A devilish Sherlock Holmes…

A creative writing professor surrounded by his students at the end of the winter semester in a somewhat informal and relaxed atmosphere…

A creative writing professor properly punished for his too high expectations regarding two winter semester themes: “The Devil meets a Writer” and “A Sherlock Holmes pastiche.” Serves him right…

“Compartments” reviewed on Strange Horizons

Here is an excerpt from Andy Sawyer’s review of The Apex Book of World SF, posted on Strange Horizons:

Finally, there is “Compartments” by Zoran Živković, first published in Serbian in 2004. Živković, another World Fantasy Award winner and a writer who has been frequently published in Interzone has a Kafkaesque quality of surreal and often humorous strangeness and it’s here to the fore in “Compartments.” The carriages visited by the narrator are venues for non sequiturs, mystery, and bizarre logics. In them he meets (among others) chess-playing monks, an old gentleman who ate his first wife “but not all at once, of course . . . otherwise he might have been sent to the gallows,” and the conductor who is overwhelmed by the simple message “not to lose hope.” It ends the anthology on a high note, and our only disappointment is that it has ended. As in the last sentence of “Compartments,” we pause, hope that more will be said, and when it isn’t we move on…

The Strange Horizons interview

Nicholas Seeley had some interesting questions for the Apex Book of World SF Authors on the Strange Horizons website. Here are Zoran Zivkovic’s answers:

N.S.: Do you think speculative fiction reflects a national identity or national preoccupations?

Z.Z.: As far as I know, the term “speculative fiction” is used only in the English language countries. And even in English it is not a literary theory term, but just an invention of the publishing industry. The same is with another publishing industry label: “fantasy.” There is no equivalent for it in other languages either. In this part of the world we use the generic term “fantastika.” It has a very long and fruitful tradition in Europe…

The simplest definition of fantastika is that it is non-realistic, non-mimetic fiction. There are many forms of fantastika. Epic fantastika, mythic fantastika, folklore fantastika, oniric fantastika, fairy tale fantastika and so on—all the way to its twentieth century incarnations: science fantastika (or, as you know it, science fiction) and speculative fantastika (speculative fiction). (The publishing industry label “fantasy” is actually a low-level hybrid of epic fantastika and fairy tale fantastika.)

Among the bards of fantastika from Central and Eastern Europe are certainly E. T. A. Hoffmann, Franz Kafka, Mikhail Bulgakov, Stanislaw Lem—to name just a few.

It is nearly as old as the literacy itself. The Epic of Gilgamesh is among the earliest works of literature and it is full of fantastical elements. It is estimated that almost 75 percent of everything that has been written in the last 5,000 years is one or other form of fantastika. Realistic fiction is of a relatively recent origin and, in a certain sense, its mimetic nature betrays the very essence of the art of prose: inventing something that doesn’t exist. Our ability to imagine, to fantasize, is probably our most fundamental trait that makes us truly unique.

As for my “fantastika,” it doesn’t reflect anything “national.” It is a highly individual discipline . . . The global position of my country or its recent history has absolutely nothing to do with my work. I would have written the same books even if I had lived in Switzerland or among Eskimos.

N.S.: Do you think speculative fiction is the product of one cultural mindset, or is it universal? And what role does it have in communicating across cultures?

Z.Z.: The “fantastika” is maybe our most fundamental intercultural art.

When we write realistic fiction, we are almost always limited to a local area. The non-mimetic nature of fantastika is similar to a sort of lingua franca, Esperanto. No matter what our native language is, we easily understand fantastika although it might be a far stranger land than a realistic locality different from ours. . . .

As I said, by being not local, fantastika is universal. Take [my story] “Compartments” [in the Apex anthology] as an example. No matter where a reader comes from, provided that the concept of a train is within his experience, he doesn’t have to know anything about Serbia to be able to understand—and, hopefully, enjoy—my work.

There are certain natural limitations that are implicit to realistic fiction. Fantastika gives an author the freedom to handle love and death themes unrestrained by realistic human conditions. It opens the gates of a much larger universe. There is again a good example in my opus. Extraordinary situations various characters of my “Impossible Stories” books have to face are simply not possible within a realistic work of fiction. And only in these non-realistic situations was it possible to say something fundamentally new about love and death.

Adam Callaway reviews Compartments

Here is an excerpt from Adam Callaway’s review of “The Apex Book of World SF” anthology on The Weirdside:

“Compartments” by Zoran Zivkovic, Serbia

The other story that warrants the price of this anthology. Every time I read a new Zivkovic story, he reminds me why he is my second favorite short story writer (after the Blessed Ted Chiang). This story about a man, a conductor, and a bunch of train cars populated by extremely colorful people will keep you silently chuckling to yourself. The best part: you never find out anything about the main character or main conflict, and you want it that way. I can see how some of the unenlightened would throw the book across the room from the lack of resolution, but it really fits the story. The other reason Zivkovic is a true master of the short form is that he takes an incredibly pedestrian idea and makes it one of the most entertaining stories I’ve read all year.


The Agony Column interviews Zoran Zivkovic

Rick Kleffel of The Agony Column interviews Zoran Zivkovic. Here is an excerpt:

One of the writers I was happiest to get a chance to interview for the World Fantasy Convention, even if just by email, was Zoran Zivkovic. His work is so unique and so very much in what I might call the expansionist school of fantasy — in that each work of his expands the definition of what we might call fantasy fiction, simply because they resemble nothing you’ve ever read before. Here’s our chance to see what is behind his fiction.

RK: Young adult fiction is increasingly read by adults as well as the intended, or at least, included audience of adolescents. Science fiction and fantasy have often been characterized as adolescent fiction; is this of use to you as a writer? Do you find such a characterization helpful, hurtful, or irrelevant —and why?

ZZ: As a professor of creative writing at Belgrade University I tell my students at the very first class that they are absolutely in the wrong place if their prime ambition in writing is to get famous or rich. Even if they eventually achieve these goals, they are quite irrelevant. The noble art of prose is not just a means to achieve a goal. It is the Goal Itself.

You can read the whole interview here.