Bertil Falk’s Space Opera Prize

Bertil Falk. Photo by Ahrvid Engholm.

By Ahrvid Engholm: As our greatest advocate of space opera turns 90 years old today, May 21 (when writing this) — talking about Bertil Falk, of course —  writer, reporter, editor, scholar, translator — I’ve taken the initiative to announce a space opera prize named in his honor.

It’s aimed at Swedish writers, but here’s an idea for others: run your amazing space opera story through a translation service, those are getting very good these days with AI help! It’d be interesting if someone would experiment with it. (It won’t be disqualified.)

The Bertil Falk’s Space Opera Prize offers eternal glory, a diploma and an as yet unknown cash prize. (The prize will be crowdfunded. Another experiment…)

Bertil has done just about everything since, but had his first story published in the Stockholms-Tidningen newspaper in 1946 when he was 12! His “Trip to Space” is available here in Swedish and also in English translation: “Bertil Falk: From ‘A Space Hobo’ to ‘Finnegans Wake’”.

Besides translating the “untranslatable” James Joyce classic Finnegans Wake, he’s written a heap of books (recently a huge 3-volume history of Swedish sf), worked as publisher, magazine editor (JVM, DAST Magazine), journalist and more. 

But his first love as a little boy was those silly, daydreaming — as school teachers complained loudly! — space stories in our local pulp Jules Verne Magasinet, especially the colorful adventures of Captain Future. In later years he visited Leigh Brackett (herself a master of space opera!) and Edmond Hamilton (the main culprit behind Captain Future) and published Hamilton’s space hero in JVM and in a separate volume.

 An additional reason for a space fiction prize is that so much is happening in space right now! NASA returns to the Moon. SpaceX builds the biggest rocket in history (also reusable) ultimately aiming for Mars. Europe builds a new telescope with an eye big as a hockey rink, meanwhile the Webb space telescope takes the sharpest pictures ever. China builds a space station, and also aims for the Moon (with India, Japan and others to follow). We have rovers on Mars, take pictures of Black Holes, crash into comets, see Captain Kirk take a real space jump, have AIs to find ET phoning home. Even little Sweden now builds a launch pad for satellites, with first shot expected within a year.

The space fiction of yesterday is becoming real!

To enter Bertil Falk’s Space Opera Prize contest, send your space opera story (simply defined as a science fiction story set in space) nomination to [email protected] no later than September 21. Any length admissible. It must have been published in 2022, but yet unpublished work may also be nominated — in that case you must attach it. A jury will be formed, and it will also look on its own accord for stories that may be awarded.

You can also apply for a jury job at the E-address. Recap your connection to space and if you have been into writing space fiction yourself. At the same time all space fans are urged to make a small donation to (though I believe it’ll be more complicated or foreigners) my Handelsbanken account 330 334 578 and tell [email protected] that. Donors will be officially thanked, but you may be anonymous if you wish.

And Bertil, congratulations!

Your space dreams from boyhood are turning real.

Bertil Falk: From “A Space Hobo” to “Finnegans Wake”

Bertil Falk. Photo by Ahrvid Engholm

By Ahrvid Engholm: Journalist, author, genre historian (and fan, certainly, from the 1940s and on!) Bertil Falk is acclaimed for performing the “impossible” task of translating Finnegans Wake to Swedish, the modernist classic by James Joyce, under the title Finnegans likvaka. As reported in DAST Magazine:

…He has worked on it since the 1950’s (a little now and then, not 24/7…). He calls the translation a “motsvariggörande” (“making equal/similar”) since the book is a huge maze in several layers difficult to really translate. Falk is known as the one reviving Jules Verne Magasinet in 1969 and recently also published a three part history of Swedish science fiction, titled Faktasin….

A few years ago fan Erik Andersson (a major fanzine publisher and fandom columnist in Jules Verne magasinet in the ‘90s) translated Ulysses, though not the easiest prose still not as difficult as Finnegans Wake. Joyce seems to fit well with sf fandom, maybe because the world of fandom is just as odd and quirky as the world of Joyce…

Then, with that introduction, we can look back to Bertil Falk’s earliest published work.

From Stockholms-Tidningen April 2, 1946. On the 75th anniversary of the publishing of his story debut, Bertil Falk posted the newspaper clip and noted that the pseudonym he picked, “Rymdluffaren” (The Space Hobo), was taken from a short story by Eando Binder published in Jules Verne Magasinet.

The following tale of the future is written by a young man of age 12, and stands well in competition with futurist stories by adults. (Translation by Ahrvid Engholm.):

A Trip in Space

The big rocketship “Stockholm” started with roaring rockets from Bromma rocketfield. “Stockholm” is one of ten Swedish rocketships on the route Earth-Mars.

And now I sat inside this rocketship. It was my first rocket journey, and I was very curious about how it would all turn out.

Thirteen minutes after take off Earth was the size of a plate and you could make out all the continents. While Earth shrank the Moon and Mars continued to grow.

The rocketship made a stop on the Moon. There I made a visit to the big Moon museum that for the moment had an exhibition of Venusian art. After about an hour the rocketship continued again, and now you could see one of the most beautiful sights in the universe. Outside it was dark, and everywhere stars were gleaming and blinking. Wonderfully beautiful comet swarms were visible almost everywhere. But even if the comet swarms were beautiful, they were still dangerous. Every rocket has a comet warner that gives a buzz as soon as a comet swarm is nearby. Without these comet warners it would be almost dangerous to go out in space.

After a trip of three hours and five minutes the rocketship landed on the international rocketfield of Mars. Several atomic cars stood and waited outside the rocketfield to take passengers to the Martian tourist hotel No 157. When I had arrived at the hotel I sat down by the TV-radio to hear the news.

I am very interested in politics and tensely follow the civil war on Venus between the marsh people and sea people. The news reported that the king of the marsh people Kara-mo and the president of the sea people Tola-kar had initiating peace negotiations. So, will there finally be peace, I said with a sigh and turned off the radio…

 –The Space Hobo

[Read Bertil Falk’s full bio here.]