German Science Fiction
for Young Adults
The borderline between fiction for adults and that for young people is often unclear and shifting, and many books that were originally written for an adult audience have in time acquired the status of classics of children’s literature (e.g., Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the first two books, or Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe). In science fiction, this has happened with the works of Jules Verne which began appearing in German translations in 1872, have had numerous editions, were around 1900 among the most popular books in German lending libraries (Nagl 62), and still enjoy, in their original form and in simplified adaptations for children, wide popularity in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Nothing comparable has happened with the work of H. G. Wells, mostly because Wells never enjoyed the wide translation and high circulation that Verne had in the German language.
As in other European countries, one can hardly speak of the existence of a science fiction (SF) field before the advent, in the 1950s and 1960s, of the magazines and paperbacks that firmly established SF as a commercial genre. Before that, there were only isolated books, most often called “utopian novels” or “utopian-technical novels,” and a few series of dime novels that only in hindsight establish a tradition of early SF. Early German SF novels were Carl Ignaz Geiger’s Reise eines Erdbewohners in den Mars (“Journey of an Earthman into Mars,” 1790) and Julius von Voss’ “Romance of the 21st Century” Ini (1810). By the turn of the century, SF novels were quite common, both social utopias (many inspired by the controversy surrounding Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, translated into German in 1890), future war stories, and novels of space travel and interplanetary flight as well as cataclysmic stories. But there was no dominating central figure in German SF comparable to a Jules Verne or H. G. Wells. The German pioneer of science fiction, Kurd Lasswitz1 (1848–