily write an international scifi thriller bestseller.
So, Florin Stanciu could be Romania’s Liu Cixin.
3. DANIEL TIMARIU
Daniel Timariu is probably the most prolific author from this list, having been published with many short stories in anthologies and magazines, but also with no less than 6 books just of his own, 3 of which comprise a series (Fete în roșu / Girls in Red, Amețeli postlumice / Postworld Oddities, Ciudatul caz al umbrelor / The Strange Shadows Case and the Tenebre / Shadows series). Personally, I really, really enjoyed his (classic) fantasy and scifi stories, where he proved able to master a range of styles and qualities – from good, light humor to powerful, creepy horror; but he is most well-known for his urban fantasy series Tenebre / Shadows. And in exactly that genre lays Timariu’s ability to get international, by reaching that middle ground I keep speaking about: local, specific, distinct fantastic creatures, well fitted into general-appeal hardboiled policier adventures with the help of a familiar trope, the noir detective. In the series, Daniel proves he can master the dynamics of multi-subject relationships, an extensive plethora of mythological beings and the subtleties of twilight, cross-worlds conflicts. Plus his already proven ability that’s a must in the West, but a very rare feat around here: writing series…
So, Daniel Timariu could be Romania’s Jim Butcher.
2. MARIAN COMAN
If Timariu is the most prolific in the list, Marian Coman, a journalist by trade, is by far the most well-known and (already) successful author (and editor, actually) of the younger generation. Usually wading through the muddy waters between the mainstream prose (and mainstream literary world) and the genre one(s), with books like Omulețul din perete / The Tiny Man in the Wall și Nopți albe, zile negre / White Nights, Black Days, Marian had a huge impact for the F&SF literature through his dark fantasy series Haiganu (until now, 2 books from a trilogy). Not only did it become a defining milestone for autochthonic, folkloric dark fantasy, but it also restarted and boosted an associated genre, highly successful in the West, yet mostly defunct here, the comics (BD for us). Even more, he wrote a graphic novel (serialized in magazine form), TFB (Tinerețe fără bătrânețe / Neverending Youth), also an extremely rare, brave and remarkable feat for Romania. In all his books, Marian Coman is a very talented writer in a literary sense (his prose is often lyrical or even philosophical), but Haiganu proved he can also be simultaneously epic (and build a sprawling, wide-world saga), dark and horror AF and capable to adapt centuries-old stories for the present-day reader. Haiganu’s (and Coman’s prose in general) only weakness is how specifically Romanian it is, possibly too much for the global public to get its references and undertones. But Coman is definitely more than capable to produce a more internationally palatable dark fantasy series.
So, Marian Coman could be Romania’s Neil Gaiman.
1. ALEXANDRU LAMBA
Another quite prolific author (and, just like Timariu and Coman, also a dedicated promoter of the genre and magazine editor), Alex Lamba wrote quite a lot of good stories and has already been published with no less than 4 books of his own (Sub steaua infraroșie / Under an Infrared Star, Arhitecții Speranței / Hope Architects, Cărări pe gheață / Trails upon Ice, Singurătatea Singularității / The Singularity’s Loneliness). Unlike the previous two, though, Lamba is not a fantasy writer, but one of the rarer and, perhaps, more difficult breed of pure scifi – even more, of hard scifi (he is himself an engineer). And an excellent one at that, proving capable to rightly unfold a story without ever losing the reader’s attention, to provide both fast-paced action and slow-paced introspection, even believable romance, perfectly balanced writing and rhythm, good characters’ interactions, mathematical logic and well-documented scientific accuracy; but also psychology and philosophy, morally challenging dilemmas, good twists, a well-shaped (multi-books) own fictional universe and a wide variety of subjects and characters, well knitted together. A very long list of qualities that only underlines how Lamba has matured into a versatile, but simultaneously strictly controlled writer with the ability to write a hard scifi with universal appeal. Also one quite translatable into English (like Gion and Stanciu and unlike Dincă and Coman, with Timariu & Duduman in the middle).
So, Alexandru Lamba could be Romania’s Alastair Reynolds.