Josef Nesvadba graduated in 1945 from Prague gymnazium (secondary school), and in 1950 received his medical degree with a speciality in psychiatry. From 1950 to 1952 he worked at a hospital in the city of Teplice and then was a military physician with the air force. From 1956 he attended to individual, and especially group, psychotherapy at the psychiatric department at the Prague polyclinic; from 1967 on he was in individual practice, which continued until 1990. He also took many trips abroad (Vietnam, USA, China), which had an influence on his writing. He is considered to be one of the best-known (if not the best known) authors of Czech science-fiction. From the end of the 1940's he began to translate poetry from English into Czech and to write theatrical plays (three of which were published by Dilia, and which stand outside the fantastic genre; Tri podpisy, 1954; Milionar Liebig, 1956 and Mimoradna udalost, 1956).
Soon after this he began to focus on short stories, and predominately fantastic ones. His first story collection was Tarzanova smrt (The Death of Tarzan - Mlada Fronta, 1958). The collection Einsteinuv mozek (Einstein's Brain - Mlada Fronta, 1960) followed, and was in turn followed by Vyprava opacnym smerem (Expedition in The Opposite Direction -- Cesky spisovatel, 1962), Vynalez proti sobe (Inventor of His Own Undoing -- SNKLU, 1964), Tarzanova smrt (The Death of Tarzan -- Cesky Spisovatel, 1966 -- selections from previous collections), Posledni cesty kapitana Nema (The Last Trips of Captain Nemo -- SNDK, 1966) and Tri dobrodruzstvi (Three Adventures -- Mlada Fronta, 1972, though only one of the three stories is science-fiction: Absolutni Stroj). Nesvadba's stories were in their time exceptional not only in the framework of science fiction, but also in the realm of literature in general. Technology did not dominate these stories, rather these stories served as a laboratory examining morality, ethics and philosophy. In the same way both the characters and the plotline were only devices to be used to explore broader issues. The stories also give evidence of an intellectual interested in the possibilities of changing society. A cultivated style of writing, characterized by short sentences and a certain detachment in the unfolding events, is for Nesvadba's stories typical.
His first collection, The Death of Tarzan, contains only three science-fiction stories out of a total of thirteen. In the following books the author writes exclusively science-fiction. The pinnacle of the collection Einstein's Brain is the story The Lost Face, in which a criminal forcibly switches, via an operation, faces with a priest. The result is a change in both of their behaviors to suit their new appearances. In conclusion however it is shown that this is just a transitional phenomenon -- the reality of peoples natures is not proven to be changed by having a different face. Another distinguished story from this collection is Inventor of His Own Undoing. The protagonist invents a machine which fully automates all production and which then leads to the establishment of a communist society. The inventor, who expects great riches from his invention, discovers that his riches mean nothing in a society where everyone is rich. At the same time there is a sense from the story of a certain doubt concerning the idealness of a society where there is no work. In the story Captain Nemo's Last Adventure the author asks the question, if there will be a technologically-oriented way of thinking in the future, who will have responsibility in the future for monitoring science and scientists? Expedition in the Opposite Direction also addresses this, and is the central story in the collection of the same name. Its hero has the chance to use a Nazi time machine to travel into the future, but instead goes one day into the past to correct the hero's mistake. The basic question here is to what extent are we free to change our fate. The time travel in "the opposite direction" is symbolic; more of Nesvadba's stories play out in the past than in the future. Historical disruptions interest the author, in which people's true nature will best stand out.
In the first half of the 1970's Nesvadba began to orient himself away from short stories and toward novels and novellas. At the same time he leaned away from classical science-fiction and his later work moves on the borderline between fantastic and general literature. Following the model of Graham Greene, the author blurred the boundaries between realism, often of an autobiographical nature, and the fantastic. A precursor of this was the non-fantastic, philosophical and political novel based in a Vietnamese setting, Dialog s doktorem dongem (Dialogue with Dr. Dong -- 1964). In 1974 came Bludy Erika N. (Lidove nakl.), which contained speculation on Erich von Daniken-type themes. This was followed by Secret News from Prague (1978) -- a partly autobiographical, social-adventure novel without a science-fiction theme. This was a substantially revised version of the original manuscript written between 1967 and 1969, which was forbidden publication in the aftermath of the Warsaw Pact invasion for being too daring in describing the current situation in Czechoslovakia. The original version was published in 1991 as Prvni zprava z Prahy (The First News from Prague). Ridicky prukaz rodicu (Mlada Fronta 1979) is a collection of three stories engaged with themes from the realm of psychology, around which is presented involved plots leading either to the solution of a mystery or the search for the true course of some past scenario. While the first two stories (Romance v dur and Kojenstina) are science-fiction only marginally (an artificially improved memory, translating of baby-talk), the third story Spasitel takes place in the future.
Minehava podruhe (Mlada Fronta, 1981) also contains three stories, more than ever linked with the author's original profession. In the first two stories inventions of a psychiatric nature are used, the third story is about attempts to communicate with people via psychotherapeutic groups. For science-fiction readers these stories were not too successful -- too much in them was intellectual as opposed to plot-driven. The most recent speculative novel by Josef Nesvadba is Hledam za manzela muze (Prace, 1986), where the science-fiction element is a gas serving to stimulate people's emotions and psyche. Also in this novel the main protagonist, the psychiatrist Jancar, is confronted with a vision of the future on the basis of which he valiantly tries to change the course of his life. The majority of Nesvadba's stories are gathered together in two collections, Vypravy opacnym smerem (Ml. Fronta, 1976) and Einsteinuv mozek (Prace, 1987). Since the 1980's he has published new short stories only occasionally.
Several of his stories (Death of Tarzan, The Half-wit of Xeenemunde, The Lost Face, Vampires, Ltd.) were made into films. In some other films he co-wrote the screenplays (Slecna Golem, Zabil jsem Einsteina, panove, Zitra vstanu a oparim se cajem). His story Kojenstina was the basis for television's Tajemstvi kojence (1983). Together with Milos Macourk he wrote the screenplay for Bambinot, based on his story of the same name. He also wrote the screenplays for several radio plays and serials, including Ukradene fantazie (1982), Smrt stareho vynalezce (1983), and Velka hra na vesmir (1988).
It is not possible to forget the important role which Josef Nesvadba has played at propagating Czech science-fiction. His stories can be found in many anthologies of world science-fiction and in some countries (U.S.A., UK, Germany, and others) collections of his stories have been published as stand-alone volumes. He was president of the science-fiction section at the World Congress of Writers, represented Czechoslovakia at many World Cons, is president of the Czech section of the World Science Fiction organization and has twice won awards from that organization.
-- Ivan Adamovich, Slovnik ceske literarni fantastiky a science fiction (A Dictionary of Czech Science Fiction and Fantasy), Prague, 1995.
(translated by G.S. Evans)
[Update 12-02: Peklo Benes, Josef Nesvadaba's newest novel, was recently published by Host (Brno, 2002). A book-of-the-month-club selection, it has since sold out its print run. More information about the book, in Czech, can be found on the publisher's website.]
[Update 4-03: Josef Nesvadba was one of the featured writers at the Prague Writer's Festival, which was held at the Divadlo Minor in Prague from April 6 through 10. Other featured writers included Arundhati Roy, Amos Oz, Irvine Welsh, and Yann Martel.]
[4-26-05: CTK News Agency: "Early this morning the 78 year-old writer Josef Nesvadba, 'the master of Czech science-fiction,' died."]
Back to the Top
* * * * * *
PARTIAL BIBLIOGRAPHY (of Nesvadba's works published in English)
Vampires, Ltd.: trans. Iris Unwin. Prague: Artia, 1964. (Expedition in the Opposite
Direction; The Lost Face; The Chemical Formula of Destiny; Inventor of His Own Undoing;
Doctor Moreau's Other Island; In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman; The Half-wit of
Xeenemuende; Pirate Island; The Einstein Brain; Vampires, Ltd.)
In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman: trans. Iris Unwin. London: Gollancz, 1970. (The
Death of an Apeman; Expedition in the Opposite Direction; The Trial Nobody Ever Heard Of; The
Lost Face; The Chemical Formula of Destiny; Inventor of His Own Undoing; Doctor Moreau's Other
Island; In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman)
The Lost Face: trans. Iris Unwin. New York: Taplinger, 1971. (Same selection of stories
that appeared in In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman).
Short Story International: October 1977 (1:4). (Vampires Ltd.)
Interzone: July-August 1989. (The Storeroom of Lost Desire)
Czech and Slovak Short Stories: ed. and trans. Jeanne W. Nemcova. London: Oxford University Press, 1967. (Mordair)
Tales from the Planet Earth: ed. Fredrick Pohl and Elizabeth Anne Hull. St. Martin's Press, 1986. (The Divided Carla)
Panorama of Czech Literature: Prague, 1986 (Issue number 8). (The Return of Minnehawa, or Marian Kolda's Psychoscope)
Interzone: December 1993. (Horribly Beautiful, Beautifully Horrible)
The World Treasury of Science Fiction: ed. David G. Hartwell. Boston: Little Brown, 1989 (Captain Nemo's Last Adventure)
(For a complete bibliography of Nesvadba's works in English, and Czech SF in English, see Cyril Simsa's
"Bibliography of Czech Sciene Fiction in English Translation,"
Foundation no. 40 (1987), which is
supplemented by Jaroslav Olsa in Foundation no. 44 (1988/89).
For a general overview of post-World War II Czech science-fiction see
Ivan Adamovich's "Czech SF of the Last Forty Years," Science-Fiction Studies,
vol. 17 (1990).
* * * * * *
PARTIAL FILMOGRAPHY (The Internet Movie Database)
and alsoTHE LOST FACE