Entry updated 21 March 2022. Tagged: International.
Although one cannot really speak of a Danish sf tradition prior to the 1950s, quite a few Danish authors did write occasional sf works before then. The first such book was Ludvig Holberg's Nicolai Klimii iter Subterraneum (1741 in Latin; trans as A Journey to the World Underground by Nicolas Klimius 1742; reprinted 1974), which was among the earliest works in any language to feature a journey inside a Hollow Earth. The eighteenth century saw a few other satirical and fantastical sf-like works, such as the play Anno 7603 ["The Year 7603"] (1785), a gender-reversal Satire featuring Time Travel, by the Norwegian-born poet Johan Hermann Wessel (1742-1785) who spent most of his life in Copenhagen.
The early nineteenth century saw little Danish sf and fantasy, although Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), in addition to his fantasies, wrote a few sf stories, most notably "Om Aartusinder" (1853; trans as "In a Thousand Years" in The Hans Andersen Library 1869). With the arrival of a new rationalism around 1870, the ground was laid for renewed activity in sf, but not much was actually published. A very interesting work from this time is Vilhelm Bergsøe's novella "En reise med Flyvefisken 'Prometheus'" ["A Journey on the Flying Fish 'Prometheus'"] (1869), which tells of a transatlantic journey on a vessel which alternately flies above the water and dives beneath the surface. Authors who worked with Utopian themes included C F Sibbern with Meddelelser af Indholdet af et skrift fra Aaret 2135 ["Report on the Content of Papers from the Year 2135"] (2vols, 1858 and 1872) and Otto Møller with Guld og AEre ["Gold and Honour"] (1900).
The early twentieth century saw a number of action-oriented juveniles, chiefly from Niels Meyn (1891-1957), who wrote racist and imperialistic Space Operas in imitation of Hans Dominik (see Germany) and various US authors. Satire and social criticism, mostly of a conservative bent, were produced by other contemporary authors, such as Aage Heinberg with Himmelstormerne ["Young Titans"] (1919).
After World War Two and Hiroshima, Danish literature reflected a mixture of fear and enthusiasm towards technology. This, together with the growing US cultural and economic dominance, made for a new trend in Danish sf. Chief among its practitioners was Niels E Nielsen (1924-1993), whose sf debut was in 1952 and who has since written about 40 sf novels. He began as an imitator of Ray Bradbury, and still harbours a cautious attitude towards Technology, his books usually warning against humankind's usurpation of the powers of the Creator. Among his motifs are nuclear and ecological catastrophe; as early as 1970 he wrote a novel about Genetic Engineering, Herskerne ["The Rulers"] (1970).
The 1960s saw increased interest in sf as a result of two principal factors: one was the enthusiasm generated by the US space programme, the other the indefatigable Jannick Storm – who, as editor and translator, introduced a great deal of US, UK and Scandinavian sf. Storm was a proponent of the New Wave but also introduced such "classical" writers as Isaac Asimov, James Blish and Frederik Pohl.
From the late 1960s onwards this increased interest in the genre led to a number of Danish authors writing occasional sf books. These may be grouped in several ways. Chiefly inspired by the New Wave and Comics, the "flower children" of the late 1960s saw sf as a new way of telling wondrous tales, as with Knud Holten in Suma-X (1969). The realists, on the other hand, saw in sf a continuation of realism by other means and created Near-Future scenarios; examples are Anders Bodelsen's Frysepunktet (1969; trans as Freezing Point 1971; vt Freezing Down) and Henrik Stangerup's Manden der ville være skyldig (1973; trans as The Man Who Wanted to be Guilty 1982). Experimental modernists took from the genre part of its inventory and used it for other purposes, as in Liget og Lysten ["Corpse and Desire"] (1968) by Svend Ǻge Madsen, which contains sf elements without really being sf. Occultists and ufologists published a number of sf works, best among them being Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff's Anno Domini (1975) and Gud ["God"] (1976). Finally, politically conscious writers used near-future scenarios to debate Pollution and Nuclear Energy. One author who has managed this without his fiction suffering from the politics is Jørgen Lindgreen, whose Atomer på Næsset ["Nuclear Plant on the Promontory"] (1975) is an effective Technothriller. In the late 1970s and early 1980s a rather disparate group of Women SF Writers appeared, ranging from the modernist Dorrit Willumsen, with Programmeret ti kærlighed ["Programmed for Love"] (1981), to the utopianist Vibeke Grønfeldt, with Det fantastike barn ["The Fantastic Child"] (1982).
With two exceptions, the authors mentioned above do not consider themselves sf writers, and nor has any of them written more than a single recognizably sf work. Those exceptions – the writers who really know sf – are Bodelsen and Madsen: Bodelsen has published a number of sf short stories, and Madsen has developed his own unique kind of sf with such works as Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden ["Virtue and Depravity in the Middle Period"] (1976; trans James M Ogler as Virtue and Vice in the Middle Time 1992), Se dagens lys ["Face the Light of Dawn"] (1980) and Lad tiden gå ["Let Time Flow"] (1985). Later, Inge Eriksen (1935-2015) joined them with a very ambitious tetralogy, Rummet uden tid ["Space without Time"] (1983-1989). If a distinctly Danish sf is to develop, it will have to build upon the works of these three. [ND]
- Carl-Eddy Skovgaard, editor. Sky City: New Science Fiction Stories by Danish Authors (Copenhagen, Denmark: Science Fiction Cirklen, 2010) [anth: trans by various hands: pb/Patrick Leis]
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