A chronological overview of my short stories as they have appeared since 2002
2002 was, after a thirty-six year break in creative writing, the year of my comeback. Of the little sf I had been reading during that period, stories set in virtual reality or cyberspace fascinated me the most: they were not taking place in the limitless expanse of the universe, but seemed within reach, even if in another continuum.
VR is a world of endless possibilities, the drug of the future, which will allow us to one day escape the constraints of our everyday lives and taste everything that has been denied us. Sexuality - the strongest drive in living memory - will control almost everything. With this in mind, I came to write "Schlaraffenland" (Land of Milk and Honey, 2002). The story is about a young man who has been bedridden because of his enormous girth, but who is reborn in a clinic. While in rehab, he falls in love whilst moving between reality and virtuality; he experiences happiness and disappointment in turn, until he can't stand the latter anymore and retreats into a virtual world, where he remains forever in his land of milk and honey.
I barely finished this short novel when I discovered two things: the first was that the story was far too long for a regular magazine, the second that I had not nearly exhausted the theme - that's how many ideas were crowding me. What else could I do but write more stories on the theme of Cybersex and fill an entire collection with them? I went on to map out a kind of History of VR, which begins in the near future when visors and gloves are replaced by VR suits, and extends over the next two hundred years into a time when neural networks and the denaturalisation of the human being are the final result. To this I added another nine stories under the title "Sex, Love, Cyberspace" (2002), which I explore further at the end of this list.
Since I was already on the theme 'sex', I described in the novelette "Gepriesen sei die Grosse Mutter" (Praise to the Great Mother, 2002) a colony separated from Mother Earth, which has through genetic manipulation been turned into a matriarchy under command of a female priesthood involved in strange sexual practices and rituals.
An old theme, but which may nevertheless be more relevant than ever, formed the basis of my next story "Offline" (2002). What would happen if one was suddenly ripped from an omnipresent network by a power failure, one's identity was lost, and one is left to one's own devices?
Next I blasted off into space. "Universal Soldier" (also available in English, 2002) is the name of my human fighting machines in an intergalactic battle, who, when they can no longer be patched up or revitalised, are cloned and implanted with a back-up of their memories, and sent back into battle. Regular memory updates are supposed to aid in the revival process, but they have traumatic side-effects; in the end the Universal Soldiers are nothing more than cannon fodder.
A call for submissions to a dragon anthology brought me around to writing "Loris Wunderland" (Lori's Wonderland), in 2002. Influenced by Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" I chose to write in the fantasy genre. Lori, a wonder child, can turn her fantasies into reality with dramatic consequences: they culminate in the creation of a fire-spewing monster. It would, however, be a fatal mistake to attack the monstrosity, since Lori could change the whole world into her own fairyland.
Wilson Tucker's "Tourist Trade" also left a lasting impression on me. That's how "Immer wieder Sonntag" (Forever Sunday, 2002) came into being - a story about tourists from the future who travel back in time to gape at our barbaric era. Because of an anomaly in time the present day family visited is caught in a time loop, and has to make the best of it. A story filled with humor and irony.
"Körper zu vermieten" (available in English as Body For Rent, 2002) deals with a squatter who nests in a host body, and is so careless and audacious with it that the host takes the decision to move out - and into a Third World body. Humor with a dash of vulgarity.
"Mutter Erde, Vater Kosmos" (Mother Earth, Father Cosmos, 2002) was the title of my next story, a novelette which I conceived of as an "earth opera". It is about a post-human shape-shifting space traveler, who experiences all sorts of wild adventures while on shore leave on his home planet Earth. Thanks to his unique abilities, he manages to free himself from the clutches of organ and body snatchers.
Another novelette followed. In "Geschenk von den Sternen" (Gift from the Stars, 2002) I asked myself the question what we would do when an extraterrestrial artifact, a matter-transmitter-duplicator, put us in the position to create for ourselves, through a simple transmutation process, everything we could ever wish for. In my story, a probe sows these artifacts across the entire planet, with some interesting results. It is only in the conclusion that the question of whether this was a test, a developmental aid, or a Trojan horse is answered.
Back to IT and cyberspace I went, and produced "Speck für die Maus" (available in English as Like a Fly Caught in a Web, 2002). It is about a property offer that ends up being nothing more than a spam trap. During a virtual viewing of a home, a virtual seller tries every trick in the book to convince a hapless buyer to sign contracts for all sorts of products and services. Irony paired with black humor.
With "Programm zum Verlieben" (A Program for Love, 2003), I again tackled cybersex as a theme. Actually a precursor to "Sex, Love, Cyberspace", it tells the near-future story of a student who falls in and out of love with an AI, when the all too human software must make way for a purely commercial, soulless porn product.
"Stimme des Gewissens" (available in English as The Voice of Conscience, 2003) describes a future in which the moral development of our children is left to artificial intelligences implanted in their brains, and which do not fully leave them at their coming of age, when the AIs are switched off. The story takes a gloomy view of the future role that parents will play in child-rearing and a brave new world.
Still under the influence of new media, I described in "Download" (also available in English, 2003) an apocalyptic world, in which a dying man's flight from a brutal reality takes the form of electronically stored memories. An illusion of flashbacks and mementoes.
As though I had a premonition of it - John Paul II did, indeed, die soon after this story was written - I described in detail the ultra-conservative but changing needs of the papal selection process in 2866, in which women, aliens and artificial intelligences are also given the opportunity to become the head of the Catholic Church. That the deceased pope in "Habemus papam" (2003) is called Benedict XVII is a pure coincidence. This story has been published 2008 in the USA, by the Wesleyan University Press, in "The Black Mirror and Other Stories - an Anthology of Science Fiction from Germany and Austria", as well as 2011 in Japan, representing Austrian Science Fiction in an Eastern Europe Fantastic Anthology.
I already had a framework for the story "All Inclusive" (2003) a year before I convinced Ernst Vlcek and Uschi Zietsch - two formidable names on the German science fiction scene - to co-write it with me. Simply put, it's the story of an elderly couple that wins a dream holiday, which reveals as a trip into cyberspace. The part of the elderly lady, who chooses a trip into a fantasyland, was written by Uschi, while the elderly gentleman, who prefers to participate in a galactic battle, was penned by Ernst.
"Personal Android" (2003) is once again a pandemonium story of Android doubles used by a husband and wife to disguise their liaisons.
With "Zeitbeben" (Timequake, 2003) I tackled one of my favorite themes: time travel. The protagonist in this case is my writerly alter ego, who is thrown into the future by an anomaly in time - a timequake - and confronted with his own death. Knowing what happens, he abruptly swings into the past, and then back into the present. The story should serve as a prelude to further tales on this phenomenon.
My cats inspired me to write my next story, entitled "Incommunicado" (2003). Can understanding exist between two entirely different intelligences, such as humans and our house pets? In my novelette, a family is suddenly supplanted by aliens into a strange environment without knowing how it happened, and all their attempts to communicate fail. But the misunderstanding counts for both parties.
Another story from my youth inspired me; this time it was "Hobson's Choice", by Alfred Bester. In my version of the tale, "Zur falschen Zeit" (available in English as At the Wrong Time, 2004), a dying protagonist allows himself to be cryogenically frozen, in the hope of waking up in a better, medically more advanced time. Yet no epoch reveals itself as ideal; though each of them has a hook, he goes on believing that he might still be missing out on something. With this story, I examine my own frustrations at being born too early for the wonderful scientific and technological discoveries that the future holds.
"Ruhe in Frieden" (available in English as Rest in Peace, 2004) also deals with my longing for a longer life. In this story, flashbacks that correspond to various stages of technological advances in the life of an elderly man are illustrated. Instead of being cloned a second time, he decides to enter a limitless life in a mechanical shell.
In "Zum Abschuss freigegeben" (available in English as Fair Game, 2004), I again dedicate myself to a very real theme: an aging population. Here I mix political opinions on government pension schemes and increasingly violent propensities in our society with state sanctioning of the hunting of old people, who are unwilling to be retired into an electronic oblivion.
The next story "Le dernier cri" (also available in English, 2004) came into being when I was given the opportunity to contribute to a themed anthology. In it, a beautiful woman wears for her aging lover the newest nanotechnology supported fashions - with highly erotic consequences.
Inspired by Simaks' City stories (but also by Harlan Ellison's "A Boy and his Dog"), I wrote "Ein Hund und sein bester Freund" (A Dog and his Best Friend, 2005). A genetically modified dog and an antiquated robot drift through a desolate landscape abandoned by humans, and help each other to survive. What the two know about each other but won't say out loud is this - they are nothing more than toys discarded by their human masters.
And back again to a favorite topic from my youth. In "Die Tücken der Zeit" (The Malice of Time, 2005) a time cop is confronted with love and jealousy, hate and paradox, when he hopelessly tries to change the course of certain events in his favor.
Once more (and surely not the last time) time travel plays a role in a story: "Goodbye James!" (2006) is about a hapless traveling salesman who accidentally swaps his luggage for that of a time traveler, and discovers it is filled with all sorts of futuristic devices. What if he pretended to be some sort of James Bond … and is caught by surprise?
In closing, here is a summary of the other nine stories that appear in the collection "Sex, Love, Cyberspace" (2002):
In "Safer Sex" teenagers fool around safely, not with condoms, but in cyberspace. In "Szenen einer Ehe" (Scenes from a Marriage) the couple's wishes diverge; while the man lives out his fantasies in VR, the wife that insists on doing things naturally has to lower her expectations. "Bermuda-Dreieck" (Bermuda Triangle) pays homage to Erich von Däniken and the Mystery Park which he conceived. This story about a serial rapist stalking cyberspace was written while the park - part Disneyland, part 'Knowledge Park' - was still being planned. "Romanze in e-moll" (Romance in e-minor) is a love story with a twist: two neighbors only find each other on the net. "Schlaraffenland" is followed by "Spinne im Netz" (Spider's Web) a crime thriller which deals with a woman who murders men because of her hate for them. In "Rache ist süss" (Revenge is Sweet) a cuckold husband takes his revenge on a virtual partner for his wife's adultery. In "Cogito ergo Sum" (also available in English) a man resurrects a love from his youth as an AI, which eventually becomes self-aware. Like many of my other stories, "Für immer und e-wig" (For Now and Evermore) explores life after death in cyberspace. In it an earthly love does not automatically end with death. Lastly, in "Wir sind doch keine Wilden!" (also available in English as "We're not Savages!") new neighbors with their naturalistic tendencies offend a community of puritans and are eventually exiled from a high-tech paradise.