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Editorials of InterNova 1 & 2

by Michael K. Iwoleit

InterNova 1

That the three editors of a small, low-circulation German SF magazine have made the leap – which is undeniably a leap of faith – to start a new English-language SF magazine with stories from all over the world, surely demands an explanation. It is even more surprising since their home country is the least probable place for such a project to originate.

Germany has never been an El Dorado for science fiction magazines. Numerous attempts to present current German language SF writing on a regular base have failed due to economic problems, weak distribution channels, lack of support, manpower and reader response. Alien Contact in Berlin, perhaps the most important effort of the last two decades, ceased publishing its printed edition a few years ago and is now an online magazine, still of some influence on the scene. Despite the best-seller success of Andreas Eschbach – the major exception – German science fiction as a whole is on a slow retreat into small publishing projects of little or no commercial standing. It’s not the worst that could have happened. Times have changed. Information spread via Internet has offered a chance to find readers for even the most esoteric publications. Print on demand book production allows special interest projects, too risky in earlier times, to be started with an extremely low budget. It was only a matter of time before some incorrigible optimists attempted, perhaps foolishly, to provide German SF with its own story magazine.

In 2002 Ronald M. Hahn – one of the best-known SF writers, translators and editors in Germany – Helmuth W. Mommers – who after thirty years of a business career in Spain had his comeback on the scene the same year – and Michael K. Iwoleit – now recognised as one of the up and coming German SF writers of his generation – joined forces to found Nova, the German counterpart of the magazine you hold in your hands. Now in its third year, Nova has already contributed to the revitalisation of German science fiction and is on its way to fill the gap left by Alien Contact. Some even claim that the appearance of Nova has prevented many German writers from completely losing their interest in SF storywriting.

From early on, part of Nova’s concept was to present in each issue either an interesting classic reprint or a story by a foreign guest writer. Well-known writers such as Greg Egan and Brian W. Aldiss were so kind to ease Nova’s birth pangs with story donations. Starting with two contributions from Croatia in Nova 5, however, we became more and more interested in the small, neglected SF scenes outside of the English language area, many of which have a lot in common with the constant struggles and crises of German science fiction. Contacts with writers and some research into their local SF production soon made us aware of the remarkable richness of top-quality science fiction rarely published outside of their writers’ home countries. Not since Frederik Pohl’s shortliving magazine International Science Fiction in the late Sixties has there been any attempt to make a selection of these writings available in a specialised magazine.

It’s just a year ago that we started to approach foreign colleagues with our idea to give it another try. Doubting ourselves that there was any real chance of starting such a project, we were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, support and engagement with which our idea was met. InterNova, as the baby was finally called, soon developed into a true collective effort of SF writers, translators, and experts in more than twenty countries. It may be unfair to name just a few, but we don’t want to miss the chance to thank especially those who in the early phases of planing provided help and contacts: Guy Hasson and Lavie Tidhar in Israel, Zdenko Vlainic and Aleksandar Ziljak in Croatia, Richard Kunzmann in South Africa, Andreas Eschbach, Usch Kiausch and Uwe Luserke in Germany, the Indian-born Vandana Singh in the USA and Wu Yan in Beijing. Eric Brown deserves our warmest gratitude for a thorough proof-reading of this first issue and Brian Aldiss, always an inspiring supporter of unusual projects such as ours, for writing an introduction. The news that there’s a true international science magazine now is spreading and each week new writers from further countries join in. We hope you will enjoy the fine stories in this first issue, but it’s surely not too daring to promise that the best is yet to come.

InterNova is not meant to be an esoteric, closed-minded effort, complaining about the influence and commercial power of Anglo-American science fiction and restricting itself to anything that is somehow strange and exotic. Crosscultural collaboration purely as an expression of political correctness is not our kind of thing. We don’t deny that the level of professionalism of the best English language SF writers provides a good standard for any SF writer, be it from Latin America or South East Asia. Writers from USA, Britain, Canada or Australia, and those strongly influenced by Anglo-American genre writing, will not be absent in InterNova. We hope, however, that now and then we will present writers who, starting from the base of solid contemporary SF storytelling, have advanced to something new, unique and surprising, expressing the depth of their own literary and cultural heredity. Some impressive examples of what we are looking for are already present in this first issue of InterNova.

InterNova 2

There are two hearts beating in the chest of an sf writer. Let’s call them the fine art spirit and the underground soul.

That science fiction can be a kind of art and should be judged as such was first introduced into sf criticism by James Blish and Damon Knight. Anybody who has not completely ignored the growth of modern science fiction should be grateful for the refinement of form and language that they instilled in the genre. Critics have often remarked that science fiction lags decades behind the styles and techniques of modern literary fiction. The influence of Knight and Blish, and other seminal writers as diverse as Tiptree, Wilhelm, Malzberg, Carter Scholz, M. John Harrison, has narrowed the gap somewhat – which is not to say that the gap has disappeared. It’s still hard to find science fiction writers who have matured to the level of depth and sophistication that’s to find, for example, in the rich and diverse American short story culture – say, in works by John Updike or Philip Roth – or in contemporary Japanese fiction. Anybody interested in the further development of science fiction writing should keep this in mind.

On the other hand, it would be foolish to deny that some of the major roots of science fiction reach back into the gloomy twilight of traditions such as the adventure story, the phantastic travel tale or, especially important, the Gothic novel. Being an heir to such traditions – which are often regarded as subliterate by literary historians, but have nevertheless contributed substantially to ideas, images and themes of modern literature and art – is one of the sources of energy and creativity present in even the most refined sf writer. To a certain degree, science fiction writing is a constant re-considering, re-inventing and re-creation of its pulpy imagery, of wild ideas and crazy plots. It might even be argued that science fiction would lose its identity if it tried to cut loose from its underground heritage (and considering much of what is presented as fine art science fiction today, one may see where this can lead).

One of the classic battles between the fine art spirit and the underground soul in science fiction was Damon Knight’s thorough and devastating examination of one of the most famous novels in the history of our genre, A.E. van Vogt’s The World of Null-A. It can hardly be denied that Knight has demonstrated convincingly what a masterpiece of bad language, ridiculous characters, and confusing, incoherent plot this book in fact is. But it also cannot be denied that without van Vogt’s influence the careers of three major science fiction writers would have been unthinkable, and that each of them has re-created and transcended van Vogt’s novel in his own way. We’re talking, of course, of Philip K. Dick and his first novel Solar Lottery (which has been called the “best novel never written by van Vogt”), of Charles L. Harness and his underrated masterpiece Flight into Yesterday (aka The Paradox Men), and most importantly, of Alfred Bester and The Stars My Destination.

Science fiction, then, is a hybrid bastard that vividly encompasses contradictions. The largest of these, and the most important to our magazine, is that science fiction has grown into an international mode of expression, practiced today in almost every geographical area in the world, but nevertheless still dominated by Anglo-American writers. Most sf writers outside the English-speaking world feel this contradiction within themselves: without the inspiration of Anglo-American sf they probably would never have started writing science fiction at all; its commercial dominance, however, makes it hard to find one’s own voice and to makea living as an sf writer. Fortunately, such contradictions can be a source of creativity, and a challenge to find one’s individual style. That there are unique voices in international science fiction worthy of a worldwide readership is what we hope to prove in our magazine.

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