Current Trends in Global SF
Takayuki Tatsumi. Generations and Controversies: An Overview of Japanese Science Fiction, 1957-1997
From its birth in the Jazz Age, Anglo-American science fiction took more than three decades to reach the zenith of its classical development in the 1950s. By contrast, the rise of Japanese science fiction in the 1960s coincided with the explosion of New Wave speculative fiction in England and North America, and thus Japanese sf could not pursue the gradual historical development that led to these new subgenres in the West, but rather ran through the great paradigm shift between outer space and inner space in only a decade. To critics and readers in Japan, therefore, sf seems to have evolved, in the Eliotic sense, within a simultaneous order, with hardcore science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, and monster narratives like Godzilla enjoying a peaceful symbiosis. From its beginnings, Japanese science fiction has thus incorporated the various sf traditions synchronically rather than diachronically, producing an extraordinary range of magna opera. Nevertheless, to understand the ahistorical evolution of Japanese science fiction, we must begin by historicizing it in the conventional manner.
History. Although prewar Japan did produce several native sf writers— including Shunro Oshikawa, Kyusaku Yumeno, and Juza Unno, whose styles ranged from scientific fantasy to sociopolitical extrapolation—the origins of Japanese sf as an organized movement are best located in the publications of the first successful fanzine, Uchujin (Cosmic Dust, 1957- ), and the first successful commercial magazine, Hayakawa’s SF Magazine (1959- ). Uchujin was founded by writer-translator Takumi Shibano, and proved to be a maturing ground for most of the major contemporary sf writers. Hayakawa’s SF Magazine was created by editor-writer Masami Fukushima of Hayakawa publishers as a venue for native Japanese sf as well as translations. At an early stage, then, an economic training system for native Japanese writers was established: promising fan-writers were discovered in Uchujin, then promoted as professionals in Hayakawa’s SF Magazine.
Awards, conventions, and associations quickly followed. The first annual national convention, Meg-Con, was held in Tokyo in 1962, attracting 180 fans and pros; by contrast, the more recent Yanecon (Nagano, 1999) drew nearly 4,000 participants. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan (SFWJ) was established by Masami Fukushima in 1963. The Japan SF Fan Group Federation, founded by Takumi Shibano in 1965, comprised only nine groups/fanzines; it has since grown to over 100. The annual Fandom Award was established in 1965, then superseded in 1970 by the Seiun (meaning, ironically, “Nebula”) Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Hugo, as well as the Fanzine Award (the Japanese Big Heart Award). SFWJ now includes over 200 writers, translators, and critics; in 1980 this group began presenting the Japan SF Award for the year’s best work in fiction or any other medium.
In its heyday in the 1980s, Japanese sf found numerous outlets. Translation-centered publishers (including Hayakawa, Sogen-sha, Sanrio, Seishin-sha, Asahi-Sonorama) as well as publishers oriented towards native Japanese sf (including Kadokawa, Tokuma, Shuei-sha, and Shincho-sha) published in editions of around 30,000. The magazine field grew to include not only Hayakawa’s SF Magazine but also NW-SF Quarterly (1970-82), Kiso-Tengai (1975-1981; 1987-90), Kobunsha’s SF-Hoseki (the Japanese version of Isaac Asimov’s SF Magazine, 1979-1981), Tokuma’s SF Adventure (1979-93), Shapio’s SF-ISM (1979-85), Tsurumoto Room’s Starlog (the Japanese edition of Starlog, 1979-87), Studio Ambient’s SF no Hon (The Book of SF, 1982-86), and Ohbunsha’s Omni Japan (1982-89), most of which had circulations in the 10,000 to 50,000 range. By 1980, there were more than 400 sf publications appearing yearly, peaking at 447 in 1985 (including 274 native Japanese stories and 173 translations). By the late 1990s, however, fantasy and horror fiction dominated in the market place, discouraging publishers from continuing their hardcore sf projects. Only Hayakawa Publishers and Hayakawa’s SF Magazine have survived.
Writers. Japanese sf writers may be roughly classified into four generational groups. The “First Generation” of the 1960s, Japanese sf’s Founding Fathers, are distinguished by the strong influence of the Anglo-American science fiction of the 50s; First Generation writers include Kobo Abe, Tetsu Yano, Shinichi Hoshi, Sakyo Komatsu, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Ryu Mitsuse, Taku Mayumura, Ryo Hanmura, Takashi Ishikawa, Eisuke Ishikawa, Shiro Kuno, Aritsune Toyota, Fujio Ishihara, Koichi Yamano, and Yoshio Aramaki. The “Second Generation” of the 1970s imbibed the New Wave of the late 60s and the early 70s, reappropriating sf as a post-60s style; Second Generation writers include Koji Tanaka, Masaki Yamada, Junya Yokota, Chiaki Kawamata, Izumi Suzuki, Yuko Yamao, Kaoru Kurimoto, and Kiyoshi Kasai. The “Third Generation” of the 1980s, paralleling Anglo-American Post-New Wave/pre-cyberpunk writers, developed sf styles specific to the Japanese literary-cultural milieu; Third Generation writers include Baku Yumemakura, Motoko Arai, Katsuhito Morishita, Azusa Noah, Chohei Kambayashi, Koshu Tani, Mariko O’Hara, Keigo Misaki, Ryo Mizumi, and Ko Hiura. Finally, the “Fourth Generation” of the late 80s and the 90s takes for granted the postmodern modes of cyberpunk, cyborg feminism, and “Yaoi poetics” (the Japanese equivalent of the K/S [Kirk-slash-Spock] slash fiction aesthetic) as it testifies to the hyper-capitalist concerns coincident to both Japanese and Anglo-American science fiction; this Fourth Generation includes Norio Nakai, Baku Ohba, Goro Masaki, Yumi Matsuo, Hiroyuki Morioka, and Hideaki Sena.
The First Generation. Two writers dominate the First Generation landscape: Kobo Abe (1924- ), a mainstream writer whose Daiyon Kanpyo-ki (Inter Ice Age 4, 1958) is considered Japan’s first modern work of science fiction; and Shozo Numa, an s&m writer whose Kachikujin Yapu (Yapoo the Human Cattle, 1970) decadently considers “orientals altered into living furniture” in a stylistic cross between Swift and de Sade.
After Abe and Numa, the critically acclaimed “Big Three” of the First Generation are Shinichi Hoshi, Sakyo Komatsu, and Yasutaka Tsutsui. Hoshi (1926-1998) is a master of short-short stories (having written more than 1000 by 1982), and Hoshi’s “Bokko-chan”( “The Manmade Beauty,” 1961) was one of the first Japanese sf pieces translated into English (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1978).
Sakyo Komatsu (1931- ), whose profile in Japan is equivalent to any of the Anglo-American “Big Three” (Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein), amazed Japanese audiences with his first novel, Nippon Apacchi-Zoku (The Japanese Apache, 1964), which narrated the fate of a post-humanist “metallivorous” society closely modelled on that of the real “Japanese Apache” scrap thieves of Osaka’s postwar junkyards. Subsequently, Komatsu has continued to shock readers with his visions of the future of Japan; his mega-hit Japan Sinks (1973), which sold four million copies and won the Japan Mystery Award (Nihon-Chinbotsu), deals with a Japanese diaspora which follows the submersion of Japan. Tokyo Disappears (1985; winner of the 1985 Japan SF Award Shuto-Shoshitsu), decentralizes Japan’s capital, radically critiquing the Emperor system. Komatsu’s earlier Hateshinaki Nagare no Hateni (At the End of the Endless Stream, 1966), challenges the Hegelian and Marxist vision presented in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and is still unanimously acclaimed as Komatsu’s masterpiece.
Yasutaka Tsutsui (1934- ), a slapstick New Wave metafictionist, has been the most frequent winner of the Seiun Award, for works including Reicho-Rui Minami e (Sapients, Go South!, 1969), Ore no Chi wa Tanin no Chi (My Blood Is Of Another, 1974), and Nanase Futatabi (Ms. Nanase Strikes Back, 1975). He is also the winner of one of the major fantasy awards (the Izumi-Kyoka) for Kyojin-tachi (Fictional Characters, 1981). His most recent novel, Kyoko Sendan (Fantasy Fleet, 1984), describes a weird battle between a race of stationery products and a race of weasels, establishing his literary talent as comparable to the most experimental of Latin American magic-realist writers. By the early 1990s, Tsutsui had come to win mainstream literary awards as well as sf awards.
Deeply influenced by Darwin, Freud, and the Marx Brothers, Tsutsui’s post-Situationist poetics of “hyper-fictionality” has persistently exposed the conspiracy of reality and fiction in a hyper-capitalist age haunted by spectacles and pseudo-events. While his earliest works in the mid-60s, including “Tokaido Senso” (“The Tokyo-Osaka War,” 1964), “Vietnam Kanko Kosha” (“The Vietnam Tourist Bureau,” 1967), and Dasso to Tsuiseki no Samba (The Samba for Runaways and Chasers, 1972) prophesied the growth of hypermedia that would transform fiction into reality, battlefield into amusement park, and personal identity into computer program, Tsutsui’s latest diptych (Asa no Gasuparu [Gaspard of the Morning], 1992 and Papurika [Paprika], 1993) radically reconsiders reality as itself a hyper-fiction, everyday life as an effect of the political unconscious, and the boundary-transgressor as the best survivor of natural selection. Thus, Tsutsui’s long career from the 1960s to the 1990s demonstrates how Japanese literary history has gradually accepted the hybridization of metafiction and science fiction as the fate of postmodern literature per se.
The First Generation includes numerous skillful writers beyond the “Big Three.” Taku Mayumura (1934- ) won the 1979 Kyoka-Award with his Shometsu no Korin (Aureole of Extinction, 1978), a revealing socio-politico-economic description of a space colony. Ryo Hanmura (1933- ) was the first sf writer to win the Naoki Award (Japan’s most prestigious award for popular literature) with a mainstream novella; his gothic-erotic Ishi no Ketsumyaku (Veins of the Rock, 1971) won the 1972 Seiun Award. Tadashi Hirose (1924-1972), the musician-writer, is noted for logico-paradoxical experiments such as his Minus Zero (1970), and he won the 1973 Seiun Award for his posthumous Kagami no Kuni no Arisu (Alice Looking Through the Glass, 1972). Tetsu Yano (1923- ), revered as “the patriarch of Japanese sf,” was nominated on the 1984 Nebula ballot for his Origami Uchusen no Densetsu (The Legend of the Origami Spaceship, 1978). Sf subgenres cultivated by First Generation writers include hard sf by Fujio Ishihara (1933- ) and alternate history by Aritsune Toyoda (1938- ); Zen-Buddhist space odyssey by Ryu Mitsuse (1928-1999); a science-fictional Beggar’s Opera by Masahiro Noda (1933- ); technophilic revisions of myth and legend by Eisuke Ishikawa (1933- ); obsessive “car sf” by Tadashi Kosai (1938- ); and superhero fantasy by Kazumasa Hirai (1938- ).
The 1960s also witnessed a number of controversies, discussed below in more detail, but what should be noted here is the serious and constructive controversy concerning the originality of Japanese sf which began in 1969 between two talented writer-critics, Koichi Yamano(1939- ) and Yoshio Aramaki (1933- ). In 1970, Yamano launched NW-SF Quarterly, while Aramaki first appeared in SF Magazine in the same year with his theoretical essay “Jutsu no Shosetsu-ron” (“Sf as the Fiction of Kunst”), as well as his post-Nietszchean, hyper-spatio-temporal civil-engineering hard sf “Oinaru Shogo” (“The Great Noon; or Zarathustra in the Fourth Dimension”). Their debate helped to open the frontiers of the Japanese New Wave.
The Second Generation. In the Second Generation, the “Big Three” might include Koji Tanaka, Masaki Yamada, and Chiaki Kawamata. Koji Tanaka (1941- ) made his sensational debut with his cult hit Genkaku no Chiheisen (Drug-trip Horizon, 1972), a pre-cyberpunkish novel in which flower children are reconsidered as a post-human species capable of reorganizing human history. This masterpiece was followed by Tanaka’s best known hardcore science fiction, Waga Omomuku wa Aoki Daichi (Deep Sea My Destination, 1975), which narrates in highly Zelaznyesque style the post-apocalyptic fate of human beings who hope to outwit extraterrestrial aliens with biotechno-logically-produced aquatic cyborgs.
Masaki Yamada (1950- ) won the 1980 Seiun Award for his Aldiss-ian/Delanyean post-New Wave Hoseki-Dorobo (Jewel Thief, 1979); he went on to win the 1982 Japan SF Award with Saigo no Teki (The Final Enemy, 1982), which concerned “multiple realities, DNA, and the end of the race of man.” Critic-writer Chiaki Kawamata (1948- ) speculated on the essence of sf in his 1984 Japan SF Award-winning Genshi-Gari (Pursuit of the Dream Poem, 1984), which describes the effect upon the Surrealists of encountering a young unknown Oriental poet whose sf-like poetic creativity functions to detach his readers from reality.
Other prominent writers of the Second Generation include Akira Hori (1944- ), whose hard sf “Taiyofu Koten” (“The Solar Wind Intersection,” 1979) won the 1980 Japan SF Award; Junya Yokota (1945- ), winner as co-author of the 1987 Japan SF Award for his nonfiction work about the father of Japanese science fiction, Shunro Oshikawa; Musashi Kambe (1948- ), who won the 1986 Japan SF Award for his novel Warai-Uchu no Tabigeinin (The Traveling Entertainer of the Comic Universe, 1986); Shinji Kajio (1947- ), a most lyrical storyteller and winner of the 1990 Japan SF Award for his space opera Saramanda Senmetsu (Duel on the Planet Salamander); and Haruka Takachiho (1951- ), whose hero- or heroine-centered hardboiled series still enjoy great popularity. Three female authors also figure prominently: Yuko Yamao (1954- ), who dramatically elaborates a post-Borgesian magic-realist world; Izumi Suzuki (1949-1986), originator of the “Sf of Manners,” who makes the most of her well-developed camp sensibility; and Kaoru Kurimoto (1953- ), whose several ongoing heroic fantasy series, including Guin Saga, attract a large following.
The Third Generation. First novels of the Third Generation writers appeared for the most part in a Hayakawa’s original paperback series which is the Japanese equivalent of the New Ace Specials. The “Big Three” of this generation might be Motoko Arai, Chohei Kambayashi, and Mariko O’Hara. Motoko Arai (1960- ), who made her publishing debut in 1978, has been influential both because of her charismatic, girlish first-person narrators and her strongly ideological yet occasionally metafictional style; typical of this style are her 1981 and 1982 Seiun Award-winning short stories “Green Requiem” (1980) and “Neptune” (1981). Her best novel, the 1999 Japan SF Award-winning Tigris and Euphrates (1999), brilliantly foregrounds postfeminist topics. Chohei Kambayashi (1953- ) established his idiosyncratic but essentially hard sf style by winning the 1984 and 1985 Seiun Awards with Teki wa Kaizoku, Kaizoku ban (Pirates are the Enemy: Pirate Edition, 1983) and Sento Yosei Yukikaze (The Fighting Spirit Yukikaze, 1984). His work is reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s in its obsession with simulacra, and perhaps also of Barrington Bayley’s widescreen baroque.
Mariko O’Hara (1959- ) has produced both short-story collections and novels, including Kikaishin Asura (Asura the Mechanical God, 1983), Shojo-shohjo-Mangaka no Nenriki (Portrait of a Female Psychic Cartoonist as a Virgin, 1984), and Haibriddo Chairudo (Hybrid Child, 1990), which span diverse styles ranging from the “Sf of Manners” to postmodern space opera and cyberpunk, and reveal the influences of A.E. van Vogt, Cordwainer Smith, and Barrington Bayley. The winner of the 1994 Japan SF Award for her novel, Senso wo Enjita Kamigami-tachi (The Gods who Waged Wars, 1994), she is currently very active as president of SFWJ.
A number of other Third Generation writers have had a significant impact. Azusa Noah (1954- ) brings his remarkable talent and decadant aesthetic to bear on issues of evolution and revolution in both his first novella, “Hana-Kariudo” (“The Flower Hunter,” winner of the 1979 Hayakawa SF Contest), and his masterpiece Baberu no Kawori (The Flowers of Babel, 1991), which deconstructs and psychoanalyzes the Emperor system through the logic of post-AIDS biotechnology. Ryo Mizumi (1957- ) demonstrates his deep interest in fiction qua fiction through exactingly constructed hardcore sf, as exemplified by The Mind Eater (1984). The heroine-centered serials of Keigo Misaki (1954- ), including Majo demo Sutedi (My Girlfriend is a Witch, 1985) have been particularly appealing to the younger generation. Critically acclaimed Koshu Tani (1951- ) takes a hard sf approach to his theory of a post-quantum universe in Owarinaki Sakuteki (The Forever Scouting, 1993). Baku Yumemakura (1951- ) won the 1989 Japan SF Award for his hyper-Zen-Buddhist spiral-space-odyssey Jogen no Tsuki wo Taberu Shishi (Lion Eating a Crescent Moon, 1989). Also worthy of note are Katsuhito Morishita (1951- ), Ko Hiura (1956- ), Hiroyuki Namba (1953-), and Hideyuki Kikuchi (1947- ).
In the field of criticism, Kikaijikake-no-Yume (The Clock-Work Dream, 1982) by post-Marxist critic Kiyoshi Kasai (1948- ), and Dokeshi to Kami (God and Clown, 1983) by writer-critic Azusa Nakajima (a.k.a. Kaoru Kurimoto, 1953- ) stand out in particular for their detailed consideration, respectively, of Anglo-American and Japanese science fiction. SF no Boken (Adventures in SF Reading, 1984) by Nobumitsu Omiya (1942- ), an adventurous misreading of sf, also made a strong impact by offering a powerful alternative to existing perspectives on the field.
The Fourth Generation. Writers of the Fourth Generation are more diverse than their precursors in that they have not necessarily emerged from the sf communities surrounding the professional magazines. I will focus here on three particularly distinguished talents: Goro Masaki, Yumi Matsuo, and Hideaki Sena. Goro Masaki’s first novella, “Evil Eyes” (1987), describes in vivid, hardcore, cyberpunkish style a conflict between a mind-software company and a new religion; Masaki won the 1993 Japan SF Award for his first novel Venus City, a hyperreal, hyper-transvestite story set in the same cityscape as “Evil Eyes.” Yumi Matsuo’s sf mystery Murders in Balloon Town (1994), a postfeminist parody of John Varley’s ‘The Barbie Murders,” concerns a series of murders which occur in the special district of Tokyo where pregnant women are still permitted to have babies biologically, rather than through artificial wombs. Hideaki Sena’s bestselling novel Parasite Eve (1995), winner of the 1995 Japan Horror Award, skillfully narrates the declaration of war by mitochondria on human beings, and the ensuing colonization of bodies and memories.
Other important writers of the Fourth Generation include Norio Nakai, whose idiosyncratic brand of fantasy is comparable to that of R.A.Lafferty; Hiroyuki Morioka, whose space-opera series became a mega-hit; and Baku Ohba, Tsukasa Tono, and Osamu Makino, who have each cultivated distinctive post-cyberpunkish styles.
Controversies. Like Anglo-American science fiction, Japanese sf has emerged as a significant slipstream branch of Japanese literature largely as a consequence of its varied history of critical controversy. In short, Japanese sf history is the history of Japanese sf controversy. By way of overview, I will now provide brief summaries of the following five sections of my recently edited Japanese SF Controversies: 1962-1997 (Keiso Publishers, 2000): 1) Hardcore SF Theory, 2) The Explosion of Controversy, 3) The Impact of New Wave, 4) Pre-Cyberpunk, Post-Cyberpunk, and 5) The Problematics of Gender Politics. This volume collects major essays produced in the course of milestone sf controversies (essays mentioned here that are included in the collection are marked with asterisks).
The first two sections of Japanese SF Controversies, “Hardcore SF Theory” and “The Explosion of Controversy,” document the controversies that swirled around the First Generation writers, who suffered numerous absurd attacks from mainstream-biased writers and critics. Along with sf popularizer Masami Fukushima, whose autobiographical Founding Days* (1977) recounts a personal history of controversy both inside and outside the field, sf pioneer Kobo Abe championed science fiction in its early days, securing its status in Japanese literature through essays on its pseudo-scientific possibilities, including “On the Popularity of SF”* (1962) and “SF the Unnamable”* (1966).
The politics of sf were also examined closely in this era. Sakyo Komatsu challenged Ivan Efremov’s socialist ideology and redefined sf as a field for investigating the science of literature by striking back at mainstream criticism in his “Critique of Ivan Efremov”* (1963) and “On Japanese SF”* (1967). Arguing from the perspective of postwar democracy, Takashi Ishikawa ferociously criticized fascist aspects of R.A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, engendering both positive and negative reactions to his “The Controversy on Heinlein’s Starship Troopers”* (1967). Subsequently, Komatsu and Heinlein, both archetypal figures in the field in Japan, have consistently influenced the course of Japanese sf controversy.
In the late 1960s there arose the most legendary of sf controversies, between Koichi Yamano, who attacked Japanese sf’s imitation of Anglo-American science fiction (“Japanese SF: Its Originality and Possibilities”* ), and Yoshio Aramaki, who defended the original achievements of Japanese sf (“On the Fiction of Kunst: My Rereading of Heinlein”* ). Ironically, the respective visions of these disputants were essentially similar; the two shared a strong taste for psychoanalysis and Surrealism, and each struggled to reinvent the overall critical framework of the sf genre.
This controversy was followed by a more philosophical one between Takumi Shibano, who attempted to redefine sf as the fiction of “Collective Reason” (“On the Idea of Collective Reason”* ), and Yoshio Aramaki, who attacked Shibano’s argument by reviving the ideals of Renaissance humanism. While the first two sections of Japanese SF Controversies reveal a modernist tendency to define the role of sf comprehensively in our civilization, the latter three sections, “The Impact of New Wave,” “Pre-Cyberpunk, Post-Cyberpunk,” and “The Problematics of Gender Politics” reflect a postmodern concern with literary-cultural context in which the sf imagination performs the crucial role.
As a whole, the essays included in “The Impact of New Wave” attack canonical sf, investigate the possibilities of the New Wave, and reinvigorate the Japanese sf field. Ryuichi Tanaka’s appreciation of J.G. Ballard highlights the limitations of Komatsu (“The Collapse of Modern Reason and SF”* ), while Yasutaka Tsutsui embraces the Ballardian impact as he attempts to frame its tendencies in terms of his own cho-kyoko, or metafiction, in “On the Characteristics of Modern SF”* (1974). The most impressive criticism of the era, however, could well be Chiaki Kawamata’s “Which Way to Tomorrow?”* (1972), which radically compares New Wave sf with rock ’n’ roll.
Essays in “Pre-Cyberpunk, Post-Cyberpunk” outline the intellectual climate of the 1980s and its subsequent influence on the 90s. Kiyoshi Kasai, attempting to surmount the limitations of Komatsu, questions Komatsu’s post-Hegelian dialectics and deconstructs his own debt to Marx in “The Cosmic Spirit and Concentration Camp: On Sakyo Komatsu”* (1982). Tadashi Nagase felt such deep sympathy for cyberpunk chairman Bruce Sterling that he radically annotated and reconfigured Sterling’s argument in “Midnight on the Rue Jules Verne” (SF Eye 1 [Winter 1987]: 62-64) by way of critiquing the uniquely insular mental history of the Japanese sf community and recasting Heinlein as speculative fiction prophet (“Midnight on the Rue Jules Verne”* and “Speculative America: Heinlein as the Father of Speculative Fiction and the Concept of American Conservatism”* ).
There ensued in this era, of course, a strong backlash to cyberpunk. While Steve Brown, editor of SF Eye, tended to dismiss the emerging anti-cyberpunk, humanist mode represented by Orson Scott Card, propelling the emerging debate on Card’s “Lost Boys” into print, Norio Itoh, the prominent translator of Anglo-American sf, appreciated Card’s literary subtlety and sided with him, expanding the controversy to an international scale.
The final section of Japanese SF Controversies, “The Problematics of Gender Politics,” features three writers: Azusa Noah, Mari Kotani, and Mariko O’Hara. Azusa Noah reconsiders the problems raised by Koichi Yamano in 1969 by way of clarifying the potential of Japanesque sf and Yaoi fiction (the Japanese equivalent of slash fiction) in the post-cyberpunk milieu of the early 1990s (“On Japanesque SF”*  and “The Flowering of Detective Fiction for Women”* ). Mari Kotani, winner of the 1994 Japan SF Award for Joseijo-Muishiki (Techno-Gynesis, 1994), undertakes a detailed comparison of the “fanacs” (fan activities) of junk-fiction consumers to the act of eating junk food, articulating the discourses among fat feminism, slash fiction, and the lesbian community (“Fat/Slash/Lesbian: The Cultural History of the Woman Reader”* ). Concluding this section, and concluding Japanese SF Controversies as a whole, Mariko O’Hara’s eloquent manifesto, “Disenchanted by the Spell of SF”* (1997) strikes back for feminist sf writers at the champions of the “Kuzu SF” discourse, the Japanese equivalent of the “Who Killed Science Fiction?” proponents in the West.
It is unfortunate that conservative genre cynicism of this variety is revived periodically, and it must be noted that denouncers of sf have had little opportunity to rethink the near-invisible negotiations of genre and gender. Further meditations on gender politics in the age of hyper-reality will doubtless reshape sf as a literary and cultural genre of the twenty-first century.
Given that science fiction is a literature reflecting the frontiers of techno-capitalism, it was inevitable that Japanese writers of the 1960s would follow the original literary exemplars produced by the Pax Americana in the West. In the 80s, however, a revolutionary paradigm shift took place: Anglo-American writers began appropriating Japanesque images as often as the reverse, while Japanese writers came to understand that writing post-cyberpunk sf meant locating the radically science fictional within the semiosis of “Japan.” Of course, Anglo-American representations of Japan appeal to readers largely by distorting Japanese culture, much as the Japanese people in the 50s and the 60s themselves tried to import a huge variety of Anglo-American cultural products, and unwittingly misread their Occidentalism as genuine internationalism. Representations of the ethnic Other, accurate or not, have long fascinated talented writers ambitious enough to incorporate the most avant-garde images into their fiction, and, as we enter the 2000s, we are now witnessing fabulous negotiations between Orientalism and Occidentalism, between the Western belief in eternity and the Japanese aesthetic of the moment, between the Western productionist and idealistic sensibility and the Japanese high-tech-consumerist and post-historical mentality, and at last between science-fictional Japan and Japanese science fiction.
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Janeen Webb. A Literary Foment: Australian SF Now
Something is happening in Australian speculative fiction. Whether we have somehow arrived in the much discussed new Golden Age or are undergoing an entirely different occurrence remains to be seen, but we are certainly experiencing one of those spikes in literary output that occur when conditions are right: readers are eager for new approaches, and the publishing industry is receptive to newcomers with different voices.
Why now? Many would argue that, for a culture so physically isolated from the rest of the English publishing world, the answer lies in the Internet revolution, which has all but eliminated the “tyranny of distance” through the now-so-easy transfer of files between continents, and between the far-flung cities of our own country. The effect here has been as revolutionary as the installation of a direct telegraph link to London during the 1870s, when international news was suddenly able to arrive within hours rather than months. Now it arrives within microseconds. New, affordable communication makes it possible for local writers to maintain professional relationships with agents in the US, the UK, and Europe; makes it viable for them to work closely with editors on the other side of the world or of the country; and makes it practicable for them to maintain an instantaneous international presence through websites, on-line interviews, and the like.
But that alone would not be enough to provide fuel for the energy of an exciting, expanding, extended literary community. In the last few years there has been a literary foment going on in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. A recognition of the sales potential of genre fiction by publishers in Australia has led to the creation of new science fiction lines in major houses such as HarperCollins, Penguin, and Random House (Bantam): the latest development is that Jack Dann, the well-known American expatriate novelist and anthologist, has just signed to edit his own genre imprint with HarperCollins Australia, which should shake things up even further. There is a healthy vitality and competition between Australia’s two major science fiction and fantasy magazines, Eidolon and Aurealis, and there are newer alternative magazines such as Altair and Abaddon. The establishment in 1997 of the annual Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Jonathan Strahan and Jeremy Byrne, is showcasing well-known writers side by side with emerging new talents. There are new professional jury awards such as the Aurealis Award and the George Turner Award, as well as the well-established Ditmar (SF Achievement Award), which is voted on by readers. There are new and vigorous small presses right around the country: Eidolon and Ticonderoga in Perth, Aphelion in Adelaide, MirrorDanse and Five Islands Press in Sydney, Sybylla Feminist Press in Melbourne, Desdichado in Hobart. All are pushing the boundaries, adding to the mix by publishing a whole quirky range of speculative titles.
And with the 1999 Worldcon, Aussiecon 3, held in Melbourne on September 2-6, 1999, the energy going into publication of new titles became extraordinary. The World SF convention comes rarely to Australia, and when it does it acts as a catalyst for bursts of new sf-related activity, critical as well as fictional. The 1975 Worldcon produced the first series of the respected critical journal Australian Science Fiction Review, revived by a new editorial collective in 1985 at Aussiecon 2 (our second Worldcon) for its second series, which ran until 1991. And for Aussiecon 3, Jonathan Strahan of Eidolon Publications announced the release of the first issue (with cover art by Sean Tan) of his new critical journal, The Coode Street Review. It will be interesting to see what else eventually emerges from this 1999 meeting of minds.
Significant numbers of new fiction titles were released in time for this event, many by top flight authors. From HarperCollins Australia came the local release of Jack Dann’s extraordinary novel The Silent (US 1998; Aus 1999), the story of fourteen-year-old Mundy McDowell’s coming of age amidst the magic-realist landscape of horrors that was the American Civil War. Dann has lived in Australia for six years, and his presence has had a significant effect on genre writing here: his previous novel about the secret life of Leonardo Da Vinci, The Memory Cathedral (US 1995; Aus 1997), was a huge success. Also for HarperCollins, Damien Broderick, one of Australia’s best known sf writers, has collaborated with Rory Barnes to write The Book of Revelation (1999), subtitled “A Novel of the Millennium.” This novel offers a freaky alternative history of Christianity through the life of Daimon Keith, time-traveller and leader of the cult of Scionetics, who claims to have been routinely abducted by grey aliens throughout his life. Broderick’s and Barnes’s previous collaborations were Valencies (1983), Zones (1997), and Stuck in Fast Forward (1999), the last title referring to Broderick’s 1997 nonfiction book about space-time theory, The Spike: Accelerating into an Unimaginable Future.
From Tor comes Down There in Darkness (1999), the last, unrevised novel of George Turner, whose death in 1997 was a great loss to Australian sf. Turner, whose work is often compared to Stanislaw Lem’s, extrapolated future worlds from the greed and corruption he saw in our current world system: “overpopulation, ineradicable pollution, rampant nationalism, and plain entrepreneurial greed —the four horsemen of the greenhouse apocalypse....” (Down There in Darkness 13). Described by The New York Times Book Review as exercising great stylistic control “informed by an indignation worthy of a latter-day Jeremiah,” Turner concentrates on the ambiguous moral positions of ordinary and extraordinary people facing the death of their civilizations— through global warming in The Sea and Summer (1987; US rpt as The Drowning Towers, 1988); through genetic manipulation in Brain Child (1991-92) and The Destiny Makers (1993); and through extreme genetic breeding programs in Genetic Soldier (1994). Down There In Darkness combines these themes in its vision of a post-greenhouse future where a genetic engineering corporation has released a tailored virus that has sterilized most of the population, leaving only eugenically-bred human stock, from which its owner purposes to rebuild a pre-industrial society. It is a powerful, ethically complex story informed always by the dark undercurrent of Turner’s anger at corporate greed and indifference to simple, decent human values.
Perhaps the best internationally known Australian sf writer currently practicing is Greg Egan, who recently won two Locus Awards: Best Novella for “Oceanic” (Asimov’s 8/98) and Best Short Story for “The Planck Drive” (Asimov’s 2/98). “Oceanic” also won the Hugo Award at Aussiecon 3—Australia’s first fiction Hugo. As I observed in my entry on the author for the recent MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy, Egan writes hard sf that focuses “on a cluster of ideas central to the philosophy of science, particularly as it relates to quantum mechanics, biotechnology and the post-human condition.” His stories and novels feature biotechnology that enables mind modification, as well as the downloading of human consciousness into computer environments. He moved into exploration of Theories of Everything in the novel Distress (1997), which also continues his theme of human logic as a form of contagion, a notion first developed in Quarantine (1992). His newest release is his short-story collection Luminous (1998). If there is a general criticism of his work, it is that characterization is sacrificed to scientific theorizing, an argument that might be countered by noting that perhaps this lack of warmth is characteristic of the posthuman condition that he postulates.
In the area of science fantasy, the non-technological branch of the sf genre, comes Richard Harland’s Hidden From View (1999), Book 3 of the EDDON VALE young adult series (from PanMacmillan). This is a work that includes a good dash of horror and mystery, mixing genres with considerable style. UK publishers are also offering unusual material from Australian writers as well as their regular sell-through of “name” authors into the Australian market. From Minerva Press comes Jim Shellens’s quirky Active Passive Neutral: A Book Within a Life (1999), billed as “The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy meets The Singing Detective.”
The sf small presses are also rolling: Eidolon has produced a major collection of short stories from one of Australia’s best short-story writers, Terry Dowling, titled Antique Futures: The Best of Terry Dowling (1999), a big book covering the range of Dowling’s considerable output. Ticonderoga Publications has brought out a collection of eleven wide-ranging stories by major writer Sean Williams, titled New Adventures in Sci-Fi (1999), and will soon release Stephen Dedman’s first collection of short fiction, titled The Lady of Situations, with Dedman’s usual themes of damaged relationships and abuse of love predominating. MirrorDanse Books has released Bill Congreve’s collection of urban horror, Epiphanies of Blood (1999), whose subtitle “Tales of Desperation and Thirst” nicely indicates its themes.
In the fantasy genre there are huge amounts of local material coming out, much of it new volumes in existing series. The most successful Australian fantasist, Sara Douglass, has a new addition, Pilgrim (HarperCollins Voyager, 1999), to her hugely popular medieval sword-and-sorcery series, WAYFARER REDEMPTION. Also from HarperCollins is Andrew Whitmore’s Fireflaught (1999), Book 1 of THE COUNTENANCE DIVINE. From Random House (Bantam) Caiseal Mór offers The Water of Life (1999), Book 3 of THE WANDERERS; Sophie Masson has The Lady of the Flowers (1999), Book 2 of THE LAY LINES TRILOGY; Kate Forsyth has The Cursed Towers (1999), Book 3 of THE WITCHES OF EILEANAN (in their Arrow imprint); and there is also the posthumously published Broadsword (1999) by Bill Crispin. Penguin is also bringing out Book 4 of Ian Irvine’s THE VIEW FROM THE MIRROR series, The Way Between The Worlds (1999).
In the young adult area, Robert Hood has a new dark-fantasy novel, Backstreets (Hodder Headline Australia, 1999), dealing with death and obsession. Younger readers are well served by the recent publication of the SPINOUTS! series (Addison, Wesley, Longman, 1999), a set of fifteen books with 45 stories for children by leading Australian sf writers.
There are anthologies too. Tor editor David Hartwell teamed up with well- respected author and critic Damien Broderick to produce Centaurus: The Best of Australian SF (1999), in time for the 1999 Worldcon conference; and HarperCollins will re-release its major 1998 original anthology, Dreaming Down-Under (1999), edited by Jack Dann and myself, in a new two-volume format. Dreaming Down-Under has scooped this year’s awards nominations: two of its contributors won the Aurealis Awards for short fiction, David Lake in the sf category for “The Truth About Weena” and Stephen Dedman in the fantasy category for “A Walk-On Part in the War”; and the entire shortlist for this year’s Ditmar Awards Short Fiction category consisted of five stories from the anthology, with Lake’s tale winning. The book itself won in the anthology category, and also recently received the World Fantasy Award. The editors are currently pursuing a U.S. release.
In terms of sf criticism, Australia has been well served in the recent past by excellent works such as Damien Broderick’s Reading By Starlight: Postmodern Science Fiction (Routledge, 1995). Greenwood Press has just released the long-awaited critical history of the genre, Strange Constellations: A History of Australian Science Fiction by Russell Blackford, Van Ikin, and Sean McMullen; Eidolon has issued a collection of critical essays, The Fantastic Self (1999), edited by Andrew Enstice and myself; Helen Merrick and Tess Williams have brought out a collection of feminist sf criticism, Women of Other Worlds: Excursions Through Science Fiction and Feminism (U of Western Australia P, 1999); and sf/dark fantasy writer Richard Harland’s Literary Theory from Plato to Barthes (1999) will appear from Macmillan (UK) in August. The broader aspects of the genre are covered in The MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1998), edited by Paul Collins, with Sean McMullen and Steven Paulsen.
The academic track at the 1999 Worldcon provided a number of diverse papers and panels, as well as a two-hour symposium on the subject of the posthuman in sf. Russell and Jenny Blackford, who ably administered this track, have now edited a selection of its papers and other materials for publication in a special Australian issue of the UK journal Foundation. [Several of the scholarly works and fiction anthologies mentioned in the preceding paragraphs are reviewed in this issue.—Eds.]
All in all, there is too much happening in Australia to be covered in a short article. Certainly a whole range of new sf and fantasy material is appearing here, from the highly literary right down to the trashier fan-fodder material. What is surprising is the sheer volume of new work in a relatively small market, and the recent emergence of many Australian writers in overseas publishing houses such as Tor and Avon in the USA, and Swift and PanMacmillan in the UK. Speculative fiction is booming in Australia. Long may it continue!
Franz Rottensteiner. SF in Germany: A Short Survey
As the millennium approaches, the situation of sf translated into German is bad; but the status of that tiny segment of the sf market written by German-speaking authors is even worse. In Germany, sf has never succeeded in hardback form; it has always been a paperback phenomenon. Even such internationally renowned authors as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert A. Heinlein were published mostly in paperback (the exception is Heinlein’s juveniles, which appeared before the sf paperback field developed in Germany during the 1960s). A very few hardcover books found their way into book clubs, mostly in connection with film or TV releases. The only sf writer published consistently in hardback was Stanislaw Lem; even so, few of his hardcovers sold more than 5,000 to 6,000 copies or went into a second edition. This contrasts sharply with mysteries and thrillers, often to be found on the German bestseller lists: these enjoy high print-runs and attract much critical attention. The situation of sf also differs from the related field of fantasy, which consistently (and successfully) publishes in hardback. Marion Zimmer Bradley has been especially successful, evolving into one of the hottest properties on the German book market: The Mists of Avalon (1983) has sold more hardback copies in Germany than in the Knopf edition. There have been some German successes in fantasy as well. For years Michael Ende’s Momo (1973) and The Neverending Story (1979) led the bestseller list of Der Spiegel news magazine (on which it was listed by bending the rules: normally, juveniles are not eligible for inclusion). Wolfgang Hohlbein (sometimes writing with his wife Heike) is a versatile writer of fantasy fiction who has proven to be a consistent bestseller following his breakthrough novel Märchenmond (The Moon of Fairy Tales, 1982). More recently, there is Kai Meyer, who also evolved like Hohlbein through the dime novels of the “Hefte.” Meyer writes eclectic fantasy novels, usually with a historical background and featuring famous historical figures as detectives (the Brothers Grimm in the case of Der Geisterseher (The Seer of Ghosts), a popular and critically acclaimed novel of 1995. His HEX, The UFO Novel (1997) is reminiscent of The X-Files, a mystery about a visit by UFOs during the Middle Ages. Also successful, if not quite so popular, are Hans Bemman, whose 1983 Stein und Flöte found its way into English as The Stone and the Flute (1986), and Frederik Hetman, a writer of juveniles and editor of fairy-tale anthologies whose Irish folk tales have been especially successful. These writers of fantasy live comfortably from their books, whereas apart from the Perry Rhodan authors, no German sf author could—not even the best-known, Herbert W. Franke, who has now stopped writing sf, after many years of earning his living by writing science books (both serious and popular) and conducting scientific research.
That sf authors are published only in paperback has greatly influenced their reception, for paperbacks are usually not reviewed. This is especially true now with cutbacks at many periodicals. Nowhere has the division between “serious” and popular literature been as keenly felt as in Germany. The situation is not as bad now in academic criticism, as the unwritten yet powerful ban against popular culture has been lifted: few Germanic literature departments still refuse to deal with “paraliterature.” But even at the major paperback houses, the position of sf has never been secure. Rowohlt never marketed any sf as sf, judging that it didn’t measure up in literary quality to its highly successful mystery series. Others published sf for a longer or shorter time before dropping it altogether (Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, Ullstein, Knaur, Fischer, and most recently Goldmann). Now, only Heyne and Bastei-Lübbe still have sf lines, and Heyne, the market leader, is cutting back. Fantasy hybrids dominate, and “real” sf is becoming more and more rare. Any hopes that literary sf would become more accepted given time, or that the taste of readers would improve, have been sadly misplaced. The best-selling thirty “sf” titles of the Heyne list are not real speculative fiction at all, but media tie-ins or game-related novels: Battletec, Shadow Run, Warhammer, and a German fantasy series, Das schwarze Auge (The Black Eye). Only William Gibson can keep pace. Literary sf novels now sell 6,000 to 7,000 copies at best, and the sales of Star Trek books, which had helped to keep more ambitious projects going, have recently plummeted from 40,000 to 20,000.
The chief factors in this decline are the enormous volume of sf on film and television, and the flood of computer games. A recent survey of readers’ habits conducted by the publishing house Bastei-Lübbe shows that the young people don’t read; if they are interested in sf, they consume it as films or games. Only young women still read, a little. Young men have stopped reading fiction altogether. The image of sf is formed largely by the media, which thrive on special effects and inane action, not by the written word.
The Perry Rhodan series is still going strong, having passed the 2000 issue mark. A reprint in book form that combines several of the dime novels rewritten into an ongoing narrative is said to sell, after 68 volumes, some 50,000 copies per volume. But it might be wrong to look down on Perry Rhodan authors as mere hacks—Andreas Finding, author of a new illustrated PR book for young adults, has published previously with Suhrkamp, the most prestigious German literary publisher; and Rainer Castor, another young writer who also publishes with the prestigious Haffmans Publishers, was invited by the Arno Schmidt Foundation to a workshop for eminently talented new writers. Probably in the wake of PR’s success, a series of reprints of a rival, Ren Dhark, from a small publisher, also recently sold up to 20,000 copies per volume.
These are sales figures that other German sf authors can only dream of. For most, it is impossible to break into print at all with books of their own, and those books that do appear are usually published only marginally. German readers show no preference for their compatriots at all. In the 1980s, when for a time Heyne published one German sf novel every month (some 10% of its total monthly sf output), the publisher frequently got hate letters complaining that editor Jeschke published too many books by German hacks, when the sf list might be filled with good American sf. Today, a German sf novel is a rare event, and some books under contract have been postponed indefinitely. Most authors are reduced to publishing with the small presses that have sprung up and which publish German authors of varying quality, mostly in print-runs of a few hundred copies. Blitz Verlag especially has produced dozens of horror, fantasy, and sf titles by such old hands as Ronald M. Hahn, Hans Joachim Alpers, Horst Pukallus, and Thomas Ziegler (nom de plume of Rainer Zubeil). The semi-professional magazine Alien Contact and a few others also have published some sf.
German semi-professional horror is currently flourishing (in the professional book market, horror means Stephen King and little else); its borders with sf are vague; e.g., Michael Marrak writes a kind of horror sf, sometimes influenced by Lovecraft, exuberantly fantastic, with vivid imagery that shows Marrak’s background as a painter. Argument Verlag, a small publishing house that has a line of gay and lesbian mysteries, has recently entered the field with a series of “Social Fantasies” that includes, besides reprints of works by Ursula K. Le Guin, Marge Piercy, John Shirley, and others, German cyberpunk novels, including two 1998 sf mysteries with interesting Berlin settings— Hartwig Hilgenstein’s Digitale Tänzer (Digital Dancers) and Florian Nelle’s Kalter Frühling (Cold Spring)—as well as a post-doomsday rock-lyrical cyberpunk novel, When the Music’s Over (original German title) by Myra Çakan, a German writer of Turkish descent. The most recent German sf novel from Heyne was Socialdemokraten auf dem Monde (Social Democrats on the Moon, 1998), a humorous nostalgic novel by Ronald M. Hahn satirizing old German sf of the turn of the century, the fear of socialism among German nobility, and the naval ambitions of the “Reich,” all of which are transferred to outer space in an alternate world in which WW I ended in a stalemate. A few years ago, Wolfgang Jeschke, a slow and careful writer whose editing job leaves him little time for writing, published Meamones Auge (Meamone’s Eye 1994, 1997), a stylistically accomplished, imaginative book about genetic engineering and strange planetary phenomena in another star-system.
It is easier for a German author to get short sf into print. In Wolfgang Jeschke’s international anthologies, German writers are included among the big names of anglophone sf that help to sell the books (barely). The only other markets for German short stories are the computer magazine c’t, which publishes an sf story in each issue, and the Berlin-based semi-professional magazine Alien Contact, which originated in the German Democratic Republic and has a circulation of under 1000. When I edited the “Fantastic Library” for Suhrkamp Verlag for several years, we too published big anthologies built on the principle of presenting new writers along with established ones, and this offered an outlet for many German and Austrian authors. The development there, as I was able to observe it, is probably an indication of the trends in the whole book market: steadily declining sales, an ever-shorter life span of a book on the market, and the complete disappearance of the backlist. Suhrkamp could once easily sell out an edition of some 8,000 to 10,000 copies of a quality paperback over two or three years. Even a collection of critical pieces culled from my fanzine Quarber Merkur (1979) sold more than 5,000 copies. Most books didn’t sell well after publication, but they sold some. Now advance orders are in the 2,000 to 3,000 copy range. The difference between a “successful” and an “unsuccessful” book is only a few hundred copies, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether it is a reprint or a new book, or whether the author is a world-famous writer or a complete unknown. In most cases, returns soon exceed sales, and within a few months the books are remaindered. The only genre writer with a steady German readership is H.P. Lovecraft, while even Lem sells only his most popular books (in Germany these have been, in marked difference from other countries, The Star Diaries and The Futurological Congress—and, of course [from another publisher], Solaris).
Polemically, it might be said that, aside from a few bestsellers and steady sellers, publication is the death of a book: everything has happened before it is on the market. The disappearance of the backlist also has affected Heyne, though the process began a little later. They relied on often reprinted popular authors, especially Anne McCaffery, Alan Dean Foster, and Robert Silverberg. Yet in the last two or three years, not even all of the DUNE books are kept in print. In the case of Suhrkamp, with the decline in sales and impossibility of earning back the costs with only a few thousand copies sold, no new translations are published; consequently, German authors have few opportunities. But since Suhrkamp is a literary house and has never had any ambition to make a name as a publisher of sf (its fantasy line was tolerated only so long as it made money to support literary titles, on which they were willing to take some losses), the number of titles was reduced from two per month at the peak of the “Fantastic Library” phase to the current occasional title, as few as one per half-year. One author who has emerged recently despite this dismal setting is the Canadian-born Ady Henry Kiss, who inimitably blends sf imagery (galactic wars, space travel, genetic engineering, time-travel, galactic tyrants, and the rest) with surrealist and avant-garde motifs. His are bleak stories of decay, mind control, and repression that mix the sublime with the banal. Kiss also collaborates with a German cult band, Peron, which has set to music his books for Suhrkamp (Manhattan II , Baker’s Barn , Canyons , and the short-story collection Atlantic City ). Kiss also works with the rock musician Carlos Peron, whose settings also convey the texts through sound: CDs boxed with the novels are available. Kiss’s fictions create a multimedia spectacle, and plans for TV films are under way. A more “straight” but also socially aware sf (critical of developments in Germany) is by Marcus Hammerschmitt, a young writer who has published with both Heyne and Suhrkamp and who has won an important essay prize for one of his non-sf publications. Some of his works were first anthologized by Heyne and later published as books by Suhrkamp, including the short-story collection Der Glasmensch (The Man of Glass,1995), Wind (1997; two short novels, including a story of an alternative world in which the lunar landing failed), and Target (1998). Hammerschmitt is probably the most promising German sf author to emerge in recent years. He is closely followed by Achim Stösser, who writes on similarly modern and widely ranging topics, but with a heavy ideological slant (a violent anti-Catholicism). Among the writers that I published at Suhrkamp are the Austrians Marianne Gruber and Heinz Riedler (both literary writers before they turned to sf) and Andreas Findig (whose “Gödel geht” [Goedel’s Exit] will be presented, along with the above and two stories by the physicist Peter Schattschneider, in my forthcoming anthology of Austrian sf from Ariadne Press). A still newer writer of note is Hans Gerold Kugler, whose first sf story, “Techniktransfer” (Technology Transfer), a pure cyberpunk story, densely written and highly inventive, in 1998 convinced the jurors of the first short-story prize of the Austrian branch of the Siemens company to award it their prize of ATS 100,000 (some $8,000) for fiction about technology.
There are some dozen German writers who have written a few stories but never a book of their own; some appear and disappear again, hardly noticed, but a few write sf consistently. One of these is Andreas Eshbach, who managed to publish an sf novel, Der Haarteppichknüpfer (The Hair Carpet Weaver, 1995), that generated interest with its strange, fairy-like picture of an alien galactic culture. On the other hand, the most interesting of the “lost” writers who burst onto the German sf scene and disappeared soon after was Bernhard Richter—a young bookseller and a pop musician, a number of whose excellent stories I published, especially “Der Gutekunstsche Erbfolgekrieg” (The Gutekunst’s War of Succession, 1984), early cyberpunk about a society obsessed with death and dominated by rival funeral homes that behave like mafia gangs.
Especially hard hit today are writers in the former German Democratic Republic who actually made a living (unlike their West German colleagues) from writing sf. They have lost their audience and publishers (who now have new owners), and are reduced to silence or to self-publishing (e.g., Wolfgang Kröger). Recently the talk of a “crisis” in German sf has become more pronounced, prompting Erik Simon, a former GDR sf editor, author, and translator now working for Heyne, to comment that a “crisis” would be a fine thing, leaving room for hope; in an article in Alien Contact 36 (1999), he described German sf books as moribund, dying a “lingering death.”
It would be possible to compile an anthology of German sf that could stand beside any other nation’s; but I doubt that it would show, aside from German settings, any specific “Germanness.” Certainly it would not reflect the state of German sf, the lack of attention it gets, its small circulation, lack of perspective, and obscurity even among the few people who still read sf extensively. As in other countries of the former Communist bloc, the utopian tradition in GDR sf (mostly an administrative mandate) was completely cut off; anybody who expected that the addition of the population of the GDR to Western Germany would increase the readership of quality fiction was sadly mistaken. For the East Germans bought, in quantity, all the popular fiction they had missed, while West German publishers dumped their remainders there. Writers of “Aesopian” stories, such as Johanna and Günter Braun, suddenly found themselves without subject matter, writing about topics that no longer interested anyone. Indeed, what we see in Germany today is the triumph of market forces over philosophy.