There’s a great big world out there! So we decided to ask folks from all over about the sf/f scene in their own countries/languages. This week we’ve got answers from Israel, Greece, Cuba, Peru, Poland, Turkey, Spain and France… And we’ll have more in the weeks to come! Many thanks to Paweł Dembowski for helping get us started on this.
I think what’s great is not what people are missing but how much is actually available. There’s been an increase in recent years of both non-English writers making a conscious choice to write in English (in order to reach a wider/different audience) and also an increase in translators into English, or even people translating their own fiction. In short fiction, writers like (Dutch) Jetse de Vries and (French) Aliette de Bodard are writing and publishing in English (de Bodard is even nominated for a John W. Campbell award this year), Vandana Singh and Anil Menon from India, Dean Alfar from the Philippines, Sergey Gerasimov from Ukraine – it’s a small but select list. And then there are more translations, too – (Serbian) Zoran Živković’s work is widely available in translation, as is (French) Mélanie Fazi’s, and I’ve been translating some of Nir Yaniv’s stories from the Hebrew, which led to his being the first Israeli to be published in Weird Tales magazine. Maybe there isn’t much, but there is more than before – and online magazines are leading the trend, publications like Clarkesworld and Fantasy Magazine publishing a higher percentage of non-Anglophone writers. And that’s just the short stories – more novels are making their way into the English market, either by translation (we’re finally getting to read Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski in English) or again, by writers choosing to write in English, like Finnish writer Hannu Rajaniemi. On my own part, there’s both the forthcoming Apex Book of World SF, the first such anthology in a long, long time, and the related World SF News Blog which showcases some of what is available from around the world.
But to answer the question properly – what are we missing out on – my own regret is that I don’t get to read French steampunk!
I know there’s a lot of it – I did a panel on steampunk a few years ago in Nantes and it was horrible, being surrounded by steampunk writers telling me about their (very cool sounding) books and I can’t read any of them! I’d also love to see some of the Chinese SF novels, and at least get a glimpse into the Arabic SF that’s being published. I’d love to read some of the Cuban stuff… stop me when you’ve had enough. Israel has some very interesting home-grown YA fantasy at the moment. To be honest, the way I get to read non-Anglophone writers is mostly in the crime genre, which seems to be a lot more open to translating in the field – so the Cuban or Japanese or French writers I do read are crime writers – check out Detectives Beyond Borders, which is a great introduction. But I think things are changing in science fiction and fantasy a little, too. Certainly, since I started the World SF Blog I’ve been amazed by how much was out there – in English – translations from Korean and Spanish, writers who occasionally sell an English story but work predominantly in other languages, and a huge amount of articles, blog posts, online communities, a great deal of discussion, from people around the world who are simply passionate about the genre and want others to know about it, too. The problem with the old model of World SF was that it was Anglophone-led, but now it’s not! The Internet’s been a major catalyst in that regard. A few years ago, three German fans started InterNova, which was meant to be a magazine of international SF. They only managed to do one issue, and it was plagued with distribution problems, but the remarkable thing about it was that the initiative came from the outside, and the contributors, editors, proof-readers, translators – everyone involved – was likewise from the non-English world. And that was quite remarkable to me, this idea that you can do this, you don’t need one of the old English writers or editors to do it for you. You can do it yourself. We’re seeing more and more of this now, and the Internet’s been great in allowing people from all around the world to communicate with each other, talk to each other, exchange ideas – there’s a real cross-polination taking place, and it’s very exciting and rewarding to be able to do that.
I would risk a statement that the anglophone readers are somewhat victims of their privileged position on the international book market. You can easily see many anglophone bestsellers or even less known books translated into other languages but it doesn’t work very often the other way. Therefore, readers from non-anglophone countries are more likely to know both anglophone and their native sf/f books.
Also, the anglophone authors and publishers (supported by the Hollywood machine) work very much as the literary trend-setters. These trends spread all over the world resulting in flood of second-hand-George-R-R-Martins, Terry-Pratchett-impostors or Neil-Gaiman-wannabes. So again — fresh, original ideas included in non-anglophone books don’t have many opportunities to become known in countries dominated by English language.
Perhaps it has something to do with a phenomenon which I call “Mamoń-syndrome”, named from a character in Polish comedy Rejs. Close minded and lazy engineer Mamoń used to say “I like the songs that I’ve already heard”. I think the same syndrome causes anglophone viewers to ignore many great foreign movies and wait for their Hollywood remakes, well-suited for their habits. I wonder if the same thing may happen with the best non-anglophone novels – rather than publish translated originals, publishing houses could hire the popular authors to write the remakes, filtered through anglophone culture and ribbed for readers’ pleasure. I hope, it won’t happen, but who knows?
Back to the subject: I think, anglophone readers are simply devoid of fresh and unfiltered ideas flowing from other cultures and marked by foreign ways of thinking. Let’s have a look at the nearest example:Polish sf-f literature. Anglophone readers may know Stanisław Lem (perhaps they’ve seen Solaris) and perhaps the Witcher’s creator, Andrzej Sapkowski, nominated this year to David Gemmel Legend Award for Blood of the Elves. These are two names only. But do they know the vast imagination of Jacek Dukaj (his short story “The Cathedral” inspired Tomek Bagiński’s animation nominated for an Oscar)? Could they be amazed by Marek S. Huberath’s Gniazdo światów (The Nest of the Worlds)? Think of it: the greatest compliment for this book is if you didn’t read it to the end [Trust us, this makes perfect sense, and is genuinely high praise, if you’ve read it–ed]. Could they enjoy the mixture of cyberpunk, urban fantasy and Slavic mythology in Michał Studniarek’s Herbata z kwiatem paproci (The Fern Flower Flavoured Tea)? Could they understand the relentless philosophy of history included in Konrad T. Lewandowski’s Most nad Otchłanią (The Bridge on the Abyss)? Unfortunately, the answer is: no. And there are many, many others I could mention here…
It’s not a matter of any single genre unavailable in anglophone literature (although Polish literature has a strong trend of so-called “clerical fiction” – sf-f stories based on various religious dilemmas). It’s rather lack of access to many talented writers with their own, unique style and approach to the sf-f . If you choose to translate them and get to know them, you could discover many amazing ideas and stories.
It is difficult to know what is going on in the International SF/Fantasy scene, mainly because it is hard to find translated works. Most of what is available are short stories, but the vast body of novels is still out of our reach. I’ve come across marvelous reviews of novels by some French authors, like Ayerdhal (born Marc Soulier) and Jean-Claude Dunyach. Their plot descriptions are intriguing, but―with the exception of a couple of short stories―you won’t find any of their SF works in English. There is also a prodigy called Bernard Werber, who is a real celebrity in France. He has published several trilogies, but as far as I know only one novel has been recently translated: The Empire of the Ants. The Germans are also writing interesting SF books. An essential name is Andreas Eschbach. Even though we can read his marvelous The Carpet Makers, and a few short stories, the rest of his work remains unknown to the American reader. Regarding the Russians, their fantasy works seem more abundant and daring than their SF―at least these days. We’ve had glimpses of certain authors, like Sergei Lukyanenko. But many of them remain unknown. Among them, Nick Perumov and Kirill Eskov follow the Tolkien tradition, writing post-LOTR sagas with unexpected twists. Another prolific writer is Vasili Golovachov, who has several series and dozens of SciFi & fantasy novels. The Russians have always surprised the rest of the world with their imagination. So I don’t discard the possibility of also finding some good Science Fiction revelations there. For those interested in knowing more about this subject, the best anthology I have read lately is The SFWA European Hall of Fame, edited by James Morrow and Kathryn Morrow, who also counted on the expertise of editor David G. Hartwell. Although for obvious reasons this anthology include only short stories, they are good enough to give us a taste of what we are missing.
A lot. There is a big production of Latin American Sci-fi right now. Because that is what I am more in contact with, I can talk a little about Peruvian and Argentinean sci-fi, but I know that for example in Chile or Cuba there is also some interesting production.
From Peru anlgophone readers are missing the works of Joseph B. Adolph (Mañana las ratas – Tomorrow the rats for example, a classic in Peruvian sci-fi), or Juan Rivera Zaavedra (Who published very short sci-fi stories in a book called Cuentos sociales de ciencia ficción – Science fiction’s social stories) just to name two. There are some interesting web pages also that promote the work of other interesting writers like Adriana Alarco, Carlos Enrique Saldivar (Who has just published his first book and is also making two anthologies, one for Peruvian and another for Latin American sci-fi) and many more. The most important web sites are Velero 25 and Ciencia ficción Perú. Daniel Salvo is a very active person who works with both. Also for two years now there is an International Conference of Fantasy and Sci-fi, organised by the Peruvian Centre of cultural studies (CEPEC).
In Argentina the first name that came on to my mind is Angélica Gorodischer. But she has already been translated (Kalpa Imperial). Others interesting names are Carlos Gardini, Marcelo Cohen, Eduardo J. Carletti, Sergio Bizzio and of course Sergio Gault vel Hartman who not only writes but also publishes anthologies, is in charge of a lot of webs and blogs, and also of a virtual workshop. He is without doubt a very important name in the Latin American sci-fi.
This is just a little piece of what is happening in Latin American sci-fi and needs to be translated into English.
What Anglophone readers might be missing out is actually what I, too, am missing out by not being able to read, say, French or German or Russian: some great fiction written in another language, by people with a slightly – or not so slightly – different way of thinking than mine.
All things considered, of course, nowadays, with the Internet and other media, there is a world-wide culture that overlaps, or tries to overlap, all regional cultures. It succeeds most of the time; so, in Greece, as well as in other European and Asian countries, I believe, we are heavily influenced by this world-wide culture which is mainly Anglophone. Films in English; comic books in English; novels in English; computer games in English. So, whether you read a translated book or not, you come in contact with the same culture.
The main difference, in Greece at least, is that there is no actual market for speculative fiction novels. You can’t get any profit out of it. So the main, and only perhaps, reason to write SF is because you so much like that stuff. At least, that’s why I do it; and, to be frank, it’s hard to think of any other reason.
Not having an actual market for SF stories also means that there is less direction and more inspiration. You simply won’t write something because that’s why the market demands; there’s no reason to. You will write what you think is best, the way you think is best. Having said that, of course, we can’t ignore the fact that in Greece we are – as I pointed out before – heavily influenced by Anglophone fiction; so we may follow “rules” sometimes out of habit – and old habits die hard.
Bottom line, to answer the question “What is going on right now in the Greek sf/f scene that Anglophone readers might be missing out on?” directly: Some great stories that, although they are influenced by the international culture, mostly ignore world-wide market rules and follow a direction of their own. Plus, in my opinion, the Greek language is great for fantasy fiction because of the etymology of all those Greek words. Many of the words used in English and other Latin-base languages have their roots in the Ancient Greek language, and SF is filled with that kind of words.
Ayshecik and Meshecik. I grew up by listening to the events that they lived. When I was a child, especially in the winter nights, our home was full of festival atmosphere. Each member of my family had got a story which they like to tell with their breath which is merged bubbling sound of teapot. So each story had got an owner. Aunts, grandmas, grandpas, father, neighbours… all of them had got their own story, too. They were the stories that all of the adults and children enjoy listening to and allocating time for listening. I used to ask the owner (teller) to tell me the story what I want. “Aunt! Please, tell me the story of the brothers who had fallen into a well which has got seven doors. Remember, there is a good brother who deals with an eagle that will take him to his country, on its back. He will give some meat to eagle if it says “gak” and he will give some water if it says “guk”. And then when the meat in his bag finished, he gives the meat by cutting his leg”.
Ayshecik and Meshecik was a story that my mother used to tell me by taking me her bosom, every night. I used to consider that her stories are products of our recorded oral literature. After years, when I grew up and became a young woman, I learned that Ayshecik and Meshecik were heroes of a serial story which is between mom and me. To her surprise, she never told me the same fantastic event, again and again, any night.
These fantastic elements are told in our oral and written literature for thousands years and have penetrated into our cells; they are often seen not only in our literature, but also in ballads and other disciplines. Nowadays, out of the authors who produce science fiction and fantastic literature, a lot of writers have been interspersing fantastic elements into their achievements.
I want to prioritise some authors and their achievements by taking into consideration the probability of English readers’ missing them. The stories of Dedem Korkut were handed down to the next generations as a heritage of our oral literature, and first printed in fifteenth century. These stories affected not only my personal enjoyment, but also affected traditions of the society. Some advice from these stories became proverbs in the Turkish language.
Evliya Celebi who is well known by most English readers, wrote about “Hezarfen [‘fen’ means science] Ahmet Celebi” who is known as the first person that successfully flew using wings he made, plus submarines, robots and rockets… in his Seyahatname in seventeenth century. Abdulhak H. Tarhan wrote Tayf Gecidi which is description of the XL. Century, in 1913. Refik Halit Karay wrote Mr. Con Hulya in 1921. The book named Ruya mı Hakikat mı? (1943) written by Dr. V. Bilgin is the first novel of Turkish socio-political science fiction. Metin Atak wrote Gezegenler Savasiyor about the wars of worlds, in 1971.
I can’t finish my words without mentioning some of the other authors, too: Zühtü Bayar, Orhan Duru, Haldun Aydıngün, Müfit Özdeş, Gurur Ası, Sabri Gürses, Sezer Erkin Ergin, Selma Mine, Bülent Somay, Peyami Safa, Dr. Adam Şenel, Dr. Sönmez Güven, Giovanni Scognomillo, Recai Dinçer, Mustafa Yelkenli, Dr. Levent Mollamustafaoğlu, Ekram Kasım, Sezen Kaymak, Bülent Akkoç, Metin Demirhan, Doç. Dr. Yalçın İzbul, Dr. Toygar Akman, Nurcihan, Özlem Ada, Sabri Gürses, Yiğit Değer Bengi, Orhan S. Şırin, Ali Nar, Altay Öktem, Nevra Bucak, Evren İmre, Muammer Yüksel, Çiler İlhan, Fatih Çatallar, Gündüz Öğüt, Ferhan Ertürk, Müfit Özdes, Levent Mete, Özlem Alpin, Mehmet Emin Arı, Latife Tekin, Nazlı Eray, İhsan Oktay Anar, Barış Müstecaplıoğlu,Ümit Kireççi, İzzet Yaşar, Levent Şenyürek, Arzu Çur, Sadık Yemni…
Finally, I want to mark how the fantasy is deep rooted in our literature culture and how important it is for our perception of life by giving an example; in the name and meaning of Esik Cini, a magazine of story culture.
Eşik Cini is translated as “Elf of Sills”. This elf is a famous being which lives on sill. It is known like that in Anatolian stories/culture. If somebody sees and talks to an elf, she is paralyzed by it or her life changes and becomes very good.
Our magazine was given this name because of a poetic text (poem) in a novel (Hulki Aktunç’s Bir Çağ Yangını / A Fire of an Age). In that text, the writer says to the elf of sill that it shouldn’t have had told those things, its and their end had come…
“Bunları kimseye anlatmamalıydın.
Ey eşik cini! Senin ve
Birçoğumuzun sonu geldi.
Ve elbet gelecekti…
Ama bundan daha görkemli
Bir başlangıç olabilir mi?
Bak, duyanlar uykusuz-duraksız
Kalıyor. Yine de
Kendi şenliklerine gidiyorlar.”
“You shouldn’t have told these.
Hey elf of sill! The end has come
for you and most of us.
And of course it would come…
But can be there something
more magnificent than this start?
Look, the ones that hear, become
They are going to their own festivals.”
So our elf is telling stories. People who listen/read it have pain or/and joy.
In Spain, 35% of all books sold of any genre or type are translations, and within science fiction publishing, the bestsellers tend to be English-language books. At the Cyberdark on-line store, the top sellers for May 2009 include Terry Goodkind, Glen Cook, Greg Egan, George R.R. Martin, and Alfred Bester.
This doesn’t mean that there are no Spanish SF writers. There are many. It means they’re reading and learning from the best — and competing with the best, which doesn’t make their careers easy. Many of their works compare in quality and style with English-language works, but often they have a Spanish spin, especially in subject matter.
A few examples:
- Franco. Una historia alternativa, edited by Julián Díez, an alternate history anthology of short stories about the Spanish Civil War, still a touchy subject.
- Madrid, by Daniel Mares. A humorous novel set 200 years in the future about a corrupt police detective pursuing a serial killer during a soccer hooligan riot at a game between arch-rival teams Madrid and Barcelona, told mostly in second person, due to telepathic possession.
- El tejido de la espada (The Weaving of the Sword), by José Miguel Pallarés. A gritty sword-and-sorcery novel set in medieval Spain, but unlike those inspired by Lord of the Rings, the plot involves not a quest but warfare, which is much more typical of Spanish history.
- Pasión gitana por sangre española (Gypsy Passion for Spanish Blood), by Víctor M. Ánchel, an award-winning novella about a clumsy American vampire who becomes the ringleader of a gang of bumbling petty criminals in Andalucía. Much of the fun comes from the use of accents and Gypsy slang, which makes the story almost untranslatable.
Other works could be difficult to translate because Anglophone readers might not know enough Spanish history and culture to understand the context, in addition to the language barrier. But speculative fiction readers are always willing to learn.
Two top sites in Spanish SF:
There is definitely a lot going on in Latin American and Spanish sf, but it is difficult to know that if you can not read Spanish. Apart from the collection Cosmos Latinos, there is almost no translation into English of any of these works. Daniel W. Koon has done some personal translations that can be read in his web page, but that is all. Let me talk a little about Cuban, Puerto Rican and Costa Rican sf.
Cuba is by far the most productive country in the Caribbean and second to none in Spanish in general. During the 1980s, Cuban cultural authorities included an exclusive award for sf in the prestigious David Award for young authors. This award had national recognition and promoted a new generation of writers such as Daína Chaviano, Agustin de Rojas, or Yoss. All of which are today celebrated writers. The David was also accompanied by the magazine’s Juventud Técnica award for short story. Both awards helped to create a rich environment for the future of sf. By the end of the 1980s Cuba experienced the publication of titles with more than 30,000 numbers each (El año 200, or Fábulas de una abuela extraterrestre, among others), and in the 1990s many young writers kept on producing sf, even if they could not publish but very few anthologies of short stories (Polvo en el viento, Horizontes probables, Reino eterno…). After the terrible period of the 1990s, when paper was not available on the island, Cuba has begun again to publish and support national awards for sf. Among the most renowned authors today are Yoss, Daína Chaviano, Michel Encinosa, Vladimir Hernández, Jorge Enrique Lage, Erick Mota, Anabel Enríquez, Juan Pablo Noroña, Ricardo Acevedo…and there are two new awards for sf, Premio Calendario and La Edad de Oro, plus Juventud Técnica restarted its award for short stories in 2005. Other venues appeared as well, like online zines. Ricardo Acevedo publishes the zine MiNatura, Erick Mota and Javier de la Torre publish Disparo en Red (some issues can be found here), and Raúl Aguiar publishes the cyberpunk zine Qubit. Finally, the veterans Bruno Henríquez and Gerardo Chávez Espínola came back with a television weekly show called Ciencia y Ficción, and with the web page El Guaicán Literario, respectively. Cuban sf is quite strong today, with international projection (in Spanish) and a bright future.
Some miles to the East, Puerto Rico, la isla del encanto, has few representatives in the sf genre. Although there is some production of short stories (see Qubit #38), I want to recommend the reading of two outstanding novels, Soulsaver by James Stevens-Arce, and Exquisito cadáver by Rafael Acevedo. Stevens-Arce won the prestigious UPC award in Spain with the novelette version of Soulsaver in 1997, and was published in Spanish the following year as El Salvador de almas. In 2000, Harcourt published a longer and final version in English (http://www.stevens-arce.com/). As for Acevedo, an accomplished poet, his novel was a finalist to the Cuban Casa de las Américas and published by Ultramarinos in 2001.
Finally, Costa Rica is an emergent country in sf. There is an excellent summary of the history of tico sf in Daniel W. Koon’s web page–I could copy and paste it here, but then again… Perhaps one of the most interesting things about CR sf is the fact that there are many women writing and being published. Proof of this is the forthcoming collection of short stories Posibles futuros. Cuentos de ciencia ficción, in which men and women share an equal number of entries. I may be wrong, but I have never seen a collection of sf short stories (in any language) with gender parity. Kudos for Costa Rican sf!
And that is my summary. What follows is a non comprehensive list of articles published about Cuban and Latin American sf published in English:
- Rachel Haywood Ferreira. “Back to the Future: The Expanding Field of Latin-American Science Fiction”. Hispania 91.2 (2008): 352-62.
- Molina-Gavilán, Yolanda, Miguel Angel Fernández Delgado and Andrea Bell and Juan C. Toledano. “Chronology of Latin American Science Fiction 1775-2005.” Science Fiction Studies 34-3, November (2007): 369-431.
Cuban and Puerto Rican:
- Toledano, Juan C. “The Many Faces of God: The Representation of Christianity in Caribbean Science Fiction.” Chasqui, 36-1 May (2007): 33-47.
- —. “From Socialist Realism to Anarchist-Capitalism: Cuban Cyberpunk” Science Fiction Studies 32-3 (2005): 442-466.
- —. “Ángel Arango’s Cuban Trilogy: Rationalism, Revolution and Evolution.” Extrapolation. Winter 43-4 (2002): 420-438.
The first thing that crossed my mind was that the question was pointless. Anglophone SF is domineering throughout the world; it is supposed to influence SF in almost every country.
What could the English speaking readers be missing out on?
On second thought, I decided that this point of view was wrong.
Anglophone readers – and SF writers- might well be missing a few things: People able to see ghosts thanks to overexposure to the frequencies emitted by cellphones (from the Phiippines). Rockets powered by gossip (Philippines). The amazing fate of “The last smoker on Earth” (Japan). The story of two “sentient” dogs traveling in space and saving humanity from destruction by soap-like aliens (Russia). The delirious adventures of two earthlings on a weird planet called Outrerria (Romania). People traveling via the Winds in order to discover their identity and have access to freedom…(Alain Damasio-France)
In France, various anthologies of SF stories by non-English speaking writers, translated in French, have appeared since the 70s and maybe even earlier. One of the most important initiatives for this was Galaxies‘ co-editor Bruno Della Chiesa’s Utopiae, a yearly anthology that included 10-12 SF stories by (non French) European, but also Japanese, African, South American SF writers. Current editor in chief of SF magazine Galaxies Pierre Gévart continues the tradition by a column dedicated to the SF in European countries; a different country is presented at each issue.
Of course, an anthology including 10-12 SF stories by authors throughout the world, or a column about SF in a European country are not sufficient to allow a definitive overview of that genre in a country, never mind how much work and effort is put into those presentations. The contact with SF abroad has, however, an evident advantage: it helps to understand that there is a huge potential of inventiveness, creativity and originality in remote places where you’d hardly think SF exists at all. Each one of those places has its own character and mentality, which are beyond the influence exerted by Anglophone SF. This diversity is definitely enriching as well for the entertainment of a SF reader and for the creativity of a SF writer.
To be fair, it must be said that similar efforts to promote foreign SF also exist in Anglophone countries: James Morrow’s anthology including SF stories by 16 European writers. British SF magazine Interzone has published translated stories by foreign writers. The blog of SHINE anthology by Jetse De Vries (http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/) includes a column “Optimism in the Literature around the World” where SF in various parts of the world is presented, stressing the positive aspects of SF in those countries. Wesleyan University Press recently published The Black Mirror & Other Stories: An Anthology of Science fiction from Germany & Austria (translated by Mike Mitchell). A very particular initiative, which deserves to be mentioned (at least in my opinion) is The Beloved of my Beloved, written by British SF writer Ian Watson and Italian SF writer Roberto Quaglia. As far as I know this collaboration between writers of different countries and different language is unique, at least as regards SF.
Irish magazine Albedo One is maybe the most active magazine in its efforts to promote European SF. The editors of Albedo One have recently claimed that the Aeon Award (rewarding three authors every year; the rewarded stories are published in the magazine), is now accessible to non-Anglophone SF writers. Moreover, the editors of the magazine have set out the Albedo One scheme for a system to translate stories into other languages and asked if there is any EU funding available. Up to now, there has been a response to this project by the Finns, the Dutch and by French magazine Galaxies. For more details, see: http://bobn-translation.blogspot.com/
Somehow, all those efforts seem to be insufficient. It would be a good thing for the Anglophone SF world to read more SF from abroad. The differences in sensitivities and mentalities could help Anglophone SF to improve itself and allow the development of new tendencies, which would enrich the genre.
SF seems to be in a crisis period right now. The SF world does not remain inactive; many inventive and creative people try to find solutions and keep SF alive. Obviously, the best solution is the innovation of the genre in order to attract more people, especially the young audience. One thing that could achieve this is the association of SF to fantasy. This tendency is not really new; its importance is just growing, which is not surprising when you know how popular fantasy is, especially among young people. In almost every SF magazine, you see fantasy stories. Or stories where SF is associated to fantasy. In my opinion, the stories in Strange Horizons are among the best ones in this field; some magazines like Postscripts, Interzone and Premonitions are doing a great job as well. Ellen Datlow is one of the most important and most successful editors in promoting genre fusion stories. Moreover, there are excellent books where SF is associated to mythology or magical elements are included in a SF story. SF is even associated to horror nowadays; quite a strange “marriage”, but it seems to work.
In France and in many other European countries (Ukraine and Italy among others), the association of SF with various literary tendencies (not only fantasy, but also humor and surrealism) is very common; it is the rule, not the exception. I am sorry that there is not enough room to give examples. The translation of this kind of foreign SF stories could give ideas to Anglophone SF writers and editors and eventually “teach” them how to improve genre fusion. SF masterfully associated to other genres (not always an easy task) could be appealing to the young fantasy fans if the story is “light” and entertaining.
SF mixed to other genres could even become more attractive to some more demanding adult readers, who love “deeper”, more “mature” literary works. This kind of audience usually believes that they will not find what they want in SF. They usually prefer mainstream literature. On the contrary, in countries like France, even very “serious”, self-aware readers love reading SF, which offers a different and interesting point of view to the problems those readers are interested in. An imaginary situation might give the possibility to develop your points of view with much more freedom than an actual, “everyday” ordinary situation.
Another reason why Anglophone SF seems to lose many fans – and not to attract new ones – seems to be that SF has become too pessimistic.
Here again, the Anglophone SF writers and editors do not remain inactive. The most important initiative is Shine anthology by ex co-editor of Interzone, Jetse De Vries. I will not develop what he is trying to do; he clearly explains this himself in the blog of Shine anthology: http://shineanthology.wordpress.com/. To be fair, one must point out the laudable efforts of Interzone to promote “positive”, more optimistic SF. The magazine, however, tries other things as well, while the aim of Shine is exclusively the promotion of positive SF. Recently, a movement to promote more optimistic SF/F, in order to have more “readers who enjoy what they read and writers who enjoy what they write”, has been initiated by Andy Remick and joined, very quickly, by many SF and F writers: if you want to know more about these Science Fiction and Fantasy Enthusiasts: http://www.sciencefictionandfantasyenthusiasts.com/
The “enthusiasts” of a positive SF might learn a lot from Russian and Chinese SF. By “enthusiasts”, I am not only referring to Andy Remick and his followers, but the many, many people, who abandon SF because it has become too gloomy for them. In the forums of SF readers, you can see very often the statement: “Why reading so sad, pessimistic stories? If I want this stuff, I can also watch news on TV.” Pessimism is unknown in Russian and Chinese SF. Back in the days of the USSR, Russian SF was a means of propaganda: the government wanted to use SF writers to promote communist ideas and to convince people that the investments of the Soviet government in scientific research and in development of high tech, would result in a better future in the Soviet Union. The same is true in China nowadays.
Nevertheless, this is the only common point in the SF of those two countries. First, the Soviet Union does not exist any more. SF is now as free in Russia as it is in the Anglophone world. Second, there are differences between Russian and Chinese SF. Chinese SF adopted a popular science approach and directed the majority of its stories towards the younger readers. This aspect could be interesting to the genre fusion in Anglophone countries. Even if Chinese SF is sometimes considered as rather “naïve” and not very accurate at a scientific point of view (it has been compared with the Anglophone SF in the 50s), the fact that the stories were directed to a young audience resulted, for instance, in the creation of Wisely, a legendary character created by author Ni Kuang. Wisely has visited Earth’s core, heaven, hell, the future, and alien planets. He has met extraterrestrials, transparent people, seers, and other strange beings, many of them inspired by Chinese mythology. This hero was so popular that his adventures came out in comics and even in films. Whatever the differences with Anglophone culture, such a hero could be an example of how SF could become attractive to a young audience. Besides popularizing science, SF promoted the country’s wonderful socialist future, exactly like in the Soviet Union. However, Russian SF was much more “serious”, more directed to an adult audience than Chinese SF. Russian SF was – and still is – amazing and fascinating. There is a wonderful balance of humor, optimism about technology, accurate scientific facts and originality in the plot of the stories written by SF writers. And a diversity of themes, unfortunately absent in Anglophone SF. To give but one example, in a story written by the brothers Strugatski in 1970 there is an amazing description of a computer: the simulations it was able to do, the problems that it was unable to face and even some idea about the self-learning capacity which is a characteristic of modern computers. The Russians – old and new writers – could teach a lot to Anglophone SF writers.
Even for those writers who do not like the style of Chinese or Russian SF, I think that both are worth reading. Writing and using SF as a means of propaganda could be a source of inspiration to write an excellent SF story. And for the ones who try to fight the excess of dystopias in modern Anglophone SF, the compelled optimism in a SF written under oppression could be a new standard of healthy limits in creating a positive and convincing SF.
The last – and not least – aspect of international SF, which could benefit to the Anglophone audience of SF is not about what the non Anglophone SF stories could change in the Anglophone mentality if they were translated. It is about things, which although translated and well known to the Anglophone SF public, they are nevertheless regarded as not important.
Everybody knows how popular comics, video, RPG and mangas are among the young audience. Japanese SF is heavily influenced by anime and mangas. It is more “fun” to read, it is more optimistic and therefore more appealing to young people.
Enki Bilal (interestingly the famous artist is a Yugoslavian living in Paris) in France produces wonderful comics in which “adult” SF ideas (see his last album Animal Z) are associated with awesome illustrations. Hayao Miyazaki’s work needs no presentation; he masterfully associates an extremely interesting and imaginative SF to his wonderful images. The inventive SF of the mangas is so appealing to the young readers that many of them claim in forums that “this is the kind of SF I like; not what you find in SF books of magazines”, accompanied by various explanations for this preference. Superheroes become even main characters in mainstream literature. But all this seems irrelevant: in spite of their huge success, despite the fact that a very interesting kind of SF is promoted in manga, surprisingly, nothing resembling a comic or manga SF is appearing in Anglophone literary SF.
The majority of SF English-speaking world seems to ignore the success of the manga and comics and refuse to use their ideas in literary SF. This would not be “serious”. Even if this “not serious” element might be their most important chance to become appealing to the young audience…
There are some initiatives. British magazine Murky Depths produces wonderful stories associating SF, dark fantasy and horror with beautiful illustrations with graphic stories. Not surprisingly, the magazine has more and more success; the young audience seems to adore it and stories by various renowned SF writers appear in the magazine. Some of them (Lavie Tidhar, for instance) even write graphic stories!
Haikasoru is a very interesting initiative by Nick Mamatas: Japanese SF short stories translated in English. As Nick Mamatas very correctly points out:
“Japanese SF is fresher and more enthusiastic than American SF. One of the great concerns of the US science fiction community is attracting new readers, and “new readers” almost always means young people. Most current SF readers started as kids, after all, but what is the new generation reading? (Manga, as it turns out!)… Manga (and Japanese SF) can be plenty serious. Even kids are concerned about issues and relationships. The expression of the issues seem more accessible to someone who hasn’t already been training himself or herself to read SF since the age of eight.”
Let’s hope that in the future more people will follow the example of Haikasoru and Murky Depths…
Now, after all this, what is the answer to the question: What is going on right now in the international SF/F scene that Anglophone readers might be missing out on? The best answer might be this quote by Terry Martin, editor of Murky Depths: “Anything that pushes boundaries and gets people thinking is to be encouraged, and with good translations, non English SF might raise the profile of written (as opposed to movie) science fiction.”
Why ignore a whole world of inspiration that could refresh and enrich the Anglophone SF?
SF is dead.