Of course it is reductive to focus on his t-shirt. If Dietmar Dath proved anything during the three-author reading and discussion at the Hessisches Literaturforum in Frankfurt this May, it was that he is intelligent, well-spoken, well-written, and well-read, and that his words bubble forth with a volcanic passion that makes me want to read everything he has to say about the SFF genre.
But it was a really good t-shirt:
When Dath began his reading, the t-shirt was covered by a checkered button down. I’ve seen plays on this t-shirt before, and as he spoke I attempted to decipher his. Could be Russ and Butler, I thought. But does a t-shirt that fucking cool really exist? Holy shit, if it doesn’t I am going to make one myself. Then Dath said something about feminist science fiction writers, and he opened the checkered shirt to show the list of names on the t-shirt below. HOLY SHIT IT IS RUSS AND BUTLER! That was about all it took to take my interest in Dath’s words up the dail to 11. (Yes, 11.) Then I noticed the equations tattooed on his arms and the dial broke. Intelligent human passionate about SFF and writing with equation tattoos and feminist SFF t-shirts?!?! Kryptonite! Glorious, glorious kryptonite!
But I am getting ahead of myself. Ehem. The night began with Lars Popp at the front of a half-circle of chairs in an upper-story room of the Mousonturm in Frankfurt Bornheim. Popp read from his debut novel, Haus der Halluzinationen, which was published by Hablizel in 2014. In the continuing struggle of Nikki versus the German language, I am sad to report, the German language won, and I understood very little of Popp’s reading. (Though does a language win when it is not understood? We’re all losers in that situation.)
Popp did not have an accent, and his German wasn’t full of long, insidious words (from what I’ve seen of the book he read from), but I could barely follow. I listen to a lot of audio books in German, read in German, speak and listen in German every damn day, but Popp read too quickly, mashing words and sentences and paragraphs into a slurry I could barely differentiate into individual words. The tragedy of the non-native speaker at a reading with authors who are not professional voice actors. Ho-hum, practice makes perfect, hätte hätte Fahrradkette.
Then Dietmar Dath took the stage. Instead of reading from his most recent book—Venus Siegt, also from Hablizel, and something I am in the middle of as I write this—Dath read an essay about SFF he had prepared specifically for the event. While I understood more of his reading, I was still at only about 50 percent. What I did hear was excellent, as was what he had to say during the panel discussion that followed the readings. But alas, I was reduced to thinking about his t-shirt as another slurry of words bombarded me, meaning lost upon impact.
After Dath’s reading, a bald, theatrical man at the back of the room stood up and suggested that we needed a break after that moving text before the next reading. As it turned out, that man was Alban Nikolai Herbst, the next reader himself. Sneaky way to get another cigarette break before going onstage, I thought, going to have to remember that for our next concert. As most of the listeners departed for a smoke, I bought a glass of wine at the diy bar set out on a table at the back of the room.
Though Herbst is, according to the internet and Wilhelm Kühlmann, an important figure in German post-modern literature, I am but a humble traveler still at the beginning of the long road of German SFF, and I had never heard head nor tail of him. He is, however, an excellent and animated reader (perhaps related to his work directing radio), and I was able to follow his reading of Wolpertinger.
But, as always, it was the discussion between the three men following the reading that I had come for, and it was the discussion that I enjoyed the most. I admit it: I don’t like readings. Very few talented authors are also talented performers—their strength lies on the page. I occasionally enjoy listening to a favorite author read from a favorite work, to hear the cadence and rhythm intended (or in the case of S.M. Stirling, to hear how the accents are really supposed to sound), but I rarely enjoy a reading otherwise. Why attend a fucking reading then, Nikki?, you ask. Well, to see what kind of people attend an SFF reading in Frankfurt, to meet other writers and geeks, and to hear the discussion promised for the last portion of the night under the headline: political, fantastic, poetic.
In defense of my German skills, I understood every word of the discussion. Thank pod for that.
Fuck readings! Let’s all drink wine and listen to SFF authors argue about the genre for the rest of our lives. This is what I love. This is the sort of thing I read on the internet, but live and with passion and wild gesticulation. This is why I spend all my time at conventions running from panel to panel, sitting in the front, taking notes and letting the sparks of enthusiasm fall over me and keep my own fire ablaze.
Do you enjoy readings? What was the last author event you attended?