Fourteen years and 56 issues: that is how long German SFF magazine phantastisch! has been doing its geeky thing. In my continuing mission to learn all the things about German science fiction, I wrote to phantastisch! publisher Atlantis to ask for their assistance. These thoughts are based on having read phantastisch! issues 55 and 56.
The verdict? phantastisch! is awesome. (See: informative, fun, covers a diverse enough range of topics to keep my attention, and is, to be perfectly redundant, fantastic.) Filled with between 60 and 80 pages of articles, news, book reviews, interviews, and the occasional comic and short story (one each per issue), it comes out four times a year. I am not much of a magazine person anymore—blogs and websites seem to have taken their place when it comes to short-form, non-fiction reading in my life—but I am actually considering a subscription. Now there’s an endorsement.
The news and reviews are an excellent way to keep up on the latest in German SFF—even if it feels strange to read about American authors like Jo Walton and Robert Aspirin auf Deutsch, and even if reviews of American books show up (sometimes years) late due to the time it takes German publishers to get them out in translation. The most illuminating element of phantastisch! was the peek into the German fan experience that began to form, line for line, page for page, as I read.
A detailed article about the history of the American SF magazine Starlog isn’t just an interesting look at a bit of SF history; it also gave me an idea of how little American (re: canon according to most) SF was available in Germany back in the day. Other articles lamented the fact that German geeks are giving up on German SF and reading in English because translations take too long (and then you miss all the interesting discussions on the internet) and in the case of series, are often discontinued by German publishers after a book or two. Imagine not wanting to start a new series because you can’t trust the publisher to bother publishing the rest of the run? Imagine having to master a foreign language just to read the books your friends are discussing?
Fucking A, English speakers, we are a fucking lucky bunch. A big, currently-thought-to-be-important-and-interesting chunk of world SF is being written in our native language. We don’t have to work for it. We don’t have to hunt. Not that we would ever know what kind of mind-bending awesome we were missing out on from other countries, not until we manage to get more spotlight spread over more map, but with so much on offer, we can be lazy. Not so for the German SFF geek. This is exactly the kind of thing I want to hear all about. Thanks phantastisch!, for filling me in on what life would have been like if I’d been born a geek in Germany.
Issue 56 had a bit more television coverage than I’m interested in (Planet of the Apes and Doctor Who features), but with almost no tv coverage in issue 55, I assume that was coincidence. I read about Giger, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Urs Widmer, and Robert M. Talmar. When Starlog was name dropped in Ready Player One (which I am currently reading/listening to for the third time), I finally knew what the fuck they were talking about. And through the short-form reviews (really ideal length for reading a lot of them in a row) my German SFF to-read list exploded once again.
Phantastisches Lesefutter für junge Leser (Fantastic Reading Fodder for Young Readers) was a particularly great series to find between this magazine’s pages. Though, again, many of the books mentioned were originally published in English, I was glad to see phantastisch! taking the time to make sure there was something for people of all ages (and ideas for adults looking to convert their young relatives and friends). All in all, there was only one article that I would have liked to rip out of the binding and burn (too bad shiny magazine paper makes such bad kindling), but I’ve already said enough about that.
I can see why Editor Klaus Bollhöfener was awarded a special Kurd-Laßwitz Prize in 2004 for his work on phantastisch!. Book Punks awards it 6.6 out of 7 freshly sharpened pencils.
Where I got phantastisch!: Publisher sent three issues for review
Where you can get it: phantastisch! website