- Beyond Tomorrow: German Science Fiction and Utopian Thought in the 20th and 21st Centuries by Ingo Cornils
Ingo Cornils's Beyond Tomorrow: German Science Fiction and Utopian Thought in the 20th and 21st Centuries is the third major publication on German science fiction literature, or more specifically, on science fiction from a German vantage point, within the last three years, among Hans Esselborn's Die Erfindung der Zukunft in der Literatur. Vom technisch-utopischen Zukunftsroman zur deutschen Science Fiction (2019) and Dietmar Dath's monumental essay "Niegeschichte. Science Fiction als Kunst- und Denkmaschine" (2019). This series strongly indicates a rising academic interest in an engagement with German science fiction that is long overdue. Cornils's book comes at just the right time to open up the discussion for international students and scholars: by providing an English-language study on German science fiction (SF), he tackles the fact that "German Studies has a blind spot when it comes to speculative fiction" (3). Cornils's contribution is led by his hypothesis "that German SF is an ongoing project of Zukunftsbewältigung" (9). Drawing on seventy novels and twenty-five films (a chronological list is provided in the appendix) he maps out [End Page 629] the didactic potential of science fiction to make its recipients aware of the changes and ethical pitfalls that go along with new technologies, to enhance their resilience in a world that grows more complex, and how that helps them to make informed choices as responsible citizens. In doing so, Cornils draws a historical panorama with an emphasis on West Germany and recent literature.
Beyond Tomorrow contains two main parts: the first explores what Cornils presents as the three tributaries for science fiction, namely futurism, utopian thought, and utopian/dystopian fiction. While utopian thought is concerned with philosophical questions, i.e., "what the future ought to look like," futurism identifies "probable futures (plural) and determin[es] which of them are likely to become reality" (33). As a third tributary, utopian, dystopian, and apocalyptical fiction supplies the aesthetic level that processes the other discourses. One of the great advantages of an English-language perspective on German science fiction is shown by Cornils's presentation of two corresponding angles on the three discourses: the Anglo-American and British context, that, in a sense, represents the target group of his publication, and the German discourse, which is unilaterally influenced by the English one. Despite this impact, Cornils raises the question of whether "there is a distinctively German flavor to the texts" (192) and answers it by historically referring to Germany's participation in World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, its position during the Cold War, the country's division into the FRG and the GDR, its reunification, and also to a "strong sense of belonging (Heimat)" (82) that is condensed in German science fiction. I would argue that this rather schematical explanation might apply for every other genre as well. Cornils infers that it is especially the German science fiction after the millennium that points "to strategies that could lead to a mindset that is better equipped to face the moral, ethical and ideological challenges we will be facing," that is Zukunftsbewältigung (222).
Since "there is no such thing as a canon of German SF" (77), Cornils points to the three threads of futurism, utopian thought, and their fictional processing that are used to weave any science fictional textum. Instead of giving a rigid definition, this rather loose approach reflects the difficulty of defining the heterogeneous field ranging from the Zukunftsromane around 1900 to today's posthuman conceptions and allows for a broad overview that is not concerned with differentiating between low- and highbrow literature. This "inclusive" (7) approach also enables Cornils to talk about literature as well as film.
The second part of Cornils's study follows a systematic structure that extrapolates thirteen main themes that are displayed in German science fiction and also relate to their specific historical context. I will exemplarily address...