Zoran Živković, Time Gifts

Zoran Živković (born 1948) is one of the best-known SF authors in the West from former Yugoslavia, thanks largely to very good translations of his work into English. (Alica Copple-Tošić, who translated Time Gifts, is not just a native speaker of English with a good style, but a sensitive reader of the original. I have the book in Serbian - with some melting Dalí clocks on the cover! - so let me know if you have questions about the original of any passages.) Some of Ž's works refer to well-known figures from Western culture (such as a plot line about Sherlock Holmes in his The Fourth Circle). His other books are listed on the back of our edition, so check there first if you would like to know and read more. He has a career as a publisher as well. Note: the first syllable of his last name suggests the adjective živ ('live' or 'lively') or the noun život ('life').

Questions for reading:

  1. What is the effect of having four separate but (increasingly) related chapters?
  2. Živković is clearly interested in the workings of time - and informed about previous treatments of that topic in science fiction. How does he examine the idea of time travel (or not), both in explicit dialogue and in other elements of the sections?
  3. What is the impact of the professions of the characters who receive the "time gifts"? (Besides that moment of triumph, for some of us, when we reach the Paleolinguist!) Why are they especially suited (or are they?) to a study of time?
  4. Besides time, what does the book suggest about the relationship of fiction to reality (of fiction to science, if you will, broadly understood)?
  5. What kind of thing is a pocket watch? Do you have any associations with the object?
  6. Why might the character with the pocket watch appear to be a (the?) devil, or present himself that way?
  7. How are we supposed to read the final "Z" in the last section? (Note: in the Serbian alphabet, Z (З) is the 9th of 30 letters not the last letter, though the copy of the book I have is printed not in Cyrilllic but in latinica.)
  8. What, if anything, suggests that the book was written in Eastern Europe?
  9. What questions, if any, does this book open for you as you look back over works we read before this?
  10. My favorite question: what trajectory has the author attempted to impart to the reader as the reader finished the book?

During spring of 2011, Zoran Živković answered some questions from the Russian and E European SF class. (The Serbian original of his answers is below.)

  1. Q. Were you thinking of yourself (and how much?) when you wrote the Author in Time Gifts?
    A. My name begins with the letter "z," so it's possible to assume that the author of Time Gifts is concealed behind the letter. But it could also be any other author. The question of the author's responsibility towards the characters in his work is one that every author has to face. Some are conscious of it, and some are not...
  2. Q. What were you thinking about the act of writing and its significance, given the way you described writing in the book?
    A. I'm a professor of Creative Writing at the University of Belgrade (the College of Arts and Sciences). At the beginning of my course I explain to the students that there's no privileged way of writing. It's all the same what way you want to write. The only thing that counts is the quality of the text you have written.
  3. Q. What does it feel lije to be a science fiction writer today in Serbia? In Eastern Europe?
    A. I wouldn't know, since I don't at all consider myself a writer of science fiction, but instead a writer without any prefixes, just a writer. I'm the author of nineteen books of prose and not one of them has a trace of science fiction, unless we take that concept in a very, very broad sense. Besides that, I don't follow what's happening on the Serbian SF scene. Of course, Serbia is geographically and politically in Southern, not Eastern Europe...
  4. Q. If you can look at a genre as if it's a country, then who are the other people in your country?
    A. I would prefer to talk about a tradition rather than a genre. (In the literary terminology that I use, "genre" is a synonym for trivial literature, a product of the publishing industry, about which I think only the worst.) My literary forebears, or if you will my countrymen, are the builders of Central European fantasy: Hoffman, Gogol', Bulgakov, Kafka, Lem...

  1. P. Jeste li mislili na sebe (i koliko?) kad ste napisali Autora u Vremenskim darovima?
    O. Moje ime počinje slovom "Z", tako da se može pretpostaviti da se iza tog inicijala krije pisac "Vremenskih darova". Ali mogao bi da bude i bilo koji drugi autor. Pitanje odgovornosti pisca prema likovima njegovih dela postavlja se pred svakog autora. Neki su ga svesni, a neki ne...
  2. P. Kako Vi misliti o postupku pisanja i o njegovom značenju, s obzirom na to, kako ste opisali pisanje u knjizi?
    O. Ja sam profesor kreativnog pisanja na Filološkom fakultetu Univerziteta u Beogradu. Na početku svog kursa objasnim studentima da nema povlašćenog postupka pisanja. Sasvim je svejedno na koji ćete način pisati. Jedino što se računa jeste kvalitet teksta koji ste napisali.
  3. P. Kakav je doživljaj pisca naučne fantastike danas u Srbiji? U istočnoj Europi?
    Ne bih znao, budući da sebe nipošto ne vidim kao pisca naučne fantastike, već kao pisca bez ikakvog prefiksa, naprosto pisca. Autor sam devetnaest knjiga proze i ni u jednoj nema ni u tragovima naučne fantastike, osim ako ovaj pojam ne shvatimo u veoma, veoma širokom smislu. Uz to, ne pratim zbivanja na srpskoj SF sceni. Konačno, Srbija se i geografski i politički nalazi u Južnoj, ne Istočnoj Evropi...
  4. P. Ako se žanr može smatrati kao da je zemlja, tko su Vaši zemljaci?
    O. Radije bih govorio o tradiciji nego o žanru. (U književnoj terminologiji koju ja koristim "žanr" je sinonim za trivijalnu književnost, proizvod izdavačke industrije o kojoj mislim apsolutno sve najgore.) Moji književni preci, odnosno zemljaci, jesu neimari srednjoevropske fantastike: Hofman, Gogolj, Bulgakov, Kafka, Lem...

5. (Evo, ovo Vam moram ostaviti na engleskom!) How does scientific or scholarly discovery map onto artistic creativity, especially writing? Znanje je nesumnjivo od velike koristi pri pisanju. Obrazovaniji pisac ima veće izglede da napiše dobro delo od manje obrazovanog. No, znanje je samo nužan, ne i dovoljan uslov za nastanak proznog dela. Kao što takođe objasnim svojim studentima, ako ne postoji dar za pisanje proze, ni sve znanje ovog sveta neće biti dovoljno da nastane valjano delo...