The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany and Austriaby Franz Rottensteiner
This entertaining anthology delivers great reading and an overview of German-language science fiction, including works by the “German father of science fiction” Kurd Lasswitz, the Austrian writer Ludwig Hevesi (author of “Jules Verne in Hell”), the fantasist Paul Scheerbart (a scurrilous, idiosyncratic writer who was an outsider in both
This entertaining anthology delivers great reading and an overview of German-language science fiction, including works by the “German father of science fiction” Kurd Lasswitz, the Austrian writer Ludwig Hevesi (author of “Jules Verne in Hell”), the fantasist Paul Scheerbart (a scurrilous, idiosyncratic writer who was an outsider in both literature and science fiction), popular writers Otto Willi Gail and Hans Dominik, as well as the contemporary luminaries of the genre: Wolfgang Jeschke, Herbert W. Franke, Andreas Eschbach, and Carl Amery. The introduction by the editor gives a succinct history of German language science fiction, including its representation in Hugo Gernsback’s popular magazines. With select bibliographies of German language science fiction and writings on German science fiction, this book will be appreciated by scholars and general readers alike.
Handsomely equipped with a comprehensive introductory historical essay, editor's notes and selected bibliography, this distinguished anthology is a model of genre research. These previously untranslated stories, published from 1871 onward, offer reading virtually unknown to most American (and many German) readers. Some authors combine scientific and philosophical issues, like Kurd Lasswitz in his witty tale "To the Absolute Zero of Existence: A Story from 2371," while others, as in Erik Simon's 1983 title story, pose psychological puzzles involving alien phenomena. Though the earlier stories in particular demand painstaking reading, all of them repay it with rewarding insights into German and Austrian culture and the many possible uses and misuses of science. (Dec.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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THE BLACK MIRROR AND OTHER STORIESAn Anthology of Science Fiction form Germany & Austria
WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2008 Mike Mitchell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneKURD LASSWITZ
"To the Absolute Zero of Existence: A Story from 2371" ("Bis zum Nullpunkt des Seins. Kulturbildliche Skizze aus dem 23. Jahrhundert"), Germany, 1871
Kurd Lasswitz's Pictures from the Future (Bilder aus der Zukunft) was published in 1878 and was printed twice by 1879, but the two individual stories that comprise the volume appeared much earlier in newspapers. "To the Absolute Zero of Existence: A Story from 2371" appeared in two parts in Schlesische Zeitung (no. 283 of June 21, 1871, and no. 289 of June 24, 1871) and "Against the Law of the Universe: A Story from the 39th Century" ("Gegen das Weltgesetz. Erzählung aus dem 39. Jahrhundert") appeared in Schlesische Presse (no. 216 to no. 261, from March 27 to April 15, 1877). While Lasswitz's later collections were -reprinted regularly, Pictures from the Future had no later reprints during the author's lifetime, which suggests that he thought little of them. But they do contain some important ideas. For example, in his introduction to the volume, Lasswitz gives a first sketch of his ideas about what SF should be. He explains that, if what a story of the future tells us is to be believable, it must be related to reality and remain closely connected to experience. From the events of cultural history and the current state of science, he says, one may draw various conclusions about the future, and in so doing analogy should be used as the natural ally of imagination.
Lasswitz wrote the first tale as early as 1869 as a young man of twenty-one, and although the story has some features of a student joke (in the naming of the characters, for instance), the story already treats philosophical issues of the parallel evolutions of science, technology, and ethics. What is the relationship of science and art, of rationality and emotion? Oxygen Warm-Bubbel, a "weather manufacturer," is a Down-to-Earther and technocratic rationalist, whereas Aromasia Scentisson-Ozodes, a celebrated artist on the "odorchord," the "odor-piano," and the poet Magnet Rhymert-Overtone are philosophic "Visionaries" ("Innerliche"), humanists who believe in the superiority of the emotions. Aromasia, the woman between the two men, dies in an accident caused by Oxygen who in remorse then commits suicide by having himself catapulted into space. The first chapter of this tale was translated by Emil Pohli in the Bellamy issue of The Overland Monthly in 1890. The story had its greatest influence in Sweden, where Claes Lundin published the novel Oxygen och Aromasia, "bilder fr?n ?r 2378" in 1878. In Lasswitz's story there are airvelocipedes, weather-control, artificial food, public kitchens for everyone, news from all over the world on billboards, a fashionable dance called "the hullu-kullu," spaceships built of an anti-gravity substance, and many other speculations.
The second and longer tale, "Against the Law of the Universe," is even richer. In it Lasswitz imagines "brain schools" in which the brain is conditioned directly; perfectly straight tunnels in the Earth's crust, through which vehicles driven by gravity move in vacuum tubes; "diaphot," a substance that conveys invisibility; an "integrating machine," a sort of computer; suspended animation; sleep-teaching; and the story already speculates that specific humans might be created genetically for different uses (predating Huxley's Brave New World by more than fifty years).
All the innovative ideas that Sam Moskowitz lists for Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124 C 41+ (1911) (save radar, but then Lasswitz wrote before the discoveries of Hertz, Marconi et al.) already can be found in these two Lasswitz short stories and in his novel Two Planets (Auf zwei Planeten, 1897). It is therefore very likely that Gernsback was strongly influenced by Lasswitz's fictions.
TO THE ABSOLUTE ZERO OF EXISTENCE: A STORY FROM 2371 by kurd lasswitz
I. The Odorchord
On a beautiful summer's day in 2371 Aromasia was sitting in her garden dreamily staring up into the blue. Her eyes followed the little dark clouds that suddenly formed here and there in the atmosphere and sent down a shower of rain. Or she watched the flying carriages and airovelocipedes that filled the broad road at her feet with a brightly colored throng. Aromasia's garden, you see, was on the roof of her house, at the airy height of about a hundred meters above the ground.
It had proved necessary to raise the dwelling houses to such enormous heights and install the gardens above them because space at ground level had to be reserved for agriculture. The earth had become so densely populated that, in order to avoid famine, all available land had to be devoted to growing grain and feeding animals. Thus at ground level fields of grain waved wherever the air and light were suitable. The buildings towered over them, on tall, solid columns, with the bustle of industry on the lower floors. Higher up were apartments and the whole was crowned by pleasant gardens, the open and healthy aspect of which made them a popular resort.
The fact that the buildings were fifteen to twenty-five stories high was no inconvenience, since the standard means of transport was the air-carriage, and if someone really wanted to go out on foot, the stairs had been replaced by excellent raising and lowering contrivances. In the cities-which were countless in number-the separate stories were connected by walkways along the façades. They were convenient but-as is usual, though the reason is not always clear-high society found them beneath their dignity. They were only used by tradesmen and servants. Within the cities it was also considered improper, indeed, it was against the law, to fly the lightweight vehicles higher than roof level or over private property. Naturally there were those who willfully ignored this requirement. Earlier, during the barbarous New Middle Ages, young males in their cups were not averse to getting up to all kinds of mischief with doorbells and signs, and even now morning could reveal a window with beautiful pictures glued over it or a neatly wrapped bouquet going down the chimney.
Aromasia Scentisson Ozodes, the highly respected musician, gave a soft sigh after she had once more scrutinized the numerous aircabs in vain.
"Wherever can Oxygen be?" she softly complained in the melodious sounds of the German language. Although for normal intercourse people used the recently introduced Universal Language almost exclusively, the tender emotions were still expressed in the sweet sounds of a person's original mother tongue.
"It's odd," she went on, "that he hasn't hurried over to see me as he usually does. Forty-eight minutes and seventy seconds past nine already. And Magnet hasn't arrived either but, then, poets are never punctual. He's doubtless composing a gruntolet and that takes time."
The gruntolet is the new type of poetry, combining all the merits of the sonnet, the ghazel, the Alcaic strophe, and the three-volume novel, but it can unfortunately only be created in the modern Universal Language, since its main attraction comes from alliteration and rhyme combining, through self-destruction, to produce a new form, "the sound-squeeze that eternally returns to itself."
Now Aromasia picked up the double-barreled telescope beside her and looked keenly at a point in the suburbs about twenty-five kilometers away. One of those aforementioned little clouds was just rising above it.
"It's Oxygen," she said to herself, reassured, lowering the telescope. "I recognize his airmobile. So he's busy and will arrive later. So I'll have to find something to pass the time until he comes. To my faithful instrument, then. Let the mighty thoughts of the great scent maestros while away the time and carry my soul o into realms of perfect bliss."
She went over to the descendator and a few seconds later was in her tastefully decorated room. In the middle was an instrument resembling a pianino. She raised the lid and started to play the odorchord. Soon she was reveling in the glorious fragrances of a fantasy by Smellwright and the room was filled with harmonious odors.
The odorchord or scent-keyboard was invented by an Italian by the name of Odorato in 2094 and had been considerably improved over the years, reflecting the advances in chemistry. Aromasia's instrument had been constructed in a German factory and was distinguished by its great range of smells, which stretched from the lowest level-the musty reek of cellars and mold-to attar of onion, an extremely delicate fragrance that was only discovered in 2369. Pressure on a key opened the corresponding odorometer and a sophisticated mechanism dampened, spread, or blended the odors.
After music had been brought to such a peak of perfection that the ear could not bear any more, attention had turned to the nose, which had been disgracefully neglected. Among humans the sensitivity of the olfactory organ was degenerating, but why could not something be done about that? No other sense has such a vivid eect on our association of ideas as that of smell; what more obvious than to make aesthetic use of this by arousing specific images and sensations. The characteristics and eects of smells were studied, the laws of their harmony and disharmony elaborated, initially by empirical investigation, the theory was developed only later; chemistry made the production of the necessary aromas ever cheaper and after the odorchord had been demonstrated, at first as a curiosity, to general amazement, it quickly established itself in the family home.
The great masters of aromatic art, first of all Naso Odorato, then Stinkerling, Mrs Snier, Smellwright, and Aromasia's parents, Herr Scentisson and Frau Ozodes, a Greek, produced pieces for the odorchord that could be compared to the compositions of the greatest musicians, so that very soon the odorchord, which had a captivating eect when combined with the human voice, was as commonplace in people's houses as pianos had been five hundred years previously. Sons and daughters spent their idle hours aromatizing away on it and neighbors complained about the "stinkards" whose excessive odor gave them noseache, just as, centuries ago, people had complained about loud piano-playing.
But Aromasia Scentisson Ozodes was an artist. Her odorant chords took powerful hold of the listener. Snapweed, lilac, and roses bore the dreamer o into the fair days of summer and young love, but these scents gradually fade, we feel we are confronted with withered flowers and a blend of jasmine and chives fills the soul with infinite melancholy. And then, from afar o, we smell, through this melancholy, the scorn, the thoughtlessness of the faithless lover in the aroma of wine; we are more and more enveloped in alcoholic fumes-then, suddenly, like a cry of horror, a discordant odor! It is gunpowder, then the dank air of the tomb ... Once more the odorant chords return, in boundless sorrow, then they fade in silent resignation ... Aromasia's hands sank from the keys. Immediately she felt them grasped and covered in fiery kisses.
Unnoticed, Magnet Rhymert-Overtone had airovelocipeded in by the open window and fallen at her feet, his soul still aquiver from the eect of Aromasia's playing.
Like everyone else, Magnet had a double-barreled surname. As women were equal with men before the law, the children kept both their mother's and their father's name. When they married, daughters dropped their father's name, sons their mother's, replacing it with that of their spouse.
Rhymert-Overtone was also an artist, a poet. We would call him a crude realist, but in those times he was looked on as an extravagant idealist and a soppy romantic to boot. He still saw things from the point of view of the poets of the twenty-third century, who looked back nostalgically to the age of steam, to those days when men were still compelled to look up at the mountains. He despaired of the power of poetry in an age that idolized practical reason and envied the time of the New Middle Age, when it did not matter if you believed in miracles and conversed with spirits that rapped on tables. One innovation of his, which was a valuable contribution to the art of literature, was to introduce strict scientific and technical terms for processes into poetry, in place of the so-called poetic expressions belonging to an out-of-date approach. He wrote most of his poetry in German, only using the Universal Language for his gruntolets.
"O Aromasia!" he cried. "Most sublime odorchordist of the twenty-fourth century! Every state of oscillation of my brain cells is yours, every nerve fiber of my spinal cord vibrates for you! As the meadows sigh for the sun's beams, when they are predominantly absorbed by the evaporated water filling the morning air, so the delicate membranes of my nose quiver to sense the scents of your odorchord!"
"Behave yourself, Magnet," replied Aromasia, wagging her finger at him. "You're forgetting our agreement again. Your adoration is permitted-but within the limits of decorum. You really deserve to have my fiancé drench you in a cold shower of rain. I'll ask Oxygen to see to it."
"Cruel lady! I fear no precipitation-the living power of my hot blood will drive the water molecules apart."
"We'll wait and see. You know yourself how much you exaggerate. Your flattery sounds like mockery, for I am too well aware of the insufficiency of my own powers, which cannot match the ideals of my nose. Where is the profound thought of a Smellwright in my insipid odorizing? Just olfact this simple progression from the aromatic triad through minor semiscents to the final odorence. A simple sequence, but it expresses so much: power, courage, strength, the roar of bulls, the whole history of the invention of the electrically powered velocimobile, human greatness, storms, a vintner's dance, even the elements of the course of the nineteen-eighty comet. Only a Richard Smellwright can do that."
"You're too modest. Have you yourself not portrayed the triumph of criticalism over materialism and the completion of the Nicaragua Canal on the odorchord?"
"Feeble eorts. Oh, Magnet, when will the master appear who will create the odor-drama of the future? Smellwright? He lacks the power to shape language-oh, Magnet, why are you not an aromatician?"
"Because unfortunately I'm only a poet, and a poor one at that. But you shouldn't be looking for our ideals in the future-go back to the past."
"Oh come now, Shakespeare, Goethe ..."
"No, much too antiquated. But Anthony Stoker and his tragedy The Last Locomotive! There's poetry for you! Remember the final scene with Droner's music-I believe the odorchord accompaniment is by Stinkerling-the boiler exploding, the poor engineer perishing, torn between saving lives and preserving the railway company's property, catapulted up into the air, among the wreckage, after he's already lost one leg and his jawbone, then crashing down on the cars.
O steam thou holdst thy breath in vain, The air-brakes cannot stop the train. We crash-and farewell to my leg ...
"When the curtain falls with the squeal of the brakes continuing in the music-then you know what poetry can do. And I can't even manage to translate a miserable gruntolet into German."
"But you do manage to raise a few sensitive souls above the routine of everyday life and to feel independent of the confusing opinions of the crowd. That is what I value in our art."
"Not everyone would agree with that. The party that calls itself "The Down-to-Earthers" maintain that progress is only possible through the spread of reason, that it is only our intellectual development, which has emancipated us from dependence on nature, that can liberate us from our passions and guide humanity toward moral perfection. They even claim it is science alone we have to thank for our high level of ethical culture, our tolerance, our forbearance, our purity of outlook."
"Magnet, this is an unfortunate moment to remind me of that wretched conflict between the parties that aects us all so deeply. You know that is the only point of dierence between me and Oxygen, the only matter on which our opinions diverge. But I can't help it, however much I love my fiancé. It is my most profound conviction that it is solely the influence of the arts that is responsible for improvements in morality and the furtherance of civilization. Only too often does that dierence in opinion lead to bitter argument, and I fear ..."
Excerpted from THE BLACK MIRROR AND OTHER STORIES Copyright © 2008 by Mike Mitchell. Excerpted by permission.
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Gary Wolfe, author of The Known and the Unknown
Meet the Author
FRANZ ROTTENSTEINER has written and edited many books in the fields of science fiction and fantasy, including The Fantasy Book: An Illustrated History from Dracula to Tolkien (1978), View From Another Shore: European Science Fiction (1999), and The Best of Austrian Science Fiction (2001). He lives in Vienna, Austria. MIKE MITCHELL has translated over 50 books. He was awarded the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translation of Herbert Rosendorfer’s Letters Back to Ancient China (1997) and lives in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland.
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