The House of a Thousand Floors
Jan Weiss (1892-1972)
Translated and edited by
Read an excerpt from the novel and the translator's Afterword
The House of a Thousand Floors is one of the earliest science-fiction novels in European literature, published first in 1929. Besides being a pioneer in its genre, the book is highly regarded for its general merits as psychological literature.
The novel tells the story of a dream in fever of a soldier wounded in World War I. He finds himself in the stairway of a gigantic (and kafkaesque) tower-like building, which is a metaphor for modern society. He learns that his task is to rescue Princess Tamara from Muller, the lord of the edifice. After a number of surrealistic encounters in the building, during which he is hailed as a liberator by many and is hunted by the cruel security guards, the main character finds Tamara and faces the cruel lord of Mullerdom.
The novel makes fine use of a range of experimental styles and techniques. At times, linear storytelling gives way to a collage of incongruous elements: excerpts from fictitious books, encyclopedia articles, radio broadcast transcripts are used as a shortcut to describe places or events; other narrative ingredients include fanciful advertisements, ludicrous administrative documents or political slogans which highlight the idiosyncrasies of this decadent world.
Jan Weiss (1892–1972) was one of the founders of Czech science fiction, alongside Karel Čapek whose futuristic plays and novels are known to English-language readers. Both writers anticipated the post-war development of Czech science fiction and both had a disturbingly prophetic vision unparalleled by their successors.
Weiss was born in a small mountain town and enrolled as a law student in Vienna after high school. He had barely completed two semesters when World War I broke out and he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. In 1916, he was taken prisoner by the Russians and spent the rest of the war in prisoner-of-war camps. After he was rescued and cured from typhoid fever, Weiss joined the Czechoslovak Legions in Russia before returning to his homeland in 1920. He lived in Prague until his death in 1972, working as a public servant and enjoying the support of the Communist establishment which honoured him with several awards, including the Artist of Merit.
2016, 274 pages
ISSN 1418-0162 CEU Press Classics
$17.95 / €13.95 / £11.99