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German Science Fiction since 1945

Germany has an extensive history of science fiction. In the second of two articles, Dirk van den Boom provides a summary review of some of Germany's landmark SF since the end of World War II.

Quick links to below sections:-
Introduction
The immediate post-war period (1945 to the late '50s)
Walter Ernsting aka Clark Darlton (1920-2005)
German SF of the 1960s and '70s
Horst Pukallus (1949-)
German Science Fiction of the 1980s
Wolfgang Jeschke (1936-2015)
The 1990 towards 2016
German SF-awards
German SF-conventions
Michael Marrak (1965-)

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Introduction
Science Fiction in Germany has had, as the previous article has shown, quite a long and illustrious history. The catastrophe of World War II destroyed many of Germany's SF traditions and posed a challenge for its re-emergence. During the war, especially its last years, production of books had been either not possible because of the economic collapse of the country, or because of the draconian laws of the Nazi-regime exerted such a degree of publisher and author control As this article will show, Science Fiction re-emerged quite quickly after the war, with a clear dominance of Anglo-American novels and stories, and only in smaller steps and with lesser success also in regard to German-speaking and -writing authors. This summary will show inter alia that German SF and SF in Germany is far more than the most widely known 'Perry Rhodan' - although the influence and persistence of the world's biggest SF-series in print should not be underestimated.

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The immediate post-war period (1945 to the late '50s)
Emerging from a war that had torn the country into pieces – notably into two pieces, one sector controlled by the Western allies and one by the Soviet Union – publishers faced a plethora of challenges. First, there was scarcity of paper and print presses; a key limiting factor for any publishing business in the first years after the war. Second, was the policy of licensing, by which the allied administrators everywhere in Germany controlled what and by whom everything was published. Under these circumstances the re-emergence of Science Fiction was not high on the agenda of both publishers as well as censors. Still, traditional forms of publication, successfully tried and tested before the war, increasingly embraced Science Fiction among other genres. Aiding this re-development, were the soldiers of the allied forces, especially those from the US and Great Britain as their presence provided an infusion of Anglo-American SF into the German market, a foundation which led to the dominance of English-speaking SF in Germany until today.

Four important developments shaped the Science Fiction-scene after the war. Regarding genre books, the influence of for-profit libraries who distributed sturdily printed small hard covers to a population hungry for reading light-weight stories such as Westerns, Romance and SF, and where aside from new German authors a number of – normally third-class – British and American writers were translated, albeit often in abbreviated form. Renowned British fan, editor and agent Philip Harbottle, in his book Vultures of the Void: The Legacy (Cosmos Books, 2011) that described in detail the emergence of SF in Britain, referred to the insatiable hunger of German publishers for easily-translated British SF of any quality. Secondly, the re-emergence of dime novels: the pulp-booklets of not more than 64 pages, which were cheap and easily available, especially with the start of the 'Utopia'-series in 1954, edited by well-known German writer, translator and editor Walter Ernsting. Third, two years later, in 1955, the foundation of Germany's first and biggest SF-fan-society, the Science Fiction Club Deutschland [Science Fiction Club Germany], among its founding and early members not only active German fans and professionals like Walter Ernsting, but also American fans like Forrest Ackerman and Julian Parr. (Elsewhere we have an article on the Science Fiction Club Germany to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2015.)

With an increased self-organisation and a growing number of readers, more and more publishers were eager to present both German, but especially Anglo-American Science Fiction to readers. Adding to the ever growing number of pulp-SF-series like 'Utopia', there were new paperback imprints, some short-lived, others with a consistency established until today. Finally, and in a quite different and a more difficult environment, the SF books emerged in the Soviet-controlled Eastern Germany, the German Democratic Republic. There, SF-literature, like any other, was subject to clear guidelines that presented it as a tool for pro-socialist propaganda.

Despite this, and with only a limited access to Anglo-American translations, a number of German authors emerged and as well as translated authors of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. However, paper rationing and the total absence of any market-mechanisms made the publication of East German SF totally dependent on quotas, the intention of publishers and, of course, the permission of the relevant state-authorities. This situation would not change until the East-West German re-unification, but sadly thereafter many East German writers had serious difficulties finding a foothold in the new, post-communist free market-environment.

In the west, aside from a growing number of translated writers mostly from the US (these included Lester DelRey, Clifford Simak, Hal Clement among others) and Great Britain (such as E. C. Tubb, John Russell Fearn, Arthur C. Clarke and John Brunner among others), a new generation of German authors emerged, mostly being published in the dime-novel-area. Adding to Walter Ernsting aka Clark Darlton, household-names of post-war Science Fiction have included Wolf-Detlev Rohr, Kurt Mahr and Karl-Herbert Scheer. Ernstings career is exemplary.

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Walter Ernsting aka Clark Darlton (1920-2005). After returning from the war and a number of years in a detention-camp in the Soviet Union, Ernsting worked for the British administration in Germany as a translator. Here he got in touch with the pulp-magazines of that time. In 1954 he started to work with Pabel, then one of the biggest mass-market-publishers in Germany, and edited as well as translated the 'Utopia' dime-novels, which published mostly non-connected novels cheaply purchased mostly from Great Britain. His own first novel was UFO am Nachthimmel (1955) [UFO in the Night Sky]. It concerned a crashed spaceship that led to the revelation that humankind has been under scrutiny from an alien race, based on a station on the far side of the Moon. He got this novel published using a trick, pretending to have bought the novel from a British author named 'Clark Darlton' and translating it. At that time only Anglo-American authors were regarded as capable of writing quality Science Fiction, a stereotype Ernsting tried to counter throughout his whole career.

In 1961, together with co-author Karl-Herbert-Scheer, he created and wrote the famous SF-series Perry Rhodan (see below). His last novel was Perry Rhodan #1622.

Aside from his participation in 'Perry Rhodan', Ernsting wrote more than 60 novels and a number of short stories, among them a good number of juvenile fiction-novels introducing young readers into the genre, and these have been reprinted many times.

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German SF of the 1960s and '70s: The dominance of 'Perry Rhodan' and the escape from the dime novel dungeon
With the slow demise of the 'rental books' produced by for-profit-libraries during the 1960s and the emergence of the dime-novel as the predominant venue for SF-publishing, the public image of the genre was quite closely associated with its form of publication, and so was normally sniffed at and considered trivial, certainly not to be taken seriously. This was despite the fact that editors, like Walter Ernsting and his successors – such as the important 'Terra' imprint - not only bought cheap British writers, but increasingly novels and stories of higher quality, including authors like Stanislaw Lem, Brian W. Aldiss, Jack Williamson and Poul Anderson among others. This predominance of the dime-novel was first challenged profoundly 1960 by the German Goldmann-Publishers (today part of Random House) with their ambitious and carefully edited paperback-edition 'Weltraumbücher' [Space Novels]; it became a household-name for excellent Science Fiction publication. Two years earlier, another major player in paperback-publishing, Heyne (that is today a part of Random House) started publishing his own series of SF-paperbacks, a programme which emerged during the 1970s and '80s as the biggest SF-programme in Western Europe. Still, the 1960s were much more important and especially remembered for the emergence of 'Perry Rhodan', the weekly dime-novel-series first published in September 1961, founded by Walter Ernsting and Karl-Herbert Scheer, and until now it has been the most successful and continuous German SF-project ever undertaken.

Perry Rhodan was an American astronaut who, during the first landing on the Moon, discovers a shipwrecked starship from a mighty interstellar empire. Grasping the chance to use the advanced technology to unite Earth and to find a way to the stars, Rhodan and his friends embark on star-faring, empire-creating and general adventuring. By the time of writing (2016), episode no. 2830 has been published. 'Perry Rhodan' emerged quickly as the iconic symbol of German SF-writing, not only because most established German writers contributed to it – be it in the series itself, in one of the spin-offs and/or the paperback accompanying the dime-novels – but also because all the despair and hatred from the 'established' critics and writers of 'proper' literature who used the series as the focus of their disgust with the genre. This, if not for the opposite, did not stop the rise and continued success of the series, which today still invites current writers of German SF either to regularly participate and/or to write so-called 'guest-novels'. Nearly all current German SF-authors have either read or otherwise engaged with 'Perry Rhodan' during their development, and so they have at least in part been shaped by this phenomenon, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Nevertheless, the much criticised dime-novel allowed entry into the market for a substantial number of German writers. Especially during the 1970s, a number of publishers started more or less successful series, sometimes like 'Perry' with one interconnected story-arc, sometimes with standalone adventures which could be read without the need of a back-story. German SF, it can be said, was mostly action-oriented, easy-to-read, fast-paced and colourful, and closely aligned to the topics, themes and narrative traditions of Anglo-American counterpart role models. Those authors more interested in 'literary' Science Fiction and who wanted to emerge from under the perceived poor quality of dime-novels – a somewhat unfair assessment as the quality of dime-novel-authors varied heavily – had to resort to short-stories. Alas here Germany had, unfortunately, never a very developed market, mainly because of the lack of a magazine-culture like that in Britain or the US.

The emerging German writers of the 1960's and '70s were mostly 'Rhodan' authors. Aside from those, only a very limited number of writers have been published, especially in paperback, and so many successfully concentrated their efforts on translating current Anglo-American SF.

Among those developing in the shadow of 'Perry Rhodan' and being, most of the time, highly critical of content and form of the series, has been Horst Pukallus.

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Horst Pukallus (1949-). Pukallus started is career in German SF as critic for the first fanzine, later semi-pro magazine Science Fiction Times. With his first short story published in 1974, he worked as a free-lance author, translator and editor since 1975. While he surely earned most of his money as translator – being responsible for the German edition of important works from authors like Isaac Asimov, John Brunner, Stephen Donaldson, Katherine Kurtz and Iain Banks – he published more than 20 novels of his own, albeit many of them in collaboration with other German writers such as Ronald M. Hahn, and contributed to the highly acclaimed 'Terranauten' ['Terranauts'] series, one of the many (futile) attempts to break the dominance of 'Perry Rhodan' among the dime-novels.

Notable among his works is his series about T. N. T. Smith, an Indiana-Jones-like hero, whose adventures have been published between 1998 and 2008, full of intelligent humour and satirical references. The novel Hinter den Mauern der Zeit [Behind the Walls of Time, 1989], written in collaboration with his colleague Michael K. Iwoleit, is a reference to the works of Philip K. Dick, describing the search of man, awakening in a train without any memory of himself. In this particular novel, many of Dick's philosophical ideas are taken up. It centred around the rumour that Dick only pretended his own death and continued to live under another identity.

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German Science Fiction of the 1980s: The demise of the dime-novel, the rise of New German SF' and the shadows on the wall
During the early 1980, three distinct developments took place shaping the publication of Science Fiction for a considerable time. First, this time saw many acquisitions and bankruptcies that mirrored the publishing dynamic in Britain and North America at this time, the number of publishers in the dime-novel-sector shrunk, with many publishers leaving the market or being bought off by bigger rivals, who subsequently removed their novels from the newsstands in order to minimise competition. By the middle of the 1980s, only three major publishers remained, and the diversity of SF-series starved to death, with only 'Perry Rhodan' and the occasional effort by one of the other two dominant publishers carrying the SF flag. This development did not only kill many venues for aspiring writers to flex their muscles professionally, it also put a number of those who had lived relatively well from the trade out of a job. Some left the scene altogether to look for other means of income, others started to diversify into other genres like romance, crime or westerns. It is important to mention that the demise of SF in dime-novels coincided with a parallel development of the same kind for horror-novels, who had a surprising and intensive upswing during the 1970s as well, with many SF-writers also contributing.

Aside from the economic problem, the biggest damage was surely done by closing a market for young writers, as the paperback-publishers didn't publish German authors at all or very reluctantly. The second development, closely related to that and seemingly contradictory, has been the short spring of 'New German Science Fiction', which lead to a very short-lived increase in publication of German authors by the big paperback-publishers, often authors who refused to participate in the dime-novel-boom, or who were highly critical of their quality. A number of German writers and editors, among them notable figures like Hans-Joachim Alpers, the aforementioned Horst Pukallus, Ronald M. Hahn, Thomas Ziegler and more, got the opportunity to develop a new brand of German SF, not only entertaining and action-oriented, but also with a certain message and ready to be scrutinized by the literary establishment (which, nevertheless, widely ignored those efforts).

The era of 'New German SF' was relatively short-lived, as the success of SF generally was. In the late 1980s and early '90s, many big paperback-publishers scrapped their programmes or reduced them to a shadow of their former selves. Avenues for German writers were highly constricted to the few active small presses, a very limited number of SF-magazines or rare instances when new authors had the opportunity to enter the team of 'Perry Rhodan' or a competing series. For a long time, fandom was the main playing field for aspiring writers, which gave feedback and limited exposure in some very well made fanzines, but surely no basis to pursue writing in the field professionally.

Among the most influential, important und persistent writers and editors of the 1980s and '90s was Wolfgang Jeschke.

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Wolfgang Jeschke (1936-2015). Jeschke's career in publishing started in 1970 as editor of the relatively short-lived book imprint Science Fiction für Kenner [Science Fiction for Experts] at Lichtenberg Publishing. From 1972 he worked as a free-lance editor for Heyne, one of the biggest mass-market-publishers in Germany, and with increased workload as permanent editor for Science Fiction and Fantasy from 1978, where he had been in charge of both genres until his retirement in 2002. Under his guidance, the SF/F-edition of Heyne, which was later purchased by Random House, grew to be among the biggest in Europe, for some time publishing up to a dozen new titles every month. Jeschke was able to publish lucrative novels – e.g. media tie-ins – in order to subsidize books with less economic success in order to present a wide choice also of not so well-known authors. For years he published a yearly anthology of SF short stories, in which German authors were able publish their works. As editor of the Heyne SF-Magazin he had been responsible for a long running and high-quality paperback-magazine, which was later transformed into SF-Jahr [], an annual review of important developments in the field by experts. Aside from his publishing work, he was also an accomplished writer, with a number of his novels also being translated into other languages. With six novels and several dozen short-stories, he belonged to the most successful and accomplished authors in the field, winning national and international acclaim. His last novel was published only two years before his untimely death.

Among his novels two are outstanding: Der letzte Tag der Schöpfung (1981), a time-travel and alternative-history story which has been published in English as The Last Day of Creation both in the US as well the UK. Here an expedition is send back in time to pump the oil away from the Arabian insula to the west, with the purpose of making developed world of the future independent from oil-exports – a plan running into difficulties very fast. The second is Das Cusanus-Spiel [The Cusanus-Game, 2008] in which a young scientist, hired by the Vatican, travels back in time to collect specimen of extinct plants so as to grow them again. The story unfolds into parallel universes and secret powers deciding which timeline is worth surviving and which not.

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The 1990 towards 2016: the emergence of the digital revolution, a truly new German Science Fiction and the dominance of small presses
With a general decline in published Science Fiction in the 1990s, accompanied by the shutdown of many of the traditional publisher SF imprints of major publishers, the fortunes of German SF sunk accordingly. For example, the imprint which started with the Weltraumbücher imprint from the Goldman publishing in 1960 was more or less completely cancelled during the period. (And so the situation for German SF readers became problematic as the amount of publications diminished). Even those publishers who did not decide to withdraw from SF completely at least cut their programmes down, often to the bone, and SF was more and more replaced by the more successful Fantasy and this started to dominate the market, not the least in the aftermath of the Lord of the Rings films (with the very positive consequence that a growing number of German writers were able to show their talent at least in this allied genre of fantasy).

Fortunate for the German SF readers, a number of small presses began to take the place of the big publishers, especially as venues for German writers. First, this impetus relied on reprints, especially newly-edited and tentatively modernised paperback-editions of dime-novel series of the 1960s and '70s, generally bought by the 'old fans' who liked the nicely done paperbacks or had sold or trashed their own dime-novels-collections. Emerging from this was a growing spirit of experimentation, with the desire not only to reprint the old stuff but to reach out for new ideas, in the beginning preferably in series, but increasingly also with standalone-novels. The new digital printing technologies (such as print-on-demand) enabled small presses to reduce the economic risk of book production without cutting quality. And so every year, a new crop of small presses arose (and sometimes died as fast as they came), either growing out of fandom, or expanding already established businesses into the genre. The major difficulty remained to be the problem of marketing, as nearly no SF-magazines existed - with few exceptions, relying on a small circulation - and, before the emergence of Amazon in Germany, no comprehensive platform for marketing outside the traditional bookstores, who, most of the time, shunned small presses altogether. The revolution of small-press-publishing came full swing not only with Amazon, that allowed a more equal playing-field with the established commercial publishers in competing for customers, but also with the development of e-books, who, with a lacklustre start and limping progress in the first years, got reinvigorated with the introduction of Amazon's Kindle-reader. Both technological developments also boded well for a vibrant self-publisher-scene, where many aspiring authors, tired of knocking the doors of publishers, decide to present their novels directly to readers. Though many of these self-published works lacked both the quality of writing as well as editing, some gems could be found and some of these in turn have been acknowledged not only by readers, but also with awards.

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German SF-awards. Currently, there are four awards of note for German Science Fiction, that in part also recognise international SF if, that is, it is translated into the German language:-

  • The 'Deutscher Science Fiction Preis' [DSFP - German Science Fiction Award] is presented annually for the best German novel and the best German short-story and is chosen by a jury which endeavours to read every single German SF-publication of a given year. Both categories are awarded €1,000 each.
    .
  • The 'Kurd-Lasswitz-Preis' [KLP - Kurd-Lasswitz-Award], named after the famous German writer of the last century, is also awarded annually in different categories, including best novel, best short story, best translation, best cover-art etc. The award is chosen by vote, with only professionals in the field of SF allowed to vote. It has to be mentioned that the definition of "professionalism" is relatively wide, as nearly no one in Germany - with very few exceptions - can actually earn a living income from producing Science Fiction.
    .
  • The 'Deutscher Phantastik Preis' [DPP - German Fantastic Award] does not only cover Science Fiction, but all fantastic literature, including Fantasy and Horror. It is awarded annually in a number of categories and is selected by public vote of fans through the website of Germany's foremost SF/F-news service phantastik-news.de.
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  • Finally, and most recently, the 'Seraph' award. This is another jury-based commendation. It is organized by the "Fantastische Akademie", a private society and normally presented during the book-fayre in Leipzig every year, but targeting a wider range of speculative fiction literature, including fantasy, and not just Science Fiction. The winner of the category "best debut novel" is awared with a price-money of € 2.000.

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It is necessary to add that the digital revolution also had its impact on SF-fandom. Print fanzines became fewer and fewer, being replaced by websites and electronic publication. Still, conventions remain to be the major venue not only for fans to meet, but also for small presses and German authors to present themselves to a wider audience in person. German conventions are vibrant and have increasingly become so, especially with the tendency to transcend the traditional barriers between the media-, role-playing- and book-fandoms. These barriers had been quite persistent up until the late 1990s.

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German SF-conventions. Historically, the different fandoms for bookworms and media-fans have been quite separate and their respective conventions very distinct from each other– those for book readers small and hidden, those for televisual and cinematic sci-fi big and noisy – and took place quite apart from each other. It is safe to say that many fans from book-fandom have not been too unhappy with this apartheid, more often than enough sneering at the 'cosplay-parading screen-junkies'. Fortunately, this divide has diminished over the past decade, especially where cross-fandom-events draw both the traditional book-lovers as well as cosplayers and media-fans together. Still, traditions are hard to change, and therefore some more cosy book-conventions exist, but without the deliberate differentiation from other forms of fandom. 'Buchmessecon' (Book Fayre Con) is the biggest and most open event in this regard, taking place every October alongside the famous Frankfurt Bookfair. It is a book fayre in itself, although mostly for genre-related small presses, and boasts of an average of 400-500 visitors (which is a huge number for these kind of events in Germany). The bi-annual 'DortCon' (taking place in Dortmund) is of similar scope and will be the EuroCon in 2017. 'ColoniaCon' (in Cologne) is a very traditional event, also bi-annual, much more focussed on the old guard of dime-novel-enthusiasts. The 'GarchingCon' (close to Munich) is the biggest Perry-Rhodan-Convention, normally drawing a crowd of up to 800 fans, not only of the series. The most important event in the East is the bi-annual ElsterCon in Leipzig, always presenting international guests of honour and venue of the award-ceremony for the KLP of that year.

Aside from these more traditional, book-orientated events, Germany had its first 'ComicCon' in 2015, and big mixed events like the 'Fantasy- and Role-playing-Convention' close to Saarbruecken attracts crowds, not only from fandom, of up to 20,000 visitors, including the curious and unitiated. Adding the conventions organised by media-fans – the first Doctor Who event also took place in 2015. The number of cons has increased and the audience becomes increasingly mixed. Events like 'LuxCon', taking place annually in neighbouring Luxembourg, are the best examples of cross-border and cross-genre events, pulling fans of all shades and many languages together.

In regard to conventions with international appeal, the German track-record is not too impressive. Three Eurocons took place in German, in Mönchengladbach (1982), in Freudenstadt (1992) and in Dortmund (1999), with the latter being the biggest, and a massive financial loss for the organizers. One Worldcon has been organized in Germany, in Heidelberg in 1970, and it was a relatively modest convention compared to current Worldcons. Hopes for renewal of international participation rest on the 2017 DortCon

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Current German authors – at least a good number of them – oscillate between small-, medium- and big publishers, as the differences between them has been equalled out by digital publishing, especially in regard to royalties to be expected. Some also try their hand in self-publishing, predominantly those who wrote extensively during the boom of the dime-novel and therefore have created a vast backlist of novels which they now re-publish, mostly only in electronic form. But a new crop of German authors has also emerged, and while striving naturally for increased exposure by big publishers, they feel quite comfortable in exploiting all the new technology opportunities accessible to them. Despite these trends, there is still only a quite limited number of German SF writers in the programmes of the big commercial publishers, and here much more in the area of Fantasy than SF. Therefore, until now, German SF and its most active authors is more represented in small presses despite their limits in regard to sales, especially in brick-and-mortar bookstores. And so, through the emergence of a good number of small presses, interesting new voices have been added to the field, of which one, Michael Marrak, is a good example.

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Michael Marrak (1965-). The prolific writer is not only well known for his novels, but also for his outstanding artwork. Starting his writing career in 1980, he had been an editor and publisher himself, publishing a magazine from 1993 to 1996. With his novel Lord Gamma (2002) first printed in limited circulation by a small press and subsequently picked up by a mass-market publisher, he received considerable praise. The novel describes a kind of literary road-movie in a post-apocalyptic world, with the hero entering a string of underground bunkers with different societies of survivors each, all connected by the mysterious radio-messages of 'Lord Gamma'.

He writes not only Science Fiction, but also slightly Lovecraftian Horror, his next novels were Imagon (2002) and Morphogenesis (2005) , published by smaller and bigger publishing houses. While Imagon is a Lovecraftian novel about a disturbing excavation in Greenland, where an underground temple-city reveals very old and evil powers. Morphogenesis describes another archaeological surprise, a pyramid much older than all the others, opening a gateway into a heavily distorted version of the Egyptian afterlife, somehow runs by a mysterious machine.

Michael Marrak is currently working on a sequence of novellas published by the small German story-magazine Nova. Aside from a total of eight novels and a number of theatre-plays, he has published a good number of short-stories, for whom he received his first laurels. Marrak has won all German awards of note for his works, some of them several times, and both for his writing as well as for his art.

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German SF has gone through a number evolutions since 1945, some of them setbacks, some of them encouraging developments leading to greater heights. While sometimes reflecting the changing landscape of publishing in general, SF has remained to be its own microcosmos, only slowly reaching out into the literary mainstream. In the end of 2015 a new important step has been taken, as German SF/F-writers have come together to form PAN, a society for authors of the phantastic, in order to organize themselves, to reach new markets and to support newcomers. The tendency towards more professionalism and a healthy self-esteem is commendable, it shows clearly that German SF, together with the other fantastic and speculative genres, has not only grown up, but also found its place in German popular culture.

Dirk van den Boom

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This article follows on from Elmar Podlasly's article on German SF up to WWII.

Dirk van den Boom is a professional writer of Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as a translator. He is co-editor of phantastik-news.de, Germany's foremost SF/F-news-service and has been a active in German fandom since the early 1980s. You will find him still as a regular participant at German conventions. He blogs in German at www.sf-boom-blog.de.

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