Fantascienza italiana

Riviste,autori, dibattiti dagli anni Cinquanta agli anni Settanta.

Giulia Iannuzzi (2014)

Milano-Udine, Mimesis Edizioni (Fantascienza e società) pp. 362, € 30

Reviewed by: Diana Bianchi

In an essay published in 2000 John Milton lamented how the translation of mass fiction, i.e. popular genres such as crime fiction, romance and science fiction, was an under-researched field (Milton, 2000:174). Fifteen years later, scholarly work in this area is still rather scarce, a state of affairs that has a number of causes, including the resistance on the part of the academic world to engage with texts perceived as having a low literary status, whether they be original works or translations. This was certainly the case with science fiction in Italy as the genre was marginalised for a long time by the critics (Pagetti,1979 and 1989). The fact that the great majority of science fiction published in Italy was in the form of translation probably contributed to this exclusion, following the well-known and widely practiced trend of ignoring translated literature as an object of critical enquiry. Thus, as the sum of two ‘marginalised’ bodies of texts, the history of science fiction in Italian has been largely untold, with the exception of few texts deriving mainly from within the SF field itself.

In the last few years, however, there has been an increase of interest in the academic world for Italian science fiction, with studies which highlight its translational component. This is the case of Fantascienza italiana, a monograph by Giulia Iannuzzi, originating from the author’s doctoral thesis and dealing, as the subtitle indicates, with the magazines, authors and debates emerging between the 1950s, when translations of Anglo-American science fiction started to appear in specialised SF periodicals in Italy, to the 1970s, when interest for the genre seemed to fade, with the demise of some important periodicals. During these thirty years, a myriad of magazines and book series came and went, which were, more often than not, very short-lived and of varying quality and ambition. Within this mass, Giulia Iannuzzi has focused on the most popular production, specifically on six magazines/book series, which the author has chosen on the basis of their being the sites where the debate about science fiction started to develop and the first homegrown produced SF narratives appeared. The six chapters that constitute the body of the book are each dedicated to one of these magazines/book series, providing a very detailed reconstruction of their history as well as a thorough description of their “material” features, internal structure, content, reception and readership. In addition, the descriptive aspect is combined with valuable critical insights and assessment of the relative merits and weaknesses of these periodicals.

Although Fantascienza Italiana originated within an Italian Studies environment, it has a strong comparative character which is evident from the beginning. As the author states in the short introduction, the book is a history of “science fiction written in Italian” an important detail which allows her to include both translated and Italian original literature in her discussion. Foreign models, she goes on to say, were essential for the development of the genre in Italy, both in literary and cultural terms, as not only texts were translated but also publishing formats (p.17).

In the six chapters that follow the introduction, she outlines how science fiction in Italian developed as a continual motion between the imitation of the foreign texts, primarily Anglo-American, and attempts by some publishers, writers and translators to distance themselves from such works in the belief that a distinct Italian science fiction, imbued with Italian values and literary tradition, was possible. Although there is no analysis of specific translated texts, which would have been beyond the scope of the book, there are many references to the translation practices that took place, from the abridged versions of SF novels in series such as Urania and I romanzi del cosmo, to the more source oriented strategies found in later magazines such as Galassia and Robot. In this regard, of particular interest is Chapter One, which covers the beginning of science fiction in Italy and the history of Urania, the most successful and longest-running Italian SF book series, founded in 1952 and still in print to this day. Although this territory has already been partially explored by Pierpaolo Antonello (2008), Iannuzzi provides fresh insights into Urania’s editorial practices, about the selection process of the texts and the reasons behind radical editorial interventions, including censorship. Interesting data about translation are also present in the other chapters, but they remain at a more general level and function rather as signals that further research is necessary. For example, Chapter Two is dedicated to I romanzi del cosmo, an Urania competitor of lower quality, that often published pseudotranslations, i.e. SF novels written by Italians adopting Anglo-Saxon names. Iannuzzi reports that the presence of fictitious translations alongside the real ones did not cause lower sales, from which it may be assumed that the “produzione italiana e straniera sono sostanzialmente indistinguibili agli occhi e ai gusti dei lettori” [ Italian and foreign production are essentially indistinguishable for the Italian readers] (p. 92). This assumption, however, needs to be further qualified as one wonders whether it was a case of readers being uninterested or unable to distinguish between the two types of texts, or if the quality of the texts themselves was such that both real translations and pseudotranslations were so similar that a difference was not noticeable. The following chapters follow more or less this pattern, with a wealth of precious information for the historian of science fiction in Italian, and references to translation practices that function as a “call” for more data and research.

In conclusion, Fantascienza italiana offers a fundamental contribution to the history of science fiction in Italy. Based on solid archival research and the analysis of texts which the author has tracked down in specialised collections and libraries, the book provides a coherent and detailed story of a cultural production that until now had been dealt with in a fragmented and sometimes anedoctal manner.

Written in an engaging and fluent style, this is obviously an essential text for all those interested in Italian science fiction. In addition, the book will be of great interest for those who study translation as it contains many details about the translation of science fiction as a popular genre, functioning as a “stimulus” for more research to be done in this very rich field. 

References

Antonello Pierpaolo (2008) “La nascita della fantascienza in Italia: il caso “Urania””. In E.Scarpellini, J.T. Schnapp eds. ItaliaAmerica. L’editoria. Milano: Il Saggiatore. 99-123

Milton John (2000) “The Translation of Mass Fiction”. In Allison Beeby, Doris Ensinger and Marisa Presas eds. Investigating Translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.171-79

Pagetti Carlo (1979) “Twenty-five years of science fiction criticism in Italy (1953-1978). Science Fiction Studies. Vol. 6, 19, part 3, November. https://www.depauw.edu/site/sfs/review_essays/pagett19.htm

Pagetti Carlo (1987) “Science Fiction Criticism in Italy, in and out of the University”. Science Fiction Studies. Vol. 14, 42, part 2, July. http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/review_essays/pagett42.htm

©inTRAlinea & Diana Bianchi (2014).
[Review] "Fantascienza italiana", inTRAlinea Vol. 16
This review can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/reviews/item/2082

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