MIND MELD: Favorite International Authors
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Please let us know!]
Being a U.S. based blog we tend to focus on things American and/or British. But there’s a whole wide world of SF out there that we don’t normally cover. This week we reached out to the international community and asked this question:
Bearing in mind I’m actually an international SFF author myself, so I’m on the outside looking outside …
I will qualify by saying that these are just a few of the many for who I have a high regard. However, for the sake of expediency I will only mention a few novelists and apologise in advance for my Australian bias. Nalo Hopkinson, Tansy Rayner Roberts, William Gibson, Trent Jamieson, Margo Lanagan, Alison Goodman, Maxine McArthur, Sean Williams, Kim Westwood, Cory Daniells, Richard Harland, and Stephen Dedman.
I actually work for an imprint, Haikasoru, that brings the work of “international” (specifically Japanese) SF/F authors to English-language readers. It’s a small list, so it works out that I happen to like all the authors I encountered so far. Here are the writers, and some of their books, on my mind.
Like any editor, I’m mostly interested by what is right in front of me–specifically the folded and gathered pages of ICO by Miyuki Miyabe. ICO is a novelization of the cult classic videogame, and also a work of love. She is really a huge fan of the game, and creates a pretty wonderful backstory. Miyabe is a multi-genre queen. She publishes mysteries for adults, some of which are available in English, and we did two of her fantasies: Brave Story and The Book of Heroes. Brave Story is a great portal fantasy where the antagonist is sure he’s the protagonist, and The Book of Heroes re-envisions Robert W. Chambers The King in Yellow wonderfully.
Sayuri Ueda’s The Cage of Zeus is on the verge of release, and I am looking forward to people reading it. It’s about a community of genetically engineered intergender people on a space station orbiting Jupiter, and the terrorist who seeks to destroy them. A good mix of hard-ish SF and a perhaps distinctly Japanese view of gender politics–it’s also Haikasoru’s first proper SF by a female author.
Chōhei Kambayashi: Yukikaze and Good Luck, Yukikaze are philosophical military SF. The first is a novel-in-stories, the second a straight ahead treatise in how technology changes the self. It’s also a depiction of radically individualistic soldiers fighting for themselves rather than for a collective, so is quite different than the usual milSF. And jet fighters!
Project Itoh: Okay, here’s my real favorite. Harmony is formally challenging (the protagonist thinks in a version of html) audacious (thousands of suicides), satirical (right-wing or left-wing? you decide!), and often hilarious. It was very exciting when Harmony won the Special Citation for the Philip K. Dick award this year, on top of its Japanese prizes.
Hiroshi Sakurazaka: With All You Need is Kill and Slum Online, I think he captured the voices of disaffected young men perfectly. Whether in the military, fighting a war on two fronts–space and time–or just trying to live out one’s college years without being hurt too badly by life, Sakurazaka’s characters and their precise, laconic first-person narrations stay with you. They stayed with me, anyway.
Noriko Ogiwara: A thinking person’s fantasist, with her Tales of the Magatama series (Dragon Sword and Wind Child and Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince) she uses the foundational myths of Japan, and the co-existence of Shinto and Buddhism, to create an epic adventure. Epic enough that, to the characters in the second book, the characters in the first are legends.
Koushun Takami: Battle Royale is rightly internationally legendary–it’s pure enthusiasm, and has a wonderful pro-social message. Rather than society being a thin veneer over essential barbarism, in this book society is barbaric but community gives the children forced to kill one another a chance to live, and to triumph.
Issui Ogawa: Haikasoru published two of his books, but his range shows. The Lord of the Sands of Time is a time-travel adventure with romance and battles against inexplicable aliens in ancient Japan, World War II, and the near and far futures. The Next Continent is nuts-and-bolts hard SF about a private lunar business–the sort of thing one should send to Richard Branson if one wants to vacation on the moon someday.
Natsuhiko Kyogoku: He has two books in English, one of which Haikasoru published and one published by Vertical. Loups-Garous is bizarre. Everyone in the future is addicted to their PDA/smartphones and meat-eating is obsolete. A serial killer is on the loose, and its up to some teen girls — including a genius, an occultist, and a martial artist, to stop him. The Summer of the Ubume (Vertical) is what used to be called “weird menace”–a seemingly occult or supernatural problem is revealed as all-too-human. It’s really great.
Tow Ubukata: Mardock Scramble is an anime-infused cyberpunk epic with a little yellow mouse, three hundred pages of gambling strategy, and a villain called Welldone the Pussyhand. When it comes to going crazy on the page, Ubukata does not mess around.
Jyouji Hayashi: The Ouroboros Wave is a series of puzzle stories about a future in which a black hole has been harnessed, but it’s also an investigation of changing social mores and attitudes in a world where the intellect is prized above all things. Definitely a standard-bearer for hard SF in Japan.
Housuke Nojiri: Hard SF, featuring strong female protagonists. His Rocket Girls series is hilarious and rock-hard (well, except for a teeny bit of magic that was probably just hypnosis), and Usurper of the Sun features truly alien aliens and a young woman who dedicates her life, and bets the future of our species, on meeting them. Imagine Kim Stanley Robinson if he had a taste for the wacky, occasionally.
Hiroshi Yamamoto: The Stories of Ibis recapitulates the history of science fiction. Every chapter is a story in a different subgenre, and he masters them all. Also, there are beautiful female-appearing robots who are NOT sexbots. I’m bringing out another book of his too, which I can’t quite reveal yet. Let’s just say it’s going to be “big” and leave “quite a footprint.”
Otsuichi: Otsuichi means “strange one”, and he is. He has four books in the US, two books from Tokyopop (including the wonderful novel Goth) and two by me. Zoo is a story collection–imagine Ray Bradbury were he young enough to be a splatterpunk, and that will give you a sense of the stories. Fire, Summerworks, And My Corpse is a collection comprised of a novelette, the title novella, and a full-length novel called Black Fairy Tale. Otsuichi is a deadpan wit who doesn’t depend on “idiot plots” or extraneous gore. All the gore is perfectly necessary.
I’ve been a huge fan of German author Michael Ende – most people know him for The Neverending Story (and for the films rather than the book itself), but Momo, about grey men who steal time, and the little girl who opposes them, is just wonderful, as are his two Jim novels (Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver andJim and the Wild Thirteen). His adult collection, The Mirror in the Mirror, is equally surreal and wonderful. I find a lot of what Zoran Zivkovic does to echo this very European surrealism that is present in Ende.
More recently, I loved Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Last Wish, from Poland, which is very different, but so well written, this re-examination of fairy tales and history in this sort of grim fantastical setting.
I’ve also read recently Ekaterina Sedia’s The Secret History of Moscow, which I loved. Sedia is a Russian writer living and working in the US, and I think she’s wonderful, I’m going to built up my Sedia collection I hope!
In horror, I think Tunku Halim from Malaysia is doing some really interesting stuff, I wish he was better known outside of Asia. Anil Menon’s first novel, The Beast with Nine Billion Feet, was only published in India, by Zubaan, but I highly recommend getting hold of a copy (it’s on Amazon) – it’s a YA science fiction novel set in India and it’s gorgeous, very vibrant and exciting and real. Also from India, Samit Basu is already a big name there but I hope we get to see his books in the UK and the US soon, and I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about him in the coming years. And Vandana Singh, I really hope we see a novel from her soon, it would be incredible.
In South Africa, Lauren Beukes is obviously the name to keep an eye out for now! But S.L. Grey’s The Mall – a horror novel – looks incredibly interesting.
In Israel the writer I’m most excited about at the moment is Shimon Adaf – I just recieved his latest novel, which I can’t wait to read. His 2010 novel, KFOR, is simply a masterpiece, about a Tel Aviv 500 years in the future, a sort of Orthodox Jewish enclave within a post-human world, combining mystery and hard sf and poetry and romance – it’s incredible. Almost impossible to translate, though, I suspect. But his novel Sunburnt Faces did get an English translation, and will be out from PS Publishing next year, and it’s an incredible book too, about the nature of Wonderland, and a coming-of-age novel, and so much more.
Mostly I’ve been keeping an eye on the younger writers, people working in short fiction. I’d love to see a novel from Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, who is from the Philippines but lives in the Netherlands, and I think she’s a wonderful writer, someone well worth watching out for. Same for Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who is Mexican and lives in Canada (a lot of us have these weird dual/triple identities now!) – I know she’s got a couple of novels on submission and I very much hope someone picks them up soon. I’d also add Aliette de Bodard, only she’s everywhere, pretty much, at the moment! With novels and short stories, you know whatever she does will be worthwhile.
Also, you know, one of the writers I adore is Peter Høeg, from Denmark – Miss SMilla’s Feeling for Snow is one of my favourite novels, combining literature and detective fiction and science fiction, and his latest, The Quiet Girl, does the same thing. I love that sense of genre-crossing you get outside of English – another favourite novel is Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s The Dumas Club, from Spanish, that mixes everything so gleefully and beautifully.
There have been a lot of new translations recently, and I’m woefully behind on my reading, but I’d like to pick up Pierre Pevel’s The Cardinal’s Blades soon, translated from French. This looks like my sort of thing!
It’s a weird mix, isn’t it – some of the new writers choosing, for one reason or another, to write directly in English (reach a bigger audience more easily) while at the same time we’re getting some new translations in recent years, which is a welcome development. I hope I get to read a lot more, and more widely, in years to come. In the meantime, I’ve got a large pile of translated Chinese short stories to go over – keep an eye out for an announcement some time in the future!
Living in Italy, I’ve always been used to read non-English authors in their Italian translation. Luckily in this country of excellent translators and enlightened publishers many masterpieces have found easily their way on our shelves. My favorite international author, still to be overreached, can be definitely considered the Polish Stanislaw Lem. He’s gone now… Despite his controversial relationship with SFWA, I think his words will talk a long time to the generations to come. In 1961, on the year I was born, he wrote the novel Solaris, a book I’ve been reading eight times since its discovery, one the most successful interpretations of our close and incomprehensible encounter with an alien entity. I enjoyed very much the first movie rendition by Tarkovsky in 1972 – a tad less the last one by Soderbergh in 2002 – and I found the topic quite terrific for the hugeness of concepts and feelings involved. One day I’m sure there will be a new remake paying a due homage to his vision.
Looking around in the interstices and levels of my library – the furniture has morphed along the years in a tesseract invading different planes of reality – I can rank among my preferred books several French titles I’ve enjoyed very much: La nuit des temps (The Ice People) by René Barjavel and a lot of surrealistic science fiction by the fine and prolific Serge Brussolo. On the first floor of my Tower of Babel we discover an easily accessible zone including all my collection of Italian authors. We go from the untouchable Italo Calvino ( Cosmicomics and Our Ancestors trilogy) to all the modern writers working nowadays in the fantastic genre: Vittorio Catani, Vittorio Curtoni, Donato Altomare, Paolo Arosio, Dario Tonani, Roberto Quaglia, Milena De Benedetti, Elisabetta Vernier, Enrica Zunic, Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, Franco Ricciardiello, and many others. You can look here at a few covers I’ve realized for our market!
Some words are needed to be spent on Urania, the leading and historical Mondadori publication which keeps bringing into our homes the very best of all the known science fiction universes, thanks to its editor and ‘man-in-charge’ Giuseppe Lippi – the writer Franco Forte just joined the good company as the freshly appointed managing editor -. Among the multiple extraterrestrial landings, one author Urania helped me to become familiar with, and I’m grateful for that, is the Australian SF author Greg Egan. I’m right now looking forward to grab his new Orthogonal creation…!
What could I add more? Our overseas, fantastic meals are served hot and spiced!
I’m partisan, so I’ll confine myself to fellow Australians. To choose favourites, though, is tough. Look at this incomplete list, all well-known Australian or Australian-resident writers: Margo Lanagan, Sara Douglass, Juliet Marillier, Jennifer Fallon, Kaaron Warren, Dave Freer, Marianne de Pierres; YA writers of stature like Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Kate Forsyth, Emily Rodda, Isobelle Carmody; Keri Arthur NYT bestseller of urban paranormal; Greg Egan, award-winning Science fiction writer. Two fantasy writers who are unbelievably huge on the international scene at the moment are Australians — Karen Miller and Trudi Canavan. And that list still barely scratches the surface of talented Australians. I could talk about any of them.
Instead, let me select a couple of personal favourites you may not have heard of, all vastly different and chosen for different reasons. The first is a writer from my home state, Western Australia, Simon Haynes. He specialises in space opera of the wacky sort. If I tell you the main characters are called Hal Spacejock and his robot Clunk, I probably don’t have to say much more. They are fun books, lots of action, comedy and adventure and my main reason for saying they are a favourite of mine is because they are the best series of books I have come across to keep teenage boys reading once they leave school behind. Besides, they make me laugh!
Tansy Rayner Roberts’ book Power and Majesty (Voyager) won the Aurealis Fantasy prize in May (a thoroughly deserved win). You may not have heard of her, because she hasn’t been published abroad with a major publisher. Yet. Tansy writes powerfully sensual, literary fantasy that is both unputdownable and inherently commercial – story and characterisation at its wildest and most intimate best. Tansy hails from Tasmania and she is going places. Remember the name; you’ll hear it again.
My third choice is Rowena Cory Daniells, from Queensland who, while published worldwide, is not as well-known as she deserves to be. Her latest – three books in the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin (from Solaris) – are a fabulous read of traditional epic fantasy (I suspect that male readers will really like these). Action, intrigue, heroism, war, mystery, magic – it’s all there, in abundance. How anyone with six kids finds the time to write as well as this, I have no idea…
Within the parameters of this topic, I could include a lot of good Australian SF authors – who are not US or UK,- including Terry Dowling, Tess Williams, and of course Greg Egan, but since I’m also Australian this would be somewhat ingenuous, so I’ll go with two writers who are international SF to me as well. Firstly, my French-Canadian mate Elisabeth Vonarburg, and second, Stanislaw Lem.
Elisabeth is a long-term SF and fantasy writer with a string of publications and awards to her credit, but perhaps my favourite remains the first novel, translated into English as The Silent City. It’s a post-Holocaust setting with a very interesting exploration of literalized gender issues (ie. ideas about gender appear as actual variations in people) – shape-changing or morphing beings, capable, in the case of the central female character, of reproduction by cloning. It’s a good story in itself, but it also gets deeply involved in contemporary feminist debates about The Man Question – should feminists/women fight and attempt to destroy or get rid of Men, ie, outside fiction, ignore men and try to live as separatists – or try to come to some compromise, or try to change them for the better? (Less domestic violence, for example.) In the process the novel produces some stimulating variations on “how to mother outside the patriarchal view of motherhood” – either as a good passive wholly devoted-to-child sponge, or a cold selfish mother vampire. Once out of her original city and the control of her non-biological “father,” Elisa clones a whole alphabet of child couples, who, like her, can change gender, but in some case also prove able to change into animals. Her relationships with them are loving and supportive but also tempestuous and frank. It’s a remarkable imaginative tour of a future of mother-child relationships that when it was written were hardly even conceived, to use an almost inevitable pun.
Stanislaw Lew, probably the only Polish SF writer well-known outside Poland, is famous for his classic alien encounter novel, Solaris – one of the best versions of the truly incomprehensible alien, more so perhaps than Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, whose almost total lack of explanation and boring resolution at the end has always appealed to me. Aliens shouldn’t be tidily comprehensible ever, to my mind. But my own favourite of Lem’s also considerable output is his collection of satiric short “robot universe” stories, The Cyberiad. Some of them, on re-reading 30 years after, seem a bit jejeune and slapstick, but who else in SF, or fantasy, could write a genuine metaphysical love-lyric based on Venn diagrams, which closes with, “We shall encounter, counting, face to face?” Go chomp on your surplice, John Donne. For that alone, Lem will remain among my favourites of (to me) international SF.
OK, Greeks first… Ten names could be mentioned here, but that would make this list a local top ten instead of an international one. So, let me pick Michalis Manolios, (recently awarded with the Aeon 2010) and Alecos Papadopoulos (check his online Deloader Saga), both very-very dear to me.
Europeans: Apart from writers contributing in The SFWA European Hall of Fame (too many to mention but loving them all) I enjoy very much the humorous style of Stefano Benni, from Italy, although I’m not quite sure if he considers himself as an SFF writer. On the other hand, I also like very much the “cryptic” writing of a Danish writer, Hans Henrik Løyche. My favourite French writer is, undoubtedly, Jean-Mark Ligny for his vivid slices of life.
WWW: My all time www writer remains Cory Doctorow.
The world of international science fiction and fantasy has in recent years turned into a small, but interesting smörgåsbord. This is truly a great thing and something I, as someone hailing the rest of the world from a non-English speaking country, am both grateful and hopeful about. It reminds me of them Olden Days, when the relatively small translated SF/F-book market in Finland was fairly broad in scope, including not only well-known Anglo-American masters as Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke and Aldiss, but also Lem, Strugatski’s, Klein and Nielsen.
My reading appetite tends to shift and vary, but I think that it has a certain broadness to it, that is to say: fluff gets mixed in with the more cerebral prose. When I look for entertaining adventures, I could do much worse than by choosing Andrzej Sapkowski, whose excellent Witcher-stories have started to appear also in Finnish. The first collection (Last Wish) is a rollicking fun ride of East-European mythic landscape, filled with bawdy humour and buckling swashes. If I want to let in some steam, a new Lavie Tidhar book fits the bill. His Bookman histories are tremendous fun: fast-paced, intriguing and filled with specks of humour, trivia and meta.
When simply been entertained is not enough, a book like Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow or Kalpa Imperial by Angélica Gorodischer is needed. The allegorically thought-provoking political satire of the Wizard of the Crow is a masterpiece of African storytelling tradition, while the rich tapestry of political intrigue and fables of history in Kalpa Imperial are a testament to the magical writing abilities of the Argentinian master.
I am a great fan of the master of fantastical Italian fiction, Dino Buzzati His often absurd, yet always clear pieces of fiction are some of the best prose I’ve had the pleasure of reading. His masterpiece, The Tartar Steppe, is an existentialist and in-depth look at military life and clinging to Hope. There is more than a whiff of Waiting for Godot in this meditative parable of human existence.
This little piece wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning authors from my homeland. Johanna Sinisalo, Leena Krohn and Hannu Rajaniemi ought to be recognised names all by now, but the one name that shines so much brighter than all of the rest, is Tove Jansson. She is obviously more known by her singularly wonderful Moomins, a treasure trove of intelligent and heart-warming children’s books, that somehow transform into something much more, as one grows with the stories. A Moomin-story has levels that continue to surprise the even most jaded among us. But Tove Jansson was not only a Moomin-writer, her adult short fiction is some of the most beautiful and intimate around.
Two Finnish names for future reference: Jyrki Vainonen and Tiina Raevaara. And Karin Tibeck from Sweden. And Viivi Hyvönen from Finland. And…
I will start by mentioning French SF writers. I have worked as a co-editor in French SF magazine GALAXIES for a few years. Also, having spent many years in a French speaking country, I can understand French and write and read it almost as if it were my native language (which is Greek). So there is no wonder that I am more familiar with French speaking writers.
French SF is quite different from its Anglophone counterpart. It is more literary, fantasy elements are often incorporated in it in a very natural and attractive way. It is often associated with other genres like horror, humor or surrealism. And French writers pay a huge attention to the literary aspect of the story – whatever its genre- so, not surprisingly, French SF is rich in diversity of writing styles and it is often poetic. There is less concern to address financial, political or social issues in French SF than in the Anglophone one. I remember having a discussion with a wonderful editor of a well-known SF French magazine who told me: “I love reading SF because it is relaxing me. If I want to find answers in my concerns about politic, social and financial issues, I prefer to read things which have a more direct relation to those issues….”
Mind you, this does not mean that French SF writers are not concerned with the aforementioned issues. It’s just that French SF is not as centered on them as it is in the Anglophone countries.
I will only mention a few of the French writers whom I appreciate; there are many others but having all of them mentioned could be too long for this article.
Alain Damasio is one of the writers I admire most. His work is fascinating, but Les Hordes de Contre-vent is his novel that made the strongest impression on me. In this story, 24 creatures (people? Spirits?) form a team. In a world dominated by winds, those people have been trained since their childhood to travel against the winds and reach the legendary Extreme Amont, which is a legendary source of all the winds. In this novel, the characters are strange, attractive,… ethereal. There is magic in them, while the way of structuring the story has the logic required in a good SF work. Moreover, Alain Damasio plays with words; he transforms his narrative and dialogues into musical winds. A music CD has been inspired from this story. The story could be difficult to classify in one specific genre, but this does not take out anything of its Aeolian mythic beauty. It would certainly be worth translating, but the skillful way Alain Damasio is playing with words would make the translation into another language very difficult and there is a risk for the story to lose some of its charm unless it is translated by a charismatic writer.
Laurent Genefort is a specialist in space opera. He wrote more than 30 novels. He has an admirable ability to create realistic alien worlds and civilizations. Surprisingly, this realism is associated with a strong poetic aspect. In the stories by Laurent Genefort a rigorous scientific realism is associated with the magic and the sense of wonder in a fairy tale. No wonder that Laurent Genefort also writes stories for children. Here is a link to his site in English and some info about his bibliography.
Joëlle Wintrerbert is a fascinating, prolific writer. Her work includes a huge diversity of subjects, which range from SF to fantasy, books for children and even comics. Joëlle is maybe the French writer whose work is most concerned with social-political and financial issues. Even though her work addresses such issues, the magic and poetry of the other French writers is present in her work. There is something mysteriously attractive in Joëlle’s books: once you start reading her stories, it becomes hard to stop reading; you are completely drawn into the story. And this is true whatever she writes, be it SF or fantasy or history fiction. In her Amazones de Bohème, a dynamic queen (Libuse, queen of Bohemia at the VIII century (former kingdom of present-day Czech Republic) has an army of women body-guards. At the queen’s death, the chief of this army and her fellow women warriors are rebelling. They create an independent state into the state of Bohemia and struggle to survive and keep their independence and their dignity. Joëlle creates a utopian society, outside what was considered as a norm at this period. This is a common theme in many of her stories. The association of rebellion and a powerful love story in this book indicate the exceptional, original nature of her work.
I will close the list with my favorite French SF writer, Jean-Claude Dunyach . The most fascinating thing about his work is not the praise it has gained throughout the international SF community; it is not the impressive number of prestigious awards he received. It is in the way Jean-Claude (who studied mathematics and super-computing and works as an engineer in Airbus in Toulouse) can use exact science and turn it into poetry and magic. Whatever he writes, fantasy or SF, Jean Claude has definitely a unique way of unraveling the thread of his stories. “Unraveling the thread” was the title of one of his best-known stories: it was voted as best story of the year in Interzone, it won both le Prix de l’Imaginaire (the most prestigious award for SF/F in France) and the Rosny Award in 1998. The story is about how a blind specialist in the field of tapestry managed to figure out the arrival of aliens on Earth by studying the knots of an old tapestry, their patterns, their structure, their force. In my humble opinion, this story can be classified among the top SF stories throughout the world. The work of Jean-Claude Dunyach has been translated (he is probably one of the most translated SF writers) not only in English, but also into Bulgarian, Croatian, Danish, Hungarian, German, Italian, Russian, Greek and Spanish. Here is a list of his books translated in English. I strongly suggest to read at least one of his books; any SF reader is bound to enjoy his stories, but even people who are not attracted by SF will find something to love in those stories; the style is diversified and so attractive for every taste… This captivating writer is also a wonderful person: he is not arrogant in spite of his success, he has a wonderful humor and he will always be happy to offer you a beer at conventions and have a friendly chat with you (I give my word that I have not been bribed by beer to write all this praise, though. I am sincerely a fervent admirer of this wonderful writer).
In France, serious efforts have been made to promote and translate foreign SF. There have been anthologies by Russian SF writers; a few years back an anthology called Utopies came out. It included 10 non Francophone writers from various countries translated into French. I really loved those stories, especially those by Russian or other Eastern European writers. I loved the delirious aspect in SF stories of Bulgarian Christo Postakoff, the association of humor, surrealism and rigorous SF of the Russian writers (their stories sometimes slightly reminded me of Robert Sheckley), the original ideas of Japanese or Portuguese or South American writers. I am really sorry I cannot read more of their stories because of the language barrier. It is one of my dearest wishes that some day those stories will be more widely translated so I can mention a writer by name and say I love his work instead of just remembering one good story… Please allow me to mention the laudable efforts of the editors of Irish magazine Albedo One to translate non Anglophone stories and promote non Anglophone SF writers and the efforts of the Hugo Committee (in particular those of Cheryl Morgan) to promote SF and make it more widely available to Anglophone SF readers.
I will finish in a rather ironic way: I was asked who are my favorite non Anglophone SF writers. To most people this question is associated with “foreign SF writers”. I want to write a word about Greek SF writers, people of my own country. They are not Anglophone, but they are not “foreigners” for me.
In a small country like Greece where SF is not so developed or even widely known, Mihalis Manolios managed to win the international Aeon Award for one of his stories called “Aethra”. Panagiotis Koustas had one of his short stories published in an anthology by James Morrow including 10 European writers. And Greek fantasy and SF writer Vasso Hristou would definitely deserve to be translated into French or English.
I am proud of their success. I am also familiar with the rest of their work to certify that more stories by them ought to be translated and more widely promoted. And the same is true about other SF writers of non Anglophone countries; those not known to the Anglophone audience. The ones who wrote a story you have read and admired and enjoyed, but you’d love to read more so that you can remember the name of the writer and state that you admire his/ her work – not just one story.
Some of the stories I loved in Utopies were:
Le dernier des fumeurs (The Last Smoker, 1987, Saigo no kitsuensha) by Tsutsui Yasutaka
Les tribulations vélocipédiques de Terriens sur Outreterria ( Aventuri in Exterior) by Merisca Lucian
Cendres (Ash, 2005)by Wintrebert Joëlle
Poste à pourvoir : Jésus-Christ (Vacancy for the Post of Jesus Christ, 1992) by Laing Kojo
Nevermind I’m a foreigner to many of the readers of this site, I’m going to disappoint a lot of people here, so consider this a warning. I spend a lot of time reading many of the same books you do, so my preferences regarding “international SF/F” are unavoidably unimaginative and will gravitate towards writers who are already household names in those households where English is spoken.
People like Jorge Luis Borges, Stanisław Lem, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Franz Kafka, Haruki Murakami, Milorad Pavić or Bruno Schulz should require little or no introduction. All are considerably well represented in translation and, last I checked, current English-language editions should be readily available only a few clicks away. I know that mentioning them is trite, but think how I just saved you the trouble of telling me that I missed some really obvious stuff. [^1]
Borges’ pal Bioy Casares should not be a stranger to Anglophones either, and I rank The Invention of Morel, the maddening journey of a man into an island populated entirely by machine-controlled holograms, as one of my best books of all time.
Julio Cortázar’s novels and stories are very dear to me as well, from Hopscotch to Around the Day in Eighty Worlds (both novels) and Todos los fuegos el fuego (which contains “La autopista del sur”) and Blow-up and Other Stories (which has “Axolotl”).
Dino Buzzati doesn’t get enough love, I think. The Tartar Steppe is incredibly important to me, which is not bad for a book about how nothing ever happens until you die a lonely, pointless death while waiting for something to happen. As far as I know, his short fiction is mostly unavailable in English, a glaring omission that publishers everywhere should make an effort to remedy.
If there’s someone who can’t complain about translations, though, that would be Serbian writer Zoran Živković. He finances translations out of his own pocket, and while Živković himself is quite fluent in English he prefers to enlist the help of Alice Copple-Tošić, whose work carries his seal of approval. Živković has a very distinct, introspective writing style that often revolves around themes of art, storytelling, love and immortality, but it’s the fine sense of humour that underlies it all that I believe makes it so appealing to me.
(Full disclosure: I collaborated with Zoran in Fantastic Metropolis and designed his books for PS Publishing in the UK, but he’s been piling up awards and accolades ever since he broke into the English-language scene a little over a decade ago, so it can’t be just me, can it?)
Moving on. Belgian Bernard Quiriny is up to his third book now, yet I’ve only been able to find one of his stories in English. Quiriny claims to hark back to the traditional fantastique at its most Todorovian, but he does it with such irony and ease you’d think he was inventing it himself in the 21st Century. Unless some unlikely catastrophe puts a stop to his career at this early point, I plan to continue to enjoy him for many years to come.
I must not forget Boris Vian, whose works I always feel I didn’t discover early enough. L’écume des jours, a pun-riddled satire of existencialism, at turns funny and cruel beyond words, is seared into my brain. I’m equally fond of several of his other books, like Autumn in Beijing, Heartsnatcher and The Red Grass, not to mention his poetry and songwriting.
Which brings me to Mário Henrique-Leiria, who is perhaps Portugal’s closest response to Boris Vian in terms of surrealist approach, sense of humour and unalloyed genius. If they’re anything like me, fans of Boris Vian out there will find much to love in his collections Contos do gin-tonic and Novos contos do gin-tonic. He also penned some excellent (and sadly out of print) Portuguese-language translations of classic science fiction, from Fahrenheit 451 and I Am Legend to Brave New World and Martians Go Home.
I have long been a champion of João Barreiros, Portugal’s leading author of science fiction, and would be remiss not to praise him generously one more time. While his output is all too infrequent, it is very much worth following for its pacing, its bleak humour and its fulgurous ingenuity. Barreiros is passionate about science fiction and wastes no chance to show it: some of his best works, Terrarium (co-written with Luís Filipe Silva) and A verdadeira invasão dos marcianos among them, are indeed true love letters to the genre.
Another Portuguese writer I closely follow is David Soares. His dark historical novels are monumental, minutely researched affairs where the coarse and the erudite often go hand in hand. A keen olisipographer, his favourite setting by far is Lisbon, the historical one as well as the fantastic, as novels like Lisboa triunfante and O evangelho do enforcado can attest. Soares hones his singular vision to a piercing point and is remarkable among Portuguese authors in his structured approach to his work and career.
I’ve done enough of these pieces to know I always end up forgetting someone, and I’m certain the present list is no exception. I mentioned no female writers, for example, since due to a conspiracy of statistics and my own lamentable ignorance all of my favourites are English speakers. Still, even now I’m thinking of Jean Ray, E.T.A. Hoffmann, J.K. Huysmans and Jan Potocki (gods, how could I forget Potocki?), but the list grows in inverse proportion to my time and your patience, so these and others will have to wait until some other opportunity.
: I did not forget José Saramago. It’s just that his flaccid imagination and meandering style are not favourites of mine, Nobel Prize be damned.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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