Bringsværd, Tor Åge

Tagged: Author | Editor

(1939-    ) Norwegian author. Born in the small town of Skien, Bringsværd moved to Oslo to attend university, and there in 1966 met Jon Bing. They were both inveterate sf readers in a country where sf literally did not exist, and decided to do something about this sad state of affairs. In 1966 they founded the still-active Oslo University sf club, Aniara, and its Fanzine. In 1967, they made their joint debut as professional writers with a short story collection, Rundt solen i ring ["Ring around the Sun"] (coll 1967), the first book by any Norwegian author to be labelled "science fiction". In the same year, they also published their first jointly edited Anthology of translated sf, Og jorden skal beve ["And the World Will Shake"] (anth 1967), later followed by almost twenty others. Their first play, Å miste eit romskib ["To Lose a Spaceship"] (1969), was performed at Det norske teatret in Oslo, the Norwegian national theatre. In 1970, they each published a first novel; and in the same year they dramatized four short sf stories aired on Norwegian television.

As early as 1967 they talked the leading Norwegian publisher Gyldendal into launching a paperback sf line, which they edited and which continued until 1980, releasing a total of 55 titles; this was where authors like Brian W Aldiss, J G Ballard, Alfred Bester, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Philip K Dick, Ursula K Le Guin, Fritz Leiber, Stanisław Lem, Clifford D Simak, Theodore Sturgeon and Kurt Vonnegut were all first published in Norwegian. Since the series also included several debuting Norwegian writers, it is reasonable to say not only that Bing and Bringsværd founded Norwegian Fandom, but also that they went on to create the Norwegian sf field.

Through the years, they kept up their collaboration, but with one difference. Tor Åge Bringsværd, who had studied theology, quit university to be a full-time writer, while Jon Bing went on to become a full professor at Oslo University and an internationally leading authority on legal informatics. Perhaps for this reason, Bing only published around fifty books, while Bringsværd has published close to two hundred.

With Jon Bing, Bringsværd has published several story collections, numerous stage, radio and television plays, and almost twenty sf anthologies. On his own, Bringsværd has written many more plays and is considered one of Norway's finest playwrights; his bust is on display in the lobby of Det norske teatret in Oslo. He has also written extensively for children and juveniles, where his bibliography lists a hundred titles, many of them sf or fantasy.

Almost from the beginning, both Bing and Bringsværd preferred using the term "fabelprosa" – best translated as, literally, "fairytale fictions", or, idiomatically, "speculative fiction" – for what they were doing. Although Bringsværd and Bing worked together for almost fifty years – Bringsværd says that since 1966, they have "played together virtually every Tuesday" – there are literary differences between them. Both are civil libertarians, but Bing has admitted to a more generous attitude toward a central, legislative power and system of justice, while Bringsværd has characterized himself a leftwing anarchist.

As a writer, Bringsværd mainly keeps his feet on the ground, despite the title of one of his most brilliant novels: Den som har begge beina på jorda står stille ["Whoever Keeps Both Feet on the Ground Is Standing Still"] (1974). His sf is firmly placed on Earth, but is certainly far from realist. In his first novel, Bazar (1970), the protagonist Lester finds his apartment has disappeared. When at last he finds it in a park, it has been "cut out of the third floor while still alive. Now it lay on the white ground, shuddering with bloody telephone lines. Its water pipes stuck out of the snow like bone." Bringsværd here depicts a world of organic buildings, in a world transformed and with a Norway partly turned into deserts; though absurd, the novel is thematically serious, conveying Bringsværd's view of the present day as too mechanical and impersonal in lacking all contacts with the living nature surrounding us. This theme is recurrent in his work.

In Den som har begge beina på jorda står stille ["Whoever Keeps Both Feet on the Ground Is Standing Still"] (1974), Bringsværd offers a Vonnegutian satire on information overload, a novel covering virtually everything, centered on the London meeting of protagonist Billy Ballantine – right-hand man of the founder and prophet of the Alveolist sect – and the woman of his dreams, porn star Elvira Madiga. But the theme of this absurd, funny and chaotic novel is a defence of human liberty, imagination, and the right to live just in order to live, without regard for social, political, economic or conventional straitjackets.

After these, and a few further experimental novels, Bringsværd's work became more easily accessible and traditional in structure. Ker Shus (1983) is told by the last human (see Last Man), nurtured by a Robot in a community of genetically modified cat-people after a nuclear war has annihilated mankind; Ker Shus is the last human City, maintained over millennia by robots until the effects of war will have dissipated to the point where true humans in Suspended Animation can be awakened to regain their mastery of the world. But in the novel, what the protagonist has learned makes him destroy both the last, sleeping true humans and their city: they have severed all ties to the living world, and by refusing to accept as equals the animal humans they have genetically created, they have also renounced their claim to live.

The Gobi sequence of novels (1985-1997) is an imaginative, partly fantasy series of adventures set in medieval Asia, against the background of both crusades and huge migrations, and as viewed by the German clown Wolfvgang von Godesberg, an unreliable narrator; the novels are a study in the relativity of historical and nationalistic truth.

Pudder? Pudder! ["Powder? Powder!"] (2001) is a major work, a playful, irresistible romp through the world of circa 2150, where sex change and other biological manipulations are commonplace, and where humans move at will between actual ("riltime") and virtual ("ohmygod") realities (see Virtual Reality). Oslo has been turned into an amusement park called "Past Times", where visitors can play at living in a primitive past disconcertingly similar to our present. Gradually, the protagonist realizes that humans are in fact pigs escaped from Planet BX314 – but also that it doesn't matter, since what does matter is what these pigs have done to the world they inhabit and to themselves, and whether they are still able to turn into actual human beings. Bringsværd's answer is chilling. Of course we will utilize the enormous power with which gene manipulation provides us to create puppies who never grow up.

Tor Åge Bringsværd is a major name in current Norwegian literature. He is the recipient of almost innumerable literary awards both for his novels, his children's books, and his plays; among these honours are the Norwegian Academy Award, the Ibsen Award and the Norwegian Cultural Council Award. Several of his novels have been nominated for the Nordic Council Award for the year's best novel written in any Nordic country. Bringsværd, along with Jon Bing and Øyvind Myhre, has made science fiction and fantasy not only an accepted but a highly regarded part of the Norwegian literary landscape. [J-HH]

see also: Norway.

Tor Åge Bringsværd

born Skien, Norway: 16 November 1939

died

works (sf and fantasy only):

collections

  • Rundt solen i ring ["Ring Around the Sun"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1967) with Jon Bing [coll: pb/]
  • Probok (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1968) [coll: pb/]
  • Sesam 71 (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1971) with Jon Bing [coll: pb/]
  • Bløtkakemannen & Apachepikene ["The Cream Layer Cake Man & the Apache Girls"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1972) [coll: pb/]
  • Karavane ["Caravan"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1974) [coll: pb/]
  • Apachepikene farer fram over sletten. Blondt hår. Vinden ["The Apache Girls Travel Across the Plains. Blonde Hair. The Wind"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1976) [coll: pb/]
  • Tvilstilfeller ["Cases of Doubt"] (Oslo, Norway: Pax, 1991) with Jon Bing [coll: hb/]
  • Motgift ["Antidote"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1991) with Jon Bing [coll: pb/]
  • IOFORSEG ["INITSELF"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1993) [coll: pb/]
  • SF (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1999) [coll: stories and some essays: the title punningly stands for both science fiction and "samlede fortellinger", collected stories: pb/]
  • Bløtkakemannen ["The Cream Layer Cake Man"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 2004) [coll of linked stories: hb/]
  • Oslo 2084 ["Oslo 2084"] (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 2004) with Jon Bing [coll: dystopian crime stories: hb/]

plays (selected)

nonfiction

  • Lunarium (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1969) with Jon Bing [nonfiction: hb/]
  • Det eventyrlige (Oslo, Norway: Gyldendal, 1991) [nonfiction: pb/]

works as editor

links

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