Speculative fiction is alive and well in Italy, with its Urania Prize for the best Italian science fiction going back to 1989 and a whole host of publishers and gatherings that highlight sf occurring throughout the year. And yet, given the fact that Anglophone sf has dominated world markets during the twentieth century, and that Italian is not as widespread as, say, English or Spanish, Anglophone readers have yet to read much Italian speculative fiction. That is slowly changing, though, thanks to Italian publishers like Francesco Verso, who is making connections to sf communities outside Italy; and Anglophone publishers and translators, who are investing time, print space, and money in the best sf that Italy has to offer. Verso’s own cyberpunk novel, Nexhuman, just came out in the US via Apex Publications in 2018, while Clelia Farris, Nicoletta Vallorani, Emanuela Valentini, Dario Tonani, Lorenzo Crescentini, Piero Schiavo Campo, and Samuel Marolla have placed their surrealist fables, hard sf, horror, and postapocalyptic sf in Anglophone anthologies and magazines over the past several years.
Indeed, Italy has been fertile ground for speculative storytelling since Dante, if not before. The Divine Comedy, of course, is a fourteenth-century version of the fantastic journey, where Virgil guides Dante through the circles of Hell. A couple of centuries later, Tommaso Campanella wrote The City of the Sun (1602), one of the world’s first modern utopias. Like many Western nations over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Italy was confronted with Enlightenment ideas and changing notions of narrative style and subject matter. Up to and through the early twentieth century, Italian speculative fiction drew from the fantastic and supernatural, but only with the shock and violence of the two world wars, along with the influence of American and British “genre sf,” did it start developing what would become fantascienza (coined in 1952).
In fact, many argue that 1952 was the year that “science fiction” (as developed in the US, UK, and France) came to Italy. Urania Magazine, which offered a version of the pulp or dime novels that Americans had gotten hooked on earlier in the century, launched that year. The 1960s witnessed an explosion of speculative fiction by two of the most important authors in Italian and even Western literature: Primo Levi and Italo Calvino. Like Vonnegut and Lem respectively, Levi and Calvino used genre themes like the impact of new technologies and philosophical approaches to understanding the universe to write novels and stories that brought Italian fantascienza to the attention of the world. The 1970s and ’80s saw Italian speculative authors developing generic offshoots like “splatterpunk” and experimenting with generic hybridization. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Italian authors, like their counterparts around the world, started taking advantage of the increasing connectivity offered by the internet. A movement known as “Connettivismo” developed in Italy, combining different disciplines in a more “holistic” approach to speculative fiction.
In the first two decades of this current century, authors like Danilo Arona have published fanta-noir and stories based on folktales; Francesco Verso continues to explore questions of transhumanism via cyberpunk; Samuel Marolla has introduced Italian horror and dark fantasy to many Anglophone readers; and Andrea Atzori and Livio Gambarini have written high fantasy based on their interests in religion, myth, and history. Clelia Farris is putting the island of Sardinia on the map with her unique blend of science fiction and surrealism, while Nicoletta Vallorani has taken on old tales like Bluebeard and added a science-fictional spin.
The microfiction presented here, translated by Sarah Jane Webb, lets readers sample current Italian speculative fiction across several subgenres, distilled into small-yet-powerful image-capsules. Here we find intergalactic markets selling magical eggs, AI technology creating a posthuman labor force, “angels,” and self-aware simulations.
Speculative fiction is indeed thriving in Italy, and will continue to do so as long as authors continue using the written word to explore strange, new worlds.
“Italian Speculative Microfiction in Translation: Three Writers” © Rachel Cordasco. By arrangement with the author. All rights reserved.