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March, 2006 : Feature:

Beyond Perry Rhodan

Contemporary Speculative Fiction in Germany

Science fiction and fantasy writers outside of the English-speaking countries have traditionally suffered to a greater or lesser extent from the dominance of Anglo-American writers in the genre. In an article in IROSF two years ago, "Diminishing Returns: Science Fiction in Germany and German Science Fiction, An Overview and Introduction," Dirk van den Boom went into some of the historical reasons for this in the German market, especially in terms of the publishing landscape (1). In our survey of the present scene, after giving a brief overview of the market, we will concentrate on some of the authors publishing and selling in German today. We will also include writers of fantasy, who by and large have been more successful than science fiction writers—much as in the American market.

The "Pulp Booklet," Series, and Short Fiction Market

A number of authors besides van den Boom have pointed that almost since its inception in 1961, the Perry Rhodan series has had a dominant place in German science fiction. There are now over 2,000 titles published in the Heftroman or "pulp booklet" format (2). While this unprecedented success—not to mention endurance and longevity—for a single character is certainly to be applauded, at times it has almost seemed that Perry Rhodan took up the entire market for original science fiction in Germany. In the realm of fantasy, this phenomenon is mirrored to a certain extent in the tie-in books written around game universes such as the incredibly successful roleplaying game Das Schwarze Auge, similar to the game-related books produced by Wizards of the Coast, such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. There are now ninety-one books published in the DSA series (3). Just as a brief sample of the German situation, at the time of this writing, the SFF page of the German publisher Heyne is featuring only one work by a German author, a fantasy novel by Bernhard Hennen, Elfenwinter (4).

Besides the fact that much of the speculative fiction available in Germany consists of translations from English, another problem that faces aspiring German science fiction and fantasy authors is that there are very few markets for short fiction, and even fewer that offer payment for publication, as Florian Breitsameter points out. The webzine Alien Contact, for example, includes short fiction by German-language authors in almost every issue, but it is what in the Anglo-American market would be referred to as a "for the love" market (5). The quarterly print publication Phantastisch! and the bi-monthly Space View are two of the few SFF magazines in German that pay their fiction authors. In addition to these markets, the computer magazine c't regularly buys short stories that feature computers (very often science fiction), and the annual Visionen publishes new fiction by German-language authors in paperback format. While the Perry Rhodan series continues to be popular, it has a fixed contingent of authors, which does not make it an option for new authors trying to break in.

On the other hand, the situation has been developing positively in recent years for authors writing in German, as Hermann Urbanek points out, especially in the children's book and YA sector, where the majority of titles have shifted from translation to German originals (p. 1049). There are, after all, a number of German, Austrian and Swiss authors who have had made a name for themselves outside of Heftromane (the novella-length pulp booklets of Perry Rhodan) or RPG spin-off novels.

German SFF Awards

To get an idea of some of the more successful authors writing and publishing German science fiction today, the site for the annual Kurd Laßwitz prize might be a place to start—it honors writers of novels and short stories, as well as translations into German, illustrations, and radio plays. Two other major awards also honor authors of speculative fiction writing in German: "Deutscher Phantastik Preis" and "Deutscher Science Fiction Preis"; the last also offers an introduction in English.

Contemporary authors in German who have received recognition for their work such as prizes or honorable mentions of this sort include Frank Schätzing, Andreas Brandhorst, Michael Marrak, Erik Simon, Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller, Myra Çakan, and Wolfgang Jeschke, to name only a few. Andreas Brandhorst, for example, began with Heftromane in the series Die Terranauten and novels in the roleplaying game world of Das schwarze Auge, among others, as well as translations of Terry Pratchett and other Anglo-American authors. Last year, upon returning to writing original fiction again after a number of years concentrating on translations, his novel Diamant (2004) came in second for the coveted Kurd Laßwitz prize and second for the German Science Fiction Award, while his novel Der Metamorph came in third for the same prize.

Unfortunately, within the scope of this article, it would be impossible to introduce the reader to a truly broad range of the genre writers active in the German language at this time. In the remainder of this essay, we will instead concentrate on three of the most successful contemporary German authors: Wolfgang Hohlbein, Andreas Eschbach and Cornelia Funke. In the case of Funke and Eschbach, this success even includes hard-cover publication in English translation.

Wolfgang Hohlbein

Wolfgang Hohlbein (6) is probably one of the most prolific and successful writers in Germany these days, not only in fantasy. In a career going back to the early eighties, Hohlbein has over 150 books published under his name and has had several titles on German bestseller lists. He began writing stories in the sixties as a teenager, and was a successful Heftroman author before his first original novel was published in 1983: Märchenmond ("Fairy Tale Moon"), written with his wife Heike Hohlbein and published by the Austrian publisher Ueberreuter. This was only the beginning of a long string of successes. His novel Druidentor ("Druid Gate" 1993) even remained on the bestseller list of Der Spiegel (the German equivalent of the NYT bestseller list) for a year running. Most recently, his novel Anubis was on the bestseller lists of both Der Spiegel and Focus. While his work has been translated into over thirty languages, only recently have three volumes of the YA Fairy Tale Moon series been picked up for translation into English and they are not yet available.

Andreas Eschbach

A successful German author English readers would have more of a chance to get acquainted with is the science fiction writer Andreas Eschbach (7). His first novel, Die Haarteppichknüpfer, (1995) was published by Tor in hardcover as The Carpet Makers in 2005. Previous to that, a chapter of the book appeared in January 2001 in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as "The Carpetmaker's Son." The Carpet Makers consists of a series of interlocking stories involving an intergalactic empire, a forgotten part of which is economically dependent on the making and export of carpets made of human hair. Eschbach's novels and short stories have received numerous awards, including the Kurd Laßwitz Prize five times and the German Science Fiction Prize five times as well. His novel Das Jesus Video (1998) was made into a successful German TV mini-series in 2002. He has also written several YA novels and edited an anthology of European science fiction stories, Eine Trillion Euro (2004).

Cornelia Funke

The biggest contemporary success story among German authors of speculative fiction, however, has to be that of the YA author Cornelia Funke (8). Funke is not only the most successful German fantasy author internationally, she is the most successful contemporary author writing in German world-wide, in any genre (Giersberg, n.p.). She was originally a illustrator for children's books, but early in her career she began to write books of her own. She now has over forty YA novels and children's books in print in German in a number of different genres.

Her big breakthrough in the English-language market came when her novel Herr der Diebe (2000) was picked up by editor Barry Cunningham of The Chicken House—after Funke herself paid to have the manuscript translated into English. When it was published as The Thief Lord in 2002, it was soon on the New York Times bestseller list, and even climbed to number two before the end of the year. The book is the tale of a band of children in the magical underworld of Venice, Italy. A cinematic version of The Thief Lord was filmed on location in Venice with German production and English actors and is soon to appear in English on DVD for fans of the book.

Funke's next book, Inkheart (2003; originally published in German as Tintenherz) was no less successful. It spent over thirty weeks on the New York Times's children's literature bestseller list and the movie version is now being produced by New Line Cinema. Inkheart is a story about how reading brings characters to life—literally. Meggie, the protagonist, discovers that her father has a magical power: when he reads aloud, he brings the characters of the book out of the pages and into the real world, a dangerous dream-come-true when the evil ruler in the book Inkheart escapes the boundaries of fiction.

As of this writing, the second book in the Inkheart trilogy, Inkspell, is on the NYT's bestseller list for children's fiction in hardcover, and has been for the last twenty-two weeks.

Taking the Bright View

Obviously, there are certain challenges to the German-language SFF market which writers in English do not have to face, but there are also a number of professional writers who have faced those challenges and succeeded. As the careers of Hohlbein, Eschbach and Funke demonstrate, it is even quite possible for a German author to make a name for him- or herself outside of the German-language community.

There may even be some advantages to attempting to publish in a smaller market with a smaller pool of potential authors. While in the present American SF market (not to mention mainstream or literary) it is inadvisable to try to sell a first novel without an agent, German genre markets still accept and consider unsolicited manuscripts. There are only a handful of agents in Germany who represent science fiction and fantasy, and those are mostly interested in established writers who already have novels published.

Another development to consider is that there seems to be an increasing thirst among German-speaking speculative fiction fans for science fiction and fantasy written in German. A number of magazines and webzines now specifically state their intent to promote German speculative fiction, most "for the love" certainly, but also at least one paying market. The guidelines of both the paying market Space View and the respected webzine Nova state their goal to emphasize German-language SF. The potholes in the road are there, but Hermann Urbanek's overview of the German market indicates that sales are up in Germany again (pp. 1050-1052), while the percentage of German authors who are in those figures is going up as well (9).

For readers of speculative fiction it is far too easy to retain an Anglo-American focus. Though our genre has roots far outside the English-speaking world, from Gilgamesh to Jules Verne, and modern masters from Stanislaw Lem to Zoran Zivkovic, the arc of genre success in the twentieth century has been almost entirely an Anglophone enterprise. Greater access to German fiction, as well as the vibrant traditions in Russia, Japan and elsewhere, can only strengthen our genre.

The authors would like to thank Dirk van den Boom for looking over the manuscript of this essay and providing important feedback.

Footnotes

  1. For an extensive historical overview, see also the entry on Germany in Clute and Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, pp. 485-490. [back]
  2. The English Wikipedia has a fairly detailed entry on Perry Rhodan, for those who are interested in learning more. See also the entry in Clute and Nicholls, pp. 924-925. [back]
  3. For a list of titles, see the Fanpro site. [back]
  4. The other featured works are by Adam Roberts, Arthur C. Clarke, S. L. Viehl, Esther Friesner, Dan Abnett, and Michael Stackpole. See the Heyne web page. [back]
  5. For an interesting discussion in German on the reasons for the lack of payment in SFF magazines in the German-speaking market, see the thread on the forum for the magazine Nova on SF-Netzwerk.de. [back]
  6. For those with knowledge of German, more information on Hohlbein is available on his web page. At the time of this writing, the English links were all "coming soon." There is, however, an interview with Hohlbein in English at TheRaider.net. [back]
  7. Eschbach's web page provides information in English on his publications via the link "In English" at the bottom of the page. [back]
  8. Funke's English language page can be accessed at http://www.corneliafunke.de/en/index.html. [back]
  9. Urbanek's numbers are called into question by some in the German SF scene, however: it is argued that he includes too many vanity and fanzine-type publications. [back]

Works Referenced

Bradley, James. "An Interview with Wolfgang Hohlbein." TheRaider.net. March 18, 2003.

Brandhorst, Andreas. Diamant. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 2004.

———. Der Metamorph. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 2005.

Breitsameter, Florian. "Science fiction in Germany." Cosmos Pen, April 2003.

Clute, John and Peter Nichols, eds. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1995.

Eschbach, Andreas. Die Haarteppichknüpfer. Munich: Schneekluth Verlag, 1995. English translation: The Carpet Makers. New York: Tor, 2005.

———. Das Jesus Video. Munich: Schneekluth Verlag, 1998.

———, ed. Eine Trillion Euro. Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany: Bastei-Lübbe, 2004.

Funke, Cornelia. Tintenherz. Hamburg: Dressler, 2003. English translation: Inkheart. Frome, UK: Chicken House, 2003. (Published in the U.S. by Scholastic Press.)

———. Herr der Diebe. Hamburg: Dressler, 2000. English translation: The Thief Lord. Frome, UK: Chicken House, 2002. (Published in the U.S. by Scholastic Press.)

Giersberg, Dagmar. "Abenteuer ohne erhobenen Zeigefinger Der Erfolg der Kinderbuchautorin Cornelia Funke." Goethe-Institut, Literatur, September 2005.

Hohlbein, Wolfgang. Anubis. Bergisch Gladbach, Germany: Lübbe, 2005

———. Das Druidentor. Stuttgart: Weitbrecht, 1993.

——— and Heike Hohlbein. Märchenmond. Eine phantastische Geschichte. Vienna, Austria: Ueberreuter, 1983.

Urbanek, Hermann. "Die deutsche SF-Szene 2004." In Das Science Fiction Jahr 2005. Sascha Mamczak and Wolfgang Jeschke, eds. Munich: Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, 2005: pp. 1047-1089.

van den Boom, Dirk. "Diminishing Returns: Science Fiction in Germany and German Science Fiction, An Overview and Introduction." The Internet Review of Science Fiction. June 2004.


Copyright © 2006, Ruth Nestvold and Joseph E. Lake, Jr.. All Rights Reserved.

About Ruth Nestvold

Ruth Nestvold has published in Asimov's and Realms of Fantasy, and was a recent finalist for both the Tiptree and Sturgeon awards. She holds a PhD in literature with specializations in genre issues, gender issues and hyperfiction. After getting out of academia, she switched to translation and software localization to feed the writing bug. She maintains a web site at www.ruthnestvold.com.

About Jay Lake

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2008 novels are Escapement from Tor Books and Madness of Flowers from Night Shade Books, while his short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. Jay can be reached through his blog at jaylake.livejournal.com or his Web site at www.jlake.com.

COMMENTS!

Mar 13, 15:39 by IROSF
Thread for the discussion of German SciFi.

Ruth and Jay's article is here.

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