The Italian (Milky) Way To Science Fiction 4

Cinema, unless we were dealing with some auteur film produced in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, had to come to terms with very low budgets: a situation that led to giving more attention to the plot (in the case of art films) or to the production of b-movies: often just cheap and camp versions of American movies like Planet of Apes, Star Wars, Alien, Escape From New York, Mad Max, Terminator, Robocop. The Italian copies rarely had good ideas and very often were just awkward clones. So it was easier to shoot a spaghetti western than a spaghetti space opera.

In the Nineties, while fiction and comics were grappling with sci-fi and fantasy, Italian film production stopped due to a downturn in the market and so only a few movies ever went beyond the status of B-movies or comedies, but in 1997 the Academy Award-winning31 director Gabriele Salvatores, like Evangelisti close to leftist movements, shot Nirvana, a film with an international cast and a never until then seen in Italy use of computer graphics.

Written by Salvatores and Pino Cacucci (another openly left wing author), Nirvana was shot entirely in the old Alfa Romeo factory in Milan and fit perfectly into the cyberpunk canon, recalling Blade Runner and Neuromancer and anticipating once again Matrix, but with a subtle vein of irony and melancholy. The story told of a series of characters, real and virtual ones, looking for an escape route and a better world: a triggering mechanism far from the pessimism of cyberpunk and closer to utopian fiction, as in all of Salvatores’ movies. The critics (especially the left wing ones) didn’t have much time for Nirvana, but the audience did, and the movie is still the most successful Italian sci-fi movie of all time.32

Le meraviglie del Duemila

The year 2000 in Italy began in 2001, with an Odyssey: Genoa style .33 July 22 was the day Italy stood still.

200,000 anti-globalization, post Seattle protesters and common people from the whole world over converged on the Italian city, which was hosting the G8 summit. All but a handful came to demonstrate peacefully. Instead, many were beaten to a pulp by seemingly out-of-control riot police and a 23-year old boy, Carlo Giuliani was shot dead by a police officer in Piazza Alimonda.

During the three days of the G8, Italy ceased to be a democratic republic, civil rights were suspended34 and the country turned into a dystopian regime governed by financial markets, corporate interests, lobbyists and authoritarian politicians who gave free rein to a horde of brutal and uncontrollable – but controlled – doped up agents, with license to torture and kill, dressed up in Robocop’s Anti-Riot Suit 35 . In a weird Moebius strip time loop, a kind of Orwellian future and the never metabolized, cursed and bloody past of the Years of Lead, Strategy of Tension and Black Plots twisted together like the serpent Ouroboros. The novelty, however, was a new kind of Big Brother. Unlike 1984’s Oceania dictator, the Big Brother in Genoa was a crushed, pulverized, rhizomatous and uncontrollable one. Camcorders, cameras, smart phones and internet had recorded and distributed images, information and news of the event. It wasn’t an all-seeing and controlling Sauron’s eye that spread the event, but many all-seeing eyes, tearing down the traditional and controlled media. There was even another Big Brother, but it was just a reality show on Italian TV, one of the many weapons of mass distraction, but during the Genoa days, it could do nothing to distract the masses.

Once again the reality exceeded, proverbially, fantasy. The hyperreal telling of the facts did not seem to be enough. Dystopia had come true. A few months later another breach was opened in our dimension, a huge unimaginable sinkhole in the texture of the Universe whose realism, until then, was mimesis: 9/11.

The generation, my generation, that grew up in the Seventies and Eighties eating pasta and sci-fi anime like Grendizer, Mazinger, Captain Harlock, Gundam, Starblazer, Kyashan, Future Boy Conan, Miracle Girl Limit-chan, Cyborg 009, etc. and British and American movies and TV series as Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Galactica, Sapphire and Steel, UFO and Space 1999 36 was used to fiction that told the story of the present through the future and recognized the ability of the fantastic to tell well reality. Fantastic and fantasy fiction, moreover, are close to myth and epic, which are the oldest and most direct forms of archetypes and dreams that from the dawn of time have bubbled in the collective unconscious. The fantastic, in other words, draws directly on the symbolic dimension because it is its very next emanation. Realism is mimesis fiction, a process that needs mediation: the symbols have to be interpreted by the canons of “reality”, of culture, and by the means of deciphering employed by the interpreter, etc., and then be re-encoded through fiction. The fantastic, rather, almost directly represents the symbol, it decodes it and tells it, and doesn’t need to re-encode it once again.

The critics (right and left wing37) weren’t interested in, and did not politically “label”, the Japanese cartoons, series and movies that children were “sipping” on those long afternoons at the turn of the Seventies and Eighties. For them it was just kids’ entertainment. In 2001, those children were now grown up and some of them became or were about to become writers, screenwriters, directors.

What has happened over the last twelve years shows that the generation of kids who grew up with space pirates, giant robots, spaceships and cyborgs has produced good quality fiction by shaking off moldy politicized criticism, creating new spaces and finding new points of view on authors like Tolkien who had been appropriated by the radical right. So, after Genoa and the collapse of the Twin Towers, two other towers seem to stand out clearly on the (fictionally and literary) horizon: Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In Italy in 2001, besides the G8 summit in Genoa, the Pope inaugurated the jubilee year, wikipedia went online, Maria José of Belgium – the last Queen of Italy – died, the fear of Mad Cow Disease38 was growing, after some political comments a handful of journalists and comedians were censored by the public television controlled by the parliament, the General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS) captured some members of Al Qaeda in Milan, the shuttle took off from South Africa with astronaut Umberto Guidoni, an Italian, on board, a pool of scientists discovered that some bacteria on meteorites regain mobility and reproduce themselves: it could be the proof that life on Earth may have come from space; there was a first eclipse of the sun. In Kosovo, two Italian soldiers died; while at home for the first time in the world a microcomputer was implanted that controlled the

human heart, Mondadori published Evangelisti’s Il Castello di Eymerich – the eighth novel of the inquisitor saga, the public debt was soaring, four warships sailed bound for the Indian Ocean for Operation Enduring Freedom, someone won 70 billion lire with a 5 thousand lire39 lottery ticket, the first Linux Day for spreading the use of Linux among the population was held in 40 towns, a new anti-terrorism law worthy of the Years of Lead came into force, the banks distributed the euro starter kit40, in cinemas A.I. by Steven Spielberg, Planet of the Apes by Tim Burton, Ghosts of Mars by John Carpenter, Avalon by Oshii Mamoru and The Fellowship of The Ring by Peter Jackson were projected, there was a second eclipse of the sun and Silvio Berlusconi won the elections again: for over a year his own TV channels had been broadcasting successfully the Big Brother “reality” show.

Between 1994 and 2001 Valerio Evangelisti published six Eymerich stories41 and a book trilogy dedicated to Nostradamus (Magus). Initially, the Inquisitor novels were published in Urania, but due to their huge success, Mondadori decided to relocate them to a bigger collection sold in bookstores, no longer on newstands. Metallo Urlante (like the subsequent Black Flag) was published by Einaudi, considered the high quality publisher of the Mondadori group.

Evangelisti was becoming more prolific and his readers increased: there were now hundreds of thousands of them. As the Eymerich cycle continued over the years with four more novels42, the author began work on a new character: Pantera, a sorcerer gunman who acted in the Wild West. The novels with the “palero” protagonist are part of his so-called American cycle, a ruthless examination of capitalism and of the socio-political and psychological implications that capitalism has on the human mind, which crosses in an unorthodox manner Emilio Salgari, Jack London, H.P. Lovecraft, Zane Grey and spaghetti westerns.

Evangelisti finally took his own personal way to science fiction and fantasy. This led him to close the saga of Eymerich with Rex tremendae maiestatis in 2010 and to entrust the character of the inquisitor to Ti con Blu, a software publishing house that is continuing its stories as videogames.43

The publishers, after the success of Evangelisti, were intrigued by the fantastic Italian panorama and sought to open the doors to the genre. In the meantime Urania continued with the publication of the Urania prize winners. The novels that come to Italian newsstands, however, didn’t demonstrate the same strength and originality as Evangelisti’s (or Masali’s) although some of them were interesting, such as Sezione π2 by Giovanni De Matteo (2007). De Matteo is a member of Connettivismo (nexialism), a literary movement with a manifesto, that, in the wake of cyberpunk, attempted to combine social and scientific speculation with typical avant-garde experimentation and futurism. The cutting-edge style research and the excessive metaphysical reading of technology, however, overshadowed the human aspect and produced, in some case, an icy fiction, made up of pure techno-scientific hypotheses that shifted the focus away from  psychological factors. «Few ideas and so many pages, it would be better a few pages and a lot of ideas,» said Evangelisti during an interview with RAI.44

At the beginning of the millennium, after Genoa and 9/11, noir entered definitively in the list of best-selling books: the formula history + crime + politics was a winning policy (and that gave room to a lot of poor quality novels). Science fiction writers, however, were like the natives of Anton Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island:45 the Gilyaks, that although progress had brought them roads, continued to walk through the pathless forests. Similarly, although the road was mapped by Urania, by foreign writers and by Evangelisti, the new generation preferred to get lost in the forest and find its own way.

NOTES

31 In 1991 for Mediterraneo.

32 The plot from Wikipedia: The film tells the story of a virtual reality game designer, Jimi (Christopher Lambert), who finds out that the main character of his game, Solo (Diego Abatantuono), has achieved sentience due to an attack by a computer virus. Asked by his creation (who feels everything the character in the game feels, including multiple deaths) to eliminate its existence, Jimi sets out to erase the game from his employer’s server before it’s commercially released, and thus spare Solo further suffering.

Jimi feels desperate because his wife Lisa (Emmanuelle Seigner) left him. He starts to search for her as he tries to delete Solo from the game. These two paths of his life complement in the story throughout the whole film. By the end, Jimi hacks into one of the company’s servers. This hack is in the world of virtual reality interpreted as encounters with persons from Jimi’s life. That is the way the network defends itself. It tries to keep the hacker’s mind in the loop of his own memories as it burns the hacker’s brain. The only way to pass through the network defence mechanism is to free one’s mind. To forget about life before or after, to forget about bodily feelings, and to enter a state of pure concentration where one focuses only on the target (in this case the server with the company’s bank account). It is similar to meditation where one tries to concentrate on breathing; people who are able to do this are called angels (they are invisible to the system, can go anywhere they want, and their possibilities are limitless). In the end, Jimi feels enlightened. He is in inner peace with himself. He saves the character, understands why Lisa left, and understands why the things happened the way they happened. He is in the state of Nirvana. cfr. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_(film)

33 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUwvqUz7erE – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/17/italy.g8 and http:// www.piazzacarlogiuliani.org/carlo/iter/piazzalimonda_eng/index.htm 

34 Unfortunately this process, though less obviously, did not stop in Genoa. The events during the G8 and the trials that have seen absolve or condemn lightly the senior police officers seem to have triggered a dangerous sense of impunity in the corpus of law enforcement agencies. In more than one occasion they have gone beyond the boundaries of their ethical and democratic responsibility, as to name one of all, the Aldrovandi case: September, 2005: Federico Aldrovandi, 18 years old student, suspected of slight use of hashish, alcohol and some narcotics, was killed in Ferrara. The four officers Involved were found guilty of manslaughter, two to excessive force, and will face six months in prison, after the initial sentence of three years and six months was reduced to two by the controversial pardon issued in 2006 by the Italian Parliament.

35 Numerous police officers and local and national officials have been ordered to stand trial in connection with the G8’s events. In one trial, 28 police officials are standing trial on charges related to the two night raids, charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, use of excessive force and planting evidence. In other proceedings, 45 state officials, including prison guards, police and medics, are being tried for abusing detainees in their custody who were arrested during the raid. Detainees reported being spat at, verbally and physically humiliated, and threatened with rape.

Police conducted nighttime raids upon centers housing protesters and campsites, most notably the attacks on the Diaz school shortly after midnight on July 21. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WBuBrzoKhQ

These were being used as sleeping quarters, and had also been set up as centers for those providing media, medical, and legal support work. Police baton attacks left three activists, including British journalist Mark Covell, in comas. At least one person has suffered brain damage, while another had both jaws and fourteen teeth broken. In total, over 60 were severely injured and a parliamentary inquiry was launched. It concluded no wrongdoing on the part of police. Ninety-three people were arrested during the raids. In May, 2003, Judge Anna Ivaldi concluded that they had put up no resistance whatsoever to the police and all charges were dropped against them. During the inquiry, Pietro Troiani, the deputy police chief in Genoa, admitted to being involved in the planting of Molotov cocktails in order to justify the Diaz School raids, as well as faking the stabbing of a police officer to frame activists. In 2005, twenty-nine police officers were indicted for grievous bodily harm, planting evidence and wrongful arrest during a night-time raid on the Diaz School. The Molotov cocktails were reported in January 2007, during the trial of the policemen, to have disappeared. In 2007, the left-wing coalition voted to create a Parliamentary Commission on the Genoa events but this commission was refused by Senate’s vote. On July 14, 13 Italian Carabineri, Police and prison police were convicted for abuse of authority, abuse of office and uniform. Other charges include abuse and negilence. Two Medical staff were also convicted. None will go to jail due to statute of limitations. On November 13, an Italian court cleared 16 of the most senior police officers of any wrongdoing in the incidents of the 2001 G8 summit. 13 police officers were convicted of their various crimes during the Diaz raid including the commander of the 7th Mobile unit. None will go to jail due to statute of limitations. However, on appeal in 2010, many of the findings were overturned, and several more senior police officers received prison sentences and disqualifications from public office. Twenty-five of the 27 original defendants were finally convicted. In statements during the trial, the prosecution cited “the terrible injuries inflicted on defenceless people, the premeditation, the covered faces, the falsification of statements by the 93 anti-globalisation protesters, the lies about their alleged resistance.

The Diaz school’s events were told in 2012 by the “hyper-real” movie by Daniele Vicari, Diaz. Cfr. http://www.diazilfilm.it – https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVysTs75mBI

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Cfr. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUwvqUz7erE – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/17/italy.g8 and http:// www.piazzacarlogiuliani.org/carlo/iter/piazzalimonda_eng/index.htm

36 Space 1999 was a 1973 co-production between Italy and the UK. RAI, the state TV broadcaster, had produced a year before a series of 5 episodes titled A for Andromeda inspired by the cosmologist Fred Hoyle’s homonymous 1962 novel.

37 Maybe they were too busy to read and re-read Toni Negri and Julius Evola for the umpteenth time to pay attention to the poetics and aesthetics of a phenomenon that they couldn’t understand, dismissing it as pure childish.

38 The bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is called Mad Cow Disease because it affects the cow’s nervous system, causing the animal to act strangely and lose control of its ability to do normal things, such as walk. A cow with BSE develops these problems because it has developed an infection that causes its brain to waste away and become spongy. The infection comes from certain kinds of food given to cows as dead cows. BSE is a concern because it can be transmitted to people if they eat meat that came from a cow with BSE. If a person eats BSE-infected beef, the person is at a higher risk for getting a human form of the disease, called Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease, a very serious illness that affects the human brain.

39 2,50 euro.

40 Euro starter kits were packs of euro coins of all the eight denominations sealed in a plastic bag. The scope of these kits was primarily to familiarize the citizens of that nation that was going to join the eurozone with the new currency. Another objective was to fill up cash registers well in advance of €-Day. Usually these kits were available from the local banks some weeks before the euro changeover.

41 1995: Le catene di Eymerich, 1996: Il corpo e il sangue di Eymerich, 1996: Il mistero dell’inquisitore Eymerich, 1997: Cherudek, 1998: Metallo urlante (an antholgy of four short storuies – Venom, Pantera, Sepultura, Metallica – that reveals event the Eangelisti’s passion for Heavy Metal and for the French magazine Mètal Hurlant), 1998: Picatrix, la scala per l’inferno.

42 2001: Il Castello di Eymerich, 2002: Mater terribilis, 2007: La luce di Orione, 2010: Rex tremendae maiestatis.

43 Cfr. la Potenza di Eymerich, Bacchilega Editore, Imola, 2004. Eymerich has had several transmedial incarnations: comics, radio drama, videogames and was protragonist of a collective writing experiment that Kai Zen (the group of writers to which I belong) orchestrated by. In 2004, after the governement project to storage radioactive waste near Potenza, Kai Zen and Valerio Evengelisti collaborated with some local students and all those who want to take part in the writing of the rhizomatous novel La Potenza di Eymerich, in which the Inquisitor struggle with the proliferation of births of deformed babies and the appearances of a black Madonna. The inquisitor is called to investigate the “demonic” phenomenon that is actually the result of a near future in which radioactive waste is being stored by a corporation that uses the physical theories of Marcus Frullifer to ship toxic waste into the past. The Black Madonna, is none other than Karima, the Imam of Matera (the first female Imam of history) who, with the help of a hacker manages to project hers image into the past to send a message to the population that will break down the cave in which the waste will be stored.

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