"R.U.R. and War with the Newts" by Karel Capek (1920 and 1936)
"After that the German press began to take an eager interest in the Baltic Newt. Special stress was laid on the fact that it was just in response to the German milieu that this Newt had developed into a divergent and higher racial type, indisputably superior to all the other Salamanders."
Karel Capek was a Czech writer active up until World War II. He is best known as the originator of the word "robot," which was introduced in his play Rossum's Universal Robots, or R.U.R.
A lot of people like comparing Capek to Kafka. This is because they were writing around the same time, were about the same age, were born in the same part of the world, and both wrote with a degree of surrealism. There are definitely parallels between the two authors, but for me Capek's fiction brings to mind none other than Polish writer Stanislav Lem, another science fiction writer with whom he shared many sensibilities. Capek isn't as deliberately intellectual as Lem was, nor was he as dismissive of other people's work, but I think that if Lem had been born a few decades earlier they would have had a lot to talk about.
In Rossum's Universal Robots a new life form comes into existence after a discovery on a tropical island. The result of this discovery isn't really a "robot" as we understand the word today, but rather a sort of simplified, synthetic life form without the ability to reproduce itself. As the "robots" quickly overwhelm human kind, the scientists who created them struggle to understand their invention as they monitor its troubling interactions with human civilization.
It's an easy read, and also very quaint by modern standards. The understanding of science expressed through it is fairly childlike - or antiquated, if you will - so those looking for a precursor of Asimov's I, Robot will probably be disappointed. It's half-comedic tone in some ways does the subject matter (Fascism?) a disservice, and I often had the feeling that there were jokes that weren't landing, or that the humor in the script suffered by translation. I don't read Czech, so I can't say.
War with the Newts is a much better effort. Sharing themes with R.U.R., this novel follows the discovery of intelligent "newts" on a tropical island, and then details a similar clash of civilizations after the newts rise up against their human oppressors. It's really slow to get going, but about halfway through the author draws some amusing parallels between human-newt relations and historical incidents of his own time. Some of the more "journalistic" asides also detract from the story, and the final phases of the "war" drag on a bit, but the last chapter of this book offers a great non-conclusion to a story that will, in essence, never end.
If you like Kafka, Lem, or still more obscure science fiction authors like E.T.A. Hoffmann you'll probably find something to like in Karel Capek. He doesn't offer the polish of Vern or I'm-just-now-inventing-a-new-genre Poe, but his fiction still has something to offer modern readers.
"The Martian" by Andy Weir (2011)
"Arrival" by Ted Chiang (2015)
"Homo Deus" by Yuval Noah Harari (2015)
"Alan Turing: the Enigma" by Andrew Hodges (1983)