A great part of what makes being science fiction fan so great is the ability to share the passion with other fans. Discussing your favorite book, newly discovered show or even joining a co-op fight against alien creatures in a game often enhances the experiences. But when you also read in a language other than English, you suddenly discover that nobody has read that exceptional book and you can’t share your excitement with anyone in the English-speaking world. With so many wonderful books around the world, there are never enough translations, and it’s hard to be aware what available outside of the anglophone world.
So today I’m sharing my list of Polish science fiction I would really love to see translated in English.
“Holocaust F” by Cezary Zbierzchowski
The ends of worlds have a colorful tradition in speculative fiction. But what happens when not only the worlds fall apart, but also meanings, societies, metaphysics systems and ontologies?
Cezary Zbierzchowski’s “Holocaust F” is an ambitious hard scifi in a contemporary style, depicting the shape of an inevitable future, telling of war in which military actions are pieces of art on their own. What secrets does a cradle of a cradler hide? What did the tunneller “Heart of Darkness”—stuck in space-time loop and once more approaching the Earth’s orbit—discover in the vastness of cosmos? What is the plazmat that left the Earth, and what are frenes that remained on it? How to fight the Locust, modified “vampires”, or the morożenoje that alter probabilities? Is it worth to save the world if everything that was worth fighting for is already gone?
“Holocaust F” is a dynamic mix of Stross’s energy, Stephenson’s epic vision, Watts’s pessimism, and more than a pinch of Dick’s madness. Such books happen upon us extremely rarely, but when they are published, they always become a great reading celebration.
If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t trust much marketing hype and publisher’s claims, especially when like in this case, it refers to great names in the genre. But this time… “Holocaust F” really delivers on the blurb’s promise. It’s an epic and dark vision of the world that differs greatly from ours, yet at the same, it’s quite easy to understand how humanity got there.
Told in the first person, from the point of view of a member of a wealthy family, it offers a close, personal perspective of the world that is doomed but clinging to survival. It meshes fast-paced action, nail-biting tension, and reflections on things and problems that with every year seem more and more pressing.
When I first read this novel, it floored me with superb world building which fully immersed me in the book’s reality, and if I was to pick a single science fiction book worth translating into English, I would say “Holocaust F” without a moment of hesitation.
Algorytmy wojny (The Algorithms of War) series by Michał Cholewa
Publisher’s note on “Gambit” (book 1):
The AI-s had suddenly gone mad and destroyed the world as we knew it. We wander among the stars, and in the light of supernovas we wage wars. On grim planets and dark moons, we fight for the artefacts from before the Day.
But today, we’re in a mist. A cold, shapeless mist that steals sounds, colors, and souls. It conceals friends and enemies; it takes away hope and seeps fear in its place. But we persist. We were ordered to.
40th regiment of the European Union receives orders to secure planet New Quebec. Soon it will turn out that training and honor don’t make it easy to make choices that require victims and sacrifice.
Hard scifi in a dark setting of “Alien”, a secret straight from Philip K. Dick’s novel and battles in John Ring’s style.
Perhaps there’s enough military science fiction available in English language already, but I’m quite sure that fans of the genre would enjoy The Algorithms of War. The setting feels unique: instead of creating some new planetary alliances, humans took their old allegiances into space, and when the Day came—the rebellion of insane AI-s that cut communications, transport, and crumbled the vast planetary net—three very familiar powers vie for power: European Union, United States, and China, engaging in a constant three-way war.
Told from the perspective of the soldiers from the European Union, this series paints a broad scope of military and intelligence actions across various planets and battlefields. It’s brutally realistic in its depiction of war. People die, and it isn’t always a glorious death, making it a rather dark read, though not entirely a hopeless one: in the end, the characters will survive (at least most of them), though always with great sacrifices and price to pay. And as the books progress, each is better than the previous one, and each gets us closer to the secrets and plans related to the bigger threat to humanity. Even the titles of the books reflect it, being named by moves in such games like chess, go, and bridge.
“Vertical” and “Różaniec” (The Rosary) by Rafał Kosik
I decided to skip the publisher’s note for “Vertical” as it’s rather lengthy and tell-y. “Vertical” is set in a world where man-made island-cities climb upwards to the sky on steel ropes. It’s been happening for generations now, with no apparent reason or goal, and people live their lives without questioning the purpose of the cities, trying to preserve their dwellings despite dwindling resources. Until, one day, someone gets curious about how the world works.
Rafał Kosik’s imagination creates a unique world, and for that alone Vertical is worth a read. At the same time, it isn’t a character-driven story, filled with action or intrigues. And, which is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, it contains the same ending twist as all other books by the author. For this reason, I was torn whether I should choose “Vertical” that has a setting which feels more fantasy-like but is highly original, or play it safe with straight science fiction of “The Rosary”, where people live in domes that contain pieces of Earth’s cities and that float through the space.
“The Rosary” is more dystopian in its setting, and definitely feel more contemporary in depicting a society with full surveillance and control over the population (if you’ve read news a few years ago about China introducing point system to rate, reward, and punish its citizens, the book will feel uncomfortably close to reality), but eventually it follows the same structure as Vertical and delivers the same kind of twist.
“Przedksiężycowi” (”Prelunars”) by Anna Kańtoch
Be Thy will, Prelunars!
Lunapolis. The city in the clutches of the cult or art. Here even the murderers strive for perfection. And they are art-criminals.
You order children from soul engineers. In competing corporations. Adult talentless ones are deleted in a heartbeat, and they become human waste that rots in stinking, decaying worlds of the past. Only the most perfect ones will experience the awakening, because this is what the Prelunars want.
“Unfair, mean son-of-bitches!” a beginner artist blasphemes.
As it turns out, this young painter isn’t alone in his rebellion…
And on top of that, the time is running out and the world is falling apart and rusting…
It’s a bit of an honorary mention, as I haven’t finished this series yet. It had a bad timing: I started it shortly before my life-changing move to Ireland, and I never got back in the mindset of finishing it. Perhaps I didn’t get attached to the characters enough (they don’t seem to be the strength of this novel), but whenever I recall the book, I remember well the interesting setting—something I haven’t seen done in other books, which made me add this book to the list as well. The idea that on a chosen day, people gather to be evaluated whether they’ll continue to live or create or disappear was a powerful one, especially when you learn that the rejected people end up in another, imperfect iteration of the world. The image of the world shedding and abandoning its own “skin” in pursuit of perfection stayed with me through the years strongly enough for me to include “Przedksiężycowi” on the list.
What about Jacek Dukaj?
In the 1990’s and the 2000’s Jacek Dukaj was definitely a big name in Polish science fiction, being called the successor of one of the Polish masters, Stanisław Lem (which you might know as the author of “Solaris”). I wondered whether I should include him on my list, but some of his stories and books were already translated into English, so I chose to focus on authors that are probably unknown to English speakers.
So this is my list of Polish science fiction that I’d love to see translated into English. As everything, it’s a subjective choice, and since I’m behind with Polish SFF, I’m sure I missed more than one book that would be inclusion-worthy. Maybe next year I’ll have even more recommendations… Until then—is there a book that caught your attention? And have you read any interesting non-English science fiction?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.