Agent Auf Deutsch

Received a package from Germany today which was not full of marzipan and schnitzel, damn it, but was full of copies of Agent der Sterne, the German version of Agent to the Stars, complete with the now-standard Laser-Shooting Spacecraft Not Appearing in the Book. This is not me complaining, however, as Heyne, my publisher, seems to know what they’re doing; my books sell better in Germany than just about anywhere else outside the US, and if random laser spaceships are part of that equation, well, that’s fine by me.

In any event, thank you, German readers, for picking up the books. You guys are swell. Even if you do love laser spaceships more than is absolutely necessary.

58 thoughts on “Agent Auf Deutsch

  1. Given that the cover has nothing to do with the story, it would catch my eye if I were out shopping. Hell, it was the cover of The Android’s Dream that caught my attention in the first place.

  2. Dude, you wrote Clone Wars? (Isn’t that what “Der Autor von KRIEG DER KLONE” means?)

    I get the feeling I’ve missed something important.

  3. You know, I used to live in Germany and, well, German covers are abysmal. Luckily, German readers dig that kind of thing, I guess.

    Also, Mmmmm….marzipan.

  4. @ 3 I guess they mean Old Man’s War with it. A liberal translator might name it that. It’s topically correct, although it kind of spoils some stuff. It sound better than Krieg der Alter Manner or something like that…

  5. I haven’t been to Germany in almost 20 years. Can anyone with more recent knowledge guess at the ratio to science fiction covers with laser spaceships to covers without laser spaceships?

    Because I’m getting what is possibly a completely warped impression of there being very few without laser spaceships.

  6. Theyis@6: I suppose a soldier from Old Man’s War could be considered a clone. But I thought since the cover art didn’t exactly match the story I remembered, maybe there were other differences as well.

    Actually I like the spaceship. It reminds me of the Ulysses fighters from Freespace.

  7. Yay, Dave H remembers Freespace too! That game was brilliant, and I thought of it when I saw the Scalziship.

  8. I’m thinking that if I mine my vast past library of artwork of spaceships shooting lasers (which goes back to 3rd grade at least, and continues to this day), and then did a bunch of slick paintings of them, perhaps I could open myself a new art market over in Europe…

  9. John, I find it disturbing that you think it’s possible for someone to love laser spaceships too much.

  10. I’m not sure that is a laser space ship. the light (?) coming from the wings does not seem to be coherent. It clearly disperses as it leaves the source.

  11. scott@15: That’s probably atmospheric dispersion. In a vacuum you wouldn’t be able to see the beams.

    This explanation brought to you by Retcons ‘r’ Us – for all your retroactive continuity needs!

    Does anyone know why the book says “roman” under the title?

  12. Maybe it’s actually one of those “story within the story” things … who knows what Earth Resurrected’s storyline might have called for? ;)

  13. on a slightly related topic , I just got my copy of your “hate mail will be graded” and started to read it. Wheeeeeee!

    all this time I thought that the title was just a witticism. It almost makes me want to write you some hate mail just to see what kind of grades i would get. do you grade on spelling and punctuation (in which case i’d get bad grades) or on originality and inventiveness ? well gotta get back to my book, thank you john and write more novels

  14. As a German I can say that I didn’t buy the book because of that silly laser shooting space ship. I don’t like it when the image on the book doesn’t have a connection to the story.

    On another book (from another author) they used the artwork for the Clarke novel “2061 – Odyssey Three”, completely with Dave Bowman in his space suit and lots of monoliths. Of course there was absolutely no connection to the story inside.

    Back to your book: When I’m reading the book I don’t look on the cover so I had a lot of fun reading it. :-)

  15. @jamie: There isn’t much Science Fiction in Germany nowadays so it’s hard to tell. If you go into a bookstore and if there is an extra shelf for SF (i.e. it’s not mixed with Fantasy), then you find mostly Star Wars novels (spaceships), Star Trek novels (spaceships), sometimes Shadowrun novels (no spaceships, but sometimes they shelf those under Fantasy), and a few books vom russian authors like Stanislaw Lem, Sergej Lukianenko and Dmitry Glukhovsky (mostly no spaceships). And that’s it.

  16. It’s “by russian authors” of course. Don’t know how that “vom” got there, it’s not even the right german word.

  17. I wonder why nobody has mentioned that German SF books used to contain soup ads back in the 80s ;)

    Back on topic: I own most of your books, John, and I have bought them in spite of the covers not because of them. And I do love space ships on covers but the ones on the German editions of your books are not exactly what I would call well crafted. Publishers like Heyne chose the covers according to the estimated “Zielgruppe”, and obviously they seem to think that your books should be read by twelve-year-old Star Wars fanboys.

    Still, there are covers that are even worse. Compare the latest German edition of Andreas Eschbach’s “Haarteppichknüpfer” to the US edition (“The Carpet Makers”) to see what I mean…

  18. Being German myself I have to say that slapping on a space ship is the easiest way to say “This book contains no vampires! It’s safe to read!”

    I gave a copy of Krieg der Klone (Who was the translater bright idea was it to name that book after a starwars film!?) for my fathers birthday.

    But Lars is right, good science fiction is spare these even if he forgot the Perry Rhodan and Honor Harrington series.

    The rest in the fiction area is either Lord of the ring or vampires.

    It’s all about vampires…

    *shudders*

  19. @Naut

    Oh yes, the soup advertisment! Put into the middle of chapters, set inbetween completly black lines and actually using the Character names…

    First time I stumbled about one in the Star Trek novel “Uhuras Lied” I was all “bwuh? Why is spock eating soup now?”

    Truely, that was a new low!

  20. Germans learn to buy books despite their covers :-). It adds to the fun to guess what the cover might have to do with the content of the book. Or what the editor was thinking when s/he picked that cover.

    I rememeber I was totally flabbergasted when an edition of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels actually had covers that partially fit the content. Such a new and unseen thing.

  21. I agree with my German fellows, that nobody in Germany buys books because of theire covers. We know that they are not meant to show you what is inside. The problem is that ” Old Man’s War” is military SF and your German publisher thoght that Military SF and spaceships with laser guns are equivalents. That’s why all other books of yours are put into this category.

    Your publisher Heyne has some other books with better covers (Iain Banks, Charles Stross come to mind) No laser spaceships on theire covers.

    @ Isaac: Nobody in Germany who is in their right mind adores David Hasselhoff. And no, we do not think he is a great singer :-)

  22. You know, I live here, but I don’t own any of your books in German. Yes, compared with the rest of the world the German printing industry knows how to produce quality paperbacks (no kidding, the quality is usually really good), but these “stock scifi art” covers are driving me nuts — and reading your stuff in any other language than English just feels wrong. :)

    PS: You know, in my mind, John Perry always looked like a young, greenish Hasselhoff. Food for thought.

  23. Not all German SF books have spaceships; I’m currently reading (actually struggling through, since German is my third language) Frank Schaetzing’s “Limit” which has the moon on it’s cover. It’s the hardback, maybe the laser spaceships will appear on the paperback?

    @Torsten 29: I especially loved the cover for Charles Stross’ “Du Bist Tot” (how that got translated from “Halting State” is beyond me, though!)

  24. @Jan: Frank Schätzing’s Books are mostly sold as Thrillers. I don’t think the publisher wants the readers to see them as Science Fiction.

  25. Carina@26: Is Perry Rhodan still going on? I got through about a dozen of the English translations and realized it wasn’t going to end any time soon, so I quit. Wow, that was a long time ago. I feel old.

    John@17: Thanks!

  26. IMHO…Unless it is purely abstract I would expect that any cover art be at least somewhat representative of the topic of the book. I have not read this particular novel so I am curious if it has space war or something that could, in a stretch, warrant a spacecraft shooting a laser?

    I think if I read a book in which the cover played a part in my decision to buy then the contents of the book were completely different then I would most likely refrain from buying other books by that author.

    I think I read here somewhere that authors have no control over the cover? But still, it is misleading and would have a negative impact on me at least.

  27. This problem is not unique to science fiction. I can’t say much about fantasy novels, since I tend not to look at them, but mysteries and historical novels suffer here too. They generally use stock images, sometimes cobbled together. It looks to me like the major publishers just don’t want to pay an actual artist to paint a cover. They just use designers to take copyright-free images and create something that looks like a cover.

    The most recent egregious example I can think of involves (for the German readers here) Andrea Schacht’s “Pantoufle: Ein Kater zur See”. The story involves a cat on board a steamship crossing from Brest to NY in the very late 19th century. The cover shows a cat taken from some Dutch Master who either had never seen a cat before or the image was highly distorted to fit everything else. I lies on an 18th century naval chart showing the Caribbean. Through a porthole can be seen what appears to be the battle of Lepanto. Three or perhaps four public domain images Photoshopped into a semi-coherent whole by a graphic artist on salary, rather than a commissioned piece of art requiring fees, royalties, and whatever other ongoing costs would be involved.

  28. Covers that have nothing to do with the contents of the book annoy me a little. If it was a book that I’d written, I suspect that it’d drive me around the bend far enough that I wouldn’t notice whether the sales numbers were any good.

    Given that the chance of me even writing a book, let alone getting one published, is close to nil, my sanity is safe.

  29. Being a German, I must admit that in the bookstores I frequent (apart from amazon…) most often there is only the mixed SF/F shelf. That kind of sucks, as since Twilight Fantasy seems more or less defined as “romantic vampire story”, the shelf is about one third crowded with this junk, the next third is some Star Wars franchise, and the rest is split rather unequally into Lord of the Rings, romantic werewolf stories (as if we had not more than enough of that romantic fantasy crap!!), and other fantasy and Sci-Fi authors. Since there really is only one strong Publisher in the field for Science Fiction (being Heyne, your Publisher), they can obviously do anything they like to the books. Many other great books have been destroyed by putting boring, generic covers on them. Many great books have been destroyed by having a really bad translator.
    Obviously, the quality in a novel published in German language may not be determined by looking at the cover.

  30. Gary @ 13 That was my first thought as well.

    Anyway, I like the Carina’s idea that a spaceship on the cover is the German method of certifying that the novel is “Vampir frei”.

    And speaking of vampire novels, has everyone seen the new cover of Wuthering Heights designed to make it LOOK like a vampire novel.
    (search Wuthering Heights on Amazon, 3rd one down)

  31. Point to ponder: What if the book *did* have laser-shooting spaceships in it? What would be on the cover then? Given that the cover can, in no way, relate to the contents of the book…

    - yeff

  32. I’ve noted before I have a mind to write a book specifically for the German market called “Laser-shooting space ships”. JUST TO SEE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT.

  33. John@41:
    This is a great idea!

    Perhaps it can be organized that *this* book doesn’t have Laser-shooting space ships on the cover. ;-)

  34. (Wow! Didn’t know that my WP-account would work here.)

    John@41: As far as I remember, Charles Stross did have a laser shooting space ship in “Singularity Sky”, and all they did was putting a flying globe that resembled a Perry Rhodan “Kugelraumer” on the cover.

    Christoph@37: It’s not that desperate. Heyne is a big player in SF but following their sell to Random House Group they had to give half of their fantasy licenses to Piper. And dtv, even Suhrkamp have fantasy and vampire titles in stock.

  35. @Dave H (33)

    Yup. Perry Rhodan’s still going strong last time I checked. Both the 1€ novellas and the hard bound collectors editions.

    It’s so practical that the main chara’s immortal, ain’t it?

    @John Scalzi
    I think our book marked would implode. That… That would be kinda like dividing through zero. ;)

    But I just checked, my books from the publishers surkamp and list (mainly Stanislav Lem) don’t have space ships on them at all. So It’s not all of them! And frankly, the novel “Der Unbesiegbare” IS about a laser shooting starship. Hm…

  36. I have one thing to say for it:

    At least it isn’t that picture that looks like a mechanical Daddy Long-Legs standing on a beach ball, colorshifted yet again.

  37. As Andrea puts it: Germans buy books despite their covers. There seems to be a deep discrepancy between the image big publishers like Heyne have of their genre readers and the actual readers. Heyne makes money with genre literature but basically thinks our readers are idiots. (By the way, their opinion of us writers is not much better.) They get away with that, unfortunately. Because we buy the books anyway.
    There is this underlying tendency in Germany to change minor things when translating a book or a movie or a TV series. Very often it’s the title which is changed and suddenly means nothing whatsoever. Be glad Heyne did not rename your book into “Vrooom goes the starship” or something like that. Episodes of TV sesries fare the worst. I have long been of the opinion that a group of slightly retarded morons meet for that and try to come up with a random order of words that makes sure not to bear any semblance to either the original title or contents.
    My books are published by Feder & Schwert. They have covers that I like a great deal – they actually think about them and design them rather than draw out a prebought whatnot from a box like a raffle ticket. Of course, they are not nearly as big as Heyne. They can still afford to love what they do. But the big money of course is with Heyne etc.

  38. It’s not just the covers. Also the translations suck big big time. That’s why I read my Scalzi novels in english, though I’m german. If in doubt, try Neal Stephenson’s german “Snow Crash” version. (Totes his rosary bcs of this sacrileg)

  39. @51 Marius K:
    2nd that!

    Too much gets lost and mangled in translation.
    If i read a book, i want to read what the author wrote, not an interpretation by someone else.

    Also, who can wait that long for the translation to come out?
    The english books take too long already. :)

    Now where is my next Scalzi fix?

  40. @ Ju, Marius and all other Germans: Don’t get me started on the whole translation front! Being a translator and knowing something about the business I can only say that it’s often a mix of unqualified translators, uninterested lectors and pressure of the business (money, money, money).

    Take this as an example for the problems translators sometimes face and the frustration resulting from it: http://www.scheibenwelt-news.de/archives/63-Offener-Brief-von-Bernhard-Kempen-zur-UEbersetzung-Eine-Insel.html

    But yeah, I also know enough unqualified translators, especially when it comes to genre-fiction, like people who have never even watched an episode of Star Trek translating Star Trek.

    Add the fact that it pays badly and in the end you get what you pay for. I think only non-bestselling genre-writers are paid worse than genre-translators.

  41. True, translation are a crapshot. There’s a reason I only read the English Pratchett versions. But Pratchett relies alot on puns, so translations are hard.

    Still, I found the translation of Harry Potter actually *improved* the story. Maybe I’m just odd in that regard.

    Regarding the translations of “A nation” – hoh boy, I’m sooo not surprised. Has anybody taken a look at the new translations of Wolkov’s Elli im Wunderland? *shudders* They shortened the books for 40% and totally killed all the nice character moments. I’m so glad I still got my old GDR-versions around.

  42. @ Carina: Puns and wordgames are a bitch to translate.

    I have to admit that I wasn’t happy with what I’ve seen of the HP-translation. Some things were simply wrongly translated.

    Shortening books is, unfortunately, a very bad behaviour among German publishers and one of the many reasons why I mostly only read English originals. Part of the problem is of course that translating from English into German makes the book/the text about 1/3 longer than the English original.

  43. Well the cover does look intriguing. I know they say not to judge a book by a cover, but you know we all do. I guess they know what works cause it seems to be doing well for you. So congrats.

  44. When I visited Germany 10 years ago I bought a couple of Pratchett books in a Heyne edition. One had an appropriate cover, the other had a cover commissioned for a book by Robert Rankin. The art was by Josh Kirby who was doing the Pratchett covers at the time.

    This used to be a habit of publishers in the UK. There was a cover by Chris Foss with a generic but non-laser firing spaceship, but the book was 334 by Thomas M Disch. Spaceship content: nil.

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