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Hidden Camera
Zoran Živković, translated by Alice Copple-Tošić
Dalkey Archive Press, 217 pages

Zoran Živković
Zoran Živković was born in Belgrade in 1948. He has worked as an editor, translator, and publisher before beginning his own productive, successful, and ongoing writing career. In 1973, he graduated in literary theory from the Department of General Literature, Faculty of Philology of the University of Belgrade; he received his master's degree in 1979 and his doctorate in 1982 from the same university. His dissertation, The Appearance of Science Fiction as a Genre of Artistic Prose, appeared in his Contemporaries of the Future anthology, along with several of the stories discussed. Also in 1982, he founded the Polaris imprint, Yugoslavia's first privately-owned SF publishing house, through which he released over a hundred books. He also wrote and hosted a television series about science fiction cinema, titled "The Starry Screen" ("Zvezdani ekran," 1984). The show later inspired a book of critical essays under the same title. Winner of the 2003 World Fantasy Award for his mosaic novella The Library, he is the author of twelve titles of fiction that, in the tradition of Borges and others, blur the line between the fantastic and the real. He continues to live and work in Belgrade, Serbia. Hidden Camera (Skrivena kamera) is his latest work to be published in English.

Zoran Živković Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Fourth Circle
SF Site Review: Seven Touches of Music
SF Site Review: Time Gifts
Excerpt from Hidden Camera
Interviews: 1, 2, 3

  • "Compartments" 1, 2
  • Hidden Camera 1, 2, in Serbian, 3
  • The Fourth Circle 1
  • Four Stories Till the End 1
  • Multiple titles: 1
Publisher's Home Page
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Hidden Camera John Toon in his review of Živković's Four Stories to the End, says of the work: "Something clever is going on here, but I don't honestly know what.", while others compare Živković's works to the likes of Kafka and Borges. Certainly one can read a great deal into Živković's story of an undertaker who comes home to find a mysterious envelope stuck in his apartment door, drawing him into a sequence of increasingly bizarre adventures, which he believes for some time to be a The Truman Show-Candid Camera-like reality show. There's a death-life thing going on, a critique of modern mediatized society, and plenty of paranoia to boot. What it exactly is intended to mean (if anything specific) isn't entirely clear to me either. Does water rushing through underground sewer canals represent the release of amniotic fluid through the vaginal canal, presaging the later birth? Who knows, nothing is explicit. Certainly Hidden Camera does have the sense of the intrusiveness and, at times, bumbling of authority figures, a hold-over of the cold-war era and typical of Eastern European writers from Karel Čapek (e.g., Krakatit, The Absolute at Large), Jan Weiss (The House of 1000 Floors). to Stanislaw Lem (e.g. Memoirs Found in a Bathtub)

Like Lem, Živković's Hidden Camera is told, as is much Eastern European literature, in the first-person style of a teller of tall tales you might meet and, were he Živković, share a few Jelen pivo — or more likely shots of šljivovica -- in some out-of-the-way basement pub in Belgrade. While Hidden Camera somewhat resembles a dream in its episodic nature, linked by quasi-non-sequitur shifts in the action, it at first is a fascinating trip to go along on. However, after awhile, one begins to wonder, "What's the point?" "Why are these people harassing this poor sod?" and the answers aren't really forthcoming. Perhaps there is some philosophical meaning or resolution in all this, the fact that the narrator is an undertaker and that the final scene is that of a woman giving birth might suggest this — but this interpretation certainly isn't explicit, and any number of others one might come with (Big Brother among us, societal voyeurism) aren't either. Yes, I realize not every work of fiction has to provide an explicit resolution, that would reduce everything to the level of blockbuster Hollywood movies, still, like Mr. Toon, while I would like to believe that Živković's work is deeply meaningful and high-brow, I just don't get it, which leaves me to rely on the more prosaic elements of the work. Hidden Camera reads well, is entertain, which, while entertaining on a first reading, leave me when I attempt to draw anything further from its pages, rather muddled.

Certainly, for those wanting to read anything outside the more straightforward yet perhaps less rewarding works of standard English-language SF, Živković is an interesting writer, who handles old themes in a manner that on occasion reveals some of their old lustre. Certainly if you like the works of Čapek and Lem, you'll enjoy Živković, and if not you can see it as a way to open your horizons.

Copyright © 2005 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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