Hungary

Tagged: International

Sf in the modern sense evolved tentatively in Hungary in the 1870s, although it had had forerunners. The end of the eighteenth century was characterized by the popularity of Fantastic Voyages and Utopias. French and other sources inspired Tariménes utazása ["The Voyage of Tariménes"] (1804) by György Bessenyei (1747-1811). The hero, who gets to an unknown country, not only describes the perfect order of the state but also presents a copy of its constitution. Another important fantastic utopia was Utazás a Holdba ["Voyage to the Moon"] (1836) by Ferenc Ney (1814-1899), a novel in which travellers find that the Moon has everything they miss on Earth: the possibility of happiness and the happiness of equality. János Munkácsy (1802-1841), in his Hogy áll a világ a jövö században? ["How Stands the World in the Next Century?"] (1838), describes the wonderful future development of Transportation and many social changes: deadly Weapons are put aside and conflicts between states are settled by competitive poetry recitals. The first Hungarian Space Opera was Végnapok ["The Final Days"] (1847) by Miklós Jósika (1794-1865). This apocalyptic novel had an immense success. The story takes place on Earth in a Far-Future ice age.

Mór Jókai is justly regarded as the greatest author produced by Hungary. He was very prolific – his collected works run to several hundred volumes. His most important works of fantasy and sf are Óceánia about a romantic Atlantis, Fekete gyémántok (1870; trans A Gerard as Black Diamonds 1896), set in a North Polar sea, Egész az északi polusig ["All the Way to the North Pole"] (1876), in which ancient patriarchs and fairy-like ladies are revived from frozen hibernation to facilitate the author's criticism of contemporary society, and Ahol a pénz nem Isten ["Where Money is not a God"] (1904), describing the life of a happy island community, and hinting at the possibility of the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Along with these sometimes Edgar Allan Poe-like fantasies comes Jókai's most significant sf novel, A jövö század regénye ["The Novel of the Next Century"] (1872), whose story is founded in the invention of a marvellous new material, "ichor". Aeroplanes made of ichor serve the heroes, who dominate global Communications and trade (> Pax Aeronautica); declaring War on anarchistic Russia, they fight the last war of mankind and create eternal peace. The novel then moves onto the cosmic scale: a Comet menaces Earth but is fought off by mankind, the Moon is colonized and the Solar System is conquered.

Jókai's disciple Titusz Tóvölgyi (1838-1918) wrote a surprisingly interesting novel about the future socialist state: Az új világ ["The New World"] (1888). Elsewhere, besides sociopolitical novels there were fantasies of markedly scientific foundation, like Repülögépen a Holdba ["On an Airplane to the Moon"] (1899) by István Makay (1870-1935), another Jókai disciple, which, antedating H G Wells, describes a society of cave-dwelling Selenites. Barna Arthur ["Arthur Barna"] (1880) by Gusztáv Beksics (1847-1906) has an African volcano spreading flowing gold over the country, with the consequent bankruptcy of trusts, banks and states.

In the first half of the twentieth century the authors gathering around the journal Nyugat ["West"] were attracted almost without exception to the fantastic, and with them sf reached artistic heights once more; they include Dezsö Kosztolányi (1885-1935), Géza Csáth (1888-1919), Géza Laczkó (1884-1953), Gyula Szini (1876-1932), László Cholnoky (1879-1929), Béla Balázs (1884-1949) and Margit Kaffka (1880-1918). Unfortunately, only two names are known in the English-speaking world: Frigyes Karinthy and Mihály Babits.

Karinthy wrote a good many stories about Time Travel, Disaster, Psi Powers and so on, but these are surpassed by his philosophical novels. Utazás Faremidóba (1916) and Capillária (1921), which have been assembled as Voyage to Faremido/Capillaria (omni trans Paul Tabori 1965 Hungary; 1966), are sardonic sequels to Jonathan Swift's stories of Gulliver and his travels. The former deals with problems of AI and the latter describes the conflict between men and women in an Under-the-Sea empire. Mennyei riport ["A Report from the Heavens"] (1937), the surprising story of a journey to the next world, is an important precursor of modern sf.

The novels of the poet Mihály Babits stand out for their literary merit and for the interest of their ideas. In Gólyakalifa ["Storks' Caliph"] (1916; trans as King's Stork 1948 Hungary; retrans anon as The Nightmare 1966), his first novel, he created a world of pure fantasy; the protagonist is a young man living a surreal double life. Another novel, Elza pilóta, avagy a tökéletes társadalom ["The Pilot Elza, or The Perfect Society"] (1933), is a description of an episode in an age of eternal war, its protest against fascism being pointed at a time when fascism was spreading rapidly.

Utazás Kazohiniában ["A Voyage in Kazohinia"] (1941 censored; text restored 1946) by Sándor Szathmári is a bitter, Swiftian (and Karinthyan) Satire describing a new journey of Gulliver. Kazohinia is divided into two parts, one where exaggerated rationalism prevails, the other ruled by the uncontrolled power of the instincts.

In the Fall of 1945 László Gáspár (?   -    ) produced his short novel Mi, I. Adolf ["We, Adolf 1"] (1945), subtitled "If the Germans had Won". In this postwar nightmare, fascism rules by terror and weaponry, and all peoples are slaves of the Germans (> Hitler Wins).

The two decades after World War Two did not favour Hungarian sf – Soviet sf, along with the theoretical views it espoused, dominated the sf published in Hungary – and only one item from this period is memorable: Az ibolyaszínü fény ["The Violet Light"] (1956) by Péter Földes (1916-    ), a juvenile adventure that presents interesting ideas. In 1968, however, the publishing house Móra began a paperback sf series under the imprint Kozmosz Fantasztikus Könyvek. In 1972 Móra followed this with the magazine Galaktika, edited by Péter Kuczka, which started as a quarterly and is now a monthly, with a circulation of 50,000. Its younger stablemate (since 1985) is Robur, a bimonthly sf magazine for juvenile readers, with a circulation of 80,000-100,000. Other publishers now publish sf, though the Móra book series, also long under the editorship of Kuczka, remains the most significant.

Today 25-30 authors in Hungary are engaged in sf, although many of them work also in other genres. Among the older authors is Mária Szepes (1908-2007), who in Tükörajtó a tengerben ["Mirror Door in the Sea"] (1976), Surayana élö szobrai ["Living Statues of Surayana"] (1971) and Napszél ["Sunwind"] (1983) draws her figures of fantasy with great psychological force. She introduced ESP motifs to Hungarian sf, mainly through her first and most influential novel, A vörös oroszlán ["The Red Lion"] (1946), the story of an alchemist living through the centuries and from sin to redemption. Iván Boldizsár (1912-1988) belonged to the same generation; his Születésnap ["Birthday"] (1959) is a Time-Travel novel. The most famous book of István Elek (1915-1992) is a juvenile adventure, Mérenylet a világürben ["An Attempt in Space"] (1967). József Cserna (1899-1975) wrote a number of admonitory stories about nuclear World War Three, the destruction of the Ecology and other dangers menacing mankind.

Next comes the generation of writers born in the 1920s and 1930s, like Gyula Fekete (1922-    ), an excellent novelist in the realistic tradition. His sf works are all utopian and educational, whether set on unknown islands or on distant planets. In A szerelmesek bolygója ["Planet of Lovers"] (1964) he deals satirically with juvenile morals and life-values; in Triszex ["Trisex"] (1974) he predicts changes in family life and in human relationships. His most famous work is A kék sziget ["The Blue Island"] (1976), a harmonious Utopia. Gyula Hernádi (1926-    ) is a restless, experimenting author; he blends surrealism with real and fictitious documents. His significant novels are Az eröd ["The Fortress"] (1971), Az elnökasszony ["Madame President"] (1978) and Hasfelmetszö Jack ["Jack the Ripper"] (1982). Zoltán Csernai (1925-    ) is one of the most popular sf writers. His main focus is on encounters between Aliens and humans in the past and present; this provides the background to his trilogy Titok a világ tetején ["Secret on the Top of the World"] (1961), Az özönvz balladája ["The Ballad of the Flood"] (1964) and Atlantisz ["Atlantis"] (1968). His Boldogságcsinálók ["Producers of Happiness"] (1974) is an interesting psychological novel. Among his several short stories, "Kövek" ["Stones"] (1974) is perhaps the best of all Hungarian sf short stories; it has been much translated. Péter Zsoldos (1930-    ) is an sf author in the US-UK tradition, his recurrent subjects being Space Flight and Robots. His best novels are Feladat ["The Task"] (1971), Ellenpont ["Counterpoint"] (1973), Távoli tüz ["A Distant Fire"] (1969), A Viking visszatér ["Return of the Viking"] (1967) and A holtak nem vetnek árnyékot ["The Dead Cast No Shadows"] (1983). Ervin Gyertyán (1925-    ) prefers a humorous, satirical attitude in Kibernerosz ["Cyberneros"] (1963) and Isten óvd az elnököt! ["God Save the President!"] (1971), paying special attention to the differences between Man and Machine, and also to the nature of identity. Two sf works by Miklós Rónaszegi (1930-    ), A rovarok lázadása ["Revolt of the Insects"] (1969) and Ördögi liquor ["Liquor of the Devil"] (1972), were published as juveniles, although there is nothing juvenile about their themes: the first analyses the mechanisms of fascism and the second unveils ways in which modern society dehumanizes and manipulates.

Novels of adventure and scientific inspiration have been written also by Klára Fehér (1922-    ), László Nemes (1920-    ) and Tibor Dáné (1923-    ). Dezsö Kemény (1925-    ) melds sf with the crime story. Az utolsó ember ["The Last Man"] (1982) by Péter Bogáti (1924-    ), a Robinsonade about the last survivor of world Holocaust (> Last Man), bears comparison with better-known treatments of the subject. László András (1919-1988), György Nemes (1910-1998), András Kürti (1922-    ) and Rudolf Weinbrenner (1923-1987) are all writers who have enriched Hungarian sf with one or two books. A rather different coloration can be found in A Kozmosz tizenötödik törvénye ["The Fifteenth Law of the Cosmos"] (1984) by Mihály Gergely (1921-    ), a novel in which alien visitors try to force humanity into peace and intelligent cooperation.

Perhaps the most important member of the younger generation is Péter Szentmihályi Szabó (1945-    ). His collection of short stories A sebezhetetlen ["The Invulnerable"] (coll 1978) tries out every voice and technique of sf; A tökéletes változat ["The Perfect Variety"] (1983) is a Dystopia about contradictory social systems in the distant future. Two very prolific younger authors are László L Lörincz (1939-    ) and István Nemere (1944-    ). Lörincz's collection of short stories A nagy kupola szégyene ["The Shame of the Great Dome"] (coll 1982) deals with Crime and Punishment and with problems of social isolation. His novels, such as A hosszú szafari ["The Long Safari"] (1984) and A földalatti piramis ["The Underground Pyramid"] (1986), are much appreciated for their exciting plots, richness of ideas and beautiful style. Nemere's most successful novels (out of about 60) are A kozmosz korbácsa ["The Whip of the Cosmos"] (1982), Az acélcápa ["The Steel Shark"] (1982) and A neutron akció ["The Neutron Project"] (1982).

One Mainstream Writer who has occasionally turned to sf is Péter Lengyel, who wrote the prizewinning Ogg második bolygója ["Ogg's Second Planet"] (1969). [PK]

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