BIOLOG: Julie Nováková
By Richard A. Lovett
Julie Nováková is one of the first of a new breed of Analog writers: people from outside the English-speaking world who are sufficiently multilingual that they compose stories not only in their native languages, but also in English.
A lifelong resident of the Czech Republic, Nováková has, in fact, composed more stories in English than in Czech. It’s become such a habit, she says, that when she writes for publication in her home country, she initially writes the story in English, then translates it into Czech.
“My generation grew up consuming English-language media,” she says. “More and more young writers born in non-English-speaking countries are writing in both their native language and English. Being on the opposite side of the globe suddenly doesn’t matter.”
An evolutionary biologist now finishing her Ph.D. at Charles University, in Prague, she has been interested in science “from basically the smallest age I can remember.” Then at the age of 11 or 12, she saw Star Wars on TV. Inspired by that, she says, “I started reading the classics, like Stanislaw Lem, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and then more current authors.” Shortly thereafter, she started writing her own stories.
Not that writing itself was new to her. “All of my life that I can remember, I have been writing something,” she says. But previously, it had been adventure stories and mysteries. Now, she dived into science fiction—and with the ambition of an enthusiastic teenager—soon wrote a novel, which she finished at age 15.
And that’s where her personal story takes an amazing turn, because she sold it, and at age 17, saw it published.
“It was a science fiction mystery set on a floating city in the Atlantic Ocean,” she says. “It was basically a police procedural.” That led to more novels—seven in all—before she shifted to short stories and eventually found herself not only in Analog, but also Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and other publications—for a total of approximately seventy short stories, split about 50/50 between English and Czech. “Unlike most authors, I wrote mostly novels at first, then moved to short stories,” she says.
On the side, she also writes mystery novels, with two in print and a third now completed. These she does in Czech, under the pen name Vilém Krížek. “They are set in the early twentieth century in [what is now the Czech Republic], partly in late Austria-Hungary (1910s) and then interwar Czechoslovakia (1920s),” she says. The protagonist, she adds, is a naturalist who wanted to become a scientist but was expelled from academia and became a private detective instead.
Not that Nováková is at risk of following in her fictional detective’s footsteps. Her Ph.D. work (on the evolutionary origins of altruism, not only in humans, but in animal species that also show self-sacrificing behavior) is nearing completion, and she is also pursuing a potential career in astrobiology with the European Astrobiology Institute, whose members include space agencies, universities, and observatories. “I’m responsible for part of their outreach,” she says.
It’s an interest revealed not only by her science fact issue in this issue (pages 22-28), but in prior stories, such as “From So Complex a Beginning (Sept/Oct 2019) and “Martian Fever” (Nov/Dec 2019). “Science fiction is a tool for astrobiology outreach and education,” she says.