The Golden Age of Czech Science Fiction
History is said to repeat itself. Let us then recall that the spontaneous origin
of SF movement in the USA at the end of the nineteen-thirties was decisively
influenced by the deep economical crisis, and for many young people then SF
literature meant an escape from a bitter reality and everyday troubles. The
dramatic evolution of this movement culminated in a period which the Americans
call the Golden Age, the period which lasted about ten years and ended by a
strong commercionalization of the genre. Thirty years later, this history began
to repeat itself in a different place, and a story of Czech SF proves it all.
Czech SF did not live in an interstellar vacuum in the 70s but within well guarded
borders of the socialist Czechoslovakia. Its standing was not easy because it
was unwanted by the totalitarian regime, and it could be published only thanks
to the fact that it was published also in the Soviet Union (e.g. comics or fantasy
was not published at all). The number of published titles annually as a rule
did not reach the number of fingers on one hand, and the print runs of the most
interesting books were very limited. A thorough removal of Anglo-American SF
authors from the edition plans of books to be published was also accompanied
by a thorough censorship of films, music and general information (the Rolling
Stones, Star Wars or Frank Zappa were up to year 1989
officially unknown notions). If the Americans ran to SF literature to forget
the troubles of ordinary days in the 30s, the Czechs were escaping their grayness.
It could not be changed even by the fact that they
were the third nation, after Russians and Americans, who went into space
Existence without any future perspective and total impossibility of any self-realization led to formation of the first SF clubs and of Czechoslovak fandom at the end of the 80s. Translators, authors, publishers, illustrators, critics and especially the readers created a spontaneous movement which would not, under normal conditions, emerge at all.
Growing activity of fandom and sporadic infiltration of SF into official media resulted in a huge wave of action - in founding SF clubs, cons, fanzines and contests in the first half of the 80s. In 1982 was held the first ever round of the Karel Čapek Award literary contest for amateur authors of SF. This contest had a decisive importance for further development of the SF genre in Czechoslovakia because it attracted and inspired many authors who would not otherwise ever start writing or their works would not reach their readers. The most successful participants of the contest were especially people with an university-level education - physicians, scientists, lawyers or engineers for whom writing was just a hobby and the contest a challenge. Among the authors of this anthology are many who managed to win the contest, let just mention Novotný, Heteša, Veverka, Kadlečková, Biedermannová, Hauserová, Kmínek, Hlavička, Páv or Pecinovský, so from this point of view the importance of the Karel Čapek Award contest is not duly appreciated even now. Most of the authors who were successful in the Karel Čapek Award contest sooner or later made it and appeared in official publications. Similar situation was also in other creative areas, such as translations, criticism or illustrations.
Step by step the situation on the book market was getting better. Many books of quality were published and many publishing records were made, some of them not broken even today (e. g. a print run of a short story collection by A. C. Clarke was 130,500 copies - the average print run of a contemporary bestseller amounts to 5,000 copies). But on the other hand, the majority of interesting works was still published only in samizdat, and many of Czech authors had been still waiting for a publication of their books which did not make it through the sieve of the censor (Freiová, Velinský, Kmínek, Kramer etc.). The change came in 1989, and it must be said that it was a fundamental and unexpected change. Professionalization of a part of Czech fandom was done very quickly, and several specialized publishing houses appeared. During a short period of time were published all the books both the authors and readers were so long waiting for, and with this grand explosion the Golden Age of Czech SF reached its top. The following saturation of the book market led to temporal decline of interest in Czech authors, and so this stage definitively ended. Many authors started to work fully in their own professions and limited their activities in the SF field or went over to mainstream fiction and editorial work. But their place was taken by others and Czech SF lives on.