Nina Horvath is an Austrian writer and fan who came from Vienna to Zagreb for Kontakt last April. And everyone was all over her, not only because she was young, smart, pretty and interesting but also because European fandom does not know many Austrian SF fans. As I am doing my European fandom presentation at Conflux, I thought it would be fitting to have a piece on European fandom here. Nina wrote a piece on Austrian fandom for a Slovenian fanzine Jashubeg en Jered. Enjoy.
No fandom in Austria?
Austrian fandom. It’s an odd topic, isn´t it? And yes, joining international science fiction might be like our contribution to the Eurovision Song contest. Yes, we were there, but we came in last. The very last. Being at the Zagreb Eurocon, which was my first Eurocon ever, made me think a lot about the international SF fandom and the role of Austrian fandom in it.
I am too young to be the grande dame of the Austrian fandom, thus I beg to be excused by those who might have more insight into it. I have however been a science fiction fan since kindergarten age (I used to love watching Star Trek with my elder brother, later, as I was annoyed about all the books on teenage girl with horses, I was ‘wildering’ in the ‘boys´ shelves’ at the library and became hooked books). Also, I have been publishing SF short stories for more than ten years. Due to that, I got to know a lot of interesting people dealing with that subject, mostly via internet – but it was especially with future settings with future settings with future settings with future settings with future settings with future settings with future settings with future settings with future settings tough to get to know people really living close to me.
Please note that this work is just my – certainly limited – point of view that I sum up here, I do not refer to any article on a similar topic. But back to the Eurocon. A lot of guests thought it was interesting to have us guys around, sadly, not as they love our SF books and movies (what movies, anyway?), and even not as Austria is so far away from Croatia (it is not, it took me just five hours by bus to get there and I would bet that most of the keen fans take longer trips to get to a good convention!) that you can call the county ‘exotic’ – but Austrian fans are simply not so keen on going to events like that, so they are a kind of a ‘rare species’.
Of course, as every country, we have lots of fan clubs that deal somehow with science fiction. For me, it is very difficult to decide in favour or against which ones are really important, especially as it is very often not easy to find out any information about them if you do not have a friend who has at least once taken you to a meeting. But I would simply claim that we do not have any distinguished or outstanding fan club worth mentioning in our country.
The usual Austrian SF club consists of about maybe ten active members. A lot of them are off the record fan clubs, hence most of them do not even claim an annual fee. That makes it is difficult to specify the exact number of ‘real’ members, because institutions at no charge provoke lots of nominal and inactive members. No matter if smaller or bigger fan clubs – there’s no unity and organizing authority. So as a fan you may not get to know any information about these clubs and ore maybe won´t even hear anything about them in your entire life, even if you are really seeking for fan activities.
The commited devotees often meet in restaurants, as it is an easy way to organize such a meeting. Some of them are into Star Wars, some are Star Trek worshippers, the greatest amount of fans is mainly interested in general topics of science fiction, very often they are also fantasy fans at the same time. Some do online role playing games and meet every now and then to play games, some of the followers consider themselves as an ‘outpost’ of the German fan club scene. A few have established fanzines, even though most of such projects ceased to exist in much less than a decade.
One fan club I want to mention is the Science Fiction Gruppe Wien (SFGW). This is where I heard about the Eurocon in Zagreb. We meet once a month in a restaurant, we chat about science fiction, eat, drink and enjoy a short program. This could be a speech on any science-fiction topic or astronomy, a reading, an introduction of a local publisher, a report on a convention, etc. But what I think the most remarkable this is that the club goes way back. It was founded in 1955. And still most of the people are founding members or joined only a short time after the birth of the SFGW. I love this community, as it seems to be a fan club that can be an important part of your life for decades. That is, in my opinion, a rare pleasure.
Science fiction and fantasy awards
To put it bluntly, there are no serious genre awards here in Austria. But as we share our mother tongue with the Germans, Austrian authors can participate in most of the German awards.
There is the Deutscher Science Fiction Preis for science fiction short stories and novels. Decisions are made by a jury. The prize for the winners is 1000 Euro in each category.
Another German award is the Deutscher Phantastik Preis. A public vote decides on the winners there. The award is honoring fantasy, horror and science-fiction literature, cover design and webpages.
Another important science-fiction award is the Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis. This one stands somewhere in between the first two awards: there is no real jury, and also no public vote. The persons in charge, who are allowed to decide on the winning authors, first have to prove commitment to science-fiction.
Last, but not least, there is the Vincent Preis. The name is a tribute to the director Vincent Price. And it is also a play on words, since ‘Price’ is prounounced as the German word ‘Preis’, which is the translation for ‘award’. The winners are elected by a public vote.
Austria has quite a number of publishing houses, but only a few that provide readers with a particularly science fictional program. Small publishing houses come and go, nevertheless it is quite possible to have an overview. There are only few because most customers are often not willing to pay the high shipping fees, especially since Austria does not charge book shipping separately, as many other countries do. Most potential costumers are also in Germany what means even more postage.
A serious attempt had been made by the publisher Otherworld to establish a program with language translations of international authors translated authors from the German-speaking countries. The products were quite popular (especially the post-apocalyptic zombie novels), nevertheless it was absorbed by the big publisher Ueberreuter and became one if its labels. By now, Ueberreuter has abandoned this label. I consider this a big loss for the Austrian fandom!
It took many years until I had my first short story published by an Austrian publishing house. Despite the fact of being a native Austrian, living in Austria who had no problem getting publisjed by a German publishing house. Yes, it is just as absurd as it sounds.
My debut in Austria was in the program of the Septime publishing house, in an anthology with international female authors. They primarily published South American literature, but fantasy is also a major part of their program. A complete edition with new translations of the works of SF author James Tiptree Jr. is their major project.
Lately, I have also come across a new publisher, Mondwolf. They publish fantasy anthologies and novels. I hope they “live long and prosper!”
We do not really have a ‘pure’ fantasy or SF convention in Austria. I have been asked about it many times at Eurocon, about the Austrian ‘national convention’. It is a question I have to answer with something like: ‘What, uhm, pardon? National con?’ I asked around a lot in our local scene, but all the results I got were some sort of unsatisfying.
A lot of replies I got referred to events that took place twenty years ago. There are other current conventions, but with since they are not SF, I am simply not part of their main target group and do not know details about them.
Anime conventions are a good example of this. Austria has quite a lot of them, when you consider the small size of the country. It is certainly strange for me to be part of these meetings, especially as a lot of manga and anime deal with fantasy subjects. But it is simply not the place to discuss a good SF book. Writers active in this scene in Austria are usually just into fan fiction. These cons have rather young visitors there. People in their late twenties or thirty something would feel a bit old.
Serious attempts to support Austrian fandom were made last year with the MACOnvention in Linz. On this three-day-anime-convention the conrunners offered several readings with fantastic topics. For some of us it was a good experience, but not for all. The main problem was that most of the regular guests were simply not interested in sitting in a room, where a panel of literature is offered. The steampunk panel got more visitors than the horror readings. Noise was an issue as well, even with all doors closed. Main music themes of popular anime were hammering our ears during a reading. It was virtually impossible to concentrate on the reader’s words. It was a well-intentioned try, anyway. We will see how it is going to work out in the future.
One could say similar things about the Vienna Fantasy Gaming Con. It was an event for role players, and if you lived near, it certainly was worth having a look around, even if you are, like me, not into RPG. The entrance fee was not overly expensive and at least one could enjoy some shopping and do a little socializing. But as an event for a writer to be at, is it not good. I once held a reading together with my publisher there. There was just this one floor and one big hall. Therefore, there was no adequate way to set up book panels because they need a quiet surrounding. We got chairs at the end of the floor and yes, there was even an audience there. But it was very loud, what made the readings a rather bad, even traumatic experience for the authors. As far as I know, 2011 was probably the last time for this event. If true, that would certainly be a big loss for the SF fandom in Austria.
When I was trying to find out about Austrian science fiction conventions, a visit to the Perry Rhodan Convention was suggested to me. I do not know how famous the Perry Rhodan series is outside the German-speaking countries (although it had been translated into many languages, including even Japanese), but here it is big. It used to be very popular when my Dad was still a schoolboy. He told me of his excitement about the new phantastic issues introduced in the booklets, and the juvenile despair when his Mum, following the advice of my Dad’s teacher, threw them away. Such stories were considered to be second class literature that would spoil children at the time in Austria. Today, there Perry Rhodan softcovers, hardcovers as well as audio books.
The Perry Rhodan convention was just down the street from where I live, and with no entrance fee to pay, I thought I could give it a try. I am, after all, science fiction nerd. Even though the event was taking place in the town I am resident of, I had lots of trouble finding the location. That was because I expected some kind of event center, probably a school or something comparable, where conventions usually take place. But I was unable to find anything that looked like a convention. Finally, I recognized a more than average city house as the place where the action is going on. And guess what? I even had to ring the doorbell to get into the building! My friend and I were climbing the stairs and checked each floor, but only ordinary flats of private persons came in sight. In fact, the meeting was taking place in the basement, as we found out after a long search. It was kind of creepy getting down there, and when we finally encountered the other fans, I noticed that there were only a very few women among the guests. My companion whispered in my ear: ‘There are only old men here!’ However, we stayed for a while. But I did not feel quite comfortable there, I have to admit. Most probably, this convention is the perfect event for Perry Rhodan fans. I am certainly never going again. I also doubt a lot of new people will join that event in future.
There are some attempts of establishing German mainstream genre conventions in Austria. They will be held for the first time ever. Personally I am not keen to meet some stars of a teenage vampire series. For me, the situation with conventions in Austria was and is totally unsatisfying. It is like they do not exist, even if I cannot claim they do not. For a SF fan or anyone interested in fantasy literature in general, everything seems to be a compromise.
I usually go to Germany twice a year to enjoy panels on literature and good talks to fans, authors and publishers. The first time I went to a convention outside the borders of Austria or Germany was 2012 to Kontakt, the Zagreb Eurocon. It was a real great experience for me. I am sure it wasn’t the last time that I went to a Eurocon! I hope to attend some more conventions like this. I have gotten a lot of invitations to events in neighboring countries lately. So we will see!
Despite everything, I love living in Austria, as it is a gorgeous country. Even if it does not offer conditions for fans and authors of genre literature.