Nesvadba

Josef Nesvadba
small photograph of Nesvadba

Josef Nesvadba (1926-2005) is one of the best-known Czech science fiction authors. He graduated from high schoool in Prague in 1945; in 1950 he received a degree in medicine, specializing in psychiatry. He worked first in a hospital, then became a military physician, then worked in a polyclinic (public health facility) in Prague, and then did indidual practice until 1990. He also translated poetry from English into Czech and wrote plays that were not SF.

Nesvadba's stories were mostly fantastic, though not always science-fictional: his first collection was Tarzanova smrt (translated as "Death of an Ape-Man," though you can see Tarzan in the title), 1958; then Einstein's Brain, 1960, Expedition in the Opposite Direction, 1962, Inventor of His Own Undoing, 1964, The Last Voyages of Captain Nemo, 1966, and Three Adventures, 1972 (only one of the three stories this volume contains is SF). The titles largely speak for themselves. In the 1970s he switched to longer forms and also largely moved away from science fiction. Several of his stories were made into films, and he also wrote film screenplays and radio plays. Thus in the 1980s and 1990s he was very present in Czech popular culture, especially for a writer of his generation. He also served as the president of the science fiction section of the World Congress of Writers and represented Czechoslovakia at many World Cons - far from denying that he wrote SF, it seems that he liked it and enjoyed its various literary and organizational manifestations.

As you might expect from a professional psychiatrist, Nesvadba's stories are interested in psychological tensions, criminal personalities, etc. The two stories I have chosen also have a kind of period feeling - written in the 1950s or 1960s, and set in two different eras, they feel and read more like something from the 1920s or 1930s.


Questions for reading

"Expedition in the Opposite Direction"

  1. How are scientists depicted? How does politics interfere in science?
  2. What kind of scientist is our protagonist - both in his specialization and interests, and in his attitude?
  3. How much do you know about the history of this era - what "after February" means, why the old professor is being bundled off into retirement, etc.?
  4. Like a true thriller, the story offers nicely typecast characters: who are the good guys, who are bad, and how can you tell?
  5. What does the story tell us about gender relations in Prague a few years after WWII?
  6. How is free will discussed and presented? What are the implications of time travel, in whatever direction, for free will?
  7. There's one small comment - about how the narrator didn't hear about marijuana until years later - that suggests he did not die as he lay there in his blood in the end. What's the effect if we assume he survived and went on to better things? If we assume that, what's the effect of leaving the ending at this point?

"Inventor of his Own Misfortune"

  1. What does the title do to your perception of the story?
  2. What sort of scientist and character is Simon?
  3. What is the effect of a set of characters like this on the reader?
  4. What is the economic and political setting of this future?
  5. Once again, the story is concerned with what happens when automation makes everything free and eventually removes the value of money. How does Nesvadba's take on this compare with Čapek's?
  6. Taking both stories together: what is the role, or what are the roles, of suicide?
  7. What signs of socialist censorship (or else, of a convinced socialist author) do you see in each story?

small cartoon of Nesvadba