August 19, 2000
Goran Skrobonja, SF writer and translator
Reality More Fantastic Than Fantasy
Goran Skrobonja was born on March 28, 1962 in the Free County of Belgrade, where he still lives with his wife and his Brood. He finished the Law School on the local University, but after the end of his official education he started to study the doctrine of Nikodius Marich, and thus quickly became a member of the Society for supernatural studies 'Roseville', last address Waynesboro County. He spent his childhood in the Teachers' Colony, where he still drops by from time to time. He is very open and communicative and people can rarely see in him a master of horror and fantasy. Fourteen years have passed between his first published short story "A Gift From The Skies" and his latest, this year's short story collection, An Icepick In The Forehead. In the meantime, he spent his time writing, editing anthologies and translating Stephen King, Dan Simmons and Ian McDonald. He manages to feed his family working in foreign trade, which has absolutely nothing to do with his SF and horror activities.
FS: You are one of the management members of the Science Fiction Fans Society "Lazar Komarcic". Are the activities of your Society some kind of escapism from reality, and what did make you turn to this genre of artistic expression?
Everybody has his or her personal trigger responsible for turning him (or her) into a passionate fan of rock'n'roll, science fiction, Japanese gardening or, I don't know, absolute power... The earliest such "triggers" that I remember, that turned me into an SF fanatic, were the movies and TV shows from the end of the sixties, when I was still pretty young - Lost In Space, Captain Nemo and the Underwater City, and especially, Planet of the Apes, the first real, big SF movie I'd ever seen in a theatre, the movie I still deem to be one of the most influential in the genre.
Generally speaking, visual media practically make way for the written word when we speak about the initial orientation of children towards various interests - I see that in my little girls, who had seen Disney's Aladin and played that game on my PC long before they learned how to read and got their hands on the books about that hero. Of course, it doesn't mean that books have become obsolete at all - simply, the "preparation" for them was, in my childhood, quite similar to what children have today - TV, cinema, comics, computer games and consoles... We must not forget that almost any successful popular culture product from those categories has its basis in good writing. No wonder that in the West the people who make screenplays are called simply - and quite correctly - WRITERS.
So, to return to your question after these small digressions: I was lucky enough to leran English in the time when foreign paperback were very easily found here, and they were quite affordable; if I remember correctly, almost 90% of those books in various Belgrade bookstores were SF, with a bit of horror. And that notion - that language is not a limiting factor anymore, that you don't have to depend on plans, quirks or competence of the local publishers - was for me some kind of a small spiritual revolution: suddenly, literally ANYTHING was available. At that time, in mid-seventies, I was very interested in Robert E. Howard's Conan and I devoured all of some fifteen or so paperback with stories about Conan that had been available in SKC or in the legendary Antique Bookstore in Knez Mihajlova Street. Today it's much harder to buy foreign books, but kids manage; with the Internet you don't have to search for magazines anymore in order to find out what is the latest book of your favourite author, or what he/she intends to publish in near future.
Society "Lazar Komarcic" was founded exactly 20 years ago in Belgrade, by small number of SF enthusiasts who knew each other very well, and they were ready to invest their energy in order to give some form and sense to their interests. Among them were some who later became well-known by theuir genre activities - Dr. Zoran Zivkovic, Boban Knezevic, Vladimir Vesovic, Vlada Lazovic, Zoran Jaksic, Aleksandar Manic... I became a member of "Laza" in 1982, and since then I made efforts to participate actively in the work of all its incarnations - from NUBS, "Komunalac", City Library, Dom omladine and SKC, to Dom omladine again. In one "mandate" I was the Society's President, but in that period we came into a conflict with the SKC program editors, because we declared our solidarity with students' protests... Still, the Society managed to survive and to maintain pretty high quality of program - mostly lectures or promotions of new genre works, projections of interesting genre movies or TV shows under the name "Fantasy Screen" and general interaction of people who share the same interests concerning fantasy. Also, we must not forget three Belgrade SF Conventions ("BEOCONS") organised so far by us and people from Dom Omladine (1984) and Muzej jugoslovenske kinoteke (1999, 2000).
Right now, "Laza" is on summer vacation, but regular activities of the Society will be continued from the first Tuesday in September, in Belgrade's Dom omladine.
FS: In your fantastic stories that are all the time somewhere on the edge of reality, you anticipated some catastrophic outcomes of our regime's politics. How much was taken from the reality for those phantasmagorias, and which social cataclysm will be the next topic of your writing?
I think that Stephen King said somewhere that writers of what is called 'fiction' are mere liars, whose lies about non-existent people and events other people read and pay for such privilege. If we accept that, then SF writers are ultra-liars, since their lies usually cannot become true in a foreseeable future. I had such bad luck to see some of my lies become true, which shows one of the following two things: either that I am a very clumsy liar/SF writer, or that the reality is simply more fantastic that anything you can imagine.
That's right, I wrote about the break-up of Yugoslavia and Bosnian war in the long-forgotten successful times of Ante Markovic, and I wrote about the war against the unprovoked NATO aggressor in 1993/94... but even then, as I remember, there were some serious threats, and you only had to take one small step further thinking about "what would happen if it happened." Unfortunately, it DID happen, and today I'd like that little step I'd taken then to have been a bit longer. Real events made my SF books, in a span of mere years, become the alternative history works.
That made me avoid local "settings" and daily politics in my writing. Now I am more interested in pure fantasy like the one I used to write ten years ago. You see, this winter, Drazen Kovacevic, young graduate of the applied arts, and me, with a little help from our well-known comics author and teacher Vladimir Vesovic and Drazen's professor and mentor Rastko Ciric, managed to win the first prize on the comics competition organised by "Glenat", major French comics publisher that is going to print our album this November... That comic was made on the basis of my novella "The Wheels", published in 1987 in the SF magazine "Alef", and all of that is quite new and exciting creative experience. It's amazing to see your work translated into another media and to realise that your vision and vision of another artist - in this case, comics artist - are completely in sync. A few days ago I've seen the last completed pages in full colour and I can freely say that the comic book will be fantastic. And the publisher requires the series, so I blew the dust from the sequels of "The Wheel" that I had also written some ten years ago, and I was taken by surprise with the amount of energy, imagination and unpretentious zeal in those stories. My greatest wish now is to capture again that spirit, that state of consciousness from ten years ago, and to write that way once more.
I believe that similar relationship exists between Stephen King and his Dark Tower series, because it is quite clear while you read those books that he immensely enjoyed writing them. "The Wheel" is probably my Dark Tower, and if I have to choose which of my yet unfinished works I'd like to complete first, it is surely the end of The Wheel Saga.
FS: Djordje Pisarev claims that your dark literature dreams are a part of the collective reality where we found ourselves existing within a novel of immense proportions. Are we living your nightmare?
That's right, the name of my horror literature edition IS "Nightmare", but at the time when I founded it, I didn't see any connection with daily political situation. Quite contrary - it was in 1990, when my salary in the company where I worked then amounted to around 1500 DM, just like the salary for most people with my qualifications. No wonder then that this past reality looks fantastic today, in comparison with our everyday "Nightmare." When things started to go downhill, I tried to find some solution, just like anybody else. That unbelievable year of hyperinflation I had spent working in Greece, so my family was comparatively protected. I like to think that I managed to spare my girls - still babies at that time - from various banal difficulties and shortages. As for writing and translating, it was a period of my own hyperactivity, mostly because it was the easiest escape from reality. I must mention here the "Rubber Soul Project" in which I participated thanks to already mentioned Rastko Ciric, professor of illustration in the Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade. In those dark days of 500 billion dinars bills, Rastko suggested to me, as a fellow-Beatlemaniac, a fantastic project of writing and performing the "alternative" Beatles songs based only upon the titles of the tracks recorded by the Fab Four, but never before published. Just to remind you, it was long before "Anthologies" were published and new wave of Beatles nostalgia revived. The result is more than 30 totally original songs in the spirit of Lennon-McCartney opus, and one recorded CD that was unconditionally embraced by the Beatle freaks like us. But "Rubber Soul Project" is a topic that would demand much more space here. It should suffice for me to say that RSP was one of the few things I participated in (I wrote lyrics for the songs) that would make me proud as long as I live.
Anyway, I don't know the magic formula that would bring us out of this nightmare which, after all, we brought down upon ourselves. I am staying as far as I can from the politics because I feel I wouldn't swim very well in such a profane expression of social pathology. I loath equally almost all active parties in our political life and I can only find admiration for these kids from "Otpor". Some of them are my readers and they like the things I write. I am glad that they can find in my stories enough interesting stuff to keep them reading to the end. I am knocked down by their humour, and I am, at the same time, astonished by the amount of fear this cowardly regime has before them. I think that the people sitting in power-chairs, fat from money and privileges, do not understand these children at all - hey, they arrest boys and girls playing soccer on the field, impersonating our national team and the Dutch! What amount of paranoia you need to send the police machinery against SUCH things? The establishment hasn't got any communication whatsoever with the kids who, some day, must grow up and become a part of this society; thus, the establishment doesn't have any serious future. And that is my standpoint, in relation to what I write: people belonging to the regime don't read my books (if they read anything at all) - they arrest my readers. Nothing else has to be said.