Staff recommendations: VERY foreign travel

Hello again from Nina, reference librarian with a strange frame of reference, offering some more suggestions for especially adventurous readers! Anyone serious about science fiction is familiar with the famous Anglo-American writers who defined the genre throughout the 20th century, but some of the most important SF books were not originally written in English. The Hoopla media-lending platform offers access to ebook editions of many excellent translations. (To set up and use a Hoopla account with your YPL card, please visit this tutorial.)

A strong case can be made that the prolific French author Jules Verne invented the modern science-fiction novel. Along with his many more conventional adventure stories, Verne invited his readers on the first plausible moonshot, took them into the deep in a super-submarine, sent them wandering through space after a comet collision, and confronted them with a megalomaniac inventor of super-weapons. One could say that without Jules Verne, there wouldn’t be much science fiction at all! 

And where would science fiction be without the concept of the robot? For that – not to mention the very word itself, from the Czech word robota, meaning “forced labor” – we must thank Karel Čapek, author of the 1920 play R.U.R. The title stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, a company producing artificial workers, with unforeseen results.

Dystopian settings have become very popular recently, particularly in the large field of young-adult SF. But how many fans of the Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies are aware that their favorites are the direct descendants of another century-old work? In the early years of both the science-fiction genre and the Soviet Communist regime, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We was so controversial that its first publication was in a 1924 English translation; the Russian original did not see print until 1988! Its depiction of a mindless mass society run like a termite mound, with numbers in place of names, is familiar now, but was seismic at the time. 


In the hands of the brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, science fiction was the perfect medium to explore the surreal nature of life in their native Soviet Union. Whether inexplicable madness was brought from outer space (Roadside Picnic), or volunteers from Earth found themselves trapped in a mad alien Experiment (The Doomed City), their flawed but deeply human protagonists touch our hearts. Many of their novels have recently been republished in complete and corrected new translations, and they’re like nothing you ever read before!

Few modern authors writing in Polish are better known than the internationally popular Stanislaw Lem, whose books have been translated into 41 languages. His perennial themes are the difficulty, indeed the inconceivability, of communication between different forms of consciousness, no matter how intelligent; the profound limits of technology; and the even more profound limits of human agency. Dark humor is often part of the equation.


So … before you take off for outer space, depart for foreign shores first!