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Huberath, Marek S

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

Pseudonym of Polish biophysicist Hubert Harańczyk (1954-    ), who as an author entered the Genre SF field with "Wrocieeś Sneogg, wiedziaam ..." (September 1987 Fantastyka; trans Michael Kandel as "Yoo Retoont, Sneogg. Ay Noo" – see Checklist), which won that magazine's second short story competition. It is an intense and existentially frightening meditation on the nature of humanity in a post-apocalyptic world, whose main characters are deformed Mutants tested to qualify as "real humans"; those who do not satisfactorily score become donors, "raw material" for transplants. His "Kara większa" (July 1991 Fantastyka; trans Wiesiek Powaga as "The Greater Punishment" – see Checklist) won the Janusz A Zajdel Award in the following year. It is a Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] that vividly depicts penitentiary life after death, a vision of hell that amalgamates elements of a Nazi concentration camp and Soviet Gulag with their inhuman cruelty and grotesque bureaucracy (see Horror in SF). Its central character, Ruder Milenkowicz, physically ruined and exhausted after a period of unbearable Torture (deformation and mutilation are recurring and semiotically potent components of Huberath's imagery), is transferred to a lower-security section to pull through and made to believe he is in heaven. It is perhaps, along with "Wrocieeś Sneogg, wiedziaam ...", Huberath's most emblematic text since it deals with the moral and ethical implications of the subjection of humanity to extremely inimical conditions, ontological insecurity, and opaque, hardly cognizable rules that govern the world – recurring themes which he later approached from various standpoints. Both texts also perfectly illustrate Huberath's characteristic oscillation between sf and Fantasy (see Equipoise).

In the 1990s Huberath published three books: Ostatni, kórzy wyszli z raju ["The Last Who Left Eden"] (coll 1996), Druga podobizna w alabastrze ["The Second Effigy in Alabaster"] (coll 1997), and Gniazdo światów (1999) – one of the most original, ingenious, and important Polish sf novels of the decade (trans Michael Kandel as Nest of Worlds 2014 ebook) and highly regarded by both Polish sf critics and readers. It won the Janusz A Zajdel Award. The novel is set in a racist, Dystopian Alternate Cosmos whose Physics is unlike that of Earth: the further a physical body finds itself from the planet's surface, the slower the time flows for it (see Time Distortion), so that two people travelling the same distance by sea and by air respectively will reach their destination years apart. On this planet, which contains four distinct countries, social hierarchy is based on hair colour [for Colour Coding see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] and differently structured by each state (a person of the highest social class in one society belongs to the lowest in another); on reaching thirty-five years of age, citizens must leave the country of their birth and build lives anew in the next (perhaps a reference to Sir Thomas More's Utopia [1516], whose citizens changed homes every ten years), and then, thirty-five years later, must resettle again, a process that continues until the survivors have experienced life in each of the four states.

Nest of Worlds introduces its protagonist to his next country, Davabel, where he is renamed Dave. Soon after his arrival, the population is struck by an increase in accidental deaths which after a time becomes endemic. It is suspected that Dave's presence causes the unprecedented wave of demises, and he undergoes medical examinations apparently aimed at explaining the phenomenon yet in fact comprising attempts on his life. Dave's flatmate now begins to read a mysterious book entitled Nest of Worlds, whose previous reader never finished it, sinking into madness and committing Suicide, apparently overwhelmed by its content (see Basilisks). After his flatmate also dies, Dave acquires the book, which depicts several protagonists in several worlds, all reading Nest of Worlds. Each nested or embedded world within the novel is based on a set of coherent rules expressible through mathematical formulae (for instance in each sequential world the number of countries increases, while the time an individual has to spend in each of them decreases). Dave learns from his flatmate's notes that there must exist some world where there is neither coercion to resettle nor discrimination based on hair colour, while time flows at the same speed at all heights. At this point epistemology (the search for knowledge about the workings of the worlds of the Book) yields to ontology with the postulation that there is a nearly infinite number of worlds (see Postmodernism and SF), an effect characteristic of many sf novels, including Philip K Dick's Ubik (1969). Furthermore, if all the nested worlds are novels, there should be a Library whose Catalogue locates all the characters; Dave realizes that he is himself being read, and that this act of perusal has caused the heavy death toll in his world. He pleads for the reading to stop. Huberath's strategy in Nest of Worlds is not merely a typical sf world-building and extrapolation but a metafictional investigation with ambitions and conclusions evoking Jorge Luis Borges – both his stories and his essays.

Miasta pod Skałą ["Cities under the Rock"] (2005) is a visionary and erudite fantasy whose motives and imagery correspond to those of "The Greater Punishment" (see Checklist below), here elaborated on larger scale with numerous references to classic works of literature and visual arts, including The Divine Comedy and the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Zdzisław Beksiński. The protagonist of the tale enters the two eponymous cities beneath the Vatican Museum which acts as a secret seal, hiding the entrance to this twisted and cruel world, for the two cities are nightmarish counterparts of a bureaucratic totalitarian metropolis and a Roman garrison town respectively.

Balsam długiego pożegnania ["The Balm of Long Farewell"] (coll 2006) contains most of Huberath's stories with two new texts, while in 2010 a specific sf fix-up followed, Vatran Auraio, which combines two earlier stories not included in Balsam długiego pożegnania with a new novel set on an alien planet (part of the universe introduced in the stories) of extremely harsh living conditions and human colonists long ago radically transformed by the biology of the system. The recent Portal zdobiony posągami ["A Portal Decorated with Statues"] (2012) is yet another captivating Dante-inspired fresco, the discovered reality this time conceived as a never-ending professional training course featuring a whole spectrum of fantastic gadgets and figures. [KW]

Marek S Huberath

born Kraków, Poland: 24 April 1954


  • Gniazdo światów (Warsaw, Poland: SuperNOWA, 1999) [pb/Krzysztof Drozd]
    • Nest of Worlds (New York: Restless Books, 2014) [ebook: trans by Michael Kandel of the above: na/]
  • Miasta pod Skałą ["Cities under the Rock"] (Kraków, Poland: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2005) [pb/Katarzyna Karina Chmiel]
  • Vatran Auraio (Kraków, Poland: Wdawnictwo Literackie, 2010) [pb/Marta Blachura]
  • Portal zdobiony posągami ["A Portal Decorated with Statues"] (Warsaw, Poland: Fabryka Słów, 2012) [pb/Piotr Cieśliński]

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