Frank Roger’s most published story, The Burning Woman, is barely four pages. Within them a lonely man awaits every evening the fleeting sight of a woman dressed in flames. She draws nearer to him each day until the tale closes to his desired, yet sombre, ending. The short story is representative of the Belgian writer’s breed of science fiction - one that stretches the genre’s traditional boundaries, yet uses it to reveal and question what’s uniquely human.
Frank says he first encountered the genre as a 14-year-old. “It was the 70s and I was at an impressionable age when I read American science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. I started writing soon after,” says Frank. Four decades and over 500 science fiction stories later, Frank’s recent collection of 60 short stories ‘The Burning Woman and Other Stories’ is named after the tale he penned at 17.
Over the years he has spent with science fiction, Frank says some of his fellow writers have stuck to traditional tropes which have an assured fan base, while others have experimented with the genre’s unexplored possibilities. For example, English writer J.G. Ballard brought a literary quality to science fiction and Philip talked of philosophy and social commentary through science fiction. “This is the kind that may not sell well but I’ve always liked sci-fi that took the genre to a higher level.” Popular sci-fi these days, especially in the movies and on the television, is not really sci-fi, says Frank. “Most often it is just large fantastic backdrops which tell action stories of the good versus the bad. That’s like a Western with the sets changed.”
Frank’s own method of writing has been to constantly take notes of the world around him and of the ideas that pop into his head. “Some of the notes remain notes, while others develop into stories,” he says. The short story has always served him well because he feels the format enables him to develop even small ideas thoroughly. His stories have been translated to over 30 languages, including Bengali, and Frank himself writes in Dutch, English and French. “It’s common for Belgians to be at least bi-lingual. We’re a small country, so most writers learn several languages to reach a larger audience. While I began writing in Dutch, I branched out to English in the 90s.”
Besides writing, Frank is also a collage artist. A son of two painters, Frank says surrealism has been a strong tradition in Belgium. He saw Rene Magritte’s works when he was seven-years-old and has since been cutting and pasting paper into collages. His book Collagissimo, a trilingual collection of his collages, features some bizarre pieces that make sense when viewed with their titles. There is a middle ground to his sci-fi writing and surrealist art, says Frank. “In some way, they’re both parts of fantastic literature.”