In the 80s everything was fine. Heyne, a major German publishing house, published very much science fiction, also many books from German writers. Other publishers did the same. The scene was big, powerful and influential. Everyone wanted to read SF, everyone wanted to write it. It was „cool“. You could even make a living with it !
In the 90s things became somewhat more unsuccessful. The fantasy boom began, SF became more and more a peripheral phenomenon. It was not just because the quality of the books let up – there were simply less readers. Then came the new millennium and hopes were high: with all the new technologies (internet, better mobile phones etc.) it should become a whole new era for SF literature, many proclaimed. But it wasn’t like that. Thanks to the Master of the Rings movies, fantasy boomed more than ever. Plus, the Germans didn’t want to make their mind up about social matters, or about the future of mankind. They fled into fantasy realms instead where time and politics didn’t matter. The terror attack of September 11th was just one piece in that mind puzzle. Even the second Star Wars trilogy couldn’t fix it for the SF (maybe in America, but not in Germany). Star Wars was regarded as a modern fairy tale, not as SF. So people bought more and more fantasy and crossover fiction …
A new hope
With the beginning of the new millennium there were founded some interesting new magazines and publishing houses, for example Nova and the Wurdack Verlag. Thanks to those new publishers, German talents had the chance to reach a greater audience and many had been motivated to write SF since then. Payment was still low, but the new spirit convinced also some new readers, so that the scene became wider known. The big publishing houses like Heyne nevertheless ceased to publish German SF (also there are a few exceptions), but SF continued to live because of daring small publishers who didn’t care about the money.
It’s exactly ten years ago now that Nova has been established and it has featured some arising writers that have won many awards like Frank Haubold, Michael Iwoleit or Matthias Falke. Also the Wurdack Verlag published some very interesting anthologies of German SF. So why is there a good development of German SF? Well, because the authors are free from boundaries, they can write what they want. It’s more independent, the fiction contains more individuality and originality. For the future we hope that also the big publishers will remember the regional SF and support it with new publications.
The German SF Awards
Among the many non-professional awards (i. e. the DPP) there are two awards for professional publications: the DSFP (German Science Fiction Award) and the KLP (Kurd Lasswitz Award). Both are intended to honour the works of German SF writers. There is a jury nominating and judging the relevant publications of the last year. Plus, the DSFP offers an amount of 2000 euro for the best novel / the best short story. The Kurd Lasswitz Award goes back on German SF writer Kurd Lasswitz whose most reknown novels are „On two planets“ (1897) and „Aspira“ (1905). It’s an honour for every writer who is nominated for one of those awards!
It’s a story of success: the space opera „Perry Rhodan“. It has been created in 1961 and in the following decades there were sold over one billion copies worldwide. Translations, cons, fans, all stand for a creative, worldwide fandom that is still expanding. The universe the „Perry“ stories take place is called the „Perryverse“. It’s published by Pabel Moewig. Among the authors you find names like Clark Darlton (aka Walter Ernsting), Kurt Brand, Hans Kneifel or Hubert Haensel. Perry Rhodan is a very important argument when people ask „What’s up with German SF?“ Nevertheless, it’s not the only German space opera. There are a few others, less known, but also qualitative ones, i. e. „Mark Brandis“. It’s most evident that characters and authors of German space operas tend to give themselves English names – that is, because the English market is so much bigger than the German.
Current German SF
There are a lot of interesting SF writers in Germany today, for example Frank Hebben, Thorsten Kueper, Myra Cakan, Uwe Post, Michael Iwoleit. They produce a large amount of high-quality SF that doesn’t shrink to be politically. Uwe Post’s works are full of humour and satirical elements. His „Walpar Tonnraffir and the forefinger of God“ won the KLP as well as the DSFP in 2011. Many aspiring new talents try to follow them, but everyone has his/her own style. There are no concessions made to the market, because the small publishing houses are printing also books from authors that don’t meet the market’s needs. That’s good because you won’t find the „typical“ German SF, but a rich, colourful variety of ideas that don’t compete with each other but complete each other. You will find steampunk as well as space operas and cyberpunk or experimental SF.
The Greatest Writers
Still to mention the most-well-known current German SF writers. These are, for example, Andreas Eschbach, Ronald M. Hahn, Frank Schaetzing. They are published by the big publishers and they sell a lot of copies (and they have deserved it, by the way). Eschbach’s „Die Haarteppichknüpfer“ has been translated into French and won promptly a major French SF award. Many try the USA as a market, but fail. The reason: In the United States, there are just a few more good SF writers. Plus, the publishers over there prefer native authors. Due to this there have been established some new projects that intend to publish German writers in English, for example Internova. Here, the focus lies not only on German writers but on SF writers from the non-major SF markets in the world.
The final words
The German SF scene offers a great variety of modern science fiction. Some stories and novels you may also find in English. If you speak German, you are invited to read some very good stuff.
German SF portals
Deutsche Science Fiction (Portal of the German, Austrian and Swiss SF) : deutsche-science-fiction.de