The Kaleidoscope Of Hungarian Fantastic Literature In The 21st Century

by Éva Vancsó

Hungarian science fiction dates to the middle-19th century with tales of moon travels and fictional worlds of advanced technology that reflected the spirit of the age more than any other genre. In the years to come, though themes and forms had changed, Hungarian literature mirrored society’s problems, hopes, fears, and dreams. It expressed the terrors of totalitarian regimes and world wars, and later, during the communist culture policy, it either served as a „honey trap” of natural sciences or became the literature of opposition before the change of regime in 1989. For years, only selected Anglo-Saxon/Western SFF works could seep through the crack in the cultural door, but it was swung wide open by the end of the Cold War. The previously encapsulated Hungarian fantastic literature absorbed the influences from outside and started to grow in terms of authors, titles, themes and styles. In this article, I intend not to review Hungarian science fiction and fantasy since the turn of the millennium comprehensively but rather as a kaleidoscope to present the tendencies and genre-defining authors and works in the last twenty-five years. Though the number of SFF texts compared to the number of Hungarian speakers is remarkable, they are essentially not available in foreign languages, so I provide my translation of the titles in square brackets. As many Hungarian authors use exogenous pseudonyms, I give various versions of their names separated by slashes.


In the Anglophone corpus, cyberpunk emerged in the late 70s and exerted great influence upon Hungarian science fiction in the 90s. Kiálts farkast [Cry Wolf] (1990) by András Gáspár is labeled proto-cyberpunk for the lack of an information revolution. However, it laid the foundations of Hungarian cyberpunk. Besides using genre elements such as the contrast of futuristic technology and a dystopian, collapsed society, Gáspár added a „Hungarian flavor”: the image of a future Budapest, a crowded, multicultural megapolis. Following a dozen short stories in the late nineties, cyberpunk gave rise to some of the most interesting SF novels after the turn of the millennium.

Zoltán László is widely considered to be the most important author of Hungarian cyberpunk.  William Gibson strongly influenced his first short stories, and his debut novel, Hiperballada [Hyper Ballad] (1998, 2005) combines cyberpunk elements, the afore-mentioned Hungarian flavor, and alternate history. In the novel’s alternative future, the change of regime has never happened; the Soviet Union became the world’s number one superpower: it won the technological race, and communism survived in the Eastern Bloc. In László’s world, the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party continues to rule the country. The Network Authority controls the citizens’ thinking and behavior, but cyberspace, synthetic implants, and space stations are also part of everyday life, resulting in something we could call CMEA-cyberpunk. Szintetikus Álom by Tamás Csepregi [Synthetic Dream] (2009) is composed of nine noir-cyberpunk short stories linked by the characters. The nonlinear, fragmented novel depicts a Budapest ruled by Pest-Buda Agglomeration after the Q-virus epidemic. The city is surrounded by a 10-metre-high wall and has no connection to other parts of Hungary or Europe. The cityscape has post-apocalyptic characteristics: a “sick, wheezing gigantic bacteria or a great organic jungle of metal and concrete like the stomach of a monster.” In the city, there is deep social and economic division; China bought district 8 for 400 years and became a luxury ghetto called the Chinese Legitimate District. Box City stands in the Hungarian part of the city, a small empire built over the years from waste, plastic, and polythene, where most people live. The Danube, which still exists, dirty and bubbling, and the Chain Bridge, whose ruined pillars are symbols of the balance between familiarity and de-familiarisation. The heroes of the short stories are ordinary people, criminals, policemen, businessmen, outsiders, operators, servants, and victims of the system. László and Csepregi have in common the combination of cyberpunk themes and tropes and the unmistakably Hungarian environment and world view that, following the footsteps of András Gáspár, made 21st-century Hungarian cyberpunk unique.


In the last years of the 80s, another SF sub-genre gained popularity in Hungary: space opera. After Galaktika Fantastic Books issued translations of three Star Wars novels (The New Hope, The Empires Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi), the publishing companies of the early nineties tried to ride the popularity of the movies. The Han Solo trilogy by Dale Avery/Zsolt Nyulászi hallmarked this attempt, bearing all the characteristics of the era’s predatory capitalism: the sequels about the adventures of their eponymous hero were unofficial and unauthorized but published in 120.000 copies, attracting thousands of readers to space opera.

The popularity of these Star Wars novels opened the way for other space operas, firstly translations and derivative stories, but it was only a matter of time before someone noticed the opportunity to create new worlds. Or someones. In 1999, Harrison Fawcett/Fonyódi Tibor, who wrote about the space adventures of the tough soldier Brad Shaw, and Anthony Sheenard/Szélesi Sándor, who created the crazy and impudent character of York Ketchikan, decided to tie their stories together and create a shared fictional world to write in. The collaboration started in the anthology Aranypiramis [The Golden Pyramid] (2000) with two long short stories, and what follows is SF history. The jointly developed Mysterious Universe setting became a vast and complex multidimensional world of super-civilisations, super-weapons, strange races, mythical or mystical events, and the detailed world-building comes with intricate plots and the interplay of advanced technology and socio-political dynamics. The two founding fathers have their unique contribution to the world: Harrison Fawcett is still known for the epic scale battles and intricate plots, while Anthony Sheenard focuses on character-driven stories and philosophical questions, with the novels often exploring psychological and ethical dilemmas.

The Mysterious Universe now consists of thirty-four novels and four anthologies by more than twenty authors. Due to the dimensions of the franchise and the collaborative nature of the series, with multiple authors contributing to the shared universe, allowing for a diversity of stories and perspectives, MU has a significant place in Hungarian science fiction literature with a regular and enthusiastic readership.

Gothic Space-Dark Space intended to follow the success of Mysterious Universe, building a shared universe with several authors. The five published novels are retro-futuristic military fiction that depicts epic battles combined with 19th-century maritime technology, following this, however, the series was abruptly discontinued.

Space opera genre codes were later extended in different directions, preserving the epic scale and space adventures but introducing new perspectives. The Csodaidők series [Wondrous Times] (2006-2010) by Etelka Görgey tells a family history set in 3960, presenting different worlds, cultures, and societies through the lens of three characters in diverse social situations. The Calderon series by On Sai/Bea Varga is a knight’s tale in outer space: laser guns, space fleets, cleaning robots, and space cruisers co-exist with aristocratic traditions, balls, and chivalry. In Afázia [Aphasia] (2021) by Katalin Baráth the inhabitants of the artificial planet Pandonhya (originally Pannonia) are the last to use language as a means of communication, as a commodity – or as a weapon. The novel is a love letter to the Hungarian language and a clever critic of contemporary societies wrapped up in the cloak of science fiction. On the other hand, the Esthar series and other novels by Michael Walden/Szabolcs Waldman shift towards fast-paced military fiction that even dares to involve fantasy elements. The MU novels and these extensions of the traditional codes assure Hungarian space operas’ survival and sustained popularity in the 21st century.

Anthony Sheenard/Sándor Szélesi, the co-creator of MU, is one of the most prolific authors of 21st-century Hungarian science fiction and adopts a peculiar approach to the genre, being often labeled a genre-punk for that. Having published his first fantasy stories in 1994, he had since then explored various subgenres and themes. He wrote a classical sci-fi novel about a generation spaceship (Városalapítók [Settlers], 1997), a human-centered story about a father and son, and two confronting worlds (Beavatás szertartása, [Rite of Passage], 2009). Pokolhurok [Hellgrammite] (2016) is a contemporary fiction and serious thought experiment with perfectly balanced dramaturgy about a sociopath who develops a virus that can commit genocide based on genetic race markers. Szélesi was honored with several awards, including the Best European SF Writer award at the EuroCon of Copenhagen in 2007.


While new sub-genres and authors gained popularity, there is continuity with the 80s and 90s science fiction regarding themes and narratives. Galaktika magazine mainly focused on short stories, reviews, and popular science articles. Kozmosz Fantasztikus Könyvek (later Galaktika Baráti Kör) published novels between 1972 and 1994 and played a determining role in the history of Hungarian science fiction before the transition both in terms of titles and number of copies. Galaktika magazine was re-launched in 2002 – the book publishing division in 2005 – and remains today an essential component of Hungarian SFF, providing readers with classical science fiction texts by well-established “great old authors” such as István Nemere (with more than 700 novels) and Péter Zsoldos (whom the Hungarian award is named after) along with contemporary novels by significant writers of the 21st century. Though sales figures have decreased drastically since the 1990s, the media group remained important in Hungarian genre literature.

The alignment of Hungarian science fiction with contemporary international (mainly British-American) trends started in the second half of the 2000s, coinciding with the rising interest in trans- or posthumanism. In this context, Brandon Hackett/Markovics Botond represents Hungarian mainstream science fiction.

His first novels were space operas, but later, he turned to current topics with action-oriented plots, applying posthuman/transhuman perspectives. Poszthumán döntés [The Posthuman Decision] (2007) and Isten gépei [Machines of God] (2008) focus on the impact of technological development on society, the evolution of humanity under specific conditions in the diaspora or on the verge of technological singularity. His time travel duology Az időutazás napja and Az időutazás tegnapja [The Day of Time Travel, The Yesterday of Time Travel] (2014, 2015) explores a new aspect of this classic genre trope: social consequences. When time travel becomes widely available, hundreds, thousands, and millions of people grab the opportunity, resulting in chaos. Money ceases to exist, political structures fail, technological development is meaningless, and the process must be stopped, or the entire human civilization is at stake. Later novels by Markovics have taken up current phenomena and, in the best traditions of science fiction, extrapolated them to the future. Xeno (the title is a derivation of xenophobia) depicts an Earth ruled by a highly developed alien civilization that forces migration between different alien worlds with all the political, economic, and environmental consequences of the nine billion “Xenos.” Eldobható testek [Disposable Bodies] (2020) returns to transhumanism and examines the effect of digitized consciousness with printable, disposable bodies, the newhumans. His latest work, Felfalt kozmosz [Devoured Chosmos] (2023), addresses the problem of Free Will, combining philosophy and cosmology in the fate of three siblings. Markovics’s interest in technological development and its influence on humanity is in the best traditions of science fiction, making him one of the most significant Hungarian authors of the genre.


Parody or satire has been present in science fiction since the beginning of the 20th century. Tibor Dévényi’s satirical short stories were popular in the 1980s. In contemporary genre literature, the books of Lajos Lovas follow the tradition of satirical-comedy-adventure novels with a great deal of social commentary. For example, N (2010) is about a young man born in 2067 who is suffering from amnesia and stumbles into absurd adventures in 2007. The novel creatively and entertainingly holds up a mirror to Hungarian society.

In line with international trends, contemporary and genre literature boundaries have started to crumble. Outside science fiction, literary authors also tend to apply sci-fi themes and tropes in their works. The Virágbaborult világvége [Blossoming Apocalypse] by Imre Bartók, a philosopher and aesthetician, established a new hybrid genre that could be called philosopher-horror. A Patkány éve, A nyúl éve, A kecske éve [The Year of the Rat, The Year of the Rabbit, The Year of the Goat] (2013, 2014, 2015) revolves around three philosophers, Martin, Karl és Ludwig, who are a kind of superhumans – their bodies are covered with titanium plate, harbouring a tiny reactor inside. The three philosopher-psychopaths either argue about ontological questions or torture and kill humans in New York, which is facing a bio-apocalypse. The second and third volumes follow the philosophers as old men without implants and expand the apocalyptic story to other cities.

Űrérzékeny lelkek [Space-sensitive Souls] (2014) by József Havasréti is a similar experiment about the boundaries of contemporary literature. Havasréti has borrowed the tropes of the crazy scientist and space travel, extrapolated social criticism from science fiction, and merged it with an alternative cultural and art history of the 20th century.

György Dragomán is a prominent author of Hungarian contemporary literature known for his attraction to science fiction. On, Dragomán started to pursue his interest. From 2019, he regularly published short sci-fi and fantasy (or fantastic in the broad sense) stories, later compiled in the anthology Rendszerújra [System Reboot] in 2021. Most stories focus on characters facing oppression and all-encompassing control in totalitarian, dystopian worlds. They have two choices: they follow the rules and adapt to the brave new world or try to rebel and mostly die.

These experimental contemporary science fiction texts received mixed reactions from the audience. The critics highly appreciated the novels of Bartók and Havasréti. However, the novel did not meet the science fiction readers’ expectations because it lacked the consistent use of genre codes and tropes. This criticism has a long history from the middle of the 20th century when contemporary authors ventured into science fiction and faced the same reception. The general „assessment” of György Dragomán turns this approach inside out; he is mostly praised for writing, among others, science fiction too, but at the same time, he is still not considered to be a real SFF author by the Hungarian genre community.

Thus, the old truth that literary and science fiction writers do not mix still applies despite the blurring of genre boundaries. The distinction is dictated partly by traditions and partly by completely different readerships.


YA literature has penetrated contemporary Hungarian SFF (YA fantasy shall be discussed later); ­it is considered a “gateway drug” to fantastic literature, and specialized publishing companies strive to respond to the growing demand for novels that describe a science fiction setting and feature a young protagonist/narrator who addresses both classical sci-fi and age-specific problems.  However, this interest of young readers is not reflected in the number of YA sci-fi novels written by Hungarian authors; successful foreign books and franchises dominate the market.

The Pippa Kenn duology by Fanni Kemenes is the exception, depicting a post-apocalyptic future where a synthetic virus infects humanity, and some survive due to genetic engineering while others become bloodthirsty “palefaces”. According to YA cliches, the young protagonist, living alone in a cottage in the forest, believes she is the last human until she meets a boy and discovers the colonies’ existence.

The Oculus novels (2017, 2019) by A. M. Amaranth/Péter Holló Vaskó are the closest to foreign YA dystopian trends. On planet Avalon, elderly people become blind and see through the eyes of their oculus, slaves deprived of their personality. The story is narrated by a young female oculus, and the novel aims to balance serious questions about slavery, political structures, and the age-specific problems of a young girl. The Overtoun-trilogy of R. J. Hendon/Juhász Roland is at the higher end of the YA age range (above the age of 17). The novel thematizes the relationship between (trans)humanity and nature. It depicts the world of Overtoun where harmony between nature and man is lost and animals are unwanted creatures, conflicting it with the perspective of the “mongrels” or the bio-robots called medeas.

Contrary to international trends, a surprising sub-genre or subculture appeared and seems to attract young readers: steampunk. With a long tradition dating back to the 19th century, it has an active community that regularly organizes events. However, these festivals and design markets focus on commodities and fashion (jewelry or costumes) rather than literature. From the beginning of the 2000s, some authors innovatively applied steampunk elements, combining with urban fantasy (Nagate novels by Zoltán László) or a noir atmosphere (Viktor Tolnai). The traditional steampunk setting and the adventure-driven plot found their way into YA literature. Phoenix Books, dedicated to providing children and young adults with fantastic literature, has published several steampunk stories for young readers of 9 to 16. Holtidő [Dead Time] (2017 by Holden Rose/Attila Kovács) follows special cadets in a world of mechanical devices, Hollóvér [The Blood of the Raven] (2018) by Peter Sanawad/Péter Bihari tells the story of the last scion of the legendary Hunyadi family in a parallel universe of magic and strange machine. The eight volumes of the Winie Langton series by Vivien Holloway/Vivien Sasvári (from 2014) take young readers on adventures to London in the 2900s. All novels have in common their steampunk background, the role of machines, and embracing the traditions of YA literature, such as featuring a teenage protagonist, conversational style, and light-hearted jokes.


Nowadays, Hungarian science fiction is diverse, preserving some old-school storytelling but embracing different voices in themes, styles, and approaches, even reaching out to young readers. However, the readership and popularity of Hungarian science fiction literature is, at best, stagnant. The number of published science fiction novels has been decreasing, as well as the number of copies printed and sold since the 1990s. There is also a noticeable shift towards fantasy and other fantastic genres, such as weird or less and less clear-cut genre categories, in line with worldwide trends. The litmus paper for this tendency is Az év magyar science ficiion és fantasy novellái [Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories of the Year] anthology series since 2019, in which fantastic stories (in the broad sense) now are in the majority over traditional science fiction, and its publisher, GABO, adapts to this trend in its portfolio. The conditions of the Zsoldos Péter Award have also adjusted to the changing circumstances as a paradigm shift in Hungarian fantastic literature. The Zsoldos Award was established in 1998 to honor the best science fiction novels and short stories of the year, but in 2019, the organizers opened their doors to all fantastic genres, including fantasy, supernatural horror, and weird. Since then, the tendency to talk about speculative fiction or fantastic literature without distinguishing sci-fi, fantasy, or other genres has grown stronger.

Before 1990, fantasy was the younger brother, the “marginalized another fantastic genre” because only a very few classical texts were translated and published before the change of the regime. The spread of role-playing games had a crucial role in the rapidly increasing popularity of fantasy in the 1990s. Wayne Chapman (the pseudonym of already mentioned András Gáspár and Csanád Novák) played AD&D and began to publish the stories they had crafted as dungeon masters in the game’s fictional universe. Later, in light of the novel’s success, they established a publishing company and developed the only Hungarian role-playing game, M.A.G.U.S. In the last thirty years, despite copyright debates, opposing canons, and changes to the publishing company, more than one hundred M.A.G.U.S.-related novels and anthologies were published by dozens of authors, being one of the utmost achievements in Eastern European fantasy.

The other central fantasy hub and circle was Cherubion Publishing Company from 1991, which built a team of authors churning out fantasy (later science fiction too, but this branch remained a minority) novels and anthologies under British or American-sounding pseudonyms. The Cherubion books established the Hungarian sword-and-sorcery and dark fantasy literature based on existing Western fantasy tropes, races, and characters. The company intentionally and regularly published pulp novels by Hungarian authors with many copies, serving the infinite need for adventurous fantasy stories. The publishing company’s driving force, editor, and mastermind was the founder, István Nemes, who, under the pseudonyms of John Caldwell or Jeffrey Stone, became one of the most influential fantasy writers from the middle of the 1990s. Some of today’s important authors also started their careers in the Cherubion team, such as Anthony Sheenard/Sándor Szélesi, Harrison Fawcett/Tibor Fonyódi or János Bán who later became famous for history novels about the Hunyadi family.

The significance of M.A.G.U.S and Cherubion lies in establishing the readership of fantasy almost out of nothing, popularizing the settings, themes, and characters among mainly young readers who often remained consumers of fantasy as they grew up. Though publishing companies came and went, sword-and-sorcery novels continue to be published today. For instance, the Kaos series about the half-ork Skandar Graun and other popular franchises still run re-prints of old stories interspersed with novelties, thus supplying members of this subculture with a steady flow of new books.


The interest in Hungarian mythology started in the early 2000s to refresh fantasy with new themes, worlds, races, and characters. Sándor Szélesi’s Legendák földje [Land of Legends] (2002, 2003) tells the story of the Ancient Hungarians, a Scythian ethnic group in 3000 B.C. The Hungarians wander in steppes, and magic is an inherent part of their world: shamanistic practice works, fairies walk the earth, and the heaven-high tree connects the realm of gods, humans, and the underworld. The trilogy revolves around two clans, their rivalries, and battles that involve the fairies climbing said tree. Through these adventures, the novels depict the shift of paradigm, a change of approach to magic from diffuse shamanistic practices towards a more codified set of so-called Táltos beliefs.

Since the 2010s, Hungarian folklore has appeared more and more often in fantasy novels, drifting apart from English-Germanic-Greek mythologies and mythical characters. At first, YA novels started to infuse elements of Hungarian folk tales into fantasy novels. The Ólomerdő series [Lead Forest] (2007, 2014, 2019, 2020) by Csilla Kleinheincz depicts a unique world of humans, fairies, and magic where the reader can recognize the well-known folk tropes such as the presence of number three, the miraculous stag, dragons, as well as stepmothers with dubious agendas. The re-imagination of Budapest (or any other Hungarian city) in urban fantasy became popular in the 2010s. In Túlontúl [Far Beyond] (2017) by Ágnes Gaura, a fan of fairy tales seeks purpose in her life while Hungarian, Transylvanian, and Moldavian folk tales mingle with daily reality. Egyszervolt by Zoltán László [Once upon a Time] (2013) is a traditional intrusive fantasy inspired by Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, where the protagonist becomes aware of a secret Budapest that lies under the surface and explores this secondary world. More recently, Egyszervolt was followed by less traditional urban fantasy works, such as Pinky (2016) by László Sepsi, in which a nameless city, which might as well be Budapest or New York, has its hidden secrets and streets populated by elves, werewolves, and vampires. Csudapest [WonderPest] (2020) by Fanni Sütő can also be considered urban fantasy, consisting of short stories, blog entries, and poems with one common feature: describing Budapest as simultaneously familiar and magical.

Meanwhile, the Hétvilág [Seven Worlds] (2016) trilogy by Emilia Virág was the first folk urban fantasy novel aimed primarily at adult readers. In her book, fairies and bogeymen walk the city jungle, offering a bestiary of Budapest. The story was published by Athenaeum, which mainly publishes popular science volumes and contemporary literature, indicating the blurring of boundaries between genre and belles-lettres.

In Ellopott troll by Sándor Szélesi [The Stolen Troll] (2019), Budapest is populated by creatures of ancient Hungarian and European mythology that merge into our well-known modern world of cars, smartphones, and computers, mixing folk magic and ordinary 21st-century life. The protagonist is a detective working at the Department of Magical Creatures with a shaman, a siegbarste, a werewolf, and a sorcerer. Against the background of a folk-urban fantasy world, the story follows an investigation after a disappeared troll that leads to the labyrinth under Buda Castle, where the Prime Táltos is searching for the spring of eternal life.

Magic school novels have also sprung up in the wake of successful franchises in foreign fantasy. Vétett út [Wrong way] (2023) by Veronika Puska tells the story of two young men who study at a school led by an order of wizards in the 1990s. However, the novel twists all the expectations of a magic school fantasy in its world and style. The universe is based on Hungarian folk tradition, practice, and rhymes, like stealing the shadow of someone. However, the school is a secret society, and what the protagonists learn and are expected to do is often morally questionable, resulting in an inverted, dark, cruel folk-fantasy novel.

These stories have in common that they mostly take place in Budapest or at least in a version of the city that also relates them to urban fantasy. This subgenre has become popular in Hungarian fantasy in the last ten years. The Legendák a bagolyvárosból [Legends from the Owlcity] (from 2018) series by Gabriella Eld is a YA urban fantasy about young people with unique talents (seeing into the future for one second, having a conscious shadow) who are persecuted by the dystopian state of Imperium. The setting is a dark and crowded metropolis bathing in neon lights. However, the novel focuses more on the characters than on worldbuilding. Főnix [Phoenix] (2023) by László Szarvassy turns upside down the usual elements of urban fantasy, placing the subgenre’s plot and typical characters in the Hungarian countryside. A young man dies in a bus accident and… wakes up to experience the benefits and, mainly, the unpleasant consequences of being an immortal in the employ of a goblin.


In recent years, contemporary Hungarian fantasy has moved away from classical sword-and-sorcery and urban fantasy, producing innovative and original novels that do not lend themselves to be classified into genres or subgenres, and it becomes more accurate to use the broader term: contemporary fantastic literature.

Anita Moskát is the emblematic figure of this trend. In her first novel, Bábel fiai [Sons of Babel] (2014), “dimension portals” connect contemporary Budapest and a parallel-universe Babylon where the tower of Babel is being built. Horgonyhely [Place of Anchorage] (2016) leaves completely behind the fantasy tropes, depicting a universe where only pregnant women can travel (all the others are anchored to the place where they were born). Some women who eat soil or dirt empower themselves with Earth magic. These foundations of the fictitious world raise questions about gender and social hierarchy in a new light that has never been represented in such a detailed and realistic way in Hungarian fantasy. Her following book, Irha és bőr [Fur and Skin] (2019), likewise addresses social issues, talking about a “new creation” when animals begin to turn into humans all around the world. In the creation waves, they pupate, and a transition begins in which human limbs and organs replace animal parts. When the transformation does not end in death, it produces hybrid creatures. Moskát’s novel revolves around these creatures’ fight for social and political acceptance.

Mónika Rusvai is a researcher of plant-humans in fantasy fiction, and in her second novel entitled Kígyók országa [Country of Snakes] (2023), past and present are connected by a kind of magical network. One of the protagonists during the troubled times of the Second World War can bind and loosen these connections, to take away bad memories or make deals with magical characters. The novel addresses the consequences of repression because the enchanted or tied memories of feelings survive in a forest where people have to face them at some point.

Outside the fantasy genre, literary authors added supernatural and fantastic elements in their novels, mostly labeled magical realism. Notable works in this vein are the Bestiárium Transylvaniae [Transilvanian Bestiary] 1997, 2003) series by Zsolt Láng, a combination of magical realism and history. Its structure follows the famous natural history books of the time, the bestiaries, various real or legendary animals, such as the visionary human-faced parrot, the sunfish, the singing worm or the deathbird that sings an impenetrable silence, are the organizing principle of the chapters. Likewise, A könnymutatványosok legendája [The Legend of the Tear Showmen] (2016) by László Darvasi is a historical tableau of the Turkish occupation and the re-occupation of Buda (from 1541 to 1686) with the realities of the Middle Ages and magical elements. 

Fantasy, which was adventure-based and primarily aimed at young audiences from the early nineties, has grown up with its readers. Now, it offers a genre code to address complex and relevant issues and bring magic into ordinary life.


In addition to science fiction and fantasy, other niches have appeared in the field of fantastic genre literature. Horror, or fantastic horror, was marginalized till the middle of the 2000s, and even well-known foreign works were neglected, only some of Stephen King’s and a few other exceptions made it into local circulation. When the literary heritage of Lovecraft started to become more and more popular, fan clubs were established, and magazines like Asylum and Black Aether published the first weird and horror short stories until this niche attracted more prominent publishing companies.

The watershed was the publication of Odakint sötétebb [Darker Outside] (2017) by Attila Veres, a genre-establishing work on the boundaries of weird and horror. The novel follows Gábor who flees from Budapest to work on a farm in the countryside. However, the animals he works with are not usual terrestrial ones. Thirty years ago, uncanny creatures appeared in the woods, the cellofoids. It soon turned out that the milk of these sloth, part cat, and part octopus animals, could cure cancer, so cellofoids were hunted almost to extinction, and now they live in a reserve. Gábor faces weirder and weirder events; some Lovecraftian evil is lurking in the woods, and the apocalypse is approaching.

The novel opened the way for weird and horror books. Attila Veres published two books of short stories, Éjféli iskolák [Midnight Schools] (2018) and Valóság helyreállítása [Restoration of Reality] (2022) and the horror-weird anthology Légszomj [Breathlessness] (2022) introduced new authors, and innovative approaches to the fantastic from established ones. Termőtestek [Carpophores] (2021) by László Sepsi is a weird-bio-horror about the town of Hörsking, the city of fungus that feeds on the dead and spreads a drug that controls the town and its people. The novel combines the elements of horror, noir, thriller, and the description of a psychedelic trip, contrasting the familiar milieu and the surreal.  


Time travel narratives were a recurring theme in Hungarian fantastic fiction from the eighties, focusing instead on the possible social-historical consequences; the technology is rarely described, or treated as ancillary. These time-travel stories address the problem of changing history (the past or present) and the influence of individuals on historical events. The interest in changing the course of history continued in alternate history novels from the 2000s. Fantasy novels, such as Vadásznak vadásza by Sándor Szélesi and Isten ostorai [Scourges of God] (2002) and its five sequels by Tibor Fonyódi apply elements of alternate history, tying these together with ancient Hungarian mythology.

A szivarhajó utolsó útja [The Airship’s Last Journey] (2012) by Bence Pintér and Máté Pintér explores the consequences of a Hungarian victory at the revolution and war of independence in 1848-49. The YA novel describes a steampunk world where Lajos Kossuth founded the Danube Confederation, which became a utopian state. The book offers Verne-style adventures and humorous allusions and analogies to real history. Another take on alternate history is Szélesi’s Sztálin, aki egyszer megmentettte a világot [Stalin who Once Saved the World] (2016) taking up the sombre theme of Joseph Stalin and subverting it into a satirical novel where all the seemingly incongruous historical details of the 20th century are true and accurate, but mixed up with incredible adventures and plot-twists.

A more serious approach to alternate history is represented by two anthologies of the publishing house Cser Kiadó, written by well-known contemporary authors. A másik forradalom [The Other Revolution] (2016) offers alternative versions of the 1956 Revolution in various styles. The what-if thought experiments resulted in Hungary joining the United States, Arnold Schwarzenegger attacking 60 Andrassy Avenue, the symbolic place of communist oppression or establishing the Danube Free Confederation, while others applied a personal, human-centered approach. The second volume, Nézzünk bizakodva a múltba [Let’s Look with Confidence to the Past] (2020), takes the concept but explores different outcomes of the Treaty of Trianon, which led to the dismemberment of Hungary at the end of World War One and remains an important touchstone in the country’s collective memory. Both anthologies push the boundaries of alternate history but have the great merit of putting the genre on the map of contemporary Hungarian literature. 


Considering the small window of opportunities before 1989, Hungarian fantastic literature has come a long way. From the early sparks of newly-experienced freedom and capitalism, a wave of Anglophone influence, through the years of experimentation, to the 21st century, it seems to have found its place. The diversity of sub-genres, narratives, and styles harbour a unique local touch, and many novels preserved some Hungarian flavor amidst the flood of foreign influences. The present author is confident that science fiction, though now slightly marginalized, will regain its strength, and the balance among different fantastic genres and sub-genres will ensure a colorful kaleidoscope through which readers can look at reality. Hopefully, in the future, fantastic Hungarian literature will be translated and published abroad to be accessible to a broader readership.



Éva Vancsó is a Ph.D. student at the Modern English and American track of ELTE Doctoral School of Literary Studies. Her research focuses on the representation of women and the presence of female monsters in fictional worlds. Besides her doctoral research, she examines contemporary Hungarian SFF and is especially interested in utopias-dystopias and the depiction of social issues.

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