Nordic science fiction

Despite it not being the most popular genre within the Nordic countries, science fiction writers have produced a range of literature. These span from satirical predictions about humankind’s degeneration in Sam Lundwall’s Ace-books in Sweden in 1970s, to Aila Johanna Sinisalo’s award-winning portrayal of gender issues in Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi in Finland (2000), to Andri Snær Magnason’s Love Sta, a fusion of Monty-Python 'sand that of Douglas Adams' style. Audiences are sufficient to warrant the production of fanzines in nearly all the Nordic countries as well as other activities.

2019.02.27 | Nete Schmidt

Science fiction may be defined as realistic speculation about future events based on our contemporary reality. Contrary to fantasy, science fiction is based on knowledge of the real word and speculation about which improbable events may possibly happen in the future, or which may have happened in the past if alternative developments had taken place. This expansion of the imaginary resonates with a small but very dedicated part of the Nordic population that creates fanzines, short stories, and novels. 

Sweden

Arguably, Sweden has the strongest tradition of science fiction in the Nordic countries. Fandom (‘Sverifandom’) emerged in the 1950s. The first science fiction fanzine was started in the early 1950s. The oldest still-existing club, Club Cosmos, was formed in 1954, and the first science fiction convention was held in Lund in 1956. Today there are a number of science fiction clubs in the country. Between one and four science fiction conventions are held each year in Sweden. Häpna! (Be Amazed!) was the country’s seminal science fiction magazine from 1954-1966, with translations of both the Golden Age of detective fiction greats and Swedish texts. TV4 Science fiction is a Swedish television channel dedicated to the science fiction genre, launched in 2008.

Some notable Swedish science fiction writers include:

  • Karin Boye, whose classic, Kallocain (1940), depicts a dystopian society based on mind control and 1984-tactics.
  • Harry Martinson, whose Aniara (1956), an epic poem, contemplates the future of humankind following the catastrophic atomic destruction of the earth.
  • Peter Nilson was an astronomer combining science, legend, and religion with science fiction in Arken (1982) (The Ark) and Avgrundsbok (1987) (Book of the Abyss).
  • Sam Lundwall was enormously prolific and wrote his first play for Swedish radio in 1952, aged only 11. Active in fandom, he writes both novels and studies of science fiction. Inga hjältar här (1972) (No Time for Heroes) and Alice, Alice! (1974) are typical of his Ace-book productions: burlesque, hilarious and satirical predictions about humankind’s degeneration.
  • John-Henri Holmberg has been instrumental in translating and introducing English-language science fiction in Sweden. He has published over 200 science fiction fanzines of his own while also working as an editor and critic.

Finland

In Finland, science fiction has a solid following. Aila Johanna Sinisalo explores contemporary understanding of gender in her first novel Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi (2000) (Not before Sundown/Troll — A Love Story, 2003/2004). For this, she was awarded the oldest literature science fiction award, the Atorox Award, as well as the Finlandia Prize. Other works include Linnunaivot (2010) (Birdbrain) and Baby Doll (2002/2008). Leena Krohn uses the concept of artificial intelligence to examine man’s moral and ethical place in the world in Vihreä vallankumous (1970) (The Green Revolution), and her short novel Tainaron: Mail From Another City was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and International Horror Guild Award in 2005.

Kimmo Lehtonen held the position of chairman of the Helsinki Science Fiction Society for a long time, and runs the most active science-fiction-oriented website in Finland, Babek Nabel. His writings deal with visits from alien races, such as, Yli uusien rantojen (2000) (Over new shores) and visions of future networks of people, ideas, and events, as in LUEMINUT (2006) (README). Other notable writers are Risto Isomäki, Erkki Ahonen, Tero Niemi and Anne Salminen, Maarit Verronen, and Jyri-Pekka Mäkelä. The books of Hannu Rajaniemi, written in English, include The Quantum Thief (2010).

Iceland

Iceland is the location of Jules Verne’s classic, A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), but with a literacy rate of 100%, the highest per-capita publication of books and magazines in the world, and a population famous for its love of fiction and poetry, science fiction is not a major genre. Andri Snær Magnason uses his work to reflect the idea that Iceland is a microcosm of the world. His novel Love Star (2002), named Best Novel 2002 by Icelandic Booksellers, presents an Icelandic multinational corporation causing the end of the world in a style fusing Monty Python and Douglas Adams. Dreamland (2008) is a philosophical, political and humorous book about contemporary issues. Hermann Stefánsson’s Algleymi (2008) (Oblivion) explores the boundaries between fact and fiction.

Norway

In Norway, an unbroken tradition of a high level of activity within fandom, conventions, and fanzines has existed since 1965. The market for science fiction in Norwegian is small, but Oslo’s SF club, Aniara, has published a fanzine, Algernon, since 1974.  Johannes H. Berg Jr. was an influential science fiction and fantasy fandom enthusiast, club founder, convention organizer, fanzine writer, and translator. Jon Bing and Tor Åge Bringsværd co-founded Aniara and have collaborated on numerous works of science fiction. Their debut was the short story collection Around the Sun in a Circle (1967). Their prolific science fiction output focuses on people who stand outside ordinary society and try to do the impossible or act as anarchists. Øyvind Myhre edited and contributed to the science fiction magazine Nova during the 1970s, and he also published the fantazine, GANDALF. His debut was the novel Aster (1974). Christopher Grøndahl won the Norwegian Fabel Prize in 2007 with his novel 104, a space odyssey and a poetic vision of the future.

Denmark

In Denmark, the idea of finding another universe close to or inside our own is often replaced by speculative fiction focusing on showing solutions to social and political problems through reform and inventiveness. For example, Henrik Stangerup’s Manden der ville være skyldig (1973) (The Man who wanted to be guilty) discusses individual responsibility, and Anders Bodelsen’s Frysepunktet (1969) (Freezing Down) examines the ramifications of future and choice. In Dorrit Willumsen’s Neonhaven (1976) (The Neon Garden), Manden som påskud (1980) (The Man as Pretense), and Programmeret til kærlighed (1981) (Programmed for Love), the interaction between the sexes is reflected in scientific innovations.

Svend Aage Madsen regularly uses science fiction as a vehicle for his philosophical, existential attempts to create debate about the human condition, as in Se dagens lys (1980) (See The Light of Day), Genspejlet (2000) (Reflected), Det syvende bånd (2006) (The Seventh Band), and Mange sære ting for (2009) (Many Strange Purposes). Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff is the only self-proclaimed science fiction writer. His work includes Anno Domini (1975), Gud (1976) (God), and Den 33. marts (1977) (March 33rd). The Science Fiction Cirklen (The Science Fiction Circle), a science fiction members’ association founded in 1974, is Denmark’s main publisher of fanzines and anthologies of short stories, most notably Sky City (2010).

Further reading:

A. K. Nestingen, Crime and Fantasy in Scandinavia: Fiction, Film, and Social Change, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2008).

J. Sinisalo, ed., The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy, (London: Dedalus, 2006).