Chapter Eight Utopian/Dystopian Resurgence in a Time of Perestroika (1981–1990)
We relate what will happen in the future. The unexpected intervened in this abstract certainty that eliminated the feeling of anticipation. The possibility of all possibilities was the other realty (Fühmann, Saiäns-fiktschen 86).
Cultural historian Manfred Jäger has described the eighties as a decade of “chaotic cultural policy without a strategy” (187). Cultural policy in the late seventies and eighties experienced a series of shifts in political and ideological thought symptomatic of Honecker’s crisis mentality during the latter years of the Cold War. Beginning in 1985, Honecker’s rigid reaction to Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika led to the isolation of East Germany from the rest of the Soviet Bloc. Through a conservative political course, Honecker attempted to maintain a stronghold GDR within the quaking foundations of the East Bloc. As a result, cultural policy remained “inconsistent” (Emmerich) and reactive in the final years of East Germany.
To some extent this state of affairs is reflected in the haphazard yet steady rise in science fiction publications that began in the seventies and continued throughout the eighties. The publication rate in 1981 remained that of the previous year with five novels and seven anthologies. It then dropped to three novels and four anthologies in 1982. Production rose once again to a high of eight novels and seven anthologies in 1985. It reached a low in 1987 with three novels and two anthologies and rebounded the following year (Neumann, Grosse Illustrierte 868–872).
Simultaneously, popular literature policies suggested the programmatic importance of science fiction to the SED. After the Conference on Entertainment Art in 1978, Helmut Hanke conducted a follow-up study on cultural theory for the Kulturbund’s Central ← 217 | 218 → Committee. In 1980, he concluded that the continued split between “high” and “low” literature needed to be dismantled.
The efforts begun in the seventies to orient all cultural life increasingly towards the actual recreational needs of the working man and woman, towards recuperation, relaxation, entertainment, and sociability, must be continued in the eighties and intensified. The persistent appearance of a separation between “high” and “low,” educational and entertaining cultural forms must be abolished. high and low the entire cultural life (18).
Hanke’s comments exemplify the paradox that existed between the Marxist goal of a single proletarian culture and a call for a greater variety of reading options.
Increasingly, the success of popular literature in West Germany made it clear that East German culture would not supplant it. With an eye to diversifying socialist publications, Hanke’s study hoped to stem the internationalization of culture coming from the West, and create a “second culture” as an alternative to western forms (29). He emphasized the necessity of “more fantasy and new forms […] in the mass media and regional cultural life” (20). In particular, Hanke stressed the support of all cultural forms, which increase interest in science and technology.
Hanke’s article corresponded with the policy outlined in a report from the office of the Minister of Culture, Kurt Hager, entitled “Zur Entwicklung des Kulturniveaus der Arbeiterklasse” (1980). This communiqué reiterated the importance of increased working class participation in the creation and enjoyment of culture. In a goal that had existed since the inception of the second Bitterfeld Path in 1959, the memo urged the formation of a closer relationship with artists and the working class. It also pointed to the “insufficient level of supplies in numeous cultural facilities, particularly in cultural centers and libraries” (9). Due to a continued paper shortage, the availability of appropriate books in libraries remained paramount to the SED cultural agenda. In response to the growing number of book clubs, the report warned against “the devaluation of cultural and artistic engagement as a worthless ‘hobby’ or as the ‘private enjoyment’ of the worker” (9). Accordingly, it was important that the class-conscious reader dedicate her reading to the advancement of communism. Moreover, Hager ← 218 | 219 → urged all cultural officials to provide appropriate ideological guidance and direct individual reading habits towards the larger communist project (12).
Hager’s statement failed to present creative solutions to contemporary cultural “problems.” His affirmation of the creation of a “second culture” betrayed his apparent inability to think beyond the confines of SED ideology. Increasingly, official proclamations concerning science fiction or popular literature merely repeated or expanded upon existing policy and remained incapable of adapting to present tensions.
On June 3, 1989 a very astute and reflective report on the status of popular culture appeared in the GDR. Cultural scholars, Michael Hoffmann, G.K. Lehmann, and H-J. Ketzer, wrote it in preparation for the upcoming Twelfth Party Congress. Clearly, it does not mention East Germany’s repressive government as a cause for the conditions described above. Still, Hoffmann, Lehmann, and Ketzer provided a frank analysis of GDR policy within the context of that paradigm.
Only several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, they found that the internationalization of popular cultural forms, along with the effect of electronic media and economic decline, made the creation of a literature unique to East Germany difficult (11). For a number of years, the study concluded, eastern and western forms had been converging. Although contact between the two created a favorable sense of competition, the centralized structures of a planned system forced those in the GDR to remain two to three years behind international trends.
The authors cite the Congress of Entertainment Art (Kongreß der Unterhaltungskunst) of March 1989. This conference came to the conclusion that socialist popular literature failed due to a lack of competition among East German authors and artists (12). In order to improve popular culture, Hoffmann, Lehmann, and Ketzer recommended the adoption of western marketing strategies such as the creation of a profile to differentiate eastern goods from western ones. The report even proposed that East German rock bands should sing in English (14). This suggestion shows how dependent East Germany was on West Germany and other international markets. ← 219 | 220 →
Hoffmann, Lehmann, and Ketzer remark further on the dynamic ability of popular culture to respond quickly to social tensions, which then disseminated political opinion and ideology quickly. They refer in particular to the dissidents and other protesters who were slowly causing increased instability in East Germany. Quoting a 1984 report from the Academy of Sciences, they partially attribute this action to the privatization of GDR society that began in the seventies. In their opinion, the construction of “arks” and the formation of “niches” in which to discuss issues that remained taboo in more open fora drove discontent underground. What could not be discussed in television, found its way into literature and art (7). The report also states that it was the privatization of a communal society that led artists to become dissidents (10).
The study further points to the failure of a centrally directed policy on mass culture to respond to the country’s social tensions, the role of which a number of artists and writers took over in the 1970s and 1980s. Strict Marxist–Leninist publications and orchestrated television programming and mass cultural events failed to address societal problems and anxieties, which found their outlet in popular literature, among other forms (9). The science fiction niche is one example of the phenomenon described in this study. It offered the opportunity for the articulation of a discourse within socialism, yet less restrained by party language than in other circles.
Initiated in the seventies, the center of meaningful discourse on science fiction shifted location in the eighties. It changed from that of the policy makers, such as the Kulturbund, the Minister of Culture, the Writers’ Union and the publishers to three groups: 1) academics, 2) editors and authors, and 3) the fans. Although the power to control science fiction remained securely in the hands of the government, discussion in these latter groups moved beyond the pedagogical function of science fiction within socialism. They documented the ← 220 | 221 → history of the genre within the GDR, looked beyond the borders of East Germany to other science fiction traditions, and theorized science fiction as a socialist literary form.
The new centers of science fiction discourse were not inherently subversive. Due in part to the small size of the GDR, the boundaries between various organizations and institutions often overlapped. Individuals often occupied several locations at one time. An editor might become an author. An academic might become an author. Adolf Sckerl, for instance, wrote a dissertation on science fiction and worked as an editor at Verlag Das Neue Berlin. He also played a key role in the Kulturbund hearings on science fiction both in 1973 and in 1978. At the meeting in 1978, he was listed as the representative of Kulturbund’s Central Committee on Literature (Haines 1).
As stated, several former fans later occupied editorial positions or became authors. Fan Karsten Kruschel completed a dissertation on science fiction and wrote a number of science fiction stories. Olaf Spittel, an editor of the science fiction almanac Lichtjahr at Verlag Das Neue Berlin, also co-wrote a short history of GDR science fiction with Erik Simon in 1988. Erik Simon, originally part of the Stanislaw Lem Club, had an extensive impact as an editor at Verlag Das Neue Berlin, where he oversaw the almanac, Lichtjahr. He authored science fiction stories and books as well. Ekkehard Redlin, editor at Verlag Das Neue Berlin and one of the GDR science fiction’s greatest advocates, still participates occasionally in Andymon fan club meetings in Berlin. It is apparent that a number of figures important to the development of science fiction in East Germany played multiple roles in its development in various position of power.1
Gustav Schröder continued to support graduate student work on GDR science fiction at various institutions in the eighties. For the most part, these dissertations remained free of Parteilichkeit. They dealt with children’s science fiction (Vollprecht 1994), the portrayal of women (Blume 1989), the portrayal of the alien (Breitenfeld 1994), utopian and dystopian elements (Kruschel, Spielwelten 1995), ← 221 | 222 → fantastic literature in the seventies (Förster 1980), and a survey of GDR science fiction in the 1980s (Hartung 1992).
Authors and editors contributed to a growing number of journal and newspaper articles on science fiction. These professional discussions placed the genre within its international context and covered an array of non-political issues. Frequent contributors included Bernd Ulbrich, Hartmut Mechtel, Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller, Olaf Spittel, Erik Simon, Carlos Rasch, Ekkehard Redlin, and Karsten Kruschel among others. Book reviews, interviews and short histories appeared in Temperamente, Weimarer Beiträge, Neue Deutsche Literatur, Einheit, and the almanac Lichtjahr. For the first time, the West German journals Das Science Fiction Jahr, Quarber Merkur and Der Golem also published occasional reviews of East German science fiction novels by both anonymous and named GDR contributors. Western scholars, particularly Darko Suvin in Canada and the Austrian Franz Rottensteiner, showed increasing interest in the science fiction of East Germany.
Lichtjahr, the new science fiction almanac, functioned as a voice of the science fiction community. It first appeared in 1980 in the Verlag Das Neue Berlin under the tutelage of Erik Simon and Olaf Spittel. They published Lichtjahr annually until 1986.2 It included new works by established and fledgling authors, science fiction art, secondary material on science fiction, as well as bibliographies of various science fiction traditions. Moreover, the almanac introduced readers to foreign writers, and published, for instance, the introduction to Ursula Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness in 1980. As a central source of information on science fiction in the East Bloc, Lichtjahr helped to develop a canon and further professionalize the genre in East Germany.
The creation of Lichtjahr demonstrated science fiction’s presence as an established genre and provided a public forum in which writers could publish and discuss their work. At the same time, this almanac continued to adhere to the cultural policy governing the Verlag Das Neue Berlin. Success had long brought political compromise, still, the new almanac afforded GDR science fiction increased legitimacy. It ← 222 | 223 → also represented a reincorporation of science fiction discourse into the official state cultural apparatus and away from fan clubs. Nevertheless, Lichtjahr became an active and productive center of information on GDR science fiction. It was very much a production of members of the GDR’s science fiction niche.
The third center of discourse was the GDR science fiction fan club. In actuality, fan clubs had actively engaged, discussed and even published their own science fiction since the seventies. Wolfgang Both, Hans-Peter Neumann and Klaus Scheffler, all active in today’s fan club scene, have written an extensive history of GDR fandom entitled Berichte aus der Parallelwelt (Reports from the Parallel World, 1998). In it, they include extensive histories, documents and memoirs that pertain to the fourteen clubs that existed in the GDR from 1968 to 1989. Both, Neumann and Scheffler also have put together a bibliography of GDR fanzines.
The authors of these fan histories are members of Berlin’s Andymon fan club. This club represented a new generation of fan clubs that become politically feasible in the latter half of the eighties. After the Kulturbund reorganized the majority of clubs in the mid-seventies, no new clubs appeared until 1985. By this time, Kulturbund policy changed, as the institution searched for ways to recruit new members. Karl Heinz Schulmeister emphasized that many affiliates had come to the Kulturbund by way of special interests or hobbies. In his words, “every cultural activity” deserved support as long as it contributed to a “socialist way of life” (154).
The Andymon club originated with the creation of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Astronomie Archenhold–Sternwarte (Work Group on Astronomy Archenhold Planetarium). Organized through the Kulturbund for hobby astronomers, this club also discussed science fiction from time to time. The genre interested its participants enough for them to found the Interessengemeinschaft für wissenschaftlichphantastische Literatur (Science Fiction Interest Group) within the Kulturbund Berlin–Treptow in February 1985. Their first activity consisted of a presentation on Soviet science fiction stories, art and model ships at the Tage der Freundschaft und der Kultur der UdSSR in der DDR (Festival of Soviet Friendship and Culture in East Germany) that summer. This club renamed itself Andymon in 1986 ← 223 | 224 → and became one of the preeminent science fiction clubs in the late 1980s. It is still ac-tive today.3
Many of these clubs published their own fanzines.4 During the latter half of East Germany, some forty fanzines with over two hundred issues appeared (Both, Neumann, and Scheffler, Berichte 148). In 1968, Wolfgang Siegmund applied for a permit to print and distribute his fanzine Phantopia, but was never successful. Still, he produced eight issues and two special editions of his fanzine Phantopia from 1967–1968. Between 1967 and 1973, several individuals and the SF-Club Berlin were able to produce fanzines with a circulation ranging from one to a maximum of twelve issues. Fanzines became more plentiful in the eighties and included Utopia, STELLA, tranSFer, Count Down, INFO, Terminator and Solar-X among others. The most prolific was Stella from the Science-Fiction-Literatur-Klub Weißwasser, which produced twenty-seven issues (Both, Neumann and Scheffler, Berichte 150–151). Carsten Hohlfeld, the publisher of INFO, received Soviet recognition for his fan magazine (Klotz and Matzer 106).
Fanzine creation presented many challenges in the GDR. First, few models existed in the East and access to western fanzines was almost impossible. Second, it was illegal to own publishing equipment privately. The SED controlled all other publishing houses. It was possible for organizations to receive a “print number” from the Kulturbund for a period of time. Such a permit also subjected all content to censor control. Under these conditions, clubs managed only to create fanzines on a limited basis with extremely low distribution. Occasionally, fanzines even appeared secretly. Most often they took the form of so-called Briefzines or Egozines. This was done by way of a publishing permit designated “for internal use” and was limited to one hundred copies. Individuals or club members also typed multiple copies on a typewriter and sent them through the mail (Both, Neu ← 224 | 225 → mann and Scheffler, Berichte 148–149). Despite such challenges, however, these fan magazines provided a new forum for reader discussion and publication.
Building a New Utopia Through Realism
The final decade of the GDR was a time of literary experimentation when authors continued their search for new workable alternatives to existing forms. A literary discourse, which had formed both in affirmation and negation around the orthodox “theories of representation and reflection” (Abbild- und Widerspiegelungstheorie) moved beyond the aesthetic barriers that had begun to weaken in the 1970s. In part, this discursive transformation came as a result of the political discontent following the Biermann Affair in 1976. At the same time, Wolfgang Emmerich marks the entrance of the next generation of writers, who brought new understanding and intent to the literary scene (Kleine Literatur 397). Born after 1961, this younger generation had known only the reality of the GDR. Emmerich argues that its members did not possess what playwright Heiner Müller characterized as the “hope” so common among the war generation, but rather knew only a “deformed reality” (Kleine Literatur 404). Consequently, in Emmerich’s assessment, a resulting sense of isolation, rejection, and absurdity informed much literature written in the 1980s.
This is certainly true of the most famous science fiction publication of the eighties, Franz Fühmann’s Saiäns-Fiktschen (1981). This collection of short stories included “Die Ohnmacht” (“Powerlessness,” 1974), which was first published in Sinn and Form. In the anthology’s introduction, Fühmann described his feelings of futility as he wrote it. ← 225 | 226 →
They are stories, including the conclusions, in the sphere of faltering contradiction, where stagnation appears as a driving force – development as a lack of development – When reason sleeps, says Goya, monsters are born (“Introduction” 6).
Each story deals with a different kind of paralysis and takes place either in Libroterr, the capitalist society, or Uniterr, the socialist society. From the first story “Die Ohnmacht” to the last “Pavlos Papierbuch,” (Pavlo’s Paper Book) Fühmann invented various moral and ethical situations that isolate aspects of the life of his main character Pavlo and reveal to him the source of his “Gefühlsstau,” a type of emotional gridlock (87). Indeed, Fühmann selected science fiction as its fantastic form allowed him to experiment in a world beyond his own. He parodied science fiction while simultaneously appropriating its fantastic narrative to critique GDR society.
In “Die Ohnmacht,” we meet Pavlo. As a dissident scientist of causality, he has been disciplined politically for creating a time machine. Unable to transport his subjects to the distant future or past, they can only see a few minutes into their future. Socialist realism called upon authors to set their ideal visions of society in the near future in order to urge the reader to action in the present. The experimental subjects in Fühmann’s story assume that they can change the future they have seen in Pavlo’s time machine. However, each person has yet been unable to do so. They become faint when they realize the futility of their assumption of free will.
The story continues to critique the very dialectic that underlies scientific socialism. This doctrine holds that history moves inexorably along a linear time line of causality into the future. Fühmann’s same story plays with the idea of anti-causality. During a debate on the theoretical presence of anti-causality we meet Pavlo, his colleague Janna and a visiting unnamed colleague of logic. Pavlo’s hypothesis holds that, just as every cause has a future effect, causality must simultaneously run in the reverse direction. Where there is matter, there is also anti-matter. Where there is causality, there is also anticausality. Therefore, future “effects” actually cause their apparent “cause.” Thus, what appears to be an effect is sometimes actually a cause of a past event. The story’s absurd and humorous suggestions question the very reality of causality, as understood in the reader’s world. The ambiguous narrative accomplishes this in the playful manner reminiscent of Stanislaw Lem. However, it also leads its protagonists to “Gefühlstau.” They believe they have lost all power ← 226 | 227 → and control due to their inability to distinguish between what is a cause and what is an effect.
A second story, “Das Duell,” addresses issues of memory in relation to historical determinism. While still a student, Pavlo attended a demonstration in his history lecture of the experimental time machine (78). This time television captured the light rays of Earth’s past and projected historical events on a screen. With this machine, the leaders of Uniterr hoped to increase citizen interest in the socialist victories of the past. Consequently, the first “broadcast” is that of the exemplary duel from 1409 between the Norman Seecount Henry VII of Traulec and his illegitimate son Toul, a swineherd. In Uniterr, academics held the victory of Toul over his father to be an early example of the “spiritual servitude” that had been overcome in Uniterr (81). On the day of the demonstration, the experiment is cut short when the battle’s outcome proves otherwise. Instead of reinforcing the ideology of Uniterr, the time television reveals an alternate historical reality, which threatens to undermine the society’s foundational myth (Joseph Campbell) by suggesting that it is possible “not to be Uniterr” (86).
Fühmann’s collection ends with the pronouncement: “Give us this day our daily beating” (157). His final sobering story, “Pavlo’s Papierbuch,” thematizes the perverse and degrading love between captors and captured in an autocratic system. This bleak dystopian vision of East German society leaves little room for a potentially corrective utopian outcome. Rather it resembles the Orwellian antiutopia from which there is no escape.
There were other science fiction authors in the eighties who formulated new hopes for a better future. Their optimism lay in a belief that the science fiction narrative represented a new and more authentic kind of realism in socialism. In contrast to a move by GDR film directors and authors to the realism of documentary and oral history, several figures in the science fiction community believed that their fantastic genre revealed truth precisely through estrangement. Still others left behind the will to correct the existing system and examined possibilities for the next one.
Editor Olaf Spittel characterizes East German science fiction in the eighties by its “realism requirement, its reference to reality.” He ← 227 | 228 → points to the continued reference to the contemporary world of its authors. The genre’s morally based narratives question the nature of social progress both on the level of the individual and of society. According to Spittel, this is done not only in specific reference to the GDR, but also on a global level (“Zur DDR-SF” 554).
In an article in Lichtjahr entitled “Die phantastische Methode,” critic and editor Hartmut Mechtel supports this principle. He notes that, as myth aided in the understanding of reality in the past, then science fiction leads to a greater understanding of reality in the present day through the modern method of science. Mechtel argues that the fantastic is in fact one of the primary ways of seeing reality in a contemporary world that is itself so implausible and riddled with contradiction. He remains distrustful of the idealist, utopian worldview that had been presented in the science fiction of the 1950s and 1960s. Rather, he focuses on Kafka’s use of estrangement as a method with which to access the real. In his opinion, this same estrangement effect forms the realism of socialist science fiction. What is not apparent becomes clear through the use of the fantastic. The “real” is no longer reflected as in socialist realism. Instead, it is presented in an altered state so that “reality” may be seen more clearly. Mechtel believes that science fiction aids especially in this manner. Rather than portraying an entire worldview, he suggests that an author might focus on a portion of a world. She would be able to address the issues at hand more clearly and directly (103).
Coming from a scientific, rather than literary, background, Karlheinz Steinmüller agreed and disagreed with Mechtel. In an article in the journal Positionen from 1987, Steinmüller provides a new definition for “socialist realist” science fiction. He maintains that science fiction’s primary goal is to function as a tool against conservatism and fear with respect to the fast pace of change in science and technology. Like Kingsley Amis (New Maps 26), Steinmüller believes science fiction gets the reader used to the reality of the impact of science and technology on individual lives and on the whole of society. It is a type of anti-future shock. According to Steinmüller, classic themes of technological anxiety include the loss of control over scientific creation (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein), the subordination of humanity to mechanization (ýapek’s R.U.R.) and the end of humanity, ← 228 | 229 → as we know it (Wells’ War of the Worlds) (“Positionsbestimmung” 159)
Steinmüller contrasts bourgeois science fiction with socialist science fiction. In his view, bourgeois science fiction plays to fear in the face of science and technological advancement. Conversely, socialist science fiction leads to a productive, cognitive treatment of difficult social and philosophical questions in the context of such progress. Thus, Steinmüller is similar to Mechtel in his class-based approach to accessing the real. He concludes that socialist science fiction is in fact the realism of a modern day society so dependent upon technology. “Does its adventurous thought game necessarily sacrifice all sense of reality – or is it not really the realism of a scientific age?” (147). From his discussion, it is clear that Steinmüller was familiar not only with the discourse on science fiction in the GDR and in the Soviet Union, but he was also well versed with western sources as well.5
Looking then to the nature and purpose of this experimentation, Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller postulate that the process represented the creation of a new utopia among a new generation of writers. The Steinmüllers perceive that the emphasis on the individual and the psychological, as well as the flourishing of relationships within the private sphere revealed a “niche ideal as utopian concept, a reclamation of human warmth and individual freedom in a societal ice age” (Vorgriff 38). The small organizational units of their novel Andymon (1982), the feminist society in Der Traummeister (The Dream Master, 1990), the focus on the personal in Leman’s Schwarze Blumen auf ← 229 | 230 → Barnard Drei (Black Flowers on Barnard Three, 1986), and the drop outs of Szameit’s Drachenkreuzer Ikarus (Icarus, The Hangglider, 1987) all illustrate the construction of a utopian society based on the small societal unit.
To further prove their point, the Steinmüllers allude to Christa Wolf’s Kassandra (1983) and the coupling of the weakness of the Trojan community with the murderous tendencies of that society. Cassandra’s discovery and reliance upon the underground group of women emphasizes Wolf’s utopian feminist support for a society based on the small community. The praise given by author and critic to the community of artists and poets in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg also demonstrates a turn to the ideal of the small and the personal. This was, in part, manifested in the vision of a more democratic socialist Dritter Weg or Third Way. The following chapter examines the dystopian turn and its inverse utopian impulse in Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller’s novel, The Dream Master.
Science Fiction in the Eighties
The general trend towards the niche, the subjective and the exploration of the individual in the science fiction of the seventies became even more marked in the eighties. More and more stories included a first-person narrator. With particular relevance to East German society, a number of stories contrasted the importance of the individual and of personal responsibility with the dehumanization and abuse of power in a society governed by a single utopian discourse. Authors continued to use the ambiguous utopia to satirize the petit bourgeois and bureaucratic mentality of the system around them on what Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller characterize as an exploratory journey from “us to me.” (Vorgriff 35; Spittel, “Zur DDR-SF” 553–554.)
Rainer Fuhrmann’s Die Untersuchung (The Investigation, 1984) and Alfred Leman’s Black Flowers on Barnard Three are both examples of this phenomenon. A combination of science fiction and ← 230 | 231 → detective story, The Investigation criticizes the objectivity of a bureaucratic hierarchy based on educational qualification. It identifies the society’s failure to leave room for the subjective experiences and actions of its individual members. A highly complex, yet isolated, society develops in Black Flowers on Barnard Three after a group of cosmonauts set down on the planet Barnard 3 due to the ship’s weight restrictions. Over the course of this book, Leman focuses on individual relationships, and explores the effect, which an overly rationalized and stagnant society has on the personal initiative and satisfaction of its population.
Perhaps the best-known GDR science fiction writers, Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller often wrote stories with ambivalent meaning. Their collaborative writing debut, Andymon (1982), contains a philosophical exploration of the viability of coexistent political systems and the possibility for the realization of individual potential in each. Similar in method to Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, this novel searches for the more perfect system, yet points out deficiencies in all. Their text The Dream Master is an allegory of the slow decline of the GDR and of human civilization from the point of view of the individual. It leaves room for hope throughout its narrative.
The Dream Master is also an excellent example of the growing influence on GDR science fiction of the American genre science fantasy, a topic to which Lichtjahr devoted its 1986 edition. Science fantasy mixes science fiction with medieval fantasy. Stories are often set in the Middle Ages. Its characters may include fairies, elves, or dragons (e.g. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series). Of the new generation of GDR science fiction writers, both Michael Szameit’s Icarus, The Hangglider and Copyworld (written in 1988–1989; first published in 1998) are “Warnutopien” (dystopias) that use science fiction/science fantasy to problematize the relationship of the individual to a lessthan-perfect society. In Icarus, The Hangglider a niche of outsiders form a “Gemeinschaft,” much like that of Berlin’s Prenzlauerberg, in opposition to the international, industrial “Gesellschaft.” Copyworld skillfully contrasts two separate stories, one a highly mechanized dystopia and the other a historical fantasy world. Other examples of GDR science fantasy are Ernst-Otto Luthardt’s Die klingenden Bäume (The ← 231 | 232 → Ringing Trees, 1982), Die Unsterblichen (The Immortals, 1984) and Die Wiederkehr des Einhorns (The Return of the Unicorns, 1988).6 True dystopian novels remained few and far between, due in part to the ever-present requirement to write with Parteilichkeit. Early utopian realist novels often portrayed the West in a dystopian manner, yet this dystopia did not place the socialist utopia into question. In the seventies, the ambiguous utopia tended towards dystopia, but could not be classified as such due to an overarching positive tone of the novels. In the eighties, when the socialist “happy end” became less and less dominant, a discursive space for dystopia opened up. GDR science fiction writers had often looked to the capitalist world as a source for conflict. These authors now set their dystopian stories in an ostensibly capitalist setting or after the demise of a capitalist society. Often, the critique of the capitalist society applied to East Germany as well, like that seen in the detective science fiction by Gert Prokop, for example.
In his study of GDR science fiction from the eighties, Thomas Hartung notes two titles that adopted a doomsday scenario to create dystopian adventure. Reinhard Kriese’s Eden City, die Stadt des Vergessens (Eden City, The City of Forgetting, 1985) and Peter Lorenz’s Aktion Erde (Action Earth, 1988) both create adventure along the lines of Huxley’s Brave New World (GDR 1978). Failed genetic experiments destroy Kriese’s “capitalist” society; Lorenz describes the resettling of an Earth abandoned after an economic collapse. Hartung notes millenarism in both, which indirectly abandoned the principle of “Konfliktlosigkeit” (34–35). Significantly, there is no alternate socialist society in either to provide hope for the future.
Despite the increasing influence of western science fiction from official and unofficial sources, certain subgenres did not appear in the GDR due to the censor’s “optimistic” constraints. For instance, the bleak worlds of cyberpunk (e.g. William Gibson’s Neuromancer ) and gothic dystopia (best demonstrated in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil ) remained taboo. In addition, the technological level of the GDR was such that cyberpunk and cyborgs did not resonate in the same manner that they did in a more digital United ← 232 | 233 → States. Where a broader mixture of science fiction with other fantastic forms existed in East Germany throughout the seventies and eighties, science fantasy appeared only to a limited extent.
In addition to these more experimental forms, there was a conservative resurgence in the narrative style of the 1960s that posited the universal triumph of communism. Although such novels remained popular throughout the 1970s, their increased number in the 1980s also had historical-political foundations. As the Biermann affair led to an initial chilling of the less rigid cultural policy of the early 1970s, the onset of a final confrontation between the two Cold War superpowers reinforced a more conservative cultural policy in some areas. In part, this was due to solidarity with the Soviet Union in the Reagan era. But, after Gorbachev’s announcement of his dual policies of glasnost and perestroika in 1985, the hardliner Honecker began to break from Soviet policy. He and East Germany became politically isolated as time went on. As the stagnation of East Germany became increasingly apparent, select science fiction authors adopted an entrenched, defensive posture.
Consequently, some of the more conservative space adventures returned to a pronounced demonization of the West. These stories were more violent than earlier publications and moved closer to the West’s space opera. For instance, author Klaus Klauss’ Duell unter fremder Sonne (Duel Under a Foreign Sun, 1985) relates the story of a spaceship that crash lands on a planet. Its crew tries to bring about a communist society in each of the various class systems present. The reformer fails, the woman crewmember is inept, and the anarchist dies. Only the revolution from below succeeds. In Die Engel in den grünen Kugeln (The Angel in the Green Spheres, 1986), Alexander Kröger portrays the helplessness of a completely disarmed society in the face of hostile invaders (Simon and Spittel 83). Evidence of a western influence, Kröger creates an individual hero who lives in a militaristic-style hierarchy. He saves the world in the face of rather than in cooperation with others, an aspect that contradicted the doctrinaire communal aesthetic. Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller attribute such plotlines to a Free German Youth request of the Verlag Neues Leben to publish more “warlike” science fiction (Vorgriff 37). Another explanation lies in the increasing emphasis on profit and ← 233 | 234 → production methods similar to western publishers (Steinmüllers, Vorgriff 35). Alexander Kröger stated himself that he wrote such adventure fiction because it sold well (Sudelfass 89).
Many novels in the 1980s searched for new and viable forms of socialism or communism that could potentially replace the Marxist– Leninist model. This process is found particularly in so-called Wendetexts, the designation of novels written at the “turning point” or immediately before and following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Alexander Kröger and Michael Szameit characterized their respective novels Der Untergang der Telesalt and Copyworld in such a manner, describing them as their “coming to terms with and rejection of the system” (Personal interviews 1999). The following chapter discusses Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüllers’ Wendetext, The Dream Master. ← 234 | 235 → ← 235 | 236 →
Book cover from Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller’s
Der Traummeister (The Dream Master, 1990) ← 236 | 237 →
1 For more information see my article “Reconceptualizing East German Popular Literature Via the Science Fiction Niche.”
2 Since then Erik Simon managed to bring out one more edition in 1999.
3 Of the ten members present at the first meeting six of them were women, in addition to the presence of a guest representative from the Kulturbund and the Archenhold-Sternwarte. See Science Fiction-Club Sondershausen 5–7.
4 Merriam–Webster On-line defines a fanzine as a “magazine written by and for fans especially of science fiction or fantasy writing.”
5 See “Positionsbestimmung” 147–167. An article from 1981 in the journal Einheit held that science fiction literature in particular could be used to lessen “conservative” reactions to technological progress. It introduced the reader to the idea of change and adaptation to invention. Thus new topics, such as genetics, computers, methods of controlling nature, and the relationship between technology and humanity, should be introduced in a positive way rather than in a fearful manner as identified in many western dystopias (Hochmut and Einhorn 932). In this manner, science fiction was to reduce “Future Shock.” In 1968, Arno Hochmut was the head of the Cultural Section of the Central Committee of the SED. From 1972–1990 he was a Professor at the Humboldt University (Wer war wer in der DDR? 362).
6 See Simon and Spittel 199–200.