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Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko, fantasy writers from Ukraine
Maryna and Serhiy Dyachenko is a literary couple, in a very literal sense — they both of them are sci-fi writers. In 1996, at the European Forum of sci-fi and fantasy writers, EUROCON-96, their novel was recognized as “the best debut.” In 2005, at EUROCON-2005, they were recognized as the best writers in their genre in Europe.
When, in April 2006, the 28th Convention of Science Fiction EUROCON-2006 was held in Kyiv, the Dyachenkos were guests of honour.
Mrs Dyachenko, a former actress, is a person of a romantic and sunny disposition. She had begun making up fairy tales before she learnt to write, and after she did she has never stopped writing fiction ever since.
Mr Dyachenko, a former psychiatrist, holds an M.S. degree in biology; he penned several screenplays for documentaries and feature films which deal with such subjects as the Great Famine in Ukraine and Stalin’s dictatorship.
It was nice of Mr Dyachenko to find time for an interview in his very tight schedule and to agree to answer questions in behalf of his wife and of himself.
Mr Dyachenko was interviewed by Oksana KYRYCHENKO.
Mr Dyachenko, why do people write and read sci-fi and fantasy?
I think they do it because it is a holiday of the soul. Anyway, that’s what I call it. This genre of fiction takes you to the enigmatic world of miracles, enchantment, future and space travel. Sci-fi and fantasy fiction is enjoyed by millions of people all around the globe. Once in a while, writers, critics and admirers get together to discuss new trends in this genre of literature and in cinema. Critiques are also provided, not only praise. There are sci-fi and fantasy magazines published, conferences and festivals held regularly in different countries. So, you see, paradoxically, at first glance, fantasy and sci-fi seem to be something ephemeral, but in fact this genre is something that can be a very palpable reality.
Is there any particular reason why EUROCON-2006 was held in Kyiv? It makes Ukraine the first country of the former Soviet Union where this “fantasy convention” was held. Were the Dyachenkos instrumental in it?
To a certain extent, yes. But Kyiv, the venue of this “convention,” was chosen primarily because it is a place closely associated with such writers as Gogol and Bulgakov in whose writings we find many elements of fantasy. Besides, it is a city of good sci-fi and fantasy traditions. We annually hold an international conference Portal. Realnist fantastyky (Reality of Fantasy), the magazine that we, that is my wife and me, founded and publish, has been recognized the best magazine of its kind in Europe.
This year’s EUROCON was attended by sci-fi and fantasy writers and critics from about thirty countries. Among the attendees were Harry Harrison, the well-known US bestselling author, and Eileen Gunn, the winner of the Nebula Prize. I find her to be an author of Chekhov’s calibre, whom, incidentally, she often quotes. EUROCON brings together literary critics and writers for “shop talk” — seminars, round table discussions and workshops are held, and, of course, meetings with readers are organized too. At this convention, there was a lot of talk about Ukrainian “mythopoetics,” about cultural aspects of sci-fi and fantasy, its roots, and different aspects of this genre. This year’s EUROCON has turned out to be a good introduction to Ukrainian culture too.
Did you and your wife present any new books?
We did. It was a book called Dyka enerhiya. Lana (Wild Energy. Lana). We did not write anything like this before. We hope that the Ukrainian pop singer Ruslana will create a musical based on this novel. There are so many innovatory things in this novel that I would not even be able to define its genre. All I can say at this point is that there is something in it that makes it possible to “translate” this boo into music. Our cooperation with Ruslana has revealed her to us as a person of great talent, beauty, ingeniousness and great energy. It was a great discovery. She’s finishing making a video based on the first part of the novel, and three more videos are planned.
Did this year’s EUROCON have some special features that differed it from the previous conventions?
It did. There was in it what may be called “synthesis of the arts.” Ruslana staged a very unusual music show for which she changed her appearance so much that she became virtually unrecognizable.
I know that you and your co-author, that is your wife, have already published more than one million copies of your books. Do you regard it as a measure of success?
Frankly, we do not think about it in such terms. There are writers who put out a novel every month and have their novels published in a great number of copies. There are books that become bestsellers but later they are forgotten. But there are books that go through several reprints which means they are in constant demand though at first they seemed not to be selling too well… Yes, I admit we are proud that our books had many reprints in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and were published in other countries as well. In literature, I appreciate the originality of the main idea, the harmony of the whole and the stylistic perfection. If these criteria are applied to all those books of fiction that you can find at the book market today, then probably 90 percent of them are no good. However, some of the publishers of pulp fiction earn enough to publish serious or “experimental” books, or release books by new, hitherto unknown authors. It’s like in a forest — there are all kinds of animals and plants living in it — it is this variety that makes a forest rather than desert. In a forest you’ve got a lot to choose from.
Many fairy tales have a happy ending — “and thereafter they lived happily married for many years.” In your case, you first got married and then you started making up fairytales…
Not quite like this. We’ve been married for twelve years but before marriage we had known each other for two years. Frankly, I did not think I had any chances of winning Maryna over — she was a beauty, an actress. But I wrote letters to her every day hoping she might appreciate them, and through them her attitude also would change… It was like a fairy tale in which she finally believed… Our daughter Anastasiya who is ten-years old, writes fairy tales too.
It was Maryna who opened the way to the world of fantasy for me — before meeting her I was a hard-core realist. When we talked about movies I spoke about documentaries but she said she would like to make a film based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasies. Now, many years later, we indulge in fantasies together… In writing our books I’m usually responsible for the development of the plot and psychological background, and she is responsible for the style. She’s got the talent for it. In fact, I think it is mostly thanks to her stylistic talent that our books have become so popular.
Do you still continue working in the cinema?
Yes, we do. Recently, a film, Ukradene shchastya (Hijacked Happiness) based on our screenplay and directed by Andriy Donchyk, was released in Russia and it was a critical and popular success. The same director, Donchyk, is planning to make another movie with our screenplay, Dovbush. Also, another of our screenplays, based on the novel Vidyomska doba (The Time of Witches), is going to be made into a film. We enjoyed writing that script though we discarded several drafts before we arrived at the final one… We’ve written a screenplay based on the novel by the famous Russian sci-fi writers Strugatskys Obitayemy ostrov (Inhabited Island) and the Russian director Fedor Bondarchuk, the son of the well-known actor and director of the 1960s and 1970s Serhiy Bondarchuk, is planning to use it. Another film, 1911, is based on our screenplay as well… So, as you see, we are active in making movies.
Do your books and screenplays reflect in any way your personal life?
Hardly, or only in a very indirect way. Our novels are trips into the subconscious or into the world of pure emotions. The subconscious part comes from me, and the pure emotions come from Maryna. We are at the same time antagonists and close allies, we represent two opposite principles which struggle with each other but eventually merge in a unity. I’m older than she and thus have a bigger life experience but she has her intuition and wisdom, and her ideas often win over mine… It would be wrong not to mention our cat Dyushes — the cat contributes to our work too by providing inspiration.
I’d like to change the subject if I may — is there any place in Kyiv that has, in your opinion, a very special kind of energy?
It is the Church of St Andrew and the whole of the hill, Starokiyivska hora, on which it stands. When I go there I feel the breath of the past, vibrations of some positive energy. By contrast, Lysa Hora (Bald Mount) is surely a wicked place. It has a reputation of a place where the witches used to gather for their sabbath. In our film 1911 we chose Lysa Hora as the place where the terrorist who assassinated the Russian prime minister Stolypin in 1911, was executed (for more details of Stolypin’s murder see the article Ghosts, Lions and Sirens in this issue of our magazine).
How far into the future do you look in your novels?
In our futurological novel Pandem we describe the future fifty years and a hundred years from now. We believe in a bright future of the mankind though at the moment such a prophecy does not seem to hold water. But we are believers and we suggest our solutions to some of the problems the humanity faces now.
Then you believe in a long future for sci-fi and fantasy fiction?
I’m sure this genre will become the leading one pushing all the others to a marginal status. All that surrounds us in reality is short-lived and fantasy deals with eternal issues. n
Photos are from Serhiy and Maryna DYACHENKO’s archive
The action of Dyachenkos’ novel Wild Energy.
Lana takes place in a megalopolis (The City) in some uncertain future; people who live there can exist only if they are regularly recharged with some special energy from the outlets to which they have access as payment for their work. Part of the City’s population, the Wild Ones, lead a life of rebellion against the authorities. The central character, a girl named Lana comes into conflict with the authorities and flees to the mountains. Once there, she joins a tribe whose head is a woman, Queen Mother. After a series of fights Lana becomes Queen Mother herself. She leads the struggle against the mysterious Plant, a source of Wild Energy. In an excerpt that follows Lana-Queen Mother has a premonition of an approaching disaster — a hurricane of a great destructive power.
I had bad nightmares and in the morning when I wake up, the hurricane strikes.
I cannot leave the house because of the wind which bends the trees to the ground. The cattle in the barns bellow and a stampede is possible. Some of the roofs get ripped off. A torrential rain crashes down on the villages who try to fix the roofs, gates and whatever else is in danger of being broken.
I am horrified, I feel a disaster approaching. I do not know for sure what will happen but when I think about it my hair stands on end.
At noon the fierce wind abates a little and I feel I should go out. I wrap a piece of cloth around my head and shoulders and trudge to the central square of the village where there is a bell. Once I get there I begin to toll the bell sending the alarm to all the villagers. I do it for the first time since I’ve become Queen Mother.
The tolling sounds are very depressing and scary. People rush out of the their homes and run to the square summoned by the bell. Children wail and weep. I look at the people who gather in the square. The rain lashes at their faces and bodies.
“It’s coming, it’s coming!” I shout in a hoarse voice.
The silence falls, the only sound being the falling rain. Even the children stop crying.
“We’ll fight it! We, all of us, together!”
My tongue does not obey me quite well.
Yary [Lana’s boyfriend] pushes his way through the crowd, rushes towards me and grabs me by the hand. His touch releases me from the clutches of fear. I feel I’m ready for action. I know that we have a chance. We’ll come out against it — we’ll overcome it! Probably.
[the hurricane is evidently produced by The Plant, a mysterious source of evil, situated somewhere in the mountains].
When we get closer to the top of the hill we stop. I am in the lead — I don’t want anybody to see my face. Particularly when I spot it. And I do!
It is a colossal black whirlwind which is moving towards us, uprooting age-old trees and sucking in stones. It looks like a gigantic piece of tarred cloth, wound around itself into a funnel-shaped whirling column whose upper part touches the sky. The clouds above shoot lightings, one after another, almost continuously, at this dark whirling column.
The tornado is moving, slowly but implacably, towards us.
Nobody says a word. What can one say at a moment like this? I feel Yary’s hand grabbing my right hand. All the men and the most robust women of our village spread into a long line.
I know I can see the future — or maybe I’m mistaken? We shall overcome the tornado with our united energy — we shall be holding hands accumulating this energy… Or maybe the tornado will overpower us? Then it will suck us into its spinning insides, it will carry us towards the sky and then will hurl us down, crushing us to a pulp.
But probably — no, no one can tell for sure what may happen the next moment. One can see or predict the future, but it’s impossible to see all the details.
The human line spreads on the slope moving to the right and left of the approaching tornado — or whatever it is in the shape of a whirlwind. I am leading the people on one side of the whirling column, and Holovach is leading them on the opposite side. We shall have to get close enough to clasp our hands together before the tornado hits us. We, all of us, have to be holding hands without letting go. No one must get scared and release the two hands they are holding on the right and left of them.
I see Holovach approaching. We are separated only by a few paces – I can see his unkempt beard, his large blouse staring at me with a burning intensity. Now he extends his right hand towards me and I grab it — his hand is heavy and hard like a wolf’s paw.
We have encircled the whirlwind.
I hold his hand as tight as I can. We have formed a circle around the whirling column which is now right in its centre. It is spinning anticlockwise. The people stand motionless for a moment and then, still holding hands begin moving in a circle — but they are moving clockwise.
Now it is a matter of life and death not to stumble, not to fall. Holovach’s hand is holding on to mine with a crushing force but I feel no pain. The black part of the whirlwind that touches the ground sucks in boulders and the water of a brook that happens on its way. The brook is no more — only the wet bed. The whirlwind produces a noise — not overwhelmingly loud but of the kind that makes your blood curdle in your veins.
Every next step I make requires a greater physical effort — it is as though I’m walking through a congealing liquid, but I know it’s the way it should be — we are building up enough energy. We’ve trapped the whirlwind inside of our circle and now we must overpower its energy with ours.
We shall be moving in a circle clockwise to counter the whirlwind’s anticlockwise spinning. We shall weaken it, we shall overpower it.
“Move on!” deafeningly shouts Holovach.
“Move on! Move on!” the battle cry races around the circle of people.
“Keep moving towards the light!”
“Keep moving towards the light!”
“Leave the darkness behind!”
“Hold your hands!”
“Go away, darkness! Come, light!”
We are moving faster and faster, overcoming the invisible resistance. We break into a run, holding hands and watching our step – not to fall, not to break the circle, that’s the most important thing now.
“Darkness – go! Light – come!”
The humming loud noise that the whirlwind has been making begins to turn into a scream. There is something happening with it — it loses the tightness, it is beginning to sag — it is losing its force!
The stones and water that the whirlwind has sucked into itself begin to fall back on the ground — it has no strength any longer to hold them.
“Victory!” shouts Holovach.
Water, branches and stones come down in an avalanche, knocking us off our feet.
I regain consciousness on a pile of broken branches. I feel cold and wet. I hear the voices calling to each other. I hear moans. I lift myself a little from the pile I’m lying on and look around.
I see a big hole in the ground some distance away — it’s the place where the whirlwind touched the ground for the last time. Uprooted trees all around.
We have overcome the black tornado, we have won.
There are many injured people but no one has been killed. The injured, some of whom are trapped under the fallen trees, call out for help.
“Queen Mother! Help!”
We make makeshift stretchers, using branches of trees scattered all around on the ground, to carry those who cannot walk back to the village. There are quite a few of them.
I do not know how to heal wounds and make ruptured bones whole again. The old women who know the secrets of healing will help. They will make their potions and they will chant their healing chants.
But I know how to relieve the pain. I put my hand on the forehead of a wounded man and fight his pain.
He smiles at me.
The 28th International Science Fiction Convention EUROCON-2006 was held in Kyiv in April 2006, with about 500 participants from 25 countries taking part.
At the opening ceremony spoke David Lally, ESFS head, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, Ukraine’s prime minister in humanitarian issues, and Ihor Likhovy, Ukraine’s minister of culture and tourism. Such an attention to the convention shown by high-ranking officials indicated that EUROCON was regarded to be a major cultural event of this spring in Ukraine. Among the guests were the well-known US writer of fantasies Harry Harrison, the Polish sci-fi writer Andrzej Sapkowski and the Ukrainian artist Serhiy Poyarkov who makes illustrations for sci-fi and fantasy books.
Master classes, seminars, round table discussions and workshops were held within the EUROCON framework. Writers were awarded prizes in 9 main nominations.
The winners among 70 contenders were:
Best Author: Henri Lion Oldie (Ukraine)
Best Artist: Robert Odegnal (Hungary)
Best Publisher: Hekate (Latvia)
Best Translator: Asta Morkuniene (Lithuania)
Best Magazine: Mir Fantastiki (Russia)
Best Fanzine: Shaltay Boltay (Russia)
Best Promoter: Vladimir Borisov (Russia)
Best Author of Dramatic Presentation: Aleksey Fedorchenko (Russia)
EUROCON Encouragement Awards for Best new writers:
Serhiy Slyusarenko (Ukraine)
Camilla Wandahl (Denmark)
Dmitri Gradinar (Moldova)
Yulia Galanina (Russia)
Marian Coman (Romania)
Ukrainians once again topped the lists.[Prev][Contents][Next]