Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The lady writes the pulps: Nora de Siebert

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This is a sort of rabbit hole in which I am about to dive. And why not carry you along?

Science fiction was always considered cheap drivel in Italy – commercial fiction fit to entertain the “technical classes” (that is, mechanics, factory workers and engineers) while “proper intellectuals” (whatever that means) got into the classics. But despite the stigma (that SF shared with fantasy, romance, mystery and any other “popular” literature), for a brief season, between the 1950s and the 1980s, SF was really big in Italy.

In the mid-50s the genre appeared on the Italian news-stands, in the form of “magazines” that were in fact cheap pulp paperbacks. And if Urania was the spearhead of this new invasion, a lot of other magazines popped in and out of existence, lasting for a few months, or a few years.

One of these was Cronache del Futuro (Chronicles of the Future), published by KAPPA Edizioni, that ran for 24 numbers, between August 1957 and August 1958. It was sold for 150 lire a copy. Cover art was mostly provided by Curt Caesar – an Italian comic artist and illustrator of German origins, that had served in the Afrika Korps under Rommel, and who also did cover art for Urania and other magazines. The magazine featured short novels from Italian writers hiding behind an Anglophone alias.
The only writer to appear in Cronache del Futuro with her real name was Nora de Siebert, probably because she “sounded foreign”.

Born on the 22nd of March 1917, De Siebert apparently started writing when she was still in her teens, and by the ’40s had established herself as a very prolific full-time writer, doing romance, science fiction, comic books and photoplays, and scripting a movie (a lowbrow comedy, in 1961). She was a pulp writer, in other words, and a good one – to the point that one of her stories, “Un Sogno Smarrito” (A Misplaced Dream) was the first romance novel published in 1958 in the new “Collana Rosa” from KAPPA Edizioni.

Before that, KAPPA published a number of her SF novels

  • Ora Zero, la Terra non Risponde (Zero Hour, Earth doesn’t copy) – 1957 and serialized as Fuga nella Galassia (Escape in the Galaxy) between 1957 and 1958
  • Umanità immortale (Immortal Humanity) – 1957
  • Il silos di cristallo (The cristal silos) – 1958
  • Trasfusione atomica (Atomic transfusion) – 1958
  • Il Totem dello spazio (Space totem) – 1958
  • Ricerca dell’inverosimile (Search for the Unlikely) – 1958

For some reason, Ricerca dell’Inverosimile was published under a male alias, Norman MC Kennedy – and it was even given an “original title” (Search for the Unknown) and a “translator”, in order to reinforce the illusion this was “proper SF” written by an American man, not by an Italian woman. I was unable to track down any further outing of Mr Mc Kennedy.

Cronache del Futuro also ran a few short stories from De Siebert, as an appendix to other people’s novels.

Many of De Siebert’s SF stories were often set against the background of future societies in which women were relegated to a subordinate, “ornamental” roles – usually by design and with the help of mind controlling techniques, as men had found out that women could beat them at their own game if allowed; the main protagonists in these stories usually rebelled against the status quo. Not bad, for stories written in a backwater like Italy, in the 1950s.

With the end of Cronache del Futuro, De Siebert’s science-fictional output dried up.
In 1962 her novel La porta sull’aldilà (The door to the beyond) was the first – and only – title in a new series of news-stand paperback magazines called I Racconti di Nharadham. The magazine died after the first issue, probably because nobody knew how to pronounce its name.
In 1967, De Siebert also had a story in an anthology called Fantasesso (yes, Fantasex) – an old short known as The female from Antares, and originally published in Cronache dal Futuro, but now reprinted as La femmina inappagata (the unfulfilled female). Because so it was in ancient times.

Nora De Siebert died in Rome on the 23rd of November 1989.

Today, Nora De Siebert is almost completely forgotten, and her SF novels are hard to find collector’s items. They sometimes appear on eBay, and I have half a mind of keeping an eye out and maybe get a couple. They’d make for a fun translation project.
For certain I will continue to search for further information of De Siebert, because she seems to be a woman after my own heart.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

5 thoughts on “The lady writes the pulps: Nora de Siebert

  1. “pulp paperbacks?” There’s no such thing. It’s one or the other. PBs lead to the death of pulps!

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    • I know that paperback originals went to occupy the market niche of the pulps, but that was in the USA.
      The situation in Italy was different.
      These are digest-sized, pulp-paper books, marketed as magazines for legal reasons (originally “proper books” – i.e hardbacks and traditional paperbacks – could not be sold in news-stands). They feature a novel and a couple of short stories per issue. It is a format that still survives today on the Italian market.
      Indeed, this hybrid format has influenced the status of much genre fiction in my country – as literary magazines would not review anything not published in “proper book” format.

      Like

  2. That’s a nice write up, and I appreciate learning more about the woman behind the books I stumbled across the other day. Thank you! I also appreciate the mention of Urania, as I plan on posting several covers from that series tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 5/2/22 Everyone Has Two Pixels Inside Them. Which One Will Win? The One You Scroll | File 770

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