German author Frank Habuold is a winner of the Kurd-Laßwitz Award. He is the author, with Gill Ainsworth, of the collection Seasons of Insanity, published by Apex Books.
Frank Haubold interviewed by Charles Tan
Hi Frank! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with science fiction and fantasy?
Oh, that was many years ago. I think it was in the early 70s, when I experienced first books by Ray Bradbury, Robert Sheckley and Stanislaw Lem in the library of my hometown. These books were rareties, which could not be bought in bookstores of former Eastern Germany. I’ve always fought with me in order to give them back. Fantasy as a genre did not exist at that time.
It was – I think – in 2006, when I sent one of my stories to several English-language magazines. Unfortunately I only got rejections, but the mail from Gill was very friendly and interested. So we stayed in contact. Gill revised the translation of another story, which later reached the shortlist of the Aeon Award, and I translated two of her stories for German anthologies. Sometime later, we had the idea for a joint collection in English.
That was a little difficult because the prerequisites were not optimal. Gill does not speak German and my English is rather poor. It is sufficient to translate English texts into German, but the reverse is much more difficult. So I translated my stories sentence by sentence in a kind of pidgin English, and then Gill brought the fragments into a readable form. It took many weeks and months, and of course there were sometimes misunderstandings. Against this background, 130 pages are a lot.
Of course I have selected only stories, that I particularly like. Therefore, the feeling when reading and Pretranslation was not so bad. If a story is a few years old, there are of course always little things one would write a little different today. Much more interesting and sometimes disturbing is the diversity of languages. A phrase that sounds good in German, can sound terrible in English and vice versa. Therefore, only a native speaker is able to assess and correct these subtleties. I am very grateful that Gill has taken this burden.
How did you come up with the concept of seasons for the book?
Gill had this idea. We had a few stories that are tied to specific data, such as Christmas or Halloween. And we had others where the weather plays a role and is typical for certain seasons. Therefore it was making sense to bring the stories to a chronology of the seasons. This works, of course, not perfect in every story, but it does bring some structure into the book. That’s why I like the idea.
How did Apex end up publishing Seasons of Insanity?
That was not an easy way. Fortunately, my role was confined to inquire every few weeks, wether the project is going on or not. Obviously, the U.S. market is difficult, and the few genre-publishers are inundated with manuscripts. That makes such projects not easier. But it worked in the end, still, and I am very grateful, that Apex Publications has published our book.
What’s the genre field in Germany like?
In Germany, the SF and horror scene is much smaller and more clearly. Everyone who deals intensively with the genre, knows the relevant publishers and publications. However, only few genre authors are able to earn their bread and red wine with writing. I’m not one of them, and that’s not because I drink too expensive wine …
On the other hand, there are a number of dedicated small publishers who are active in the scene, and also a loyal core audience, however only few young readers.
Who are some of the authors that interest you?
There are many authors, whose works have impressed me. Ray Bradbury, of course, James G. Ballard, Clifford Simak, Stanislav Lem or the Strugatsky brothers. Unfortunately most of them have already died. I like Dan Simmon’s “Hyperion” und the SF-novels of Sergei Lukyanenko. Some of the older novels by Stephen King are also fascinating.
Anything else you want to promote?
This is difficult because there are no English versions of my more recent novels and short stories. Currently I am writing the second part of a space opera called “Twilight of the Gods”, which keeps me busy for almost a year. That’s a pretty crazy story from a distant future in which also the poet Rilke and Jim Morrison will have an appearance. Science fiction purists will not like it. ;-)
Michael Iwoleit is the brain behind Internova, the online magazine for International Science Fiction, and an inspiration to us here at the World SF Blog. He offers Some Remarks on Current German Science Fiction:
German science fiction has had a rough ride of it since the boom time of the early eighties, when at one time no less than seven sf paperback and two sf hardcover serials were published in Germany, and Heyne Science Fiction was known as one of the largest sf publishers in the world. Unsurprisingly, most of the books published around this hey-day period were by Anglo-American writers, but this didn’t prevent German publishers from showcasing a remarkably rich and diverse selection of science fiction from all over the world. Even German language science fiction – which has rarely enjoyed commercial success and traditionally suffers from a lack of readership – went through a short-time boom.
One of the trail-blazers of the time was the extraordinarily talented young writer Rainer Zubeil – aka Thomas Ziegler from Cologne – who acted as a kind of primer for the development of a new movement in German science fiction. Ziegler’s work, which was predominantly set in a new or alternative future Germany, fore-grounded characterisation, political commentary and stylistic experimentation, marrying these with a preference for satire and irony (including ironic self-reflections on the business of sf writing). Writers such as Ronald M. Hahn, Horst Pukallus, Reinmar Cunis and Thomas Mielke were among the most prominent representatives of this trend.
Sadly, it is generally accepted that few of the German SF novels published during these boom years stands the test of time. Only a handful of its writers are still active today, and several have died (Thomas Ziegler/Rainer Zubeil died at the depressingly young age of 48). – continue reading.
There seems to be a sudden explosion in international SF magazines, with the latest being International Speculative Fiction – check it out, they’ve just published Aliette de Bodard’s Butterfly, Falling at Dawn!
The first such magazine, however – the guys who inspired me to eventually edit The Apex Book of World SF and start the World SF Blog – is InterNova, edited by Michael Iwoleit from Germany. InterNova was first published in print, with only one – yet revolutionary – issue, but has since been relaunched as a web magazine.
It publishes a wide range of fiction and non-fiction from all over the world, and is looking to continue to grow. Michael writes:
The international science fiction e-zine InterNova (inter.nova-sf.de) is facing a major upgrade. In recent months the magazine has almost doubled its audience. To provide a better service for its readers editor Michael K. Iwoleit plans a design and functionality rework of the site and more regular uploads. To make the best of the magazine, however, InterNova is looking for further volunteer collaborators. Especially wanted are native English proofreaders who are willing to read two or three stories each months. There are also plans to open a Spanish and a French section of InterNova to provide part of the magazine’s content in these languages too. To make it happen, the support of volunteer English-to-Spanish and English-to-French translators and of proofreaders in both languages will be required. InterNova also appreciates contacts with correpondents who could provide news about the sf production in their country or region. If you’re interested in a collaboration please contact editor Michael K. Iwoleit at <email@example.com>
Besides being a writer, you also offer translation services from German to English and English to German, and are a native German speaker. Do you feel this gives you a nearly unique perspective as a writer? Do you think it affects how you approach writing?
Well, I’m not completely unique, since there are a few writers who write in a language that is not their mother tongue, including a handful of Germans writing in English. And some of these writers are bound to be translators, since it’s a natural career choice for those who are fluent in two or more languages.
Regarding my translation work, I have done a bit of fiction, but the overwhelming majority of my translation work is non-fiction, business and tech translation, because that’s where the money and the work is. Even though it’s unfair that tech translation pays so much better than fiction translation, because fiction translation is very difficult to do well.
As for whether being bilingual and writing in a language that is not your mother tongue gives you a different perspective as a writer, it certainly does. First of all, being bilingual gives you a heightened sensitivity for language in general and improves grammar and vocabulary skills as well. There’s plenty of research to back this up. And since language transmits culture, being multilingual also heightens cultural awareness, which is extremely useful when writing about people (or if you’re an SF or fantasy writer, beings) that are different from yourself.
A curious side-effect of writing in a language that is not the language you grew up speaking at home and in school is that writing swearwords and the like won’t make you cringe. Because the sense of violating a taboo while swearing is something that we acquire in childhood and you only acquire it for whatever language the world around you is speaking during that time. But while I intellectually know which English words are considered very rude or even completely taboo, these words don’t evoke the visceral cringing that the equivalent German word would evoke.
Finally, writers are the sum of their influences. And due to having grown up in Germany (though I also spent part of my formative years in the U.S., the Netherlands and Singapore), I have a couple of influences e.g. British or American writers don’t have. I even wrote non-fiction articles on a few of those influences such as the Dr. Mabuse series, pulp heroes John Sinclair and Jerry Cotton and the German Edgar Wallace film adaptations of the 1960s. And of course these influences show up in my fiction, even though I have published only one story which is set in Germany (The Other Side of the Curtain, a spy novella set in 1960s East Germany) with another, a historical novelette set in the late Middle Ages in the Rhine-Moselle region, coming soon. – read the full interview.
Michael Iwoleit got in touch recently to tell us of an incredibly cool thing he’s organising – a virtual book reading in the world of Second Life, by 5 science fiction authors each from a different continent!
On May 5th an event will take place in Thorsten Küper’s and Kirsten Riehl’s steampunk location Kafé Kruemelkram that may be unique in the history of the 3d Internet world Second Life: Five science fiction writers from five continents, all writing in English, will read from their works live. The invited writers are:
For Asia: Guy Hasson (Israel)
For Africa: Jonathan Elorm Dotse (Ghana)
For Europe: Michael K. Iwoleit (Germany)
For South America: Gustavo Bondoni (Argentina)
For North America: Ahmed A. Khan (Canada)
Today on the WSB, Marcus Rauchfuss of Germany writes for us about his plans for a European Steampunk Convention.
ESC – The European Steampunk Convention
By Marcus Rauchfuss
Some weeks ago, I was twittering with Lavie and he suggested that what Europe needed was a big steampunk convention. Thus, the idea for ESC – The European Steampunk Convention was born.
The steampunk scene is active in Europe, more precisely, there are local, regional and in some cases country-wide scene active, but what we lack is something connecting us all. The European Steampunk Convention is there to change this. It will provide a means to bring all the steampunks in Europe together.
How it will happen:
Europe is a big and unfortunately politically divided place. It is not always easy or cheap to travel to another country; thus, we are choosing a different approach:
We are bringing the convention to you.
The date for the European Steampunk Convention will be September 29th – 30th 2012. There will be several events all across Europe. One major event will be The Second Steampunk and Gaslight Convention in Luxembourg. If all goes as planned, there will also be one or several things happening in Spain, France, Germany, Croatia, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Russia.
We are going to stream all these events into the internet so you can join in wherever you are. There will also be bands playing at some locations and we have planned for streaming the concerts, provided we can afford it.
So, all you need is internet access and ideally a webcam. There will be a virtual meeting place for all of us on the internet where we can connect. Of course it is more fun if you are surrounded by friends, but if you are the sole steampunk in your region, you can join us online!
What you can do:
If you can contribute, if you are a musician, a DJ, a technician, if you know, own or have access to a great location, get in touch.
Also, if you can provide mobile internet equipment, your assistance will be much appreciated. We are also obviously happy if people are willing to donate some funds, since thus far, the money is coming from our savings. The European Steampunk Convention will not be a commerical thing. And concerning this matter: If you know any reliable crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter which also accepts non-American projects, let us know. We cannot have our eyes everywhere.
And of course: You can spread the word!
Let us work together and create the first European Steampunk Convention!
How to get in touch:
You can find us on Facebook (LINK: http://www.facebook.com/pages/EuroSteamCon/187444791332522) and on our official site at http://eurosteamcon.com
German writer Cora Buhlert has a post on Women writers, international writers, marginalized writers well-worth reading:
There are the subtle and not so subtle assumptions that your grasp of the English language will be flawed, because you are not a native speaker (Read what Juliette Wade has to say about that here). This must be even more painful if English actually is your first language, because you come from one of the many countries around the world where English is an official language due to the legacy of British imperialism. The assumption that you are a bad writer because you don’t adhere to random (American) taboos regarding the use of adjective, the passive voice, complicated syntax or anything else that is considered “bad writing” by the edict of Messrs Strunk and White. The assumption that your characters and setting will be either too exotic for Anglo-American audiences or conversely not exotic enough. The assumption that you are only supposed to write a certain kind of story, because that’s the sort of story expected from someone of your ethnic and national background (I would probably have no problems selling an urban fantasy about evil Nazi werewolves in Berlin – provided I would actually want to write one). The feeling that all the discussions about diversity within the SFF genre, while valuable and important, are still largely US-centric and don’t address your situation at all.
When I first started submitting, I was always very open about my nationality. In those days of postal submissions, I figured editors could tell where I was from anyway just by looking at the colourful stamps on the envelope. And besides, I naively thought “As long as the story is good, what does it matter where the writer is from?” In those days, a few of my stories were set in Germany (I never wrote very many German set stories, because Germany isn’t all that interesting to me). Others were set in Belgium or the Netherlands (I wrote urban fantasy set in Antwerp before I even knew the term “urban fantasy”). I wrote SF featuring Germans, Poles, Dutchmen, Finns, Danes, Greeks, Turks, etc… in space. And none of them sold.
Of course, it’s likely that those stories didn’t sell because they simply weren’t very good. In fact, it’s very likely. However, over time I also began to suspect that my nationality and the unconventional settings were an additional strike against me. Because why would anybody want to buy an urban fantasy set in the secret underground world of Antwerp or a fantasy about river spirits in the Ardennes, when some ninety percent of the readership wouldn’t even be able to locate those places on a map. Of course, as an international reader was always expected to be interested in urban fantasies set in Milwaukee or Cleveland – cities I can locate on a map but don’t know anything about otherwise. But the reverse obviously wasn’t true. – continue reading!
Islamscifi.com interview Achmed Khammas:
Backgound: This is the first interview in a series of interviews with Muslim Science Fiction authors and people who have written about Sciene Fiction with Islamic themes. Achmed Adolf Wolfgang Khammas has written on the subject of the lack of Science Fiction in Arabic Literature and has written Sciene Fiction stories himself. Achmed was born in Berlin in 1952 to a German mother and Iraqi father and grew up in Damascus. Currently he is also active in the field of sustainable energy.
Ahcmed Khammas’s Official Website: http://www.khammas.de/
M. Aurangzeb: You have written about the lack of Futurism in Arabic literature. Do you think the literary culture is going to change in the future?
Achmed: Off course I HOPE – but I can’t believe it … because of the lack of scientific thinking in the whole society. There are nearly ZERO new innovations, inventions, patents in the Arabic world. Also there is a BIG lack on the practical side. No modern industry, so everybody use imported mobile phones… but 99% don’t know ANYTHING about how they work, this is just ONE example.
M. Aurangzeb: What types of cultures do you think are more receptive to Science Fiction?
Achmed: Any cultures with a solid ground of good education, technical-industrial interest and understanding, open mind, forward thinking etc.
M. Aurangzeb: Outside of the Arab world what scope do you think Science Fiction has in the Muslim world?
Achmed: I can’t tell because I never lived there.
M. Aurangzeb: You also write Science Fiction yourself, can you please tell us about your work?
Achmed: I wrote half a dozen short stories since the 1980ies but never find the time for a novel. Also I started with sketches for a big ‘parallel-world’ work playing around 1830 at the time of Muhammad Ali in Egypt. I write only in German, because this is my first language.
My Stories are mostly ironic – and show sometimes religious influence. ‘Der Wettbewerb’ (The competition) is about the coming of the Messiah ,this is a part of my real life also, as ‘Mohammed Superstar’ tell the story of cloning the prophet Muhammad.
M. Aurangzeb: What attracted you to Science Fiction in the first place?
Achmed: It opens my mind to new and newer and brand new ideas. Every story or novel is a kind of simulation of the recent world of today. Other people need to travel far away on holiday to recover. I only need a new space opera on 600 pages to read to be completely recovered.
M. Aurangzeb: What is your favorite Science Fiction author and why?
Achmed: Well – I think I will give an unconventional answer: They are some German authors as Wolfgang Jeschke (for his marvellous ‘Der letzte Tag der Schöpfung’ about the USA triying to steal the Arabian oil 65 million years back in the past) and Thomas R. P. Mielke (for his ‘Grand Orientale 3301’ in which the retarded Europe sells windpower-made electricity to the high developed arab countries).
M. Aurangzeb: Currently you are also involved in work related to sustainable development, can you please tell us about it and does Science Fiction inform this work or vice versa?
Achmed: And yes – in SF you find a lot of new ideas concerning energy … also you can notice the influence of renewable technologies on the modern authors. As example there is a great novel by Andreas Eschbach ‘Ausgebrannt’ (Burn out) about the ending of the Saudi Oil and the influence of this matter on modern German society. You can also have a look on my synergy website.*
M. Aurangzeb: Any words of advice for writers of Arab or Muslim background who might be interested in writing Science Fiction?
Achmed: Oh yes!! I would advice them to READ, to read, to read… and not ONLY Science Fiction. But they should as much as they could – and in any possible language. I mean, there are universes and universes of written imagination and not only Star Wars – or Matrix!. Then they should try to stay up to date in scientific development, also through reading in pages, newsletters, magazines etc. There happens SO MUCH recently that as a sci-fi writer you have to write quick … before reality pass by :-))
* Note: Achmed is referring the following website in German http://www.buch-der-synergie.de/ The following video clip has some information about his work with English subtitles: http://www.buch-der-synergie.de/trailer.html
So, what was science fiction literature like in Nazi-Germany? That is not an easy question to answer as there has not a lot been written about the subject. Texts about German SF usually end in 1933 and start again 1945. It seems the topic is still somewhat taboo, but equally might stem from the fact that the books are not widely available anymore.
From what little I can gather, a few characteristics can be identified. The Zukunftsroman from Weimar times continues. Some of the books of Hans Dominik (in reprints as well as some of his later works) become bestsellers. In general, there are no books about meeting aliens from outer space, but there are lots of books about high technology, ranging from slightly exaggerated but already existing things (an even faster fighter plane!) to ‘Wunderwaffen’ [‘wonder weapons’] such as heat-rays or gigantic rockets. It was more the continuation of the technological futuristic novel already popular before 1933.
A couple of years earlier came Hans Heycks (1891 – 1972) novel Deutschland ohne Deutsche [Germany Without Germans, 1929] in which evil Jews have taken over Germany. But at the end of the day the Fatherland is saved by the ingenuity of a German engineer.
I have tried finding for a utopian novel from a Nazi point-of-view. But there seems not have been a lot of these. One can argue that the whole Nazi ideology had (from its perspective) utopian elements, with their racial views and their plans of World domination. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, who was an occultist, believed the ‘Arian race’ stemmed directly from the people of Atlantis and went to great length in trying to prove that: in those days there were a lot of real-life, mad scientists about as well who indulged Himmler… – read the full article.
Over an Concatenation (a very valuable resource), there is an article entitled Unseen Mainland European SF Classics which was “written as a precursor to the Euroconference Odyssey 2010 in London and a panel on this topic”. They highlight various works from France, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Russia, and Spain.
Here’s an excerpt:
If you happen to frequent many of the various major international SF gatherings, be they in France, Russia, or wherever, the chances are that a good proportion of SF books in the dealers hall will be by British and North American authors. Indeed if you go to that very Anglophone of conventions, the SF Worldcon, then virtually 99% of the books on sale in the dealers hall will be in English by English-speaking writers even if their nationality is Scottish, Canadian or Australian, let alone English. What you do not see in British and N. American bookshops (outside of French-speaking Canada) that often are foreign SF/F books translated from another language. Yet all mainland European countries, and nations further afield, have a substantial history of SF publishing and many have had SF and fantasy classics that have sold well over the years.