Robert Kurvitz, February 2013
8 October 1984|
Tallinn, Harju County, Estonia
|Occupation||Novelist and video game developer|
|Genre||Science fiction, fantastic realism|
|Notable works||Sacred and Terrible Air|
Robert Kurvitz (born October 8, 1984) is a Karelian Estonian novelist. He is also known as the singer and lyricist of the band Ultramelanhool (2001), and a member of the ZA/UM group (a cultural movement that began in 2009 with an eponymous webzine). Robert Kurvitz has also penned essays, film scripts ("Free Range") and general cultural criticism. He is the son of artists Raoul Kurvitz and Lilian Mosolainen. Since 2015, Kurvitz is the lead designer at the video game company "Fortress Occident".
The novel "Sacred and Terrible Air" (Estonian: "Püha ja õudne lõhn") was published in 2013. It is set in a fictional world and centers on three men who, twenty years after the mysterious disappearance of their classmates, are still determined to find them.
"Sacred and Terrible Air" has been dubbed the salvation of the "vanished noughties" of Estonian literary prose and one of the most significant literary events of the decade. Literary theorist Johanna Ross has highlighted it as one of the very few books to successfully bridge the gulf between science fiction and "literature proper". As such, it has received much attention from both sides of the gulf. Internationally renowned sci-fi expert Jaak Tomberg categorizes the novel under "fantastic realism" and "world-building literature": "From a theoretical standpoint, "Sacred and Terrible Air" succeeds in dynamically unifying two kinds of genres that have so far been quite far separated in the conventional system of genres: namely, realistic and fantastic. Furthermore, it manages to elucidate the perpetual and essential overlap between these two kinds in hindsight and thus serves as "our own little proof" of the prevailing feeling in world literature that the beginning of the twenty-first century is a time of emergence of several aspects of something that can be considered a new and productive realism in a traditional sense."
The use of culturally specific names and environments in new geographic and cultural contexts has confused the critics (Vaasa as a town name has engendered questions of why the novel is set in Sweden). Several critics (Rein Raud, Peeter Helme and Maniakkide Tänav ) were unsatisfied with the open ending (while otherwise heaping praise on the novel). However, sci-fi author and editor Triinu Meres countered that all the pieces of the solution were there by the end of the book and the reader only needed to piece them together.
According to the author, he largely relies on D&D world-building traditions in his writing. Others are also involved in the development of ideas. "Mass editing" was employed as a tool in the finishing stage of the book, where people of various backgrounds assessed the readability and realism of the work, pointed out confusing passages and suggested amendments.
The reason behind the application of the D&D game system in the writing process lies in Robert Kurvitz’ long-term involvement in D&D games, both as a GM and a player.
Ultramelanhool has been characterized as a rock band that bridges 1970s’ progressive rock and today’s attitude-based pop music; the conceptual focus of their albums has also received praise. In terms of genre, they have been regarded as successors of the tradition started by Metro Luminal and Vennaskond. To this date, they have released two albums, Must apelsin (Black Orange) and Materjal (Material), in 2004 and 2008 respectively. A song from the first album "Talvehommik" ("Winter Morning") was featured in the Kanal 2 TV series "Ühikarotid" ("Dorm Rats").
The band failed to find an Estonian publisher for the second album, so it was self-published with the inheritance money of his long-time friend, editor and collaborator Martin Luiga, and released on the internet for free. Kurvitz has described the theme of the album as "the enormous, exctatically emancipating beauty of surrender and conciliation".
A third album, bravery-themed Fantastika was announced on the ZA/UM website in May 2011, but it has yet to materialize. Some of the songs from the new album have been performed in concerts, however, and some new lyrics have also been published by the author.
In late 2013, during the so-called Sirp Scandal, Robert Kurvitz was an editor of the Estonian cultural magazine Sirp for a short time and resigned when poet Andres Aule publicly voiced his objections (a poem by Aule was allegedly published without his permission; Kurvitz and Kender assumed responsibility and resigned).