#126 = Volume 42, Part 2 = July 2015
SPECIAL ISSUE ON ITALIAN SCIENCE FICTION
Edited by Umberto Rossi, Arielle Saiber, and Salvatore Proietti
Symposium on Italian SF
Valerio Evangelisti. Science Fiction: A Narrative in Line With the Times
Arielle Saiber and Salvatore Proietti. A Selection of Italian SF Novels and Short Stories Translated and Published in English
Arielle Saiber and Umberto Rossi
Introduction: Italian SF: Dark Matter or Black Hole?
The sf produced in Italy is dark matter, arguably even darker than its astrophysical equivalent. Dark matter’s mass explains a series of astronomical phenomena that are visible to telescopes and radio-telescopes. The gravitational pull of Italian sf on the Anglophone world, however, has been, so far, quite small and hard to detect.
Consider, for example, the eighth chapter of Andrew Milner’s recent Locating Science Fiction (2012), which outlines a world system of sf (based on Franco Moretti’s theory of distant reading) that hypothesizes France and Britain as the core nations of the system; it envisions the United States and Japan as its semiperiphery, and also strives to highlight the role played by Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Russia in the genre’s development. In Milner’s system there is practically no mention of Italy, mostly because, as he explained in an exchange of email messages, there has been little impact of Italian sf on the rest of the world. Admittedly Italy does not have a Karel Čapek—who imported H.G. Wells to Czechoslovakia and exported the robot. Although Italy imported (and translated) almost everything that was produced in the core nations and in the semiperiphery of Milner’s world sf system, it did not export much and thus resembles a black hole more than dark matter.
There is not one salient reason for such darkness. Arielle Saiber’s “Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction” (2011) points to numerous socioeconomic and political issues that influenced Italian sf’s development and diffusion in the twentieth century and investigates Italy’s complex relationship to both its historic past and its monumental literary tradition, religion, and aesthetics vis-à-vis the production and publication of its sf. Salvatore Proietti’s overview of Italian sf, which follows our Introduction, offers a similarly pointed exploration of the whos, whats, wheres, whys, and hows of Italian sf.
It may, in fact, strike one as odd that Italy did not become a visible light in the sf skies, given the many glimmers of sf it produced in the other-worldly pilgrimage of Dante, the space travel of Ariosto, Leonardo’s flying machines, the infinite space of Bruno, the utopia of Campanella, the galaxy-shifting paradigm of Galileo, the communication technology of Marconi, Fermi’s nuclear reactor, and the technophilia of the Futurists, to name but a few.
Clearly, the language barrier is a major obstacle. Not many English-language sf scholars, writers, readers, and fans can read Italian, and most of the printed matter produced in Italy under the genre label fantascienza [sf] has never been translated into English. It should be noted, by the way, that the term for sf in Italy—coined in the early 1950s—is one of the few translations of “science fiction” that puts the “fantasy/fantastic fiction” before the “science” (for a survey of the term in other languages, see Saiber ). This term may have emerged due to the continuing influence of Crocean ideology, which valued Italy’s humanistic tradition above that of the scientific.
The website Translated SF, for example, only lists eleven Italian authors, among whom are Lino Aldani, Valerio Evangelisti, Dino Buzzati, Renato Pestriniero, and Gianni Montanari—but neither Italo Calvino nor Primo Levi (whose works have been translated into English) are mentioned—and for each author only a few short stories are listed (only one each for Evangelisti and Montanari). Aldani fares slightly better, with a few stories; Buzzati, who mostly wrote densely allegorical realistic and fantastic fiction, is by far the luckiest writer on the list, with his only sf novel, Larger Than Life (1960), and three short story collections mentioned. Larger online databases such as ISFDB or The Locus Index to SF have yielded other titles, but the number of untranslated Italian sf works remains quite conspicuous.
Italian writers have been more successful in other foreign markets: French readers, for example, have had the opportunity to enjoy Valerio Evangelisti’s ten-volume Eymerich cycle (1993-2010). Collections by Lino Aldani, considered the father of Italian sf, have been published in Japanese, German, Russian, Romanian, Spanish, and Polish; but these languages do not, as we know, play the same role as does English in the global fiction market, the material correlative of Milner’s world sf system.
The lack of translations can be explained in turn by the particular situation of Italian sf in the publishing industry and market: the largest Italian publishing house, Mondadori, mostly published US, UK, and occasionally Russian or French sf, often (between the 1950s and mid-1980s) in shortened versions, cut to fit the format of Urania,1 a paperback series sold on newsstands that is both the longest-running and the most renowned sf publication in Italy. A better treatment was given to authors whose literary stature was acknowledged, such as Ray Bradbury (whose Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 were not published in Urania but marketed as general fiction). Mondadori—the largest Italian publishing corporation—had the means to support the launch of Italian sf writers at home and onto the world market, but for a long time (at least until 1989, with the birth of the Premio Urania for Italian sf novels) it did not.
This resistance to publishing Italian authors of sf is epitomized in the infamous pronouncement in the 1960s by the editor of Urania, Carlo Fruttero—who, by the way, wrote occasional sf under a variety of pseudonyms. When asked in an interview why Mondadori’s Urania rarely if ever included works by Italian authors, he replied, “what, you think a flying saucer would land in Lucca?” (Lucca being a tiny, medieval, walled town).2 Italians, he believed, were too insular and provincial to write good sf. If, he posed, a flying saucer did land in an Italian village (instead of an American desert or a metropolis such as Tokyo) what would ensue would be an uninteresting chain of bureaucratic events that would not lead to a very good story:
A flying saucer lands, fishermen or farmers arrive. Whom do they warn? The FBI? No, they go to thepolice chief. Then, from there, they call the mayor. The mayor gets in his Seicento [car] and runs to the Prefect, and one sees right away that the dramatic situation fails; it becomes a sketch of local life that might have some amusing aspects to it, maybe some quaint, folkloristic elements, but no dramatic force.… 3
As a result, until the mid-1960s many of the Italian sf writers who did get published hid behind foreign-sounding, especially American names (see the study of the “age of alias” in Saiber [14-15]), sometimes even pretending their work had been “translated” into Italian by someone else. By the 1970s, however, presses specializing in sf and enthusiastic about publishing Italian authors emerged; a number of these presses continue today, such as the mid-sized Nord, Fanucci, Armenia, and Elara (formerly Libra and then Perseo), followed by smaller ones that appeared in the 1980s, such as ShaKe and Solfanelli. In the 2000s, Delos (a small publisher with a good distribution) and a number of presses that sell their books primarily online have emerged: Edizioni Della Vigna, Hypnos, Kipple, Zona 42, and Future Fiction/Mincione. Few of the books coming from these publishers, however, are known internationally.
The current predicament of sf publishing, moreover, is such that the priority for presses, magazines, and series is survival, not exporting Italian sf abroad. Urania sold between 40,000 and 60,000 copies in 1980 (Iannuzzi 67); today’s average sales are remarkably lower and its budget has been heavily reduced; other magazines have simply disappeared. Small, specialized publishers are in dire straits, such as Delos Books’ main sf series, Odissea Fantascienza, which started with print runs of 2,500 in 2005 (not a mean feat in the Italian book market) but now sells about 700 copies per title. The press has managed to survive the crisis thanks to ebooks (with at least one novel, the Italian translation of Tom Godwin’s The Survivors , selling 3,000 copies, an impressive figure for ebooks sold in Italy).4 Printed sf—whether homegrown or coming from abroad—is a niche market with a dwindling readership, thus it is no wonder that even major publishers are not particularly interested in finding foreign markets for Italian practitioners. When something manages to exit the black hole of Italy, it is more often thanks to the skills of enterprising literary agents and/or the authors themselves: this is the case of Urania and Odissea prize winner Francesco Verso, whose 2013 novel Livid (published with Delos) has just been published in Australia by Xoum Press, or Dario Tonani (another Urania author) whose novel Mondo 9 (originally published with Delos) was published in Japan by C-Light Publishing in 2014.
The international networks of organized fandom have also played a role in the sporadic cases of Italian sf translated into English. One example is Roberto Quaglia, who was vice-chairman of the European Science Fiction Society and won the 2009 BSFA Award for short fiction with “The Beloved Time of Their Life,” co-written with Ian Watson. Contacts between writers have also brought about occasional translations of Italian sf into English, as in the case of Renato Pestriniero’s short stories “The People in the Painting” (1972) and “Espree” (1983), both translated by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Last but not least, one has to wonder whether the English-language publishing industry has a real interest in the sf produced in non-English speaking countries (including Italy): translations may have been discouraged by their costs, not to mention those cultural/literary differences which may have led English-language editors to deem Italian sf not suitable for the English-language market.
The lack of academic interest in sf in Italy also contributes to the low profile of Italian sf. There have, however, been lights in this darkness. Carlo Pagetti, Professor of English literature at the University of Milan, was an early and regular contributor to SFS and later a consultant with SFS; author and scholar Nicoletta Vallorani teaches sf at the University of Milan; scholar Daniela Guardamagna has published on dystopia; and there have been other academics who have occasionally published on and taught sf, such as Alessandro Portelli and Armando Gnisci at the Sapienza University of Rome; Vita Fortunati and Raffaella Baccolini in Bologna; and a few more from different fields. In 1978, Italy hosted an international conference at the University of Palermo that was a milestone of sf theory and scholarship, the proceedings of which were published in 1980 by the mainstream press Feltrinelli. Browsing the table of contents of that book, La fantascienza e la critica [Science Fiction and Literary Criticism], edited by Luigi Russo, one finds the names of Darko Suvin, Jean Baudrillard, Carlo Pagetti, Marc Angenot, Brian W. Aldiss, Fredric Jameson, Peter Fitting, John Fekete, and others. Also included are contributions by Mario Perniola, Gillo Dorfles, Ugo Volli, Danilo Mainardi, Giorgio Celli, Lucio Lombardo Radice, and Ida Magli—important intellectuals in Italy, coming from such diverse fields as cultural anthropology, ethology, semiotics, and art history.
The late 1970s and early 1980s was a time when sales of sf were at their peak and several specialized publishing houses managed to thrive; it was a time when sf promised to be the cutting edge of literary innovation. There were magazines (such as Robot) that hosted non-academic critical endeavors and (sometimes heated) debates about the genre, its nature, its borderlines, and its perspectives; and there were figures—such as Carlo Pagetti—who strove to bridge the gap between academic and non-academic criticism by writing important introductions to Italian editions of fundamental sf works (e.g. Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle  and The Simulacra ).
Yet even with all this impetus in the 1970s and 1980s, sf remained a generally neglected field in Italian Studies, cultivated more often by the americanisti and anglisti [scholars of American and English literature] than by the italianisti [scholars of Italian literature]. It is not surprising, then, that two of the editors of this special issue (Rossi and Proietti) earned their degrees as American Studies scholars. Even though crime fiction has recently entered the academic arena of the italianisti (due in part to the staggering success, at home and abroad, of the Italian giallo [crime fiction]), Italian fantascienza remains a little known, seldom studied, and rarely taught form of literature in Italy; it fares better in the US and UK, but only slightly.
As Galileo is said to have pronounced during his trial for heresy, however, eppur si muove: and yet it [the earth] moves. This special issue confirms that, unearthing what lies behind the Italian event horizon: more than a hundred years of literary history. The articles, symposium pieces, and bibliography we have gathered for this special issue cast more light on the “matter” of Italian sf, and, we hope, they will do something physicists would say cannot be done: free it from its life in a black hole.
Following Proietti’s overview of Italian sf is the Symposium, for which nine contributors—Italian writers, editors, and scholars—have responded to our questions: how would you describe Italian sf, past and/or present, and what are your thoughts about its future? Their reflections convey a full range of reactions: exasperation regarding the lack of publishing venues past and present and the particularly heavy prejudice against the genre in and outside of academia; frustration with the ever-present obstacle of translation; impatience with much of twentieth-century Italy’s slowness to embrace—or outright resistance to—technoscience; both pride and anger when considering Italy’s great humanistic tradition and how it has shaped Italian sf; nostalgia for the 1960s and 1970s sf boom in Italy; enthusiasm for the small, current sf scene in Italy; tentative optimism for Italian sf’s future in and outside of Italy; and proposals for how to support Italian sf writers and see to the genre’s promotion as it takes on new flavors, styles, and media.
Following the Symposium is Domenico Gallo’s article on Italian sf outside the ghetto—that is, fiction that presents as sf written by authors not associated with the genre and published by non-specialized presses as general, literary fiction. Gallo shows that there was a moment, especially after the Italian Boom (the post-war economic “miracle” from the 1950s though early 1960s) in which several important writers (such as Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, and Guido Morselli) used sf conventions and tropes to grasp what was changing in Italian society.
Roberta Mori’s essay follows Gallo’s, focusing on chemist, author, and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, revealing Levi’s embrace of fantascienza both as a reader and writer. Mori explores Levi’s dystopian visions as deeply reflective of his time in Auschwitz and the war but also shows how influenced Levi was by sf critiques of mass media, urban culture, and accelerating technology.
The following two articles explore recent Italian sf. Luca Somigli tackles Black Flag (2002), a novel by the most popular sf author between 1995 and 2010, Valerio Evangelisti. Like all of Evangelisti’s sf output, Somigli shows, this novel is a hybridized narrative drawing from sf, and also from horror, fantasy, and the historical novel, with a strong political component that implicates the novelist—as well as the historian—in the context in which he conducts his research, so that both the reconstructed past and the projected future in Evangelisti’s fiction ultimately cast light on the reader’s present. Simone Brioni discusses Enrico Brizzi’s Epopea fantastorica italiana [The Italian Fantahistorical Epic], a fascinating and important three-volume alternate history depicting Italy as it might have been if Mussolini and Fascism had survived after WWII. As Brioni shows, Brizzi tries to come to terms with Italian colonialism, this oft-neglected page of Italian history, and while doing so articulates a multilayered analysis and criticism of Silvio Berlusconi and his impact on Italian society.
Italian sf cinema is less dark a matter than Italy’s printed sf—Italian film scholars and viewers have always been more open to genre production than the Italian literati. Even though many specimens of Italian cinematic sf belong to the humbly glorious category of B-movies, many have been released abroad and are easily available (with subtitles) in our digital era. Moreover, a renewed attention has been devoted to the Italian film industry of the 1960s and 1970s, so that certain films—say, Elio Petri’s Robert Sheckley-inspired The 10th Victim (1965), Mario Bava’s 1965 Planet of the Vampires (based on a 1960 short story by Pestriniero, “Night of the Id,” and which likely influenced Alien ), Ubaldo Ragona’s Matheson-inspired The Last Man on Earth (1964), Enzo G. Castellari’s Carpenteresque 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982), and Gabriele Salvatores’s cyberpunk film Nirvana (1997)—are often discussed in scholarly monographs or essays or in academic forums around the world. Perhaps it is not a coincidence, then, that the two essays we have included on Italian sf cinema have been written by US scholars, Robert Rushing and Eliot Chayt. Rushing’s essay considers a cluster of films in which the clash between Italian society and modernity is represented in sf terms, and he carries out a comparative analysis drawing from the biopolitical theories formulated by Giorgio Agamben and Roberto Esposito. Chayt revisits films of the late 1960s and early 1970s in which the discontents of Italian culture after the Boom are anamorphically represented in an sf context with an artistic stance that runs parallel to the mythical approach chosen by such major filmmakers as Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
While the picture of sf in Italy, past and present, offered by the contributions to this issue is rich, it is, inevitably, far from complete. There are numerous authors, novels, stories, and films that deserve critical attention in English (as well as in Italian) that could have been included in this special issue had there been the time and space. We look forward to seeing continued work from Giulia Iannuzzi on the history of publishing Italian sf; work on the masterful alternate history by Guido Morselli Past Conditional (1975); studies on the multifarious authors-translators-editors Vittorio Curtoni and Gianni Montanari and the important role they played in a crucial decade of Italian sf, the 1970s; discussion of Tullio Avoledo, who has written sf sold as mainstream fiction by a major non-specialized publishing house, Einaudi; investigations into the sf collectives of the last decade such as the Connettivisti and Kai Zen; and so on.
There are a great many other questions worth exploring: such as the notable presence of women writers in Italian sf since its inception, the relationship between Italian sf and the Church, the nature of the sf produced by the extreme left (such as the group Un’ambigua utopia [An Ambiguous Utopia] in the 1970s) and the extreme right, and the current tendency toward noir and horror in many Italian sf authors. Italian comics also deserve attention, as there have been several Italian stars of sequential art who have produced excellent sf works or series, such as Tanino Liberatore and Stefano Tamburini, whose RanXerox (1983) was also published in the US by Heavy Metal magazine.
This special issue is, of course, only a beginning, but an auspicious beginning as it marks the first time a special issue on Italian sf has been published in a US academic journal. Soon, Saiber and Giuseppe Lippi (current editor of Urania) will further help open up Italian sf to international readers and scholars with the first anthology in English devoted to Italian sf from Wesleyan University Press. The cat is out of the bag, or rather, its black hole.
1. We should add that, until the mid-1960s, cuts were made not just in Urania but also in the other newsstand series published by Mondadori: the format was actually established with the Giallo Mondadori (a crime novel series, still in print), then Urania; other sf series simply followed suit.
2. This statement (“ma ve lo immaginate un disco volante che atterra a Lucca?”) has been repeatedly cited as something said by the editors of Urania, Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, at an interview during a conference on comics in Lucca sometime in the 1960s, although some accounts state that it was said by Fruttero before Lucentini joined Urania.
3. This is translated from a 1960s interview on Italian television with Carlo Fruttero. The video of this interview was on the website Fantascienza.com in 2011 but is no longer available. The interview has been reposted, in part, at Salonelibro.it. The majority of the part translated is at 2:45-3:01.
4. We thank Silvio Sosio, the president of Delos Books and Delos Digital, for having kindly provided us with data about their sales in an exchange on 17 Apr. 2015.
The three coeditors of this special issue would like to thank the trailblazing contributors to this exploration of Italian sf and the external readers who generously gave their time and feedback. We would also like to express our immense gratitude to Sherryl Vint for her superb editorial know-how and the other extraordinary editors at SFS for making this project possible.
1990: I guerrieri del Bronx [1990: The Bronx Warriors]. Dir. Enzo G. Castellari. Perf. Vic Morrow, Christopher Connelly, Fred Williamson, Betty Dessy, Mark Gregory, Stefania Girolami. Deaf International Film, 1982.
Fruttero, Carlo. Interview. Salonelibro.it. Online. 15 Apr. 2015.
Iannuzzi, Giulia. Fantascienza italiana: Riviste, autori, dibattiti, dagli anni Cinquanta agli anni Settanta. Milan: Mimesis, 2014.
La decima vittima [The Tenth Victim]. Dir. Elio Petri. Perf. Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress. Compagnia Cinematografica Champion, 1965.
L’ultimo uomo della Terra [The Last Man on Earth]. Dir. Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkow. Perf. Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart. 20th Century Fox, 1964.
Milner, Andrew. Locating Science Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2012.
─────. Email to Umberto Rossi. 20 Aug. 2014.
Nirvana. Dir. Gabriele Salvatores. Perf. Christopher Lambert, Diego Abantantuono,Stefania Rocca. Vittorio Cecchi Gori, 1997.
Pestriniero, Renato. “Une notta di 21 ores.” 1960. Trans. Joe F. Randolph as “Night of the Id.”Different Realities 4 (1998): 3-14.
Russo, Luigi, ed. La fantascienza e la critica: Testi del convegno internazionale di Palermo. Milan: Feltrinelli, 1980.
Saiber, Arielle. “Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction.” California Italian Studies 4.1 (2014): 1-47.
Terrore nello spazio [Planet of the Vampires]. Dir. Mario Bava. Perf. Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell. Italian International Film, 1965.
Tonani, Dario. Mondo 9. Trans. Koji Kubo. Tokyo: C-Light Publishing, 2014.
Verso, Francesco. Livid. Trans. Sally McCorry. Sydney: Xoum, 2014.
The Field of Italian Science Fiction
On Italy, Inadequacy, and Philology. In summer 2014, the Italian edition of Wired concluded an sf issue with a delicious one-page cartoon by one of Italy’s best graphic novelists, Zerocalcare (nom de plume of Michele Rech). In three strips, Zerocalcare addresses “the lesson” of sf prophecies: Jules Verne’s flying machines and Internet mystique have become bureaucratic “routine,” and so will teleportation and space flight, with people fumbling over change for transport machines and hopelessly looking for a parking spot in orbit, wondering whether Ostia (Rome’s seaside resort, portrayed by Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini as the epitome of Italian rundown quotidianness) would have been a better choice. The final caption concludes, in Roman vernacular: “Let’s learn the lesson of sf. We’ve been there before. Let’s not fall once again for that enthusiasm.”1 Zerocalcare’s humor summarizes the predicament of Italian sf: we are talking about a country that steadfastly refuses to perceive itself as technologically saturated, whose culture seems to reject a priori the idea of imagining the future as change. Italy is a nation that imagines itself as a community that has seen the future and knows it will not work.
In reading Italian sf, I am also tempted to hypothesize, with Istvan Csicsery-Ronay’s “Dis-Imagined Communities” in mind, that as a rule it is a very “de-nationalized” tradition, oscillating between the extremely local2 and the cosmopolitan, with Italy as a whole appearing only as a site of social collapse or as a general marker of collective inadequacy vis-à-vis the rest of the world or the future.
Italian sf is frequently stigmatized as derivative, as if awareness of sf’s megatext were an indication of the nefarious growing “Americanization” of Italy’s culture. As early as the 1960s, writers attempted to counter this rejection through hybridization with the mainstream (but genre specialization remained the exception, not the rule) and a stress on the “engaged” side of their work. Evidently, though, both strategies have been deemed inadequate to the task: according to Italian tastemakers, the relative autonomy of the genre (see Luckhurst) appears incompatible with the nation’s essence, acceptance of individual figures occurring at the expense of connection with the overall scene (see Milner 72).
“Italian” is a tenuous concept, retrospectively constructed (with language and literature as crucial tools) during the nation-building process. Italy was unified only between 1861-1870, and internal regional boundaries (especially the North-South divide) remained so strong that one could think of it as a multicultural society, which many resisted (xenophobia is now rampant). Further, the history of prose writing in a language shared by all Italians is not as long as it may appear; local dialects and a very high illiteracy rate have meant that Italian was spoken nation-wide only after WWII, and “Italian literature” was written in an elevated poetic diction, distant from everyday speech, a situation which began to change very gradually only after 1900.
Scholars cite many reasons for sf’s marginality in Italian culture (see Antonello, Saiber, and the Symposium in this issue). The list ranges from Fascism’s cultural nationalism (with its appeal to past glory); to enduring conservative stances in the Catholic Church (notwithstanding the defeat of Vatican-sponsored referendums to repeal legislation on divorce and abortion);3 to the prescriptive influence of Benedetto Croce’s post-Romantic aesthetics, which mistrusted science and excluded a priori the very notion of genre; to a Left still imbued with Zhdanovian didacticism and later all too eager to embrace Theodor Adorno with his emphasis on alienation as the only significant trait of modernity.
Adorno-inspired jeremiads against modern barbarism and the closing of the Italian mind have flowed steadily in the last sixty years, coming from all areas of the cultural arena. In numerous essays, Umberto Eco talks about those Italian “apocalyptic” theorists, for whom “mass culture” is a “gradual, uniform bombardment of information, where the different contents are leveled and lose their differences,” announcing no less than the “end of the world” (136). I would connect this attitude with what David Forgacs has called “anti-utopian retrenchment” in late twentieth-century Italy, whose onset could be pushed back to the Cold War decades, during which advancements in material quality of life and, later, workers’, students’, and women’s movements were accompanied by threats of Neofascist coups in the 1960s and by the political violence of Left terrorism (which regarded those movements as naive and/or complicit in petit-bourgeois self-delusions), countered in the late 1970s by extremely anti-civil-libertarian legislation. Can there be sf in a cultural milieu overwhelmed by an aesthetic rejection of storytelling and by the longing for a lost Gemeinschaft? This has been and is the challenge for sf writers in Italy.
In Italy’s culture wars, reactions against Italo Calvino are telling: his Cosmicomics (1965) was first attacked as allied to all evils of modernity—the scientific worldview seen as one with consumerism and the destruction of nature (see Bucciantini), and later his whole oeuvre was denounced as navel-gazing, ludic postmodernism (see Re). It should be kept in mind that, in all their diversity, jeremiads and retrenchments were/are laments for a single projected Italy (the rural world, the Resistance, the “political” 1960s-70s) in which a single social agent could be construed as incarnating authentic/antagonistic values (peasants, unskilled assembly-line workers, students), untainted by contact with bourgeois lures. For many activists, the 1980s were indeed the end of history, which was only confirmed by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power in the 1990s. For a while, cyberpunk subcultures seemed to provide new material to the “pure”-subject myth, embracing Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard (Donna Haraway not so much) as heralds of revolutionary determinism. The genre proved inadequate to Italy’s version of the sf of theory, and around 2000 the generalist press announced the “death of sf” with an intensity unrivaled elsewhere.
To grapple with novelty in an oppositional way, Pasolini said in the early 1970s, an “other culture” must be “virgin”: under contemporary hedonism and consumerism, this can never be possible (691-2). Calvino’s highly syncretic picture of Italy, described in a 1961 lecture as an outstanding source of inspiration for novelists, included no such rhetoric of purity:
a country of contradictions, ... Italy is today in part a very modern, industrialized country, with a high level of prosperity, in part an archaic, immobile, very poor country.... We have within our grasp Detroit and Calcutta, everything mixed together, North and South, advanced technology and depressed areas, and the most diverse ideologies coexist, contaminate, and cling to each other. (80)
Italy’s uneven material conditions meant that many obvious features of Western everyday life were not available to all citizens until the 1970s (including a nationwide heating network and fully equipped kitchens, not to mention color television). Italy’s stint at big science and high-tech, dwindling at some point in the 1960s (with Olivetti as a site of both research and utopian hopes), was coeval with the Italian discovery of sf.
In the early 1960s, science’s and sf’s modernity had become threatening to monolithic myths of Italianness, and brilliant crime-fiction writers Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini, editors of Italy’s foremost series Urania (then at its peak sales), imposed a ban on Italian authors; in Fruttero’s infamous claim, a flying saucer would never land in Lucca (see the interview discussed in Saiber). Italy’s beloved provincialism had to be defended, and only English-language authors (in abridged translations, and with a growing hostility to the New Wave) could be allowed in. This exclusionary gatekeeping was broken in the 1970s by venues edited by competent connoisseurs, and from this point until around 2000 Italian readers had access to a comprehensive range of translated sf. Still, an opportunity had been missed, and niche markets were never fully able to counter the cloak of invisibility imposed by holders of cultural capital. Cosmopolitanism was among the stakes in one of the most spirited polemics in the magazine Robot, in which a young writer denounced the lingering ruralism of many Italian stories, especially when authors tried to gesture towards the mainstream (see Giambalvo): can Italian sf come closer to literature only by recoiling towards its own past?
In the formative decades, American Studies, not Italian, was the discipline paying the closest attention to sf. Born outside of the academy thanks to a few anti-Fascist and highly heretical Marxist intellectuals, the dominant figures in the academic discipline were both “progressive by tradition and committed to modernity” (Izzo 591), open to non-canonical culture. I strongly agree with Izzo that Italian sf studies needs “philology,” not as old-fashioned pedantry but as critical scholarship, as “the need to confront the historically specific ‘otherness’ of each individual other in its resistant linguistic texture and minute materiality” rather than “the increasing tendency … to produce reductionist travesties of ‘the other’ in the guise of sweeping generalization, reified essentialization, or assimilated self-extension” (599). This is my aim in this overview:4 not definitiveness (in name-listing and individual assessments) but rather an attempt to sketch a history without a teleology (let alone an end), with centers and peripheries that do not erase each other, following chronology but sometimes deviating from it, without taking one strand as representative of the whole, accepting the field as multi-faceted and complex.
Proto-Fantascienza. At the turn of the century, most sf classics (not only Jules Verne and H.G. Wells but also Edward Bellamy, Albert Robida, Camille Flammarion, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. Rider Haggard) were available in Italian. If a strand of high literature discovered the Gothic (see Foni), it was popular writing that addressed the expanding readership and its interest in science and utopianism. Around a hugely successful tradition of exotic adventure tales (not free of Orientalism, but driven by genuine fascination for the international), there were important attempts at sf. The most optimistic author was Ulisse Grifoni, in whose works humanity reached Mars and established socialism. Anti-utopia was the rule both in Paolo Mantegazza’s Year 3000 (1897), which opposed socialism and women’s emancipation, and in Emilio Salgari’s 1907 Le meraviglie del Duemila [The Wonders of 2000], which narrated a gallery of future inventions and the contemporary visitors’ inability to fit in. Luigi Motta, Yambo (also a film director and journalist), and Calogero Ciancimino provided numerous future wars, inventions, and mad scientists.
Such publications continued during fascism, which opposed proposals for sf magazines (see the de Turris anthology), while a previously prolific sf film industry stopped abruptly (see Bertetti). Vociferous pleas for imperialism were delivered in the colonialist fantasies of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, from Mafarka the Futurist (1909; originally written in French) to The Untameables (1922), describing the rise of a conquerors’ caste; and in influential military strategist Giulio Douhet’s short novel La guerra del 19— [The War of 19--, 1930], which upheld airfare as a means to total war (see Clarke 153-55). Corrado Alvaro’s Man Is Strong (1938), a coded anti-Fascist dystopia that stressed character rather than sociopolitical institutions, was an important response to such works.
Tommaso Landolfi’s 1949 Cancerqueen, a surrealist novella about an astronaut wandering in space until his death, whose female starship rejects his attempts to control her, resonated with New Wave sensibilities and stands out from other work of this period. Landolfi’s magical realism went against the realist grain of Italian high culture.
The 1950s. In this period critic Sergio Solmi, a friend and collaborator of Calvino, wrote about sf as contemporary folklore, successor to early-modern chanson de geste. A group of former Resistance fighters gathered around editor/translator Giorgio Monicelli, which included former painter Luigi Rapuzzi (who published as L.R. Johannis), cover-artist Kurt Caesar, and hard-boiled crime writer Franco Enna. In 1952 Monicelli persuaded one of the largest publishers to start Urania, a newsstand series of what he called fantascienza, a term that began to be used by other series as well.5 Most minor series were spawned by the UFO fad (Aldani 131-32), a fascination shared by Monicelli and Rapuzzi. The early Urania was frequently idiosyncratic and demonstrated a paternalistic view of the Italian audience. Still, both Urania and its main rival Cosmo Ponzoni published some strong works, and although most Italians used foreign-sounding aliases, using pseudonyms is not unique to Italian sf.
This Italian sf did not share the American pulps’ technocratic view. Numerous Atlantis novels (e.g., by Emilio Walesko, Ernesto Gastaldi, and Ugo Malaguti) showed worlds in the aftermath of radical changes, implicitly commenting on Italy’s situation. Rapuzzi’s Wells-influenced dyptich C’era una volta un pianeta [Once Upon a Time a Planet, 1954] and Quando ero aborigeno [When I Was a Native, 1955] rewrote the tale as the story of a world destroyed by unsustainable development. Among space-opera authors, Luigi Naviglio appeared worried about a crisis of masculinity, which only interplanetary adventure could revitalize; his 1966 Estinzione uomo [Extinction: Man] presented a dystopian, women-dominated world. Along with the light-hearted optimism of Gianfranco Briatore and the blue-collar space community of Enna’s L’astro lebbroso [Leprous Star, 1955], I would single out Roberta Rambelli, the first professional who earned a living in sf. Her self-conscious, almost recursive I giorni di Uskad [Uskad Days, 1960] is the best among her many alien scenarios. Rare attempts at everyday (non-Italian) settings were Maria Teresa “Mutti” Maglione’s thriller Organizzazione Everest [The Everest Organization, 1958] and the Naples-based playwright of Lebanese origin Samy Fayad’s La collina di Hawotack [Hawotack Hill, 1961].
Were these writings less experimental and daring than those coming from “high” literature? While some of these texts raised doubts, later work in this period was conclusive in its nostalgia, from Dino Buzzati’s short stories and novel Larger Than Life (1960), to Ennio Flaiano’s farce Un marziano a Roma [A Martian in Rome, 1957] to Alvaro’s 1957 dystopia Belmoro and its hostility to modernization.
The 1960s. In this period new magazines began to publish Italians without pseudonyms and a school of short-story writers developed. Hard sf by writers such as Giovanna Cecchini, Cesare Falessi, Ivo Prandin, Gianni Vicario, and above all Lino Aldani dominated the fiction section of the aerospace magazine Oltre il cielo (Beyond the Sky, 1957-1970), but this work was often far from triumphalist about space exploration.
Meanwhile, the magazine Futuro and the anthology series Interplanet bridged sf and literary publishing, an effort later shared by the magazine Gamma. Although the favorite register was satire, stories published by editors Aldani, Giulio Raiola, Massimo Lo Jacono, Sandro Sandrelli, and others expressed growing skepticism; among these are Gustavo Gasparini’s Le vele del tempo [The Sails of Time, 1963], Gilda Musa’s Festa sull’asteroide [A Party on the Asteroid, 1972], both story collections, and above all work by Renato Pestriniero, who started exploring his own fantastic Venice (see his later collection Sette accadimenti in Venezia [Seven Incidents in Venice, 1987]).
Among these talents, Aldani was the giant, whose pioneering study La fantascienza [Science Fiction, 1962] surveyed Anglophone, French, Russian, and Italian sf (singlehandedly giving visibility to the last) and attempted his own definition of sf as aiming to “place the reader … in a different relation with things” (17). Over almost fifty years, he gave opportunities to new writers at home and abroad as an editor and as liaison with European markets (especially France and Eastern Europe): his role as father of Italian sf is uncontested.6 His early space-faring tales and Italian dystopias revise existing conventions and his mature sf novels are a Marxist existentialist’s parables problematizing the lost hopes of his post-Resistance generation. In the near future of Quando le radici [When the Roots, 1976], generally considered his masterpiece, the drop-out protagonist must choose between alienating factory work and a bucolic community in his hometown in the valley south of Milan. Finding stagnation as unsatisfactory as techno-degradation, he joins a Gypsy group to reconcile rejection of bourgeois life with a longing for the unknown. Dissatisfaction with existing anti-capitalism is at the heart of Eclissi 2000 [Eclypse 2000, 1979], a “generic-discontinuity” novel in which, quite clearly, a Stalinist party structure creates the inhuman make-believe of the generation starship that is actually an underground shelter in a radioactive Earth. Later novels are La croce di ghiaccio [The Ice Cross, 1989], an alien anthropology explored through the communication efforts of a dissenting priest, and Themoro Korik (2007), an investigation into the secrets of a Roma community. Just as his rural settings in many stories (bordering with realism and later with horror) were not idylls sheltered from modernity’s evils, the Gypsies’ “country beyond” grants no answers about its own nature.
In this decade a new generation of writers, inspired by the Italian edition of Galaxy, discovered dystopian and social sf. Writing in Futuro, Gamma, and new venues such as Galassia and later the mail-order magazine Nova, they included Inìsero Cremaschi, Sergio Turone, Anna Rinonapoli, and Ugo Malaguti, for many years an editor and publisher. Malaguti’s most accomplished creation was the protagonist of the playful Alain Hardy diptych (1968), an immortal dissenter who learns integration and manipulation in an age of permanent change.
A smaller number of writers wrote with absurdist twists. The stories in Carlo Della Corte’s 1962 Pulsatilla sexuata (the name of a fictional plant) included explorations of sexuality and racism. In Sandrelli’s 1962 collections Caino dello spazio [Cain in Space] and I ritorni di Cameron McClure [The Returns of Cameron McClure] space opera became grotesque tragedy, ethical dilemmas in cosmic scenarios. The Ukrainian-born crime-fiction writer Giorgio Scerbanenco’s 1967 novella L’anaconda [The Anaconda] was a satire on war.
Outside genre venues, the dystopian foray of Leonida Rèpaci in Amore senza paura [Love without Fear, 1963] was both a Marcusian take on repressive intolerance and a Reichian apologia for the use-value of sexuality. The bitterest satire of the decade, aimed at exposing the ineffectiveness of both tradition (the Church) and innovation (new social mores), was Guido Morselli’s Roma senza papa [Rome Without a Pope], published posthumously in the 1970s. The most popular satirist emerging in the 1960s was computer scientist and futurist Roberto Vacca, one of the few believers in sf as prediction and in the need for a technocratic elite, whose nonfiction The Coming Dark Age (1971) was widely read in the US. His numerous novels include La morte di Megalopoli [The Death of Megalopolis, 1974] and Greggio e pericoloso [Crude and Dangerous, 1976]. Irony became bitterness in some post-nuclear-apocalypse novels, and Scerbanenco presented a fragmented Italy whose survivors flock towards an ostensible utopia which is yet another dictatorship in the sophisticated Il cavallo venduto [The Sold Horse, 1963], written with an intensity stemming from personal WWII experience (see Gallo in this issue for more on Italian sf by non-genre writers).
Short fiction was preferred by the most prestigious mainstream writers who wrote some sf in this period: Primo Levi (whose work is analyzed in this issue by Mori) and Calvino. Levi’s “For a Good Purpose,” from Vizio di forma [Structural Defect, 1971], presents a transnational sentient entity called “the Net” emerging from interconnected phone lines, while the infinite memory that burdens the protagonist of “His Own Blacksmith” (1971) might be the best hint of the strong link between Levi’s sf and his memoirs. Calvino linked science with mythology in his Cosmicomics, which follows the adventures of antihero Qwfwq in a prehuman world that mirrors and critiques our own. His Invisible Cities (1972), a Nebula finalist, paid homage to sf’s utopian ancestors. In both, grasping for knowledge cannot be dispensed with, despite a flawed humanity; Levi knew all too well that the alternative to homo faber was the inhumanity of the “bare life.”
The 1970s. With the demise of the magazines and Urania’s continuing neglect of Italian writers, a new start was offered by the smaller Galassia and later the leading magazine Robot; the New Wave provided intellectual food to the sociopolitical restlessness of those years. Specialized bookstore series, providing careful translations, and a fresh generation of editors (Vittorio Curtoni, Gianfranco de Turris, Sebastiano Fusco, Giuseppe Lippi, Gianni Montanari, Ugo Malaguti, Sandro Pergameno, Riccardo Valla, Gianfranco Viviani, and others) with very different aesthetic and political approaches allowed readers to join the conversation abroad, while a national fan scene coalesced and Carlo Pagetti inaugurated academic sf studies.
As Chayt shows in this issue, these were also crucial years for sf film, which found new life around 1960 (simultaneous with tv experiments that mostly disappeared around 1980) in low- and mid-budget productions. In Rushing’s analysis, the former continued into the 1980s, followed by a trickle of occasional films—unjustly receiving scant attention, with the exception of Gabriele Salvatores’s 1997 Nirvana. The late 1970s witnessed the appearance of Gabriele Tamburini and Tanino Liberatore’s RanXerox, probably the first Italian sf comics series to hit the international scene, although Italians had been publishing sf comics for at least fifty years; the following decades revitalized the scene.
In print fiction, soft sf inspired Vittorio Curtoni, translator, editor, and charismatic figure in the sf community, whose 1977 study on Italian sf, Le frontiere dell’ignoto [Frontiers of the Unknown], did much to promote literary awareness in the field. In his early fiction, the post-1968 world has explicit echoes of the Resistance, and the quest for survival of mutants and persecuted outcasts is an analog for generational utopian longings. Against the frequent background of wars often involving mind-control, Curtoni explored subtly different relationships as the only hope against worlds in decay, which involved sex-change in his only novel, Dove stiamo volando [Where Are We Flying, 1972]. His short masterpieces include “Ritratto del figlio” [Portrait of the Son, 1970] and “La volpe stupita” [The Amazed Fox, 1978]. His irregular trickle of carefully crafted short fiction went on until his death in 2010 in a highly personal voice oscillating between anger and sarcasm, found in the collections Retrofuturo [Retrofuture, 1999], Ciao futuro [Hello Future, 2001], and Bianco su nero [Light Over Darkness, 2010].
Gianni Montanari’s La sepoltura [The Burial, 1973] mixed collective and family tragedy in a similar vein of biopolitical strife. The most diverse repertory was (and still is) that of Vittorio Catani, also largely a short story writer, who reached prominence with the 1972 collection L’eternità e i mostri [Eternity and the Monsters]: at the end of the decade, the tales of his “libertarian future history” were probably the strongest utopianism in Italian sf. Mauro Antonio Miglieruolo’s 1972 space opera Come ladro di notte [Like a Thief in the Night] was a disenchanted allegorical conflict between idealistic fanaticism and absolute self-interest, with the galaxy getting very close to self-destruction.
A few longer works by non-genre writers stand out. Mario Soldati’s 1974 The Emerald presented, within an oneiric frame, a complex dystopian Italy that went beyond linear teleologies of regret or nostalgia. Guido Morselli’s posthumous Dissipatio H.G. [The Dispersal of Humankind, 1978] was, on the other hand, a pessimistic Modernist’s picture of Earth without humans. Anna Banti’s novella Je vous écris d’un pays lointain [I Am Writing to You from a Far-Off Country, 1971] was a feminist take on the survival story: after global disaster, dreams and nightmares can only rely on the debris of nature and technology. Apocalyptic fears haunt Raffaele Crovi’s Il mondo nudo [The Naked World, 1975], interweaving absurdist plots about world-destroying omnipotence, isolation, love, and sf writing. Environmentalist activist Dario Paccino’s Il diario di un provocatore [A Provocateur’s Journal, 1977] is a political thriller about scientific responsibility and atomic research.
The 1980s and Women in SF. After 1980 fantasy (for some time identified with right-wing subcultures) took the lead in the market, and fanzines (some of which focused on criticism) became the only venues for Italian sf, joined by the revived Nova and Futuro Europa at the decade’s close. Among fanzine writers, Franco Ricciardiello stood out. At the beginning of the decade, only a few authors of traditional space opera (Antonio Bellomi, Luigi Menghini) were on bookstore shelves or newsstands. Among signs of change, Stefano Benni’s 1983 Terra!—a work of postmodernist humor—showcased a genre lover’s awareness of its repertoire.
One main force of renewal was the increased presence of women writing sf. Rinonapoli’s Sfida al pianeta [Challenge to the Planet, 1973], which mixed space exploration with anthropology and genetics, was a turning point: at last, science and technology were not simply metaphors for alienation. This motif continued in other works: Daniela Piegai’s first contact narratives Parola di alieno [An Alien’s Word, 1978] and Ballata per Lima [A Ballad for Lima, 1980]; and Mariangela Cerrino’s planetary romance L’ultima terra oscura [The Last Dark Land, 1989]. Interesting novels included YA works, from the story of a gender-fluid alien child’s disappointment at an exchange visit to an Italian family in Bianca Pitzorno’s Extraterrestre alla pari [Au-Pair ET, 1979] to the socialization, in a multi-species setting, of the female protagonist of Gilda Musa’s Fondazione Id [The Id Foundation, 1981].
Luce d’Eramo, one of sf’s few allies in the intellectual establishment, made alterity the center of her poetics in the essays in Io sono un’aliena [I Am an Alien, 1999] and wrote the masterpiece Partiranno [They Will Leave, 1986], which chronicles the contact between humans and the visiting Nnoberavezi, mixing spy-story and intimate diary in a parable on mutual change through the discovery of mutual otherness.
Cyberpunk offered a chance for rephrasing the feminist focus on the body. Translator and critic Nicoletta Vallorani produced the sf-noir diptych Il cuore finto di DR [DR’s Fake Heart, 1993] and Dream Box (1997): her private eye is a drug-using “synthetic” woman living in a multiracial, polluted Milan. Later sf included YA novellas rewriting Conrad and Melville and the dystopian Eva (2002), a detective story responding to the war in the former Yugoslavia. War-torn bodies were also central in the linked stories of Enrica Zunić’s Nessuna giustificazione [No Justification, 2002], addressing the difficulty of healing during an interplanetary conflict. Between satire and horror was Alda Teodorani’s Belve [Beasts, 2002], with alien vampires visiting an Italy fallen under a grotesque cinéphile tyranny. Adriana Lorusso’s Ta-Shima series (four volumes, 2007-14), a thick alien anthropology, has only been published in French. Among non-genre authors’ contributions, Laura Pugno’s Sirene [Sirens, 2007] builds on the manga tradition, following a chimeric creature’s quest for survival (see Rushing). The most original voice in Italy’s recent women’s sf is the Sardinian Clelia Farris, whose scenarios, themes, and protagonists are wide-ranging in locales and genders, including memory and the Moon in Rupes Recta (2005, the title the name for a linear fault on the moon); prescribed gender roles and South-East Asia in Nessun uomo è mio fratello [No Man Is My Brother, 2009]; and cultural change and a steampunk-ish ancient Egypt in La pesatura dell’anima [The Weighing of the Soul, 2011].
The 1990s and History. The background for the discovery of cyberpunk was provided by editors Piergiorgio Nicolazzini, Daniele Brolli, and Antonio Caronia, and by Italian editions of Asimov’s Magazine. For many, cyberpunk was less literature than political movement, a neo-Situationist form of engagement, and earliest examples came from small underground presses. The webzine Delos, founded by Franco Forte, Luigi Pachì, and Silvio Sosio, attracted younger authors such as Alberto Cola (who placed Turin on the sf map with his 2003 urban thriller Goliath), Milena Debenedetti, Gabriele Guerra, Elisabetta Vernier, Zunić, and others. Publication opportunities were offered by numerous anthologies and by magazines such as Nova and Futuro Europa and later Carmilla. The new generation included Donato Altomare, Claudio Asciuti, Domenico Gallo, Massimo Pietroselli, Giampiero Proni, Roberto Sturm, and the “humanists” Stefano Carducci, Alessandro Fambrini, Antonino Fazio, and Bruno Vitiello. From the late 1980s on, Montanari’s and then Lippi’s editorship of Urania made possible the careers of Vallorani, Evangelisti, and others.
Many established writers were revitalized. Catani explored new technologies of the body: his collection L’essenza del futuro [The Essence of the Future, 2007] is astonishing for its variety, while his rare novels range from the parallel universes of Gli universi di Moras [Moras’s Universes, 1990] to the posthuman canvas of Il quinto principio [The Fifth Principle/Beginning, 2009], a near-future chronicle of global ecodisaster that ends with an ambiguous utopian gesture. Pestriniero added a technological twist to his pessimistic short fiction, completing Settantacinque long tons [Seventy-Five Long Tons, 2002], an elegy for old space-exploration dreams; and Miglieruolo assimilated cyberpunk to his sarcastic worldview in the stories collected in Assurdo virtuale [Virtual Absurd, 2006] and La bottega dell’inquietudine [The Anxiety Store, 2008].
In terms of both sales and influence, the leading figure in the last twenty years is Valerio Evangelisti, champion of the aesthetic and political power of popular genres against outdated ivory-tower ideals. Starting with Nicolas Eymerich, inquisitore [Nicolas Eymerich, Inquisitor, 1994], Evangelisti mixes times (the Middle Ages; a corporation-dominated twenty-second century ravaged by low-intensity wars of incredible cruelty) and genres (sf, historical novel, supernatural) in a style I would term juxtaposition. The Eymerich cycle concluded with Rex tremendae maiestatis (2010, whose title comes from the requiem mass) and an American sequence began with the 1999 collection Metallo urlante [Screaming Metal] (see Somigli in this issue). Both are predicated on a view of history in which conflicts and injustices remain forever unresolved, past and present wounds forcing us critically to rethink the future.
Unsurprisingly given Italy’s humanistic tradition, history-related subgenres—alternate history, parallel universes, time travel to the past—are a national staple. The modern precursor was Guido Morselli’s different ending to WWI in Past Conditional (1975, written in the 1960s), a self-conscious attempt to stage the conflict between storytelling and writing history. The most playful alternate historian is Pierfrancesco Prosperi, writing parallel worlds around JFK’s assassination (Seppelliamo re John [Let’s Bury King John], 1973) and the US Civil War (Garibaldi a Gettysburg [Garibaldi in Gettysburg], 1993). In a dystopian and political vein, Luca Masali approached steampunk in his bestseller I biplani di D’Annunzio [D’Annunzio’s Biplanes, 1996]. For many, a favorite turning point has been the end of Fascism, although only Mario Farneti’s Occidente series (2001-2006) sympathetically portrays an alternate Fascist Italy as a world power, in contrast with work by Enrico Brizzi (see Brioni in this issue) and Giampietro Stocco, who also evoked South American dictatorships as the setting for a plot joining Third World movements and nanotech in Dalle mie ceneri [From My Ashes, 2008]. Anti-Nazi Resistance, via memory implants and a time machine, is also present in Marco Bacci’s Supervita [Superlife, 2006], with Philip K. Dick among its characters. Perhaps the most detailed alternate history is Italo Bonera and Paolo Frusca’s PhOxGen! (2010), the portrait of a European twentieth century dominated by the Habsburg empire.
Underneath comedic tone, cynicism is at the heart of Lanfranco Fabriani’s time-patrol adventures as bureaucratic rat race in Lungo i vicoli del tempo [Along the Alleys of Time, 2002] and Nelle nebbie del tempo [In the Mists of Time, 2005]. Fambrini’s stories about Danish police inspector Jørgensen (partly collected in Le strade che non esistono [The Roads Which Are Not], 2005) show a precarious view of historical outcomes, gateways to unforeseeable endings always ready to open up—an approach shared in his metafictional Ascensore per l’ignoto [Elevator to the Unknown, 2010, with Carducci] and in Ricciardiello’s use of chaos theory in Ai margini del caos [On the Margins of Chaos, 1998]. Current signals point to an emerging steampunk scene.
Into 2000. At the turn of the millennium, satiric sf found new life, building on commedia all’italiana in Massimo Mongai’s successful Memorie di un cuoco d’astronave [Memoirs of a Starship Chef, 1997] and in the movie spoofs of Enzo Verrengia’s La notte degli stramurti viventi [Night of the Living Super-Dead, 2001]. Other contemporary works include Roberto Quaglia’s Rabelaisian anti-metaphysics in the sequence The Beloved of My Beloved (2009), written with Ian Watson and published only in English (one of its segments won a BSFA Award).
Dystopia was changing shape as well, and works in the late 1990s, including those by Vallorani and Zunić, were “critical” updates. Sociologist-philosopher Carlo Formenti’s Nell’anno della signora [In the Year of the Lady, 1998] presented the fight between a technophobic religious regime and an alliance of anarchic rebels and enslaved mutants trying to relearn computer technology. Former punk-rocker Riccardo Pedrini (now a member of the Wu Ming collective) set Libera Baku ora [Set Baku Free Now, 2000] in both Italy and the Caucasian region, an anarchic parable on control over warring factions, none of which may claim moral superiority. Among Urania authors, the future plebeian insurrection of Francesco Grasso’s 2038: La rivolta [2038: The Rebellion, 2000] re-enacts the seventeenth-century Masaniello uprising. Sergio (“Alan D.”) Altieri is identified mainly with thriller writing, and it was only in the 2000s (after his appointment to Urania’s editorial team) that sf readers realized his commitment to sf. His Los Angeles cycle (starting with Città oscura [Dark City, 1981] and culminating in Ultima luce [Final Light, 1995] mixed action adventure with sociopolitical analysis; some of his stories (collected in Armageddon  and Underworlds ) explore the apocalyptic potential of American mythologies and politics.
Recent space fiction oscillates between classic and new sf. Paolo Aresi’s fiction about Mars and other planets would have been impossible before the 1990s, yet his attitude is regret for an irretrievable optimism in Oltre il pianeta del vento [Beyond the Wind Planet, 2004] and Korolev (2011). Alessandro Vietti’s Il codice dell’invasore [The Invader’s Code, 1999], in contrast, sketches a picture of the Solar system dominated by cloning, memory implants, and Shakespearean theater; while Lukha Kremo Baroncinj’s Il grande tritacarne [The Great Meatgrinder, 2005] is a variation on Delany’s Trouble on Triton (1976).
As the 2000s opened, the book market shrank, probably more than the rest of the economy, and sf received one of its severest blows. Still, there remain opportunities, especially provided by Urania for novels, while in short fiction the new Robot magazine (initially with Curtoni at the helm, succeeded in 2010 by Sosio) keeps a connection with current Anglophone sf. I can only be ambivalent regarding the current state of affairs. Invisibility and misunderstandings make professional activity difficult; nevertheless Italians do not stop imagining the future. New small presses have appeared, while anthologies and ebooks provide venues for short fiction, and a group of non-specialized authors keeps working in sf.
Probably this is one of the stakes in and around the sf scene today: if the generalist book market seems to relish Italy’s new-found insularity, regarding sf as a thing of the past, some writers engage in a dialogue with world sf, less as genre erudites than as multilingual readers. Heralded by Vallorani, Evangelisti, and Altieri, the ideal center in Italian sf is the intersection with hard-boiled fiction, inaugurated by Dario Tonani. The fast-paced Infect@ (2007) and its sequel Toxic@ (2011), with their grotesque background in which twentieth-century cultural icons from comics and cartoons come alive, evoke Guy Debord’s society of the spectacle, but Tonani’s post-industrial Milan is not nostalgic for the past. His dystopian L’algoritmo bianco [The White Algorithm, 2009] showcases an unpleasant antihero who, in moments of crisis, always knows when to choose sides against the forces of oppression. Never a didactic author, Tonani is Italy’s most sophisticated practitioner of sf’s protocols. His ongoing Mondo9 series, started in 2012 and successfully translated into Japanese, is a steampunk-flavored planetary romance about human-machine (dis-)integration in which the inorganic appears as much an agent as the organic.
The same awareness of the new (inspired by both literary and visual sf) is shown by Giovanni De Matteo’s urban landscapes, especially in the dead people haunting the garbagetown of his Sezione π² [Section π², 2007] and Corpi spenti [Unplugged Bodies, 2014]: the uneasy meeting between Naples and a weak technological singularity has clear allegorical overtones. De Matteo is also co-founder of the “Connectivist” group, promoting anthologies programmatically aimed at deep relation with cutting-edge technoscience. For connettivisti, approaching the new is a political choice; many of them employ outer-space scenarios, and in stories by De Matteo (Revenant, 2006) and Sandro Battisti the sublime posthumanity borrowed from British sf is a tool to address the social complexity of a globalized future.
Noir-sf authors include Stefano Di Marino, Mario Gazzola, Giuseppe Genna, the Kai Zen collective, Kukha B. Kremo, Maico Morellini, and above all Francesco Verso, whose third novel Livid (2013), in a “kipple”-ridden urban landscape, is the Bildungsroman of a young boy striving to restore life to a murdered “nexhuman” windup girl—a parable on cross-cultural connection and love. I am tempted to connect Verso with other signs of the rise of YA Italian sf (although his novel was not meant as such): emerging figures are Francesco Gungui, whose 2013-2014 Canti delle terre divise [Songs of Divided Earths] trilogy winks at Dante’s Divine Comedy; and Leonardo Patrignani, whose 2012-2014 Multiversum parallel-worlds saga is being translated into English.
In the 2000s, the best-selling author has been Tullio Avoledo (whose books have been marketed without the sf label, although most of them are sf), starting with his debut L’elenco telefonico di Atlantide [The Phone Book of Atlantis, 2003]. His Lo stato dell’unione [State of the Union, 2005] is a bitter comedy about Italy crumbling to pieces under the weight of chauvinism, ending with a cautionary apocalypse. If present-day scenarios make him more accessible to the generalist audience, his fascination for Chinese-box conspiracies mixing esotericism, farce, and tragedy is definitely postmodern. From the alternate history of Il mare di Bering [The Bering Sea, 2003] to the Balkanized Italy of La ragazza di Vajont [The Girl from Vajont, 2008] to the interplay between different timelines of L’anno dei dodici inverni [The Year with Twelve Winters, 2009], Avoledo is gradually veering towards a more complex and non-traditional repertoire. His contributions to Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033 universe, Le radici del cielo [The Roots of Heaven, 2011] and La crociata dei bambini [The Children’s Crusade, 2014], are post-apocalyptic sf indebted to computer gaming scenarios: his trajectory towards the contemporary might be an acknowledgment of the necessity of genre to imagine tales of reconstruction.
In such “evaporating” sf (see Wolfe), irony dominates, as in the cross-time canvas of Dopotutto [Afterall, 2010] published by Elias Mandreu (the byline for a trio of Sardinian authors), which finds in local history and culture an antiheroic innocence that is similar to Philip K Dick’s work. There is much (self-directed) irony as well in the ecologically devastated Italy of Wu Ming 2’s Guerra agli umani [War on Humans, 2003], whose anti-technological dropout narrator is an ecocritical voice. The disturbingly bleak portrayal of multiethnic urban spaces in the Rome of Tommaso Pincio’s Cinacittà [Chinacity, 2008] and the Venice of Antonio Scurati’s La seconda mezzanotte [The Second Midnight, 2011) are marked by a view of Italian history as declension. To this group I would add Davide Longo’s The Last Man Standing (2010), a post-catastrophe novel and lament for crumbling traditional masculinity; and the ecosurvivalist scenario of Mauro Corona’s La fine del mondo storto [The End of the Crooked World, 2010], where all non-renewable energy sources run out suddenly and simultaneously. My own choices for best recent non-specialist works are Gianluca Morozzi’s Colui che gli dei vogliono distruggere [Whom the Gods Would Destroy, 2009] and Antonio Moresco’s Gli incendiati [The Burned-Down, 2010]; in the former, the protagonist’s oscillations between post-industrial underemployment and a superhuman condition ever-inadequate to his own wish fulfillment are a homage to comics of the Silver Age and after, and a pessimistic meditation on the present as moral trap; the latter is the Joycean stream of consciousness (slipstream?) of a traveler moving through an inner and outer apocalypse.
In such a diverse field, one can only trust in a further diversification of its voices and an open attitude both from the marketplace and literary institutions. Italian sf’s future appears guaranteed.
I have had the chance to write about Italian sf in a number of nonacademic publications in the past few years; among those who made it possible, I wish to thank Gianfranco de Turris, Giovanni De Matteo, Alessandro Fambrini, Silvio Sosio, Carmine Treanni, and the late Ernesto Vegetti. I also thank Donatella Izzo and Darko Suvin for their comments on a longer draft of this essay. I dedicate this overview to the memory of Vittorio Curtoni and Riccardo Valla: friends, professionals, and scholars.
1. All translations from Italian are my own.
2. One could trace specific regional sf histories; for example, see Catani (47-66) on Puglia (in Southeast Italy).
3. I am referring to stances in the public arena. As to theology, I concur with Saiber that Catholicism is as rich a source of potential icons as other denominations— especially taking into account folk-popular religiosity—and has been so for many writers in the fantastic at large and in sf.
4. My main focus is print sf, with some visual media, but a complete picture should include illustration, music, gaming, radio, poetry, drama, and architecture (Paolo Soleri’s arcologies might be the most substantial Italian contribution to the sf megatext).
5. The first Italian sf magazine, Scienza fantastica, appeared earlier the same year, while Urania briefly had two lines, a magazine and a novel series, the former folding soon. Saiber’s essay lists all these early (mostly low-budget) ventures. For extensive bibliographical information about Italian sf/f, including pseudonyms, see the online Catalogo Vegetti.
6. It is arguable that Aldani’s fortunes in non-Anglophone countries reveal the existence, in the 1960s-1970s, of a cross-European sf scene.
Aldani, Lino. La fantascienza. Piacenza: La Tribuna, 1962.
Antonello, Pierpaolo. “La nascita della fantascienza in Italia: Il caso Urania.” ItaliAmerica: Le origini dell’americanismo in Italia. Ed. Jeffrey Schnapp and Emanuela Scarpellini. Milan: Il Saggiatore, 2008. 99-123.
Bertetti, Paolo. “Uomini meccanici e matrimoni interplanetari: La straordinarissima avventura del cinema muto italiano di fantascienza.” Anarres 2 (2014): 87-106.
Bucciantini, Massimo. Italo Calvino e la scienza. Rome: Donzelli, 2007.
Calvino, Italo. Una pietra sopra. Milan: Mondadori, 1995.
Catani, Vittorio. Vengo solo se parlate di Ufi. Milan: Delos, 2004.
Clarke, I.F. Voices Prophesying War. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.
Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. Istvan. “Dis-Imagined Communities: Science Fiction and the Future of Nation.” Edging into the Future: Science Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation. Ed. Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2008. 217-37.
De Turris, Gianfranco, with Claudio Gallo, ed. Le aeronavi dei Savoia: Protofantascienza italiana, 1891-1952. Milan: Nord, 2001.
Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyperreality. Trans. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt, 1986.
Foni, Fabrizio. Alla fiera dei mostri: Racconti pulp, orrori e arcane fantasticherie nelle riviste italiane, 1889-1932. Latina: Tunuè, 2007.
Forgacs, David. “The End of Political Futures?” California Italian Studies 2.1 (2011). Online. 15 May 2015.
Giambalvo, Franco. “Bilancio sugli italiani.” Robot 26 (1978): 106-9.
Izzo, Donatella. “Outside Where? Comparing Notes on Comparative American Studies and American Comparative Studies.” American Studies: An Anthology. Ed. Janice A. Radway et al. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 588-604.
Luckhurst, Roger. “Border Policing: Postmodernism and Science Fiction.” SFS 18.3 (Nov. 1991): 358-66.
Milner, Andrew. Locating Science Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2012.
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Saggi sulla politica e sulla società. Ed. Walter Siti and Silvia De Laude. Milan: Mondadori, 1993.
Re, Lucia. “Pasolini vs. Calvino: The Debate on the Role of Intellectuals and Postmodernism in Italy Today.” MLN 129 (2014): 99-117.
Rushing, Robert. “Sirens without Us: The Future after Humanity.” California Italian Studies 2.1 (2011). Online. 15 May 2015.
Saiber, Arielle. “Flying Saucers Would Never Land in Lucca: The Fiction of Italian Science Fiction.” California Italian Studies 2.1 (2011). Online. 15 May 2015.
Wolfe, Gary K. Evaporating Genres: Essays on Fantastic Literature. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2011.
Zerocalcare. “Le lezioni della fantascienza.” Wired 64 (Jul.-Aug. 2014): 164.
Fantascienza Outside the Ghetto: The Science-Fictional Writings of Italian Mainstream Authors
Translated by Umberto Rossi, Arielle Saiber, and Salvatore Proietti
Abstract. Some of the most important specimens of twentieth-century Italian sf, written by such prestigious mainstream authors as Italo Calvino, Mario Soldati, Ennio Flaiano, Corrado Alvaro, and others, were not published by specialized presses or sf magazines; they were presented as narrativa (fiction) without genre attributes, though they undoubtedly belong to sf. The reasons for this production and circulation of sf outside the “ghetto” have to do with specific aspects of Italian history and culture, which are discussed in the first part of this article. An overview of sf written by authors who are not usually tied to the genre follows, in an attempt to explain how these novels and stories relate to the problematic issue of scientific-technological imagination in Italy from 1900 to the early 1980s and beyond.
Worlds of “Un-knowledge”: Dystopian Patterns in Primo Levi’s Short Stories
Translated by Vincent Marsicano and Umberto Rossi
Abstract. In Primo Levi, the witness to Auschwitz and the narrator of science fiction emerged at the same time. Science fiction was an intrinsic part of his identity as a writer. This article focuses on Primo Levi’s dystopian works and examines characters who are not aware of their context and situations in which human nature is subjected to manipulation. In doing so, this study reveals the relationship Levi develops between his experience in concentration camps and his fictional dystopias.
My Name Is Pantera: On Valerio Evangelisti’s “Slipstream” Western Fiction
Abstract. Since the publication of the novel Nicolas Eymerich, inquisitore [Nicolas Eymerich, Inquisitor] in 1994, Valerio Evangelisti has been regarded as the preeminent figure in contemporary Italian sf. Focusing on Black Flag (2002), a novel featuring the Western gunslinger Pantera as its protagonist, the essay argues that the defining characteristic of Evangelisti’s fiction is genre hybridity. Blending together themes, characters, and situations derived from several popular genres—sf, horror, western, noir—Evangelisti elaborates a highly original form of narrative that attempts to reconstruct the origins of modernity and its dysfunctions and to imagine their future outcomes. Black Flag—which stretches from the US Civil War to the 1989 US invasion of Panama to the dystopic future of “Paradice,” the planetary madhouse of the year 3000—is a ruthless and brutal investigation of the social and psychological consequences of unbridled capitalism and radical individualism.
Fantahistorical vs. Fantafascist Epic: “Contemporary” Alternative Italian Colonial Histories
Abstract. This article focuses on Enrico Brizzi’s L’inattesa piega degli eventi [The Unexpected Turn of Events, 2008], La nostra guerra [Our War, 2009], and Lorenzo Pellegrini e le donne [Lorenzo Pellegrini and the Women, 2012], a trilogy of alternative history novels that imagine what would have happened to the Italian empire if Italy had not allied with Germany during World War II. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s reflections on contemporaneity, I analyze how this trilogy represents Fascism and its colonial legacy in relation to the history of politics and soccer in Italy. I also compare Brizzi’s trilogy to Mario Farneti’s alternative history novels—Occidente [Occident, 2001], Attacco all’Occidente [Attack on the Occident, 2005], and Nuovo impero d’Occidente [New Empire of the Occident, 2006]—which propose a celebratory rather than mocking depiction of Fascism and its imperialist agenda. This reading is useful for understanding Brizzi’s interpretation of Italian political history after World War II and his attempt to use sf, a literary genre that was important for the promotion of the Italian colonial enterprise, to decolonize the Italian imagination. I argue that Brizzi’s and Farneti’s different visions of Italy’s alternative past embody what John Foot has termed “Italy’s divided memory” and its constitutive ambivalence regarding the legacy of Fascism.
Revisiting Italian Post-Neorealist Science-Fiction Cinema (1963-74)
Abstract. This paper examines the significant occurrence of sf within the post-neorealist period of Italian filmmaking, arguing that alien invasion, dystopia, and nuclear disaster stories provided prescient contemporary forms through which to evaluate the economic, political, technological, and cultural shifts evinced in the post-war period marked by the miracolo economico italiano [Italian economic miracle] and anni di piombo [years of lead]. In doing so, I isolate two distinct production cycles. In an initial wave of production, filmmakers mobilized sf as a vehicle for veiled social satire, providing an ironic variation on the era’s commedia all’italiana. Then, in the late sixties, a number of increasingly experimental sf art films provided estranged contexts for more radical, open-ended meditations on the present and future.
The Weight of History: Immunity and the Nation in Italian Science-Fiction Cinema
Abstract. This paper argues that Italian sf films imagine a distinctly non-Italian future. This future is not simply, as in much global science fiction, one in which we have transcended nation states, but a future without Italians, one in which there is no trace of Italian characters. The philosopher Roberto Esposito argues that Italian thinking is distinctively Italian precisely in its lack of coherent national character, a lack that emerges from its essentially biopolitical character—it recognizes the fragility of the body, as well as the fragility of the body politic, that cannot be “immunized” against historical risk, made safe for the future. This insight allows us in turn to understand two of the most salient features of Italian sf films: their preference for post-apocalyptic (and hence post-national and non-national) scenarios, often presented as serious speculations about the future, and their insistence on marking visions of a specifically Italian future as parodic or ludicrous. Following these two lines, the essay reviews the history of Italian sf cinema, particularly from the 1960s to the present.
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