Germany since 1990

Tagged: International

This entry describes the state of sf in Germany from the year 1990 onward. At present there are separate entries in this encyclopedia for Germany before 1990 (including East Germany) and Austria. These are to be restructured in the near future and joined by a more extensive entry on sf in {EAST GERMANY}.

Science fiction in the post-reunification Germany is still dominated by translations of the works of American and British authors. As a publisher, the paperback line of publisher Heyne remains most prominent; in 2002, Wolfgang Jeschke retired as the editor of the Heyne sf programme and was succeeded by Sascha Mamczak (1970-    ). Among the many international authors published by Heyne in the 1990s and 2000s are Kage Baker, Stephen Baxter, Greg Bear, Greg Egan, Gwyneth Jones, Alastair Reynolds, Kim Stanley Robinson, Peter Watts, Robert Charles Wilson, as well as Russian authors Sergey Lukianenko and Dmitri Glukhovsky (1979-    ). Other paperback publishers also feature some international sf, chiefly Bastei Lübbe (China Miéville, Justina Robson) and Blanvalet. German authors are a minority in the sf programmes of the big publishing houses, the two big names being Andreas Eschbach and Andreas Brandhorst (1956-    ); Frank Schätzing must also be mentioned, although his novels are not marketed as sf; for further comments on these authors see below. Other sf books that are branded as such are still few and far between at the bigger publishing houses. Among these exceptions to the rule are Thomas Ziegler's Die Stimmen der Nacht ["The Voices of the Night"] (1984; exp 1993), about a Germany crippled by the implementation of the Morgenthau plan; and an excellent First Contact novel, Die lebenden Steine von Jargus ["The Living Stones of Jargus"] (2000), by Barbara Slawig (1956-    ) – both books were published as sf and were met with critical acclaim from the sf community.

Additionally, there is some spillover from the German high fantasy boom that began in 2003 with the publication of a bestseller, Die Zwerge (trans The Dwarves 2009), by Marcus Heitz (1971-    ): within a few years, fantasy by German authors had become highly sellable merchandise, and some of these authors have also written and published sf (among them the aforementioned Markus Heitz). I will return to the few commercially successful German sf authors below.

The prime publishing venue for sf authors writing in German are Small Press anthologies and magazines. Since the 1990s, the German small presses have become increasingly professional, a development that probably goes back to the sf Magazine Alien Contact, which was founded in 1991 by members of the sf club Andymon (which was the only sf club in East Germany and named for the novel Andymon 1982 by Andrea and Karl-Heinz Steinmüller). Its first issues featured new stories by well-known authors from the GDR, among them Erik {SIMON}, Michael Szameit (1950-    ), Karl-Heinz Tuschel (1928-2005), Angela and Karl-Heinz {STEINMÜLLER}, Johanna and Günther {BRAUN} and Rainer Fuhrmann (1940-1990). Alien Contact started with an impressive print run of 40.000 copies – there was still a huge demand for the so-called "wissenschaftlich-phantastische Literatur" in the former GDR, and the newsstands were not yet flooded with West German magazines.

However, in 1991, the market for Alien Contact in the former GDR collapsed, and the magazine had to restructure; it wasn't sold on the newsstands anymore, the print run was reduced first to 5000 copies and subsequently to even less. Around the same time, the magazine began to feature more stories by West German and international authors (among the latter Gardner Dozois, Michael Swanwick, Damon Knight, Terry Pratchett and George R R Martin). Nevertheless, Alien Contact established the type of publication that is probably most relevant for German sf authors in the 1990s and 2000s: short fiction in small press magazines and anthologies. It was also one of the first publishing venues for many of the best known German sf authors, among them Andreas Eschbach, Michael Marrak (1965-    ) and Michael Siefener (1961-    ); for further comments see below. From 2001 on, Alien Contact was run as an online magazine (with 4 printed annuals collecting the stories and essays) and finally discontinued with issue 68 in 2005. Alien Contact has had many editors, but the one person providing continuity was Hardy Kettlitz, who remained part of the editorial staff for the whole 15 years that the magazine was published. Together with Ronald Hoppe, Bernhard Kempen, Hans-Peter Neumann and Hannes Riffel, he also founded the small press Shayol. (In addition, Kettlitz and Neumann play a significant role as authors and editors of secondary literature of sf; see below).

When Alien Contact was discontinued, other publications had sprung up, most notably the story magazine Nova (2002, 20 issues by 2012), edited by Ronald M Hahn (1948-    ) and Helmuth W Mommers (1943-    ). Before Nova, Hahn had edited the German edition of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for Heyne between 1983 and 2000; he is also known as author of mainly satirical sf. Mommers also edited several anthologies for Heyne before founding Nova; later, he went on to edit for influential short sf anthologies at Shayol (Visionen 1-4, 2004-2007). Subsequent editors of Nova include Frank Hebben (1975-    ), Michael K Iwoleit (1962-    ), also an author (see below), and Olaf G Hilscher (1975-    ). Also, in 2000 the Semiprozine Exodus, (originally published from 1975-1980) was resurrected under the original editor René Moreau. Another important publisher of short sf by German authors is Wurdack, a small press that was founded in 2004 and published several anthologies under the editorship of Armin Rößler (1972-    ) and Heidrun Jänchen (1965-    ), both of whom are also authors (see below).

By 2012, among the small presses publishing German sf are Atlantis, edition phantasia, p.machinery, Shayol, Wurdack and the austrian publisher Begedia; among their most notable authors are Frank Haubold, whose episodic novel Die Schatten des Mars ["The Shadows of Mars"] (2008) has been compared to Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles; Frank Hebben, who has become known for dark post-cyberpunk stories that owe more to Jeffrey Thomas than to William Gibson; Heidrun Jänchen, whose stories show a strong scientific background and wry humour and are reminiscent of the quirkier works by Stanisław Lem; Dirk van den Boom, an author of straightforward Military SF novels; Armin Rößer, who concentrates on creating a complex, Dune-ish Space Opera setting for his novels and short stories; Uwe Post, who tends to write either darkly satirical or flat-out sf comedies; Karla Schmidt, who has published several near-future social fiction stories in the vein of David Marusek; and Michael K Iwoleit, who is known for his elegant and intelligent near-future novellas. All of these authors have been nominated for one or both of the German sf awards, the Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis (see Awards) and the Deutscher Science-Fiction-Preis, often several times.

The best-known German small press author in 2012 is probably Karsten Kruschel (1959-    ); a few of his short stories have been published in the 1980s in the GDR, but it took until 2009 before his first novel, Vilm, was picked up by Wurdack (published in two parts as Vilm – Der Regenplanet 2009 and Vilm – Die Eingeborenen 2009). Vilm is about the survivors of a crashed colony ship and their contacts with the indigenous aliens (see Colonization of Other Worlds). Thematically, it is a story of human/alien transformation that echoes some of the concepts in Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy. Kruschel has published another novel from the Vilm universe, Galdäa (2012), and a third one is to follow. Both Vilm and Galdäa have won the Deutscher-Science-Fiction-Preis for best novel.

The nineties also saw the emergence of several German sf authors who have been picked up by major publishers. In many cases, their works are only marginally sf and branded either as thrillers in the vein of Michael Crichton or as highbrow literature. Among the few German sf authors whose works have not only been published by major publishers, but also marketed as sf, are: Andreas Brandhorst, who has been working as a translator (among others, he translated most of Terry Pratchett's novels into German), but has also published a good dozen novels at Heyne, most notably the Kantaki series of Space Opera novels (starting with Der Diamant 2006); author and illustrator Michael Marrak, who started his career in small press magazines and anthologies, but went on to work with major paperback publishers, who re-published several of his previous works. Among his novels are the weird, post-apocalyptic Lord Gamma (2000), Imagon (2001, a homage to Lovecrafts At the Mountains of Madness), and the horror/sf hybrid Morphogenesis (2005). Marrak has been compared to Iain M Banks; like Banks, he has a talent to construct strange, but highly plausible sf settings with solid speculative foundations. His most recent outing is Gambit (2011), a tie-in novel to a Halo-like video game (more on the role of tie-in novels for German sf below).

However, the most commercially successful German sf author of the 1990s and 2000s is Andreas Eschbach. His first novel, Die Haarteppichknüpfer (1995, trans Doryl Jensen as The Carpet Makers 2005), is set in a classical pseudo-Roman Space Opera universe. It comprises a collection of linked stories that, as a whole, tell the story of a people ordered ten thousands of years ago by the immortal Emperor to weave the hair of their women into carpets. Eschbach's novel works through the implications of constructing a society around a neverending and, in the end, meaningless task. While some of the stories in Die Haarteppichknüpfer are more than a touch mawkish, the concept of the novel is strong enough to make it an outstanding work.

Most of Eschbach's later novels – like Das Jesus-Video ["The Jesus Video"] (1998) and Der letzte seiner Art ["The Last of his Species"] (2003)– are typical science thrillers and marketed as such, with the exception of Kelwitt's Stern ["Kelwitt's Star"] (1999) and Quest (2001) both set in the Haarteppichknüpfer universe. His best novel is probably Ausgebrannt ["Burned"] (2007), a meticulously researched and matter-of-factly narrated novel about the exhaustion of our planet's oil reserves and the political fallout.

Another highly successful German author of sf thrillers is Frank Schätzing with his two bestsellers Der Schwarm (2004, trans The Swarm) about human first contact with a deep-sea intelligence, and Limit (2009), about the mining of Helium-3 on the moon. Schätzing is very much the German Michael Crichton – a writer who does his research and knows how to pull his readers in.

An interesting case is Walter Moers, who started as a graphic novelist and became famous for turning Adolf Hitler into a darkly comedic cartoon character. Moers developed a fantasy world, Zamonien, that is inhabited by a great number of characters inspired by fairy tales, but also by a children's programme that Moers co-authored. Nearly all of Moer's Zamonien novels have sf elements, but they are most prominent in Ensel and Krete ["Ensel and Krete"] (2000), a post-modern retelling of the fairy tale of Hänsel and Gretel, where the witch-house turns out to be a life-sucking Monster from outer space. Moer's s style is funny, occasionally wacky and highly self-referential (a good part of Ensel und Krete is taken up by the comments from Hildegunst von Mythenmetz, the fictional author of the book); but it has also a prominent dark and satirical streak.

Since the 1990s, there are also several German authors published in the highbrow sector whose works tend to be at least marginally sf. These include, most prominently, Dietmar Dath, who was first published by the small press Verbrecher Verlag and later by Suhrkamp and Heyne. Dath's novels tend to be complex beasts, part novel, part philosophical and political essay, part love-letter to the sf genre. Among his works are as diverse novels as Am Blinden Ufer ["On the Blind Side"] (2000), an apocalyptic vision full of allusions to H P Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock; Dirac (2006), a historical/contemporary story about the eponymous physicist with a few subtle sf elements; plus two further novels which are perhaps more interesting to sf fans. Die Abschaffung der Arten ["The Abolition of Species"] (2008; trans The Abolition of Species 2013) is set in a future when mankind has become either extinct or transformed (see Evolution; Posthuman), and intelligent life consists of animals and even stranger entities – Dath here evokes Olaf Stapledon and Clifford D Simak. Das versteckte Sternbild ["The Hidden Constellation"] (2007) as by David Dalek, a Space Opera about interstellar criminals that seems equally influenced by Joss Whedon's tv series Firefly (2002), by the novels of Joanna Russ and the stories of Cordwainer Smith. All of Dath's books tend to be highly political, merging Marxist and Darwinst perspectives in the attempt to explore possibilities of radical, constant and open-ended social change towards greater individual and collective freedom.

Among the other authors whose works have been published as highbrow literature but tend to feature at least some elements of science fiction is Juli Zeh, whose most famous novel, based upon an unpublished play from 2005, is Corpus Delicti: Ein Prozess (2009; trans Sally-Ann Spencer as The Method 2012); it is set in 2057, in a dystopian society that forces its citizens with police-state methods to lead a healthy life. Zeh studied law, and Corpus Delicti, like many of her other novels, has a strong grounding in the philosophy of law. Also notable is Benjamin Stein, whose novel Replay (2012) is an interesting, surreal and highly sexualized variation on the idea of a panoptical society with some allusions to Arthur Machen.

Marcus Hammerschmitt (1967-    ) started his career as an author with the renowned highbrow publisher Suhrkamp, but fell victim to the discontinuation of Suhrkamp's excellent sf/fantasy line in 1999 (Suhrkamp continued to reissue H P Lovecraft and Stanisław Lem, but let go of nearly all of its other sf/fantasy titles). After that, three Hammerschmitt novels were published by the short-lived social fiction imprint of Argument, a university press specializing in Marxist and feminist literature (Argument also reissued German translations of important novels like Ursula K Le Guin's The Dispossessed, Joanna Russ's The Female Man and Theodore Sturgeon's More than Human). Most of Hammerschmitt's sf novels are set in the Near Future; they could be described asSatires, as they usually show individuals perpetuating greater evils in small ways. However, Hammerschmitt avoids the moralist standpoint that usually comes with satire. Most interesting for readers looking for specifically German themes in sf is his Alternate History novel Polyplay (2002), in which the GDR annexes West Germany, with remarkably similar historical results. However, his best work to date is probably the novella "Die Lokomotive" (in Der Moloch ["The Juggernaut"], anth 2007, ed Helmuth W Mommers), a bleak satire about an engineer living in a remote socialist mini-state, who lives in fear of state authority and is prepared to do everything to cover up a small fraud he once perpetrated.

Another exceptional case is Tobias O Meißner (1967-    ), whose first novel, Starfish Rules (1997), is about a German who smuggles a mythical artefact out of country to remove it from the grasp of a secret Nazi organisation. He arrives in America, finding it a quasi-mythical country itself, a psychedelic vision stitched together from comic book motives, hard-boiled mysteries, occultism and conspiracy theories. Thematically, Starfish Rules is reminiscent of the novels of Thomas Pynchon, but in terms of form and style, Meißner's novel is even more radical; it might be counted among the best German novels of the last decades, and certainly among the most challenging. Meißner is also the author of a Cyberpunk novel, Neverwake (2001), as well as of a number of more traditional fantasy novels and of a series of horror novels, which are more in the vein of his first book.

Something that might easily be overlooked is the small, but significant role played by Role Playing Game Ties in German sf and (more so) Fantasy; while most examples of these by German authors are quite forgettable, there are a few exceptions. Hans Joachim Alpers wrote a trilogy of novels (Das zerrissene Land ["The Torn Country"] 1994, Die Augen des Riggers ["The Eyes of the Riggers"] 1994, Die graue Eminenz ["The Gray Eminence"] 1995) for the Shadowrun Role Playing Game. The trilogy is set in a fantasy cyberpunk version of Germany in 2060 and is reminiscent of John Shirley's Eclipse trilogy.

Also set in the world of Shadowrun are the novels Pesadillas (2003) and Wiedergänger ["Revenant"] (2005) by Maike Hallmann (1979-    ), which are certainly among the finest German sf novels published in the 2000s. Pesadillas is not only an enormously suspenseful thriller, but also a brutal deconstruction of the clichéd action Hero; and its sequel, Wiedergänger, deconstructs the action story formula in a similar way.

The Shadowrun novel series was discontinued in Germany in 2010. Meanwhile, Justifiers, another sf Role Playing Game series has seen publication (2010); among the contributors are not only Maike Hallmann, but Markus Heitz and Boris Koch. While these Ties are certainly not the place to look for highly original or stylistically polished fare, they still provide a venue for German authors to not only try themselves out, but also to get paid for it.

Perry Rhodan, the longest running dime novel sf series in the world, continues with one new issue weekly; in 2011, the new series Perry Rhodan NEO was launched alongside the original Perry Rhodan universe, and retells the entire original series from the beginning, modernizing it for a contemporary audience. Interestingly, the new series was mostly criticized for sticking too closely to the plot and style of the original rather than for straying to far from it. Some Perry Rhodan authors, among them Frank Borsch (1966-    ) and Michael Marcus Thurner (1963-    ), also published their own sf novels at major publishers.

The long-running sf periodical, Quarber Merkur, edited by Franz Rottensteiner, continues, featuring academical essays and articles on sf themes. Other periodicals are phantastisch!, edited by Ulrich Blode, which features mainly short articles and interviews on international sf; the already mentioned Nova; and Phase X, a fannish magazine featuring articles and interviews. The semi-periodical series SF Personality (edited and to a large extent written by Hardy Kettlitz) features monographs on the works of famous sf authors like Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Cordwainer Smith and Robert A Heinlein. The most significant bibliographical work on sf in Germany is Das Lexikon der Science Fiction in der DDR (2002) by Hans-Peter Neumann, which collects bibliographical information on all sf books published in East Germany.

It remains to be seen what impact the emergence of ebooks will have on German sf and sf in Germany; while the major publishers in Germany tend to be slow in claiming the ebook market, the first big wave of self-published ebooks has hit online retailers. However, there seem to be few sf titles among these – for now, most sf authors seem to stick to their small press publishers. [JaS]

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