3 Incredibly Good Foreign Language Sci-Fi Short Stories

English is a great language for literature. Tons of exemplary works of literary, mainstream, and science fiction have been written in it. But obviously, it’s not the only language on Earth. Scads of great sci-fi writers tend to fly under American audiences’ radar because they write in their own language, and get published in their home countries’ magazines instead of the big New York ones.

Americans aren’t the only people who have a moratorium on splendid science fiction. Writers all around the world have crafted works of sublime genius in their mother tongues. And I, Andrew Timothy Post, sci-fi writer extraordinaire, am here to tell you about three of ’em.

Let’s hit it!

1. “Tale of the Computer that Fought a Dragon” by Stanisław Lem.

Stanisław Herman Lem (1921-2006) was a Polish sci-fi writer. Though he lived in Eastern Europe during the worst days of the Cold War, when free speech and expression were repressed by the Soviet government, he still managed to churn out short stories and novels in various genres. He was so good that he was awarded an honorary membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) in 1973. Even Isaac Asimov, the grand master of science fiction, spoke highly of him.

I’ve never read anything quite like “Tale of the Computer that Fought a Dragon.” It’s wry, it’s engaging, and it’s an insane mashup of cyberpunk and fantasy. The king of a cyber-kingdom (“King Poleander Partobon, ruler of Cyberia, was a great warrior, and being an advocate of the methods of modern strategy, above all else he prized cybernetics as a military art. His kingdom swarmed with thinking machines, for Poleander put them everywhere he could. On the planet cyberbosks of cybergorse rustled in the wind, cybercalliopes and cyberviols sang – but besides these civilian devices there were twice as many military, for the King was most bellicose…” is how the story begins) commissions a gigantic supercomputer to be built on the Moon. The supercomputer is powerful and has a lot of guns, and soon the king tires of being so militarily powerful that no one will attack him. The supercomputer obligingly creates “an electrosaur,” a giant robotic dragon that threatens to destroy the king and his entire kingdom. (It’s the featured image on this blog post, if you want to get some idea of how terrifying it is.) The computer won’t actually help the terrified king fight the electrosaur unless the king refers to the computer as “Your Ferromagnicity.”

It’s great fun, and only a few hundred words long. Go read it. It’s online.

2. “Triceratops” by Kono Tensei

Kono Tensei (1935-2012) was a Japanese science fiction writer. Although almost unknown in the science fiction world and America, he wrote sci-fi stories good enough to appear in David Hartwell’s World Treasury of Science Fiction, published in 1989 (which, incidentally, is where all the stories in this blog post come from).

The only way I can describe Tensei’s story “Triceratops” is “surrealist.” A father and son are out bicycling when suddenly a gigantic three-horned dinosaur darts across their path. After that, they start seeing dinosaurs everywhere, but nobody else seems to be able to…

And as if that wasn’t a cool enough premise for you, the story ends with a haiku. How neat is that?

3. “I Was the First to Find You” by Kirill Bulychev

Kirill Bulychev was a Soviet sci-fi writer. His works were adapted into movies and TV shows more than any other Soviet author. He is most famous for his series of sci-fi stories about a particular Soviet town that attracts all sorts of aliens and paranormal entities. He also wrote a number of movie scripts and standalone sci-fi novels. As David G. Hartwell wrote of Bulychev in The World Treasury of Science Fiction:

Among the most versatile and popular SF writers in the Soviet Union, Kirill Bulychev is one of a group of younger Soviet writers to emerge in the 1960s. Above all, his talent for storytelling and interest in human characters interacting with SF problems make him a particular effective representative of recent Soviet SF. The strain of utopianism remains strong in Eastern European SF and sinks many stories with didacticism, but Bulychev is able to sustain his delight in the wonders of the technological future, as in the days of John W. Campbell. And of course, the influence of Campbell-style SF itself, in this case Van Vogt’s “Far Centaurus,” is clearly present.

“I Was the First to Find You” concerns a team of archaeologists on a dig on a planet that’s so hostile that the blowing dust can bury skyscrapers. Then they uncover evidence that they’re not the first to attempt an archaeological exploration of the ruins…

Well, that’s all I’ve got, Internet. Some great Polish, Japanese, and Russian sci-fi stories. Now get the heck off the Internet and start reading ’em. And then write some amazing science fiction of your own. I know you can.