previously published in the Fortean Times in 2009.
The Black Mirror and other Stories
An Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany and Austria
Translated by Mike Mitchell
Edited by Franz Rottensteiner
Now, this is a real treat! A collection such as this one, not to mention a study into the history of German SF, has been long overdue. Now, not only are delights such as “Jules Verne in Hell” (Hevesi) available to be enjoyed in English, but our editor Rottensteiner has produced a small but worthy essay detailing the history of German SF from its beginnings and Lasswitz, through the various epochs in recent German history – Wilhelmian, Weimarian, the Reich, the GDR and West Germany – up until the present day. That alone would make the book a worthy purchase, in the same ilk as Lovecraft's 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'.
However, what makes this gem even better is the quality of the tales possessed within it. There are the odd tale that misses the mark – the lauded Carl Amery is not best shown off by his selected tale – but these pale into comparison. The stories from Kurd Lasswitz, Ludwig Hevesi, Otto Willi Gail and Horst Pukallus to name but a few are essential reads.
Rarely has the mixture of hard science-fiction and satire worked so well. Translator Mitchell deserves equal praise for the way he has managed to get the word play and messages across without being lost in translation. Some of this satire is from the same school as Wodehouse.
Of all the stories, it is difficult to pick one out for special praise, but that said, “The Age of the Burning Mountains” stands head and shoulders above even distinguished company. Pukallus takes a simple idea and uses it to turn everything we (and his contemporary audience) know on its head. His satirical style has the reader laughing along with his identifying character all the way to the sudden, horrific (but signposted) twist ending.
Modern anthologies can be pick or mix on quality. This one should be regarded as a definite five star affair.