- Detectives, Dystopias, and Poplit: Studies in Modern German Genre Fiction ed. by Bruce B. Campbell, Alison Guenther-Pal, and Vibeke Rützou Petersen
In this book on genre fiction, editors Bruce B. Campbell, Alison Guenther-Pal, and Vibeke Rützou Petersen advocate a new approach to what is commonly referred to in Germany as Trivialliteratur. This term, Campbell rightfully argues in the introduction, is problematic, especially in the German context, as it implies a value judgment. The volume instead focuses on how genre fiction “provides a nuanced reflection of the culture that produces it, and it can also critique that culture” (18). This is possible precisely because genre fiction is accessible, immediate, and immensely popular. Nearly all essays share, in one way or another, questions of identity as an overarching theme. Unrelated at first sight, all works of genre fiction also share distinct characteristics: be it crime fiction, science fiction, or Poplit—the three subgenres addressed in this volume—they offer a surprising level of sophistication, and address socioculturally relevant themes, presented in a way that appeals to mass readerships.
In her essay, Vibeke Rützou Petersen argues that German science fiction is able to problematize the representation of the Holocaust because in Germany, the dystopian worlds of science fiction became a reality in the twentieth Century. This ambitious essay provides an extensive, informative history of German science fiction, and also discusses several works of the genre in which the theme of Holocaust is absent. Due [End Page 214] to this level of detail, it lacks some clarity at times but does serve well as an introduction to a chapter on science fiction for the less knowledgeable reader.
Evan Torner resituates Alfred Döblin’s Berge Meere und Giganten by comparing it to other works of the genre, claiming that Berge Meere und Giganten is an expressionist science-fiction novel, two movements that are usually considered mutually exclusive. In a convincing analysis of Döblin’s text, Torner extracts characteristics of both movements, and repositions the novel vis-à-vis better-known works such as Thea von Harbou’s Metropolis. Berge Meere und Giganten does not, Torner shows, offer solutions to problems of modernity but rather, it “avoids pathos, insisting instead on the insignificance of the individual in relation to the technological and natural worlds” (56). In conclusion, Berge Meere und Giganten is identified as a dystopian piece of literature that leaves pressing questions of humankind—and of mainstream readerships—unanswered.
Focusing on ecocriticism in Andreas Eschbach’s works, Sonja Fritzsche shows how utopian and dystopian elements in science fiction “have provided the tools of hope and/or of warning that could spur the reader into action” (68). In her examination of Eschbach’s work, Fritzsche explicates clearly ecological aspects of Heimat and a shift in consciousness regarding the awareness of environmental problems in Germany. The essay’s argument for positivistic solutions proposed in Eschbach’s utopias is particularly convincing and clearly shown in the analysis of Eschbach’s plots.
Ailsa Wallace’s essay offers some interesting insight into an aspect of crime fiction that scholars have mostly neglected so far, namely how the genre has been used as a vehicle for political ideologies in general and for socialism and/or communism in Hermynia zur Mühlen’s case in particular. Wallace also reexamines the phenomenon of German authors setting their novels in Great Britain or the United States, which she clearly identifies as political.
Ray Canoy offers an analysis of the extremely successful Jerry Cotton series, which was (and still is), like some of zur Mühlen’s novels, also set in the United States. Linking the series’s extraterritorial setting to persistent mistrust in German police authorities, Canoy argues that the Jerry Cotton novels reflect unease about exploring the credibility of the emerging authorities in Adenauer Germany, especially the Bundeskriminalamt. Other than the fact that the Bundeskriminalamt was indeed staffed with former high-ranking Nazis and SS...