VIEW FROM ANOTHER SHORE
Liverpool University Press
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Every few years, the American science fiction community seems to discover that science fiction can exist outside the Anglophonic world. This discovery usually means the publication of works such as The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories (1989), Science Fiction from China (1989) or Tales from Planet Earth (1986). Once lip service has been paid to non-English science fiction, the knowledge that SF can exist in other languages seems to be relegated to the occasional coverage in Locus or the reprinted novels of Stanislaw Lem.
In 1973, Franz Rottensteiner, an European science fiction anthologist, published the anthology View from Another Shore, a collection of twelve stories representing the science fictional traditions of eight European countries ranging from France and Germany to Denmark and Romania. Liverpool University Press has elected to republish this collection with entirely new introductory material supplied by Rottensteiner.
In his introduction, Rottersteiner argues that European science fiction has not managed to make inroads into the English-speaking market because of the disappearance of the backlist and a curious dislike by booksellers of foreign novels. This latter doesn't explain the success of authors such as Italo Calvino and Gabriel García Márquez.
Whether this argument is effective can only be judged by the content of the stories he has selected to illustrate his contentions. Unfortunately, he does not provide an explanation for the selection of any individual piece, and even his explanation of why he chose particular authors is limited to his discussion of Stanislaw Lem in the introduction.
The reader is informed that Rottersteiners introduction was written for this new edition with the implication that it replaces an original introduction. Unfortunately, Liverpool University Press did not see fit to include both introductions to allow the reader to see how Rottersteiners opinion of the state of European science fiction, or the stories included, may have changed over a quarter century.
The stories demonstrate that the source material for European science fiction is as broad as it is for English science fiction, with stories taking their inspiration from Greek mythology ("Sisyphus, the Son of Aeolus") to science fiction, itself ("Captain Nemos Last Adventure").
All of the authors represented in View from Another Shore were born prior to World War II. While this is most likely due to the original publication date of the anthology, twenty-six years later it begs the question of whether there are any rising stars in European science fiction or if the field has stagnated, as Rottersteiner implies in his introduction. The age of the stories also means that the European science fiction which they represent is dated compared to English language science fiction, a perhaps unfair comparison given the age of the stories. However, since they are being re-presented in 1999, they must stand up to the stories which are currently being published.
Although Stanislaw Lem is, perhaps, the most well-known non-Anglophonic author since Jules Verne, "In Hot Pursuit of Happiness" is not a particularly good example of his writing. It also supports most of the (negative) comments about Lems writing which Rottersteiner made in his introduction to the anthology. Given those comments, it is surprising that Rottersteiner elected to lead off the anthology with this story about Lems geniuses Trurl and Klapaucius. This story supports the idea that Lem writes science fiction the way Kurt Vonnegut does. The science is non-existence and the characters are flat. By portraying humans and their society in the terms these authors do, they hope to satirize by demonstrating how inane existence is.
"The Valley of Echoes" is a desolate region of an unpopulated Mars in Francophone Gérard Kleins story of a trio of men exploring the red planet. Set in a world in which the problems of Earth have become unbearable, scientists on Mars attempt to ignore all the problems of home while looking for signs of a lost civilization. The idea of finding remnants of an extinct race as a symbol of hope is intriguing, although Klein does not follow it through as thoroughly as he perhaps should have. By telling the story in the past tense, as many of the other authors in the collection do, Klein puts an additional separation between the reader and the events he relates.
French author J.-P. Andrevon places two humans in captivity in "Observations of Quadragnes." This is an idea which has been done before and since and will surely be done in the future. In this case, the male is an uneducated American drunkard while the female is a French housewife. Andrevon cycles between their own thoughts and those of the aliens. The humans do not share a common language and are unable to fully communicate with each other and Andrevons womans attempts at rationalizing set this story apart from many others of its kind.
"The Good Ring" is a mixture of Voltaires Candide and the multiple worlds theory. Danish author Svend Åge Madsen writes about Stig, a farmer who is very different from the majority of science fiction heroes. After finding a magic ring, Stig finds himself with strange creatures who can create worlds and they give +him the chance to view his own life on each of three other worlds.
Writing in German, Herbert W. Franke posits a far future world in which mankind is, apparently, confined to undersea settlements as the survivors have escaped the surface pollution and radioactivity in "Slum." A recent expedition to the surface has yielded several fatalities, but also some surprising discoveries as evolution and mutation appear to have overtaken the animals which still inhabit the surface. Frankes story fits the post-apocalyptic mood quite well.
"The Land of Osiris" by German author Wolfgang Jeschke tells of a postapocalyptic Africa from which the Europeans have been practically eradicated. Jack Feynman is on a safari to attempt to discover what the current state of Egypt is. Many of the mistakes which were made during the European colonial period in Africa appear to be made again.
European space opera is the order of the day in Czech author Josef Nesvadbas "Captain Nemos Last Adventure," whose heros name is an acknowledged homage to Jules Verne. In addition to including regional Czech jokes, Nesvadba has his Captain Nemo make first contact with aliens. "Captain Nemos Last Adventure" suffers from a problem which appears all too frequently in this anthology. Rather than actually showing the characters actions or thoughts, there is too much explanation of the background and the characters activities.
Even non-English science fiction seems fixated on the United States. Romanian author Adrian Rogozs "The Altar of the Random Gods," or at least Matthew J. OConnells translation of it, is set, for no apparent reason, between Mobile and Huntsville, Alabama. While fleeing the breakup of his marriage, Homer Hidden becomes involved in an extremely unlikely accident and Rogoz creates a situation which is reminiscent of Douglas Adamss later "Infinite Improbability Drive."
Writing in 1963, Italian Lino Aldani predicts the rise of virtual reality in "Good Night, Sophie," about an oneirofilm (VR) star who is beginning to question the received belief that dreaming, in the form of her films are better than real life. This cogniscent story addresses an issue which the world faces, even more closely in 1999. The storys one drawback is the amount of information which Aldani needs to get to the reader and his decision to do so by having it explained to Sophie Barlow, who should already know everything she is being told.
Views from Another Shore ends with three stories written in the former Soviet Union.
Sever Gansovskys "The Proving Ground" begins as a war story with troops preparing a remote island for their maneuvers. Eventually, Gansovsky reveals an automated tank which responds to brain waves, targeting fear and hate for its shells. As the full import of the new invention becomes clear to the military men who were sent to evaluate the tank, they all respond in different ways. Despite being a story born in the Cold War (1969), "The Proving Ground" still resonates thirty years after its initial publication.
Vsevelod Ivanovs "Sisyphus, the Son of Aeolus" is set, as the name would suggest, in ancient Greece, specifically the Greece immediately following the death of Alexander. The story revolves around Polyander, who has been mustered out without appreciation by Alexanders successor, Cassander. Returning to his home in Corinth, Polyander comes across the giant Sisyphus, still pushing a stone uphill. Polyander sees in Sisyphus a means for avenging himself against Cassander and gaining a position of power in an empire to rival Alexanders.
Sergei Kladesev is "A Modest Genius" in Vadim Shefners story of the same name. Although he can and does invent many objects with little effort, he does not have any way of promoting their use or turning them out in quantities which would benefit the state. Instead, the thrill of invention is its own reward even as his own life fails to meet the potential which it has. Half the fun of the story is the various inventions which Sergei creates and Shefners ability to dismiss them so quickly.
|Stanislaw Lem||In Hot Pursuit of Happiness||Polish / 1971|
|Gérard Klein||The Valley of Echoes||French / 1966|
|J.-P. Andrevon||Observation of Quadragnes||French / 1971|
|Svend Åge Madsen||The Good Ring||Danish / 1970|
|Herbert W. Franke||Slum||German / 1970|
|Wolfgang Jeschke||The Land of Osiris||German / 1982|
|Josef Nesvadba||Captain Nemo's Last Adventure||Czech / 1964|
|Adrian Rogoz||The Altar of Random Gods||Romanian / 1970|
|Lino Aldani||Good Night, Sophie||Italian / 1963|
|Sever Gansovsky||The Proving Ground||Russian / 1969|
|Vsevolod Ivanov||Sisyphus, the Son of Aeolus||Russian / 1970|
|Vadim Shefner||A Modest Genius||Russian / 1968|
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