Science fiction made in Norway
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
This overview was written by Jørn A. Jensen for the Chinese magazine World Science Fiction Frontiers, to be published in 2022. Audun Lindholm (editor of Scandinavian literary magazine Vagant) has done fact checking and given advice. The survey is relevant up to and including November 2021.
As in most of the world, Norwegians watch science fiction movies, play sci-fi themed games, and are fascinated with technology and gadgets. The science fiction literary scene, however, is relatively modest. A few internationally acclaimed novels are translated from time to time, most recently Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan, The Testament by Margaret Atwood, and The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Otherwise, genre fans sate their appetite with the abundance of English language titles.
On the other hand, there are enough entries accumulated over the years to preclude the mentioning of all. When referencing authors and titles, I have prioritized those published roughly after the turn of the millennium.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND Norway, a country of no more than 5,4 million people, is part of Scandinavia, together with Denmark and Sweden. The region is quite homogenous, with a shared history and mutually understandable languages. Literature and popular culture from the three countries have much in common, ‘Scandinavian Noir’ crime fiction being a prominent example.
Still, there is a crucial difference between Norway and its two neighbour countries. From 1537 to 1814, Norway was part of Denmark, then Sweden, first becoming an independent nation in 1905. Until then, academic, judicial, and cultural life largely conformed to Danish standards, including the use of Danish written language.
Danish and Swedish dominance also strictly limited the size of Norwegian nobility. As in much of Europe after the Black Death, most people lived under harsh conditions, right up to the 18th and early 19th century. A substantial number emigrated to the Americas, primarily to USA.
Cold winters, mountainous terrain, and scarcity of arable land made for hard work and frugal living. A strict work ethic ensued, combining with pious protestant Christian values. These traits survived the speedy modernization primarily taking place after the second World War.
While Norway of today is one of the world’s richest countries, measured per capita, it’s fair to define its inhabitants as down-to-earth, no-nonsensical and with a pronounced streak of individualism. This said, it should be emphasized that present day Norway has become an open, multicultural country, heavily involved in international cooperation and at the forefront in areas such as offshore, maritime, and industrial technology.
REACHING AN AUDIENCE Pragmatism and adhering to the demands of everyday life, praiseworthy attitudes in themselves, may present a barrier for science fiction, at least in its literary form. As is the case elsewhere too, mainstream fiction feels safer, for readers, critics, publishers, and literary scholars.
On the other hand, current mainstream authors have successfully tried their hands at science fiction, or incorporated genre tropes in their writing. Some recent examples are Therese Tungen, Øystein Stene, Johan Harstad, Elin Brodin, Jan Grue, Rannveig Leite Molven, Thure Erik Lund, Gert Nygårdshaug, and Peter Franziskus Strassegger. The same tendency is evident in Denmark and Sweden.
Science fiction has entered the children’s book marked, too. Well into the twentieth century, homegrown literature for younger readers was realistic and educational fare; adventurous and fantastical titles were mostly translated imports. In the years following World War I, the genre opened to fun, nonsense, and disobedience, although family relations and social aspects have been prominent motifs until present days.
The last decades have seen a surge of books for children containing magic, mysteries and high tech, both by domestic writers and in translations. An example of pure science fiction fun is Christopher Pahle’s three book series (2019–2021), about twins Kass and Tycho who are thrown into fast-pacing adventures in a Star Wars like universe, where their interaction with aliens challenges our belief in human superiority. Another, prolific writer of children’s books with fantastical and sci-fi elements is Monika Steinholm. Her series ‘Ankh’ counts six titles published between 2018 and 2020.
FOR SMALL AND BIG SCREENS Things are stirring in films and tv as well. Public tv channel NRK is currently running ‘Heirs of the Night,’ a young adult vampire series produced in collaboration with Germany and the Netherlands. In 2020 streaming service Netflix premiered ‘Ragnarok’, a Danish-Norwegian series with a climate crisis twist. It takes place in present day fictitious town of Edda, where Norse jotner and gods, including a reincarnated Thor, battle each other.
In 2017 NRK created the comic flick ‘Magnus’, involving among other things trolls and aliens. Even more ambitious is ‘Beforeigners’, a slickly produced six-episode drama based on the sudden arrival of refugees from the past. Season two is reported to be well underway.
Going a few years back, two feature films inspired by local lore and ancient myths were well received by cinema goers. One is ‘Trolljegeren’ (Trollhunter), an action comedy from 2010 involving an enormous mountain dwelling troll; in the other, adventure flick ‘Gåten Ragnarok’ (The Ragnarok Riddle) from 2013, we follow an archaeologist’s investigation into mysterious Viking finds.
Another major tv project under development is a US based adaption of ‘The History of Bees’ (‘Bienes historie’ in Norwegian), the international bestseller by Maja Lunde. Her novel, describing ecological breakdown, is a dystopic tale spanning the past, today and the future. Interestingly, the publisher has avoided using the term science fiction in its promotional material. The same was the case with Bår Stenvik’s 2018 novel ‘Informasjonen’ (The Information) about the role of artificial intelligence in a love affair, not unlike ‘Machines Like Me’ (2019) by Ian McEwan. While hailed as a well written, smart novel, ‘Informasjonen’ was primarily marketed as a psychological thriller, although reviewers used the science fiction label more freely.
DYSTOPIA FOR AN ANXIOUS AGE ‘The History of Bees’ is far from the only dystopic or apocalyptic story by contemporary Norwegian writers. Come to think of it, quite a lot of science fiction in the western world deals with catastrophe and doom. In genre books written for the general audience as well as for young adults, climate breakdown, the end of civilisation or mind controlling autocracies are typical plot tropes.
Representative of this trend in young adult books is ‘Kampen for en ny verden’ (Stuggle for a new world) by Elin Viktoria Unstad (2017), about an Earth depopulated after the Energy Wars, and 17-year-old Vega’s struggle to save what remains of a small enclave. In ‘Øya synker sakte’, (Island slowly sinking, 2021) author Sanne Mathiassen describes Henny’s life on an island about to be engulfed by the rising sea, like much of the rest of the world.
In 2008, Johan Harstad obtained great reviews for 'Darlah' a sci-fi/horror novel describing young moon visitors dicovering frightening doppelgangers, whose devious actions ultimately leading to apocalypse. And in prize-winning ‘I morgen er alt mørkt’ (Tomorrow everything will be dark, 2014), Sigbjørn Mostue described a plague transforming people into raving lunatics, told from the perspective of the young boy Brage. In his two-book series ‘Enkebyen’ (Widow City, 2019, 2020) Thomas Enger writes about desperate measures to reduce the human population.
‘Dystopia 2014’, Terje Torkildsen’s quartet from 2009 to 2012 conjures up a world of floods, devastation, and death. It all ends well, however, and underway there is comic relief. Jan Henrik Nielsen’s ‘Høsten’ (Autumn), from 2013, is the tale of sisters Nanna and Fride who have lived in a bunker with their father for several years, after a mysterious illness has affected most of life on earth. When their father contracts the disease, the girls leave the bunker, hoping to find medicine.
Possibly inspired by George Orwell’s 1984, award-winning Lars Mæhle conjures up a gruesome dictatorship in ‘Bouvetøya 2052’ (2015), a book described as a climate thriller for young readers. The plot revolves around a reality show contest broadcast live to a world turned upside down by climate changes. Mæhle has also written YA fantasy, notably two book series ‘Landet under isen’ (A country under the ice, 2011) and ‘Dødeboka’ (Book of Death, 2014).
Another recent YA series is the trilogy ‘Beta’ (2014–2016) by Amund Hestsveen and Torborg Igland; a grim account of young protagonists escaping the claws of dictatorship in a devasted Scandinavia 60 years hence. The series has been characterized as a Norwegian answer to ‘The Hunger Games’.
Tyra T. Tronstad won a critics’ award for ‘Mørket kommer innenfra’ (Darkness emerges from the inside, 2016), a post-apocalyptic narrative about two youngsters not knowing if they can trust each other in a world of war and feuding gangs. Also from 2016 is Harald Rosenløw Eeg’s intense and uncomfortable ‘Kvartinger’, depicting a future society driven by fear of a new epidemic.
DYSTOPIA FOR GROWNUPS
Though the wave of Norwegian dystopian books started to surge primarily from the late nineties and onwards, it had precedents. A classic in the adult segment is Knut Faldbakken’s two book series ‘Uår’. In ‘Aftenlandet’ (Evening Country) from 1974 and ‘Sweetwater’ from 1976, he explores the impending end of modern civilisation through the eyes of people living on a land filling. The books were made into a film in 1988, also named Sweeetwater.
Worth mentioning is ‘En vind fylt av tusen sommere’ (A wind filled with a thousand summers), veteran writer and illustrator Thore Hansen’s poetic tale for a young audience about the consequences of unending consumption in the western world, published back in 1994. Hansen has written numerous other science fiction and fantasy books from the seventies and well into the twenty-first century.
Another title, from 2003, impressing readers when it came out, is ‘Under steinbølgene’ (Under the rocky waves) by Ørjan Drange. In the novel’s fictitious world, ruled by a telepathic network, evil forces set about to release destruction.
Prolific author Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen, mentioned later as a fantasy writer, published the Evv Lushon trilogy in the period 2005 to 2008, an apocalyptic vision of a post-World War III Earth.
The 2012 novel ‘Massemenneske’ by Anders Malm describes the dire consequences of a cynical consumerist society dependent on all-encompassing surveillance. A similar description of surveillance and dehumanization is at the core of ‘Sone Z’ by Øyvind Vågnes from 2014.
Renowned author Jan Grue published ‘Det blir ikke bedre’ (It won’t be better, 2016), in which he paints a scary picture of a world where the quality and worth of a citizen’s life is defined exclusively by economic criteria.
In ‘Et uoverskuelig mørke’ (A confusing darkness) from 2017, Håvard Syvertsen makes terror and civil war in Norway a plausible scenario employing a subdued, almost undramatic tone of voice. A similar theme, also told in a sober voice, plays out in ‘En vakker dag’ (A Beautiful Day, 2012) by Geir Stian Ulstein, a novel about a Norwegian photographer returning to his home country, wrecked by civil war. Vile atrocities are explicitly described, including rape and violence committed on children.
2017 saw the publication of ‘Alt etter havet’ by Lasse W. Fosshaug (the title roughly translates into After the Sea, or According to the Sea). The novel is a reflection on the role of technology in our lives and has been characterized as a blend of working-class literature and dystopic science fiction.
Also from 2017 is Didrik Morits Hallstrøm’s ‘Lysår’ (Light Years), about an Earth made uninhabitable by sun storms. Mankind’s last hope is made up of 16 cryogenically preserved persons, their memories erased, on their way to a planet 319 light years away.
In recent story collection ‘... som duften av en drøm ...’ (… like the scent of a dream …) Bjarne Benjaminsen ponders the likelihood of a complete recalibration of mankind’s very nature caused by mind-altering technology. Stig Beite Løken has a related take on augmented and virtual reality’s influence on people in 2018 novel ‘Drømmelinsene’ (Dream Lenses) and ‘Det finnes ingen andre verdener’ (There are no other worlds, 2021). The first describes real estate agent Jonas Høller looking for a woman from a virtual house showing, the other fatally ill Mathilde’s journeys into dream worlds on a search for her missing children.
Depressing future scenarios may include wit and action, though, as in ‘Nullingen av Paul Abel’ (The Nulling of Paul Abel, 2019), in which Bjørn Vatne tackles the twin threats of pollution and surveillance.
Right before the current pandemic struck, Ørjan N. Karlsson released the last instalment of his Eldfell Trilogy. This action-packed dystopic thriller is set in a devastated Europe a hundred years from now or so, with a bio-modified soldier as the hero. Karlsson has also written fantasy for children, ‘Nattspeilet’ (Night Mirror) from 2017, and ‘Ylva og Myldermørket’ (Ylva and the Multitudinous Dark) from 2018.
THEATRE, POETRY AND LANGUAGE Dystopia and ecological crises has also been combined on Norwegian stage. In 2010, Rogaland Theatre produced ‘Frykten’ (The Fear) by script writer Yngve Sundvor, a piece about environmental threat, politics, and nature’s revenge, told as a horror story.
Two other ambitious theatre productions were based on one of Norway’s most acclaimed modern long poems, ‘Solaris korrigert’ (Solaris Corrected, 2004) by Øyvind Rimbereid. One as an opera in 2013, the other as a monologue starring leading female actor Ane Dahl Torp in 2015. The protagonist Aig is about to move to empty underwater oil wells, where a computer creates a "mirrorworld" of "pictographics", according to what the individual wants to see and experience. The poem, as well as the stage versions, examine the transformation of the Norwegian language, with interspersion from English, Scottish and Danish, tech terminology and ancient Norse vocabulary.
Fascination for future language has inspired other authors as well. The Norwegian sci-fi canon includes three dystopic novels by nationally acclaimed Axel Jensen. In ‘Epp’ (1965) as well as its successors ‘Lul’ (1992), and ‘Og resten står skrivd i stjernene’ (The rest is written in the stars, 1995), linguistic changes are important ingredients. The trilogy deals with main characters Epp and Lul, living in ghetto-like environments on the planet Oblidor.
Jensen also collaborated with author Roar Høyland, illustrator Tore Bernitz Pedersen and well-known artist Terje Brofos, better known as Pushwagner, on ‘Doktor Fantastisk’, a weekly one-page comics for the newspaper Dagbladet in 1972. The series, in the guise of a superhero parody, was eventually stopped because it was deemed too provocative. In 1995 it was published in book form.
‘Bella Blu Håndbok for verdensrommet’ (Bella Blu Handbook for Space) is another extensive science fiction epic poem, describing a space probe on its journey through the cosmos. Published to great praise by well-established poet Terje Dragseth in 2013, Bella Blu explores language as well as cosmic and philosophical issues.
Prize-winning Maria Dorothea Schrattenholz has impressed critics with poem collections ‘Atlaspunkt’ (Atlas Point, 2015) and ‘Protosjel’ (Proto-soul, 2021). Like Jensen and Dragseth, Schrattenholz probes linguistic possibilities. Both collections conform to the dystopian tradition; Atlaspunkt describing the creation of the earth and how it all ends with doom, while Protosjel thematizes illness, grief and dissolution, corporality and environment, consciousness and matter, life, and death.
The possibilities of language also fascinated Trond Øgrim, a political radical and popular debater. Under the pseudonym Eirik Austey he wrote three science fiction books (1985-1991) in which he pursued his personal versions of Eastern Norwegian dialects.
GRAPHIC TALES There are very competent comics illustrators in Norway, the most successful ones having newspaper strips syndicated in other countries. A handful of their works fall into the fantasy and science fiction categories.
Some conform to the dystopic trend, such as 2016 ‘Moderator’ by Flu Hartberg, a post-apocalyptic tale of heroism, politics, religion, technology, and cyber-hatred.
Sigbjørn Lilleeng’s ‘Generator’ (2012) is a pure science fiction story, which he further pursues in ‘Between Planets’, described as “an epic space adventure”. In ‘Nagel’, from 2018, Lilleeng has created a universe on the brink of doom, frighteningly like our own world. In 2021, he made the homage graphic novel ‘Inntrengeren’ (Intruder), an adaption of a script by Jon Bing and Tor-Åge Bringsværd, mentioned later in this overview.
In 2016, Kristian Hammerstad finished ‘Trigrammaton’, a mastodon of a graphic novel. 384 pages long, the story of friends Agnes and Anton is set in a not far away future. The two protagonists, travelling to Western Norway in search of their own past, come across dark technologies and occult conspiracies.
More recent is Odin Helgheim’s mix of Japanese manga and Nordic mythology in graphic tales ‘Fenrisulven’ (2020) and ‘Fimbulvinter’ (2021), about Viking boy Ubbe’s encounters with Norse gods.
Two new entries combining science fiction and horror, ‘Tåke over Svartøy’ (Fog over Svartøy, 2020) and ‘Fantomrakettene’ (Phantom Rockets, 2021), by Tore Aurstad and Andreas Iversen, take place in Norway before and after the second world war, and include horror elements from H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos-universe.
In ‘Skare’ (Snow Crust, fresh from press in 2021), Aleksander Kirkwood Brown and Thomas Falla Eriksen also set their plot in Norway, twelve years after a massive asteroid makes the Earth freeze over. Artist Falla Eriksen has also published ‘Den fjerde veggen’ (The Fourth Wall, 2017), as well as 2018 graphic science fiction novel ‘Squidologi’, inspired by Moebius, 80s films, quantum physics, theology, and conspiracy theories, all completely wordlessly told.
Another 2021 graphic novel combining horror and science fiction – as well as political satire – was made by artist Karstein Volle together with versatile comedian and writer Knut Nærum. It tells the grotesque story of a car sucking energy from corpses and is aptly called ’Likbilen’ (literally, Corpse Car; a hearse).
EARLIER COMICS The late sixties and even more the seventies saw a fascination for alternative lifestyles, psychedelia, anarchism, hippiedom, and leftist politics. Artist and designer Peter Haars made two pop art inspired comic books in this period, ‘Prokon’ in 1971 and ‘Happy Biff’ in 1972, both set in a future of harsh authoritarian consumerism.
In addition to collaborating with Axel Jensen, afore mentioned Pushwagner worked on an ambitious graphic epic of his own in this period. Called ‘Soft City’, its stunning panels depict a future society dedicated to cold materialism. Somehow the original work disappeared and was not recovered until 2002. The artwork has since been on display in prestigious biennales and have been printed in book form several times.
Until the latter part of the 20th century, Norwegian comics output was negligible. One of the few exceptions is ‘Ingeniør Knut Berg’, a somewhat stiffly drawn comic written by Hallvard Sandnes and illustrated by Jostein Ragnvald Øvrelid. Published from 1941 to 1960, it was inspired by the surge of superhero comics and space-travelling heroes from abroad.
TAPPING INTO MYTHS AND FOLKLORE As in other parts of the world, Norwegian science fiction and fantasy taps into national folklore, mythology, history, and fairy tales. Elisabeth Øvreberg’s trilogy ‘Nattjegerne’ (Night Hunters, 2017–2019) takes place in the Viking age, combining Norse myths, magic, and action. So does Malin Falch’s prize winning graphic novel series ‘Nordlys’ (Northern Light, 2019 and ongoing), which has been met with great reviews and high sales figures.
Also worth mention is YA series ‘Vegandi’ by Asbjørn Rydland, set in a captivating universe of gods, magic, computer games and parallel dimensions. So far, two titles have been published (2017 and 2019). Rydland has also received kudos for another fantasy series, ‘Drakeguten’ (Dragon Boy), consisting of five books put out between 2010 and 2015.
In her two books ‘Song for Eirabu’ (2009) and ‘Vargtid’ (Era of Wolves, 2012), psychologist Kristine Tofte filled a fictional Norse-inspired universe with female protagonists, sacrificial priestesses, gods, and mythical creatures. She returned to a similar Norse-like setting in 2019 with YA fantasy novel ‘Udyr’ (Beast), about two youngsters playing parts in a wager between Norse gods Odin and Loki. Tofte also illustrated ‘Dødsreisen’ (Death Journey, 2011) written by Caterina Cattaneo and thematically related to her own books.
In 2013 Sissel Pettersen released ‘Odinsbarn’ (Odin’s Child), the first book of ‘Ravneringene’ (Raven Rings), a fantasy trilogy solidly linked to Norse land and myths. It quickly became a critically acclaimed bestseller at home and abroad, nominated for the Norwegian Bookstore Award, as was also her second book ‘Råta’ (The Rot, 2014) and book three, ‘Evna’ (2015). This year, Pettersen published ‘Jernulven’ (Iron Wolf), the first book of the Vardari trilogy, set in the Raven Rings universe.
Another successful novelist, earlier mentioned Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen, whose books have been translated into several languages, has written the series ‘Jomsviking’, categorized as historical novels from the Viking Era, though bordering on the fantasy segment. In his trilogy ‘Tyr’, launched in 2010 and republished in 2020, he brings to life a dystopic and violent world of ancient gods.
Cornelius Jakhelln’s debut novel ‘Gudenes fall’ (Fall of the Gods), about the raging god Odin wanting to take power over the people who introduced Christianity, won a prestigious Nordic prize in 2007. Like other Norwegian authors, Jakhelln uses the science fiction format to explore the future of the Norwegian language. He expanded Gudenes Fall in ‘Verdenshavet’ (World Sea) in 2019.
In a category of his own stands Willy Ustad, who has woven fantasy, mystery, and science fiction elements into several novels. His most consistent genre contribution is ‘Vokterne’ (The Guardians), alternatively titled ‘Ukjente makter’ (Unknown Powers), a series for young people published in six volumes from 1998 to 2003.
More titles could be added, including fantasy novels set outside the Norse sphere, as well as pure science fiction titles from the last decades. Ongoing fantasy trilogy ‘Bian Shen’ by Torbjørn Øverland Amundsen, is one example, taking as premise children who cannot die. Another is ‘Fugl’ (Bird, 2019), by Sigbjørn Skåden, a claustrophobic portrait of a struggling human colony on a faraway planet.
THE ENGLISH-SPEAKING MARKET To overcome the obvious limitations of writing in a small language, a few authors have jumped directly into the English-speaking market. Of course, competitors are legion out there, but it offers a fast track to readers.
One fine English-writing author is Berit Ellingsen. She has won acclaim for science fiction and fantasy short stories as well as novels, notably ‘The Empty City’ (2011), ‘Not Dark Yet’ (2015) and ‘Now We Can See the Moon’ (2018). She has received special praise for her beautiful and sometimes ambiguous language, not bad for someone who has Norwegian as her mother tongue.
Whereas Ellingsen has a thoughtful and melancholy approach to her narrative, Anders Christensen is a writer of page turners. His three book ‘Rifts Saga’ (2015–16) and the ‘Legionnaire’ series (2017–2018) are best described as a mix of military science fiction and space opera, and Christensen has indeed been compared to Robert Heinlein as well as Isaac Asimov. His most recently published work is ‘Frostfall’, an epic fantasy, and his first foray into the genre.
Another, highly successful, example is Tone Almhjell. Her two children’s books, ‘The Twistrose Key’ (2013) and ‘Thornghost’ (2016) saw impressive sales figures and have of course been translated back into Norwegian.
ORIGINS AND NEW BEGINNINGS
A standard starting point for Norwegian science fiction is Norwegian-Danish author Ludvig Holberg’s ‘Niels Klim's Underground Travels’, originally published in Latin as ‘Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum’ in 1741. It describes a utopian society, poking fun at topics such as morality, science, sexual equality, religion, governments, and philosophy. It is his only novel, and probably one of the two internationally known Norwegian genre book to this day; the other being Gerd Brantenberg’s satirical ‘Egalias døtre’ (Egalia’s Daughters, 2013), describing a gender inverted society, where men must submit to a strict women’s regime.
Another early entry is ‘Anno 7603’, a never produced theatrical comedy, written by Johan Herman Wessel in 1781. The play's two main characters are moved to the future by a friendly fairy. It has been claimed that Wessels’s use of time journey as a driving narrative is a worldwide first. Towering poet, playwright, polemicist, historian, and linguist Henrik Wergeland used a similar framework for his satirical play ‘De sidste Kloge’ (The last of the Wise, 1835). The setting being a fictional island in the distant future, the play can be perceived as a dystopian work.
The fantastical tales and futuristic novels from other parts of Europe were of course noted by Scandinavian writers during the 19th century, as well as inspiring them. One very active author was Johan Vibe, who among other titles wrote ‘Fantastiske forællinger’ (Fantastic Stories, 1891) and ‘Om tusend Aar’ (In a Thousand Years, 1894). Both books, meant as satire, may well have been inspired by the works of Jules Verne.
A special mention must be made of Øvre Richter Frich, who wrote dozens of speculative adventure and crime novels, most of them highly successful in Norway and abroad. The best known (published between 1911 and 1935) has action hero Jonas Fjeld vanquishing global gangsters and terrorists. Frich has been criticized for his racism and anti-communism, though it must be added that these attitudes were common at the time. ‘Det yderste hav: En roman fra en ukjent verden’ (The final sea: A novel from an unknown world, 1921), and ‘Ulvene’ (The Wolves, 1928) are considered to come closest to pure science fiction.
After the second World War, a handful of sci-fi novels saw light, often tailored for boys and mimicking Anglo-American best-sellers. ‘Atomene spiller’ (Atoms at play), by Hans Christian Sandbeck, came in 1945, describing the reconstruction of civilization after a third World War almost destroyed it. ‘Skrinet skal opnast um hundre år’ (The casket is to be opened in a hundred years, 1951), by Olav Sletto, is a rambling story involving time travel, Moon-dwellers and more.
Solveig Christov had her literary breakthrough in 1952 with allegorical novel ‘Torso’ about a world on the verge of a complete breakdown, Ragnarok. The same year, economist Johan Vogt propagated his vision of a future Norway in ‘Intervju med fremtiden’ (Interview with the Future). Prominent left-wing politician Kristian Gleditsch, under the pseudonym Frank Bennett, published ‘Visitten fra verdensrommet’ (Visit from Outer Space) in 1954, a novel based on the idea that peace and sensible global politics may be nudged by alien visitors.
Niels Christian Brøgger, using the alias Harald Gammeng, wrote ‘Stoppested i evigheten’ (Stopping Place Eternity, 1954), said to be the first Norwegian science fiction novel promoted as such. Its protagonists make a sweeping journey through the Solar System and beyond, meeting aliens everywhere.
War resistance hero, journalist and author Sigurd Evensmo wrote three genre novels: ‘Gåten fra år null‘ (Riddle from Year Zero,1956), ‘Femten døgn med Gordona’ (Fifteen days with Gordona, 1962) and ‘Miraklet på Blindern’ (Miracle at Blindern, 1966).
The narrative of Ingvar Horg’s only novel ‘Den onde sirkel’ (The Evil Circle,1965) takes place in a society structured as a giant prison and may be read as a precursor to the many dystopias of later years.
THE BING AND BRINGSVÆRD ERA The two authors Jon Bing (1944–2014) and Tor Åge Bringsværd (born 1939) have an impressive literary production, together and separately. An equally great achievement of theirs is bringing international and homegrown science fiction and fantasy to Norwegian readers, especially in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The couple were advisors to ambitious book series Lanterne science fiction, where some of the most prominent authors at the time were translated, including Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak, J.G. Ballard, Brian W. Aldiss, Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Ursula K. Le Guin and Philip K. Dick. Norwegian contributors were also represented, among them Reidar Jensen’s ‘Natten da stjernene falt ned’ (The night of falling stars, 1976) ‘Mannen som kunne se hele verden’ (The man who saw the entire world,1977) and ‘Historien som ikke ville slutte’ (The tale that didn’t want to end, 1978), as well as ‘Dimensjon S’ (1975) by Ingar Knudtsen, and ‘Bilen med det store hjertet’ (The car with the big heart, 1972) by Åsmund Forfang. In addition, Bing and Bringsværd edited three major, lavishly designed anthologies published by the Norwegian Book Club: ‘Østenfor sol’ (East of the Sun, 1969), ‘Vestenfor måne’ (West of the Moon, 1972) and ‘Stella Polaris’ (1982).
Of particular interest is the couple’s collaboration with NRK tv in the making of three-episode space epic ‘Blindpassasjer’, (Stowaway), a tale of a hostile bio-robot threatening the crew of a spaceship returning from a distant planet. The production was made in 1978, a year ahead of the first Alien movie, which had a strikingly similar plot. They also wrote the mini-series ‘Ta den ring’ (Take this Ring, aired in 1982), about sun symbols changing human behaviour, and bringing misfortune to their wearers.
The collaboration between the two authors continued until Jon Bing died in January 2014. They had just completed their last novel as a duo, ‘London 2084’. In an interview Bringsværd stated that "It was not only he [Jon Bing] who died, but Bing & Bringsværd".
The list of their published books, separately and together, is too long to be included here, suffice to say they included short stories, novels, plays, children’s books, and non-fiction. Genre-wise, their output spanned science fiction, satire, dystopias, fantasy, fables, and horror.
FANDOM COMES AND FANDOM GOES In the wake of Bing & Bringsværd’s formidable efforts, fanzines and new writers appeared. A handful of enthusiasts, including Jon Bing, established the science fiction association Aniara in 1965, based at the University of Oslo. From 1974 to 1998, Aniara published the fanzine ‘Algernon’, filled with translated science fiction, literary criticism, and readers’ comments.
Another fanzine-cum-magazine was ‘Nova’, published and edited by Terje Wanberg. In 1973 it was renamed ‘Science Fiction Magasinet’ and then in 1988 ‘Terra Nova’. Among the magazine’s writers were Øyvind Myhre, Per G. Olsen, Johannes H. Berg, Ingar Knudtsen, Dag Ove Johansen and Thore Hansen. ‘Driftglass’ was published by Jostein Saakvitne, and included contributions from Øyvind Myhre, Dag Johansen and Ingar Knudtsen. ‘Gandalf’ was more or less Øyvind Myhre’s private fanzine, and in Bergen, Geir Arne Moi launched ‘Grezzcar’ with stories by Myhre, Knudtsen and himself. In the late seventies, Geir Arne Olsen, using the alias Leonard Borgzinner, published several science fiction and punk fanzines, including TRALFA, The Borgzinner Medicine Show and 666.
These fandom enthusiasts were busily promoting science fiction in other areas as well. Several of them published novels and short stories outside the fanzine sphere, notably Ingar Knudtsen and Øyvind Myhre, who wrote more than 20 titles each. And among the connoisseurs of the day, Johannes H. Berg jr. was seen as the man to go to for insights, initiatives and help.
A lot of other fanzines flourished; the vast majority were short-lived and of very modest circulation. Their contributors were regularly criticized for being elitist and self-sufficient. As science fiction and fantasy entered mainstream culture in the shape of films, tv series and games in the latter part of the 20th Century, fanzines withered away, as they did in other parts of the world. What little is left of fandom has been expelled to social media groups, for the most part commenting on films and tv series. One exception is the fanzine SOL, which today is integrated as a regular column in the Scandinavian literary magazine ‘Vagant’.
A final note should be made on two exciting projects currently hosted by The University of Oslo, both led by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay. One is ‘CoFutures: Pathways to Possible Presents’, funded by The European Research Council; the other, ‘Science Fictionality’, is funded by Norwegian Research Council. The projects cooperate with international researchers analysing and trying to understand global trends and changes by tapping into the cultural imaginary of futures.
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Minor adjustments have been made at the suggestions of readers. Jørn A. Jensen is a communication advisor and long-time fan and reader of science fiction. He has published science fiction stories in English, as well as the story collection ‘Gjenkomst’ (Second Coming, 2018) in Norwegian.
Copyright © Jørn Arnold Jensen 2021