BOOKS IN REVIEW
Recent Books on Science Fiction from Germany
[Given the number of books reviewed in this survey, we have thought it advisable to
append a bibliography (arranged alphabetically by author or editor) at the end of the
- Abret, Helga. & Lucian Boia. Das
Jahrhundert der Marsianer.
- Alpers, Hans Joachim, ed. H.P.
Lovecraft--der Poet des Grauens.
- -----. ed. Marion Zimmer Bradleys
"Darkover."[Edition Futurum, Band 3.]
Meitingen: Corian-Verlag, 1983. l99pp. DM 19.80
- -----. & Thomas M. Loock. Lesebuch
der deutschen Science Fiction 1984.
- -----. & Harald Pusch, eds. Isaac
- -----. & Werner Fuchs & Ronald M. Hahn.
Reclams Science Fiction Führer.
- -----. & Werner Fuchs, Ronald M. Hahn, & Wolfgang Jeschke.
Lexikon der Science Fiction Literatur.
- Berghahn, Klaus K. & Hans Ulrich Seeber. Literarische Utopien von Morus bis zur Gegenwart.
- Bloch, Robert N. Bibliographie der
utopischen und phantastischen Literatur 1750-1950.
- Borgmeier, Raimund. & Ulrich Broich & Ulrich Suerbaum.
Science Fction. Theorie und Geschichte, Themen und Typen, Form
- Fischer, William B. The Empire Strikes
Out: Kurd Lasswitz, Hans Dominik and the Development of German Science Fiction.
- Kasack, Wolfgang. Science-Fiction in
- Körber, Joachim, ed. Bibliographisches
Lexikon der utopisch-phantastischen Literatur.
- Päch, Susanne. Von den Marskanälen zur
- Pesch, Helmut W., ed. J.R.R.
- Ritter, Claus. Anno Utopia; oder, So war
- -----. Start nach Utopolis. Eine
- Roob, Helmut. Kurd Lasswitz,
Handschriftlicher Nachlass Bibliographie seiner Werke.
- Rottensteiner, Franz. Über H. P.
- Wolff, Eva. Utopie und Humor. Aspekte der
Phantastik im Werk Paul Scheerbarts.
1. Corian-Verlag's "Edition Futurum." The boom in fantasy
and SF during recent years has, like anywhere else, resulted in a spate of works on SF in
Germany, although not yet as much as the academic industry has produced in the US. It has
even brought into being a small specialized SF publisher, the Corian-Verlag of Heinrich
Wimmer in Meitingen. Corian-Verlag has taken over the monthly semi-professional German
critical and news magazine, the Science Fiction Times, and begun publishing
books. A series of original German SF in hardcover soon folded for lack of readers'
interest, but an anthology series, "Edition Futurum"--initially edited by Hans
Joachim Alpers (who is also editor of Moewig's SF) and Werner Fuchs (SF editor at
Droemer-Knaur)-- continues (although with difficulties), now directed by the publisher
himself. These attractive large paperback anthologies combine fiction and non-fiction by
and about specific authors, serving as introductions to their work. The volumes differ
widely in quality, and most of them are very popular indeed.
The series started off with
H.P. Lovecraft--der Poet des Grauens. Aside from two
short stories by Lovecraft, it contains two long letters of his, a chapter from
"Supernatural Horror in Literature," a translation of Dirk W. Mosig's "An
Analytical Interpretation: The Outsider, Allegory of the Psyche," and several German
essays, both reprints and original work. "H.P.L. oder Cthulhus Ruf. Skizzen zu einem
Portrat des Horrorerzählers Lovecraft" by Werner Berthel, Lovecraft's former German
editor at Insel Verlag and Suhrkamp, is reprinted from a newspaper feuilleton and
serves well as an unpretentious introduction to the man and his work for the general
reader. Similarly modest in its intentions but very informative is Kalju Kirde's "H.
P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Bemerkungen über das Leben und Werk eines bedeutenden
Horrorerzählers." Kirde is the foremost German Lovecraftian and the man who brought
most of Lovecraft's stories before the German public when he was editor of the
weird-fiction series "Bibliothek des Hauses Usher" at Insel Verlag. Added to his
essay is a long bibliography that is particularly useful for its listing of the German
appearances of Lovecraft and what has been written on him in Germany. Dietrich Wachler's
"Die Präexistenz und das Böse. Technik und Magie im Werk von Howard Phillips
Lovecraft," on the other hand, is a ponderous piece of German criticism. The
highlight of the book is "Der erschrockene Erzähler" by Marek Wydmuch, a Polish
literary critic, now an editor with the Czytelnik publishing house in Warsaw (where he
published a Polish collection of Lovecraft). Written in German and first published in 1974
in my own magazine, Quarber Merkur, Wydmuch's is among the most important
contributions on Lovecraft that have appeared internationally. While Wydmuch admits that
Lovecraft is not a particularly good writer, he traces the special fascination that
Lovecraft has for many readers (his ability to strike a chord that many better writers
fail to do) and discusses the techniques that Lovecraft uses for the amplification of
horror, the mirroring of images, the interlinking and opposing of the familiar and the
horribly unfamiliar. (Wydmuch's essay is the only one duplicated also in my own
compilation of 14 essays [plus Kalju Kirde's revised bibliography], Über H.P. Lovecraft, which covers a much
wider range of ground than Poet des Grauens and contains a selection from the
best American and French writings on Lovecraft as well as a number of German pieces
written specifically for the volume.)
Volume 2, edited by H.J. Alpers and
Harald Pusch, is Isaac Asimov--der
Tausendjahresplaner. This combines five stories by Asimov previously
untranslated in Germany, Charles Platt's profile, an interview by Darrell Schweitzer and
Andrew Porter, a brief bio-bibliographical sketch by Hans Joachim Alpers, an extensive
bibliography of Asimov's German appearances by Joachim Körber and Uli Kohnle, and two
extremely superficial articles that offer little more than plot summaries and some
unsubstantiated value judgments (in one, Pusch considers the novels of Asimov, especially
the Foundation series; in the other, Alpers looks at the short stories).
Marion Zimmer Bradleys
"Darkover" is the most fannish volume in the series. Aside
from three Darkover stories, it contains two pieces by the author on her series ("A
Darkover Retrospective" and "A Word from the Creator of Darkover") as well
as two German essays. The first, reprinted from a Moewig Science Fiction Jahrbuch, is
Ronald M. Hahn's "Die Welt der roten Sonne. Der private Kosmos der Marion Zimmer
Bradley," a brief account of Ms. Bradley's career as a writer and of the development
of the Darkover series and its main themes, with very little literary analysis. Almost
impossible to believe is Heide Staschen's "Geschlechterkampf auf Darkover?"
Hidden behind the sensational title ("War of the Sexes on Darkover?") is less an
examination of the feminist aspects of the Darkover universe ("there is always an
alternative") than a starry-eyed report on how Staschen got infatuated with the
Darkover series, and what disappointments she had to suffer when she failed to get The
Ruins of Isis discussed in Hamburg in 1983 at a feminist meeting whose organizers
wouldn't believe her classification of the book as a "feminist utopia." Much of
Staschen's article consists of a long account of American Darkover fandom and its
publications; she also quotes extensively from the previously mentioned Hahn piece that is
reprinted in the same book. Really only for Darkover enthusiasts, especially as Marion
Zimmer Bradley's other work is barely mentioned, the volume was prompted by the huge
German success of The Mists of Avalon (over 170,000 copies sold in hardback
translation so far, more than in the US), which has made the author widely known in West
More interesting, although for the historian of German SF rather
than for the casual reader, is the commercially least successful volume in the first batch
of releases: Lesebuch der deutschen Science Fiction 1984,
edited by H. J. Alpers and the SF
bookseller Thomas M. Loock. This contains
interviews both with German SF writers from the North, who are then represented by a new
short story or an excerpt from a longer work, and with two other SF professionals: the
literary agent Thomas Schlück, a former SF fan who built up one of the biggest literary
agencies in West Germany, and Klaus-Dietrich Petersen, an editor with the defunct "SF
and Fantastica" series (1969-70) of Marion von Schröder Verlag and currently editor
and publisher of the most likely soon to disappear "Edition SF" with Hohenheim
Verlag. The Petersen interview, supplemented by a historical proposal for an SF magazine
project in Germany, mainly proves that he doesn't have a very good memory, and also that
his evaluation of the German SF market isn't very realistic (he talks, for example, of the
high advance paid for Solaris; actually, the price then paid was among the
lowest, although Lem's book in the long run turned out to be the most successful in the
whole series). The writers interviewed are a mixed batch: Reinmar Cunis is a TV journalist
who also writes SF paperbacks; H.G. Francis is an author of Perry Rhodan and
various juveniles as well as of radio dramas; Thomas R. P. Mielke is a prolific writer of
SF trash who has lately produced several colorful but superficial paperback novels that
made a stir on the German SF scene (his main profession is that of creative director of a
Berlin PR agency); Gerd Maximovic is a teacher and SF fan who, starting from the fanzines,
has now made his way into such magazines as the German edition of Playboy and has
also published two story collections with Suhrkamp; and Michael Weisser is a controversial
new writer whose two SF novels, published by Suhrkamp, are full of scientific and
technological jargon (which was reviled by some and enthusiastically applauded by others).
Cunis is interested in social SF and the borderland of science; Francis wants to reach a
young audience with problems that matter to them; Maximovic, who has strong political
convictions and ideas of what matters in the world, is nevertheless most successful as a
writer of SF horror stories, while his more psychologically and politically oriented
stories have found their way into print with much difficulty, if at all; Thomas R.P.
Mielke dreams of becoming one of the most important German SF writers; and Michael Weisser
is a cynic who writes a difficult technological language because, in his opinion, that is
the only way to express certain problems in fiction. (In fact, Weisser often appears
pretentious, given to the German tendency to word in an elaborate philosophical language
what can be said quite simply otherwise.) All five writers provide interesting details
about their careers and work, and in this respect the book is a fascinating source on
current German SF.
The best Corian volume so far is
Tolkien--der Mythenschöpfer, edited by Helmut
Pesch, the author of the first German doctoral thesis on modern fantasy
(as opposed to "fantastic literature"), Fantasy. Theorie und Geschichte
einer literarischen Gattung (University of Cologne, 1981). The value of the Tolkien
lies mostly in its selection of translated essays. One finds here Edmund Wilson's
"Oh, Those Awful Orcs!" as well as Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Men, Halflings
and Hero Worship" (one of the best essays from the fan community), C.N. Manlove's
chapter on The Lord of the Rings from his Modern Fantasy, and Peter
Kreeft's "The Wonder of the Silmarillion." The two German contributions are also
very good: Dieter Petzold's "Tolkiens Kosmos"-- a chapter from J.R.R.
Tolkien: Fantasy Literature als Wunscherfüllung und Weltdeutung (Heidelberg: Carl
Winter, 1980), which is the first in-depth German study of Tolkien's work--and Helmut
Pesch's own "J.R.R. Tolkiens linguistische Asthetik," which is a German version
of a paper presented first at the 10th LACUS Forum in Québec in 1983 ("The Language
of Imagination: A Linguistic Appraisal of Literary Fantasies"). Petzold discusses the
co-existence of Nordic-heathen and Medieval-Christian features in Tolkien, the
theologico-political aspects of evil, and the fight against evil in Tolkien. Although
critical of Tolkien's persuasions and their literary manifestations, Petzold nevertheless
concludes with the comforting thought that Tolkien's confirmation of the truism that
politics is not divorceable from ethics may be a necessary corrective in a time that is
prone to the danger of not venturing beyond the moral opportunism of
"Realpolitik." All in all, Pesch's anthology provides a balanced view of many
aspects of Tolkien's work, as seen by both detractors and defenders.
Although Corian-Verlag currently is in difficulties, further volumes in the
"Edition Futurum" series are planned: on J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, and Fritz
2. SF Bibliographies and Encyclopedias. Meanwhile,
Corian's most ambitious project is a Bibliographisches
Lexikon der utopisch-phantastischen Literatur, edited
by Joachim Körber, a prolific translator of SF. This has the form of
loose pages in a file-order, so that new authors can be added with each quarterly
supplement to the basic work. Each author is first presented in a brief essay (varying in
length according to his or her importance) providing biographical details, a history of
the author's literary development, and a critical evaluation. This is followed by an
extensive bibliography that lists all of the given writer's works, both SF and non-SF,
including stories and essays in periodicals and collections. The bibliographies, mostly
compiled by Körber and Uli Kohnle, aim at recording every German appearance of an entry;
and in some cases (e.g., Asimov's), they are understandably very long. At present, the
654-page "bibliographical lexicon" covers, inter alia, Aldiss, Asimov,
Ballard, Blackwood, Clarke, Dick, Gernsback, Heinlein, Le Guin, and Lovecraft, plus a
number of German and other continental authors: Carl Amery, Walter Ernsting, Camille
Flammarion, Herbert W. Franke, Paul Gurk, Wolfgang Jeschke, Kurd Lasswitz, and Paul
Scheerbart. The bibliographies, while plagued by various misprints and not totally
complete, are nevertheless comprehensive enough to be valuable; and likewise commendable
is the coverage of writers not included in the usual SF, fantasy, and horror reference
Reference works of various kinds have also appeared on other
publishers' lists. Hans Joachim Alpers, Werner Fuchs, and
Ronald M. Hahn have specialized in these: as authors, editors, writers,
translators, and/or literary agents, all are members of the German SF field. Many years
ago the three planned to do an SF encyclopedia for Fischer Verlag; and though nothing came
of this, together with Wolfgang Jeschke (the
editor of the popular Heyne SF series), they published in 1980 the voluminous
Lexikon der Science Fiction Literatur. In the first
of its two volumes, they provide a short history of SF and then survey briefly 11 thematic
fields of SF, from utopias and dystopias to alternative and parallel worlds. These 100
pages are followed by about 100 of a "biographical encyclopedia," which includes
many of the names in Nicholls, Smith, etc., but also many German and other European
authors not in the standard Anglo-American counterparts of the Lexikon. Many,
however, are absent, especially those mainstream writers who have also written some SF,
such as Arno Schmidt, Günter Herburger, Ernst Jünger, Alfred Döblin, and Mikhail
Bulgakov. Then, too, many of the entries are superficial and uncritical, and the
bibliographical information is frequently wrong.
Volume 2 offers a short history of "SF in Western Germany," and concerns
itself primarily with the various book and dime novel SF series. The bulk of this second
volume consists of a "bibliographical encyclopedia" arranged alphabetically by
publisher. This is claimed as a listing of the "SF production in the German language
countries after 1945" in one place, while in another it is stipulated that coverage
has been restricted to the Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland; but the
blurb on the back cover calls it "a complete index of the various SF lines and
series." That proves to be the most accurate description of the three; for this index
covers only "Romanheft" and book series, not books that appeared outside of SF
series. Thus, for example, the "Fischer Orbit" paperback series of Fischer is
listed, but not other SF titles from the same publisher. For anthologies from Heyne Verlag
(only), even the contents are specified, whereas some other publishers' offerings are not
listed at all. In short, the whole compilation is very erratic and unreliable, and much in
it is intended simply to promote Heyne Verlag. The bibliography is also difficult to use
because there is no index to publishers or series, not even a contents page; if you want
to find a particular series, you must already know the publishing house responsible for it
in order to avoid having to thumb through the whole bibliography.
Another encyclopedia compiled by
Alpers, Fuchs, and Hahn is much better. Reclams
Science Fiction Führer is organized somewhat differently than the Lexikon
der SF; but most importantly, it represents much more careful work: the selection of
authors is better, the individual assessments of them more balanced. For each author there
is a brief biography cum critical evaluation, after which significant books are discussed
individually. Reclams is therefore a useful tool, marred by only a few errors.
Also in the field of bibliographies is Robert
N. Bloch's effort to update Bingenheimer's
TG-Katalog (1959/60): Bibliographie der utopischen und
phantastischen Literatur 1750-1950. This equivalent of Bleiler's Checklist
of Fantastic Literature by a German book collector lists a large number of fantastic
and SF works; but regrettably, like Bingenheimer's bibliography, it includes titles which
the author has not seen and which he should have omitted either because they do not
qualify generically or because they are "bibliographical ghosts." It is also
hard to see why he has included some popular science books and excluded others. Still,
although neither complete nor completely reliable, Bloch's is the most extensive listing
available and contains many genuine discoveries, books which were formerly known only to a
handful of the most assiduous collectors.
A survey of SF in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and an encyclopedia of its
authors is to be found in a small booklet edited by Erik
Simon and Olaf R. Spittel: Science-fiction
in der DDR. Personalia zu einem Genre. This publication also contains
information about doctoral theses on SF accepted in the GDR.
The most specialized of the bibliographies presently on the market is the Heyne Science Fiction Jubiläumsband. Das Programm.
It lists all the books and stories, series and fantasy-related material put out by
Heyne Verlag in the course of its "Science Fiction & Fantasy Program"
3. (Other) Collaborative Studies of SF. Among
introductions to SF, none is better and more comprehensive than Science
Fiction. Theorie und Geschichte, Themen und Typen, Form und Weltbild. This
is a collaborative effort on the part of three German professors of English literature,
who have divided among themselves the task of treating the three topics named in their
subtitle. Without neglecting SF history (their succinct write-up does justice to the
subject), they also offer a fresh approach to the narrative techniques and conventions of
Matters of "theory" fall to Ulrich Suerbaum. SF worlds, he argues, are
constructed from only a small set of principles, such as: (1) the reduction of the
empirical world to a few manageable components; (2) the (complementary) establishment of
invariants; (3) the minimization of the number of variables; (4) the frequent use of
polarization (whereby relationships which in reality are complex appear in the fiction as
simple antitheses--e.g., good vs. evil, Terrans vs. aliens, the orthodox [party] vs. its
opposition, etc.). Suerbaum also explores the connections the fiction has to history,
non-fiction, science, and world-views.
Ulrich Broich considers themes in SF. Among those which he discusses are travels in
time and space, imaginative voyages, space travel time travel, conflicts and catastrophes,
alternate worlds, a changed Earth, other planets, parallel and fantasy worlds, superman,
sub-man, aliens, new alternative forms of social, sexual, and religious behavior,
artificial human beings and computers, and science generally. In another segment, Broich
examines the relationship between SF and: romance, dystopia, the "Robinsonade,"
and the detective story.
Also noteworthy is Borgmeier's essay on "World-View," and especially what he
has to say about the relationship between SF and the mainstream, their differentia
specifica and what they have in common, their narrative forms, etc. Contrary to Darko
Suvin's understanding of "cognitive estrangement," Borgmeier regards the
"familiarization of the alien" as the most typical SF technique.
If the book has one weakness, it is its concentration on English-language SF (with
exception made only for Lem, who is mentioned a couple of times). In general, however,
this is by far the best German introduction to the analysis of SF--fair, concise, erudite,
well-written, and containing a number of genuinely new observations.
East European SF is the subject of
Science-Fiction in Osteuropa,
the result of a symposium held 1982
in Flotow, Germany. The volume has been edited by Wolfgang Kasack, well known as a scholar
and translator of Russian literature, who includes an essay of his own on Csingis
Aitmatov's The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years. Most of the other
contributors are students of Slavic languages; only one is a journalist (she interviewed Arkadi Strugatsky) and one (myself, on Polish SF) an editor. Among the contents are essays
on the SF of Alexandr A. Bogdanov, Ilya Ehrenburg's catastrophic novel Trust D.E.,
the works of Karel Capek, along with a witty and well-documented comparison between
American and Soviet varieties of SF and a survey of several Russian fantasies by
mainstream writers. The volume also contains a valuable (39pp.) bibliography.
A notable monograph on a particular SF motif is Das Jahrhundert der Marsianer,
"The Planet Mars in SF up to the Viking Probes of 1976." This is the
work of Helga Abret, a German critic living in France, and Lucian Boia, a Romanian
historian. Mars has caught the imagination of fantasy writers more than any other planet,
and not only since the discovery of its "canals" (a mistranslation of the
Italian, but one which Schiaparelli himself finally tended to accept) and Lovell's
popularization of them. That Mars might be a sister planet of Earth, perhaps older and
therefore more advanced, quickly became one of SF's favorite notions. The value of the
Abret-Boia study does not really lie in any new interpretation of such well-known works as
H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds (1898) or Kurd Lasswitz's Auf zwei
Planeten (1897) or of the two SF paradigms which these books established: that of
extraterrestrial monsters bent on conquering Earth and that of the superior, wiser
civilization coming to us. Instead, the usefulness of Das Jahrhundert comes from
the wealth of little-known sources it uncovers. Some famous writers have written on Mars
(Guy de Maupassant, for instance, who wrote "L'homme de Mars" ); but most
stories on the subject are by hacks who just wanted to tell a ripping story; and hence a
statistical survey would probably reveal that monsters from Mars predominate.
In Abret and Boia's account of "Martian fiction," French writers are well
represented (by Camille Flammarion, Gustave Le Rouge, and J.H. Rosny aîné, among
others). So are the Russians--besides E. Tsiolkovsky, there are Aleksandr Bogdanov (Red
Star ) and Alexei Tolstay (Aelita ) --and, of course, the
Americans, with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Stanley G. Weinbaum, and C.L. Moore. Among the
Germans are Lasswitz, Oskar Hofrnann, Waldemar Schilling, Albert Daiber, Friedrich Wilhelm
Mader, and the authors of a few novels from the 1920s and '30s that transferred problems
from Earth to Mars. Representing England is the theological SF of C.S. Lewis. (About the
only important book that Abret and Boia seem to have missed is Lao She's fascinating
1930s' vision of an estranged Chinese Mars, Notes from the City of Cats.) The
monograph concentrates on historical material; relatively recent works are mentioned only
in passing, except for Bradbury's Martian Chronicles and Heinlein's Stranger
in a Strange Land, both of which come in for extended treatment. The book is
well-written and illustrated with rare reproductions; and while lacking a bibliography, it
has a helpful index.
In recent years, criticism of SF has also appeared in various SF anthologies that,
following the example of my Polaris series (soon up to number 10), combine
stories and essays. West Germany has (had) three such series (not counting Polaris): the
newly defunct Heyne SF Magazin (an SF magazine in paperback form, richly
illustrated, with a heavy content of non-fiction); and two running titles from Moewig
edited by H.J. Alper--SF Jahrbuch and SF
Almanach, both annuals and both containing material aimed more at
fans than at scholars of SF (in the case of the Jahrbuch, such material includes
surveys of the SF output of the previous year). A similar almanac, edited anonymously,
appears also in the GDR: Lichtjahr.
4. Studies of Utopian Fiction. A good reader on
literary utopias is Literarische Utopien von Morus bis
zur Gegenwart, edited by Klaus K.
Berghahn and Hans Ulrich Seeber. It collects 18 essays which cover a wide
ground from Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella, Francis Bacon, James Harrington, Denis
Vairasse, Johann Gottfried Schnabel (Die Insel Felsenburg [Felsenburg Island],
1731-43), L.S. Mercier, Etienne Cabet, dystopias in general, and H.G. Wells to Andrej
Platonov, Aldous Huxley and Michael Frayn, George Orwell and Ernest Callenbach's
Ecotopia, Scandinavian utopias from Ludvig Holberg to Karin Boye, and utopian tendencies in the
novels of Christa Wolf. The essays are usually of a high standard; all are informative,
and frequently they also offer surprising new insights.
Literature about SF is still scarce in the GDR, but two
illustrated books on utopia by Claus Ritter
are noteworthy: Start nach Utopolis. Eine Zukunfts
Nostalgie and Anno Utopia; oder, So
war die Zutunft. Both are similarly organized and their contents
overlap; they are well-written, nostalgic popularizations illustrated with reproductions
of the covers of rare old books and magazines, advertising from the latter, and the like.
They also contain some genuine discoveries and break much new ground. Aside from chapters
on Lasswitz and his disciple Carl Grunert, Ritter offers information about the utopian
excursions by the Nobel Prize Winner for Peace Bertha van Suttner, about the sensational
novels of Robert Heymann, about Julius von Voss's
Ini. Ein Roman aus dem ein und zwanzigsten Jahrhundert (1810--and counted by many as the first German SF novel), and
about Voss's futuristic play Berlin in the Year 1924. Ritter unearths many other
curiosities, such as a patriotic futuristic play by the infamous August van Kotzebue,
Die hundertjährigen Eichen oder das Jahr 1914 ( The Century-Old Oaks; or, The Year 1914,
and the visionary work Der Jungste Tag (Judgment Day, 1893) by Rudolf Greinz, a
still popular writer of regional novels. By quotation, illustration, and amusing synopsis,
Ritter manages to evoke an entertaining picture of past expectations about the future.
5. (Other) Studies of German SF. The growing
literature on the German fantasist Paul Scheerbart has been enriched by a new
dissertation: Eva Wolff's Utopie
and Humor. Aspekte der Phantastik im Werk Paul Scheerbarts.
Wolff explores hithertho untapped sources on Scheerbart (e.g., his letters), and also
adds something new in the way of interpretation. She investigates especially: his
relationship to utopia; his inclination towards an individualistic anarchism under the
influence of the philosopher Max Stirner; his pacifism in the context of the militarism of
Wilhelmite Germany, and particularly his fight against the militarization of the
air; his views on technology, art, and religion; and his pantheism and panpsychism.
In another long section of her work, she discusses architecture and utopia. Scheerbart's
"glass architecture" did indeed exert some influence on certain German
architects, and notably on Bruno Taut, who realized some of Scheerbart's ideas in his
buildings. Scheerbart was not only fascinated by technology and architecture in a very
playful way; he also had a strong love of fairy tales and dreams of a better world. Like
his fiction, his brief journalistic works show a tendency towards humor, satire, and
grotesque exaggeration. The comical and grotesque is his favorite literary mode; he breaks
up traditional forms, parodies many genres. Among the first in Germany to write nonsense
poetry and onomatopoetic poems, he was also an important forerunner of literary
expressionism. Scheerbart's prose destroys existing forms and existing reality; and from
the pieces of that reality, he builds anew an aesthetic world whose fantastically
grotesque exaggerations make visible the inhumanity and unreasonableness of the human
world. Much of this Wolff touches upon in what she has to say in Utopie und Humor.
Wolff's monograph, however, is not an exception to the rule: that apart from Claus
Ritter's two books, German research into the German SF tradition remains rare. Curiously
enough, the most detailed study to date of two German SF writers has been written by an
American, William B. Fischer (see below). As Fischer himself notes, it is indeed
paradoxical that with so large an output of SF criticism in Germany, so little has been
written on German SF.
The standard work is still Manfred Nagl's Science Fiction in Deutschland(1972), which Nagel himself now
feels needs some correcting and supplementing. A newer study, one with a more limited aim
and a rather popular outlook, is Susanne Päch's
1980 thesis, Von den Marskanälen zur Wunderwaffe,
subtitled "A Study of the Fantastic and Futurological Tendencies in the Domain
of Science and Technology as Reflected in the Popular Culture Yearbook Das Neue
Universum (1880-1945)." In other words, she deals mostly with the stories
published in a yearbook for boys--stories usually popularizing science and technology, and
including a dozen or so by Hans Dominik, who went on to become Germany's most successful
For the modern period in the GDR, there is the excellent survey
by Horst Heidtmann, Utopisch-phantastische Literatur in der DDR. Untersuchungen zur
Entwicklung eines unterhaltungsliterarischen Genres von 1945-1979
in SFS No. 33: 194-99); but nothing comparable exists for the Federal Republic. Indeed,
the field has not even been exhaustively bibliographied-- especially as far as the stories
published in general popular magazines and in the many "Romanheft" series are
concerned--let alone have such materials been collected in public or research libraries.
It is therefore ironic that Fischer's work,
The Empire Strikes Out--principally a study
of the two most important German SF writers, Lasswitz and Dominik--should have been
undertaken by an American, and published only in English.
Of the two, Lasswitz has recently again been receiving much
attention, and his most important novels and short stories are again in print both in the
GDR and in West Germany. He has also been the subject of lengthy analyses by Rudi Schweikert, especially in his critical
apparatus for the re-issue of Auf zwei Planeten
(with 2001) and in two essays by him (in Polaris 8, and Polaris
9--both from Suhrkamp, the second forthcoming in 1985). Special mention must also be
made of Helmut Roob's Kurd Lasswitz,
a comprehensive bibliography
(also of extant manuscripts). Still, Fischer's account remains the most detailed analysis
of Lasswitz, especially of Auf zwei Planeten and many of Lasswitz's shorter
The same applies for Fischer's extensive and balanced attempt to place Dominik in the
socio-cultural environment of his time, and in particular to document his commitment to
conservative, politically influential publishing circles. Although Dominik himself was not
a Nazi, he was a nationalist, a believer in Germany's glory and power and role as a
civilizing force in world politics; and many of his views, simply but dramatically put in
the black-and-white characterizations of his "Trivialliteratur," did further the
goals of National Socialism--and were put to such ends (as his enduring popularity and
large print-runs even during the paper shortages of World War II show).
Dominik's views were shared by his publisher August Scherl and the industrialist Alfred
Hugenberg, who acquired the Scherl publishing empire after Scherl had squandered his
fortune. It has been noted by an early German critic of Dominik that his real theme was
not science or technology but power: all of his novels revolve around the plots and
counterplots, intrigues and power struggles, resulting from the attempts at gaining or
keeping control of some revolutionary new invention. These struggles may be between
companies, or (more often) between nations or races. Dominik's novels in fact mark a sharp
decline from Lasswitz's sophisticated Auf zwei Planeten, "a much underrated
piece of literature" (Fischer: 176) which addresses, on a high intellectual level,
the problems of space travel and of first contact between humans and a superior Martian
civilization. (Strange to say, Lasswitz was, for a short time, Dominik's mathematics
teacher; but evidently he made little impression on his student: he gets only a short
paragraph in Dominik's autobiography.) Furthermore, although Dominik was an engineer, even
his understanding of technology was very poor, and most of his fictional anticipations
(usually in the areas of new energy sources or new construction metals) rely on physical
force (high temperatures, high pressures). Space travel, then a heatedly discussed issue
in Germany, especially among members of the "Verein fur Raumschiffahrt" (Society
for Spaceship Travel), figures in Dominik's 16 SF novels only twice, and then it is
presented with much less understanding of the subject than some other German SF writers
show (e.g., Otto Willi Gail).
Fischer discusses Dominik from a variety of angles, gives a brief summary of his life,
his concept of SF, and his critical reception, and analyzes his work thoroughly in regard
to character and plot, ideology, science and technology. Fischer finds him wanting in
almost all respects. Dominik was a mediocre writer; technically he is primitive. And yet
he is still vastly popular in Germany: his novels, although by now anachronistic, still
attract many readers. Dominik is perhaps the Karl May of SF, a typically German
"Trivialschriftsteller" of only limited interest to readers in other countries.
Detailed, careful, and sound, Fischer's analyses give a good picture of Lasswitz's and
Dominik's significance in the larger context of German history and literature. The main
parts of his book are preceded by a general discussion of imaginary worlds and imaginary
science and followed by the necessarily sketchy "Conclusions and Conjectures:
Lasswitz, Dominik, and the Evolution of German SF." There Fischer speculates on the
lack of a generic continuity in SF in Germany, where a specialized "SF field"
came into being only after World War II (in the wake of the importation of American SF).
He also singles out some representative modern German SF writers: Herbert W. Franke,
Michael Weisser, and Wolfgang Jeschke (who is predominantly, as director of Heyne
Verlag's SF line, the most notable and influential SF editor in Germany), along with
certain GDR writers of SF.
The title of Fischer's book is perhaps academically not quite respectable, but the work
itself is a valuable, persuasive, and lucid addition to the growing literature on SF, and
in particular to the still small body of works on German SF.
Abret, Helga. & Lucian Boia. Das Jahrhundert der Marsianer. Munich: Heyne
Verlag, 1984. 366pp. DM 9.80.
Alpers, Hans Joachim, ed. H.P. Lovecraft--der Poet des Grauens. [Edition
Futurum, Band 1.] Meitingen: Corian-Verlag, 1983. 201pp. DM 19.80.
-----. ed. Marion Zimmer Bradleys "Darkover." [Edition Futurum, Band
3.] Meitingen: Corian-Verlag, 1983. l99pp. DM 19.80
-----. & Thomas M. Loock. Lesebuch der deutschen Science Fiction 1984.
Meitingen: Corian-Verlag, 1983. 264pp. DM 19.80.
-----. & Harald Pusch, eds. Isaac Asimov--der Tausendjahresplaner. [Edition
Futurum, Band 2.] Meitingen: Corian-Verlag, 1984. l99pp. DM 19.80.
-----. & Werner Fuchs & Ronald M. Hahn. Reclams Science Fiction Führer. Stuttgart:
Philipp Recalm, 1982. 503pp. DM 39.00.
-----. & Werner Fuchs, Ronald M. Hahn, & Wolfgang Jeschke. Lexikon der
Science Fiction Literatur. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne, 1980. 2 vols. 1252pp. Vol. 1: DM
12.80; Vol. 2: DM 9.80.
Berghahn, Klaus K. & Hans Ulrich Seeber. Literarische Utopien von Morus bis zur
Gegenwart. Konigstein: Athenaum, 1983. 308pp. DM 68.00.
Bloch, Robert N. Bibliographie der utopischen und phantastischen Literatur
1750-1950. Giessen: Munniksma, 1984. 143pp. DM 45.00.
Borgmeier, Raimund. & Ulrich Broich & Ulrich Suerbaum. Science Fiction.
Theorie Und Geschichte, Themen und Typen, Form und Weltbilt. Stuttgart: Philipp
Reclam, 1981. 215pp. DM 29.80.
Fischer, William B. The Empire Strikes Out: Kurd Lasswitz, Hans Dominik and the
Development of German Science Fiction. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green SU Popular
Press, 1984. 335pp. $29.95 (cloth), $13.95 (paper).
Kasack, Wolfgang. Science-Fiction in Osteuropa. psteuropaforschung,
Schriftenreihe der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Osteuropakunde, Band 14.] Berlin: Arno
Spitz, 1984. 150pp. DM 25.00.
Körber, Joachim, ed. Bibliographisches Lexikon der utopisch-phantastischen
Literatur. Meitingen: Corian-Verlag, 1984. 654pp. [+ quarterly supplements]. DM
Päch, Susanne. Von den Marskanälen zur Wunderwaffe.Munich: S. Pach, 1981.
Pesch, Helmut W., ed. J.R.R. Tolkien--der Mythenschöpfer. [Edition Futurum,
Band 4.] Meitingen: Corian-Verlag, 1984. 192pp. DM 19.80.
Ritter, Claus. Anno Utopia; oder, So war die Zulunft. Berlin: Das Neue Berlin,
1982. 352pp. 19.80M.
-----. Start nach Utopolis. Eine Zulunfts-Nostalgie. Berlin: Verlag der
Nation, 1978. 366pp. 15.80M.
Roob, Helmut. Kurd Lasswitz, Handschriftlicher Nachlass Bibliographie seiner Werke.
Gotha: Veroffentlichungen der Forschungsbibliothek Gotha [Band 19], 1981. 165pp.
Rottensteiner, Franz. Über H.P. LovecraftFrankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1984.
300pp. DM 12.00.
Wolff, Eva. Utopie und Humor. Aspekte der Phantastik im Werk Paul Scheerbarts. [Europaische
Hochschulschriften, Reihe I; Deutsche Sprache und Literatur, Band 392.] Frankfurt aM.
& Bern: Peter D. Laing, 1982. 331pp. SFrs. 77.75.
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