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MIND MELD: Guide to International SF/F (Part I )

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.

Q: What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on?
Lavie Tidhar
Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas “An Occupation of Angels” (2005), and forthcoming “Cloud Permutations” (2009) and “Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God” (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, short novel The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He also edited anthologies A Dick & Jane Primer for Adults (2008) and the forthcoming The Apex Book of World SF (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia.

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.

Jerzy Rzymowski
Jerzy Rzymowski is one of the editors of Nowa Fantastyka magazine.

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.

Daína Chaviano
Daína Chaviano is a Cuban born author, living in US since 1991. She has published several mainstream, SF and fantasy books. Her most recent novel, The Island of Eternal Love (Riverhead, 2007) has been published in 25 languages, thus becoming the most translated Cuban novel of all time.

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.

Tanya Tynjälä
Tanya Tynjälä is a Peruvian sci-fi and fantasy writer. She has two books published (La ciudad de los nictálopes and Cuentos de la princesa Malva both with NORMA). Those books are used in reading workshops at schools in Chile, Colombia and Peru. She is also included in some anthologies in Peru and abroad. She lives in Finland, where she works as a language teacher at the Helsinki University of technology.

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.

Kostas Voulazeris
Kostas Voulazeris lives in Athens, Greece. He reads and writes speculative fiction from a very early age. You can download freely many of his stories from his website, or from Scribd.com. Or you can buy some of his published work from Fantastikos Orizontas Publishing. He has, also, participated in the Greek translation of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual, and other books for Kaissa Publishing. As always, he is busy writing a novel.

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.

Nurduran Duman Translated by Rusen Ergun
Nurduran Duman is a poet, writer, essayist, translator who lives in Istanbul. She wrote her first poem when she was 8 years old. Because of her passion about the “sea” she attended Istanbul Technical University, Faculty of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering and graduated as an “Ocean Engineer” and a “Naval Architect”. Her poem collection Yenilgi Oyunu (The Defeat Game) has been awarded with 2005 Cemal Süreya Poetry Awards. These awards are conferred to in memory of Cemal Süreya (1931 – 1990), one of the most important poets in Turkish Literature. Her book Yenilgi Oyunu was published in 2006. She translated Alma Alexander’s book The Secret of Jin-shei from English to Turkish. The book was published in Turkish in 2007. Her poems, translations (poems and stories), poetic articles, book reviews and interviews with foreign writers (e.g. Eileen Gunn, Karen Joy Fowler, Yiyun Li, Anna Tambour, Monica Arac de Nyeko etc.) have been published in various magazines and newspapers. She was elected two times as a board member of Writers Syndicate of Turkiye. She is a member of Turkish PEN. She was the producer and presenter of the culture and literature broadcast (radio) Yazın Küresi.

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

Unsleepy-nonstopped. However

They are going to their own festivals.”

So our elf is telling stories. People who listen/read it have pain or/and joy.

Sue Burke
Sue Burke is an American writer living in Madrid, Spain. She is currently translating Europe’s first best-selling novel, Amadis of Gaul, published in 1508, a fantasy story of knights, combat, damsels in distress, and distressing damsels. You can read a new a chapter each week at http://amadisofgaul.blogspot.com

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:

http://www.stardustcf.com

http://www.ngc3660.es

Juan Carlos Toledano
Juan is an Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies at Lewis and Clark College. His research interests include Twentieth-Century Spanish American Literature with an emphasis on the Hispanic Caribbean, Nineteenth-Century Spanish American Literature, Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Peninsular Literatures, and the Fantastic in Literature, Art, and the Media. He is currently at work on a book examining Cuban science fiction.

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:

General:

  • 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.

Sissy Pantelis
Sissy is an MD, co-editor of the French SF magazine Galaxies, and a writer. Her stories have been published in Greece and in France, also under the name Gillian Gray.

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?

Jean-Daniel Brèque
Professional translator. Fired by his main source of income for political differences. (He’s a die-hard Bushist.) Trying to eke out a living translating leftist writers.

Easy.

SF is dead.

About Karen Burnham (82 Articles)
Karen is vocationally an engineer and avocationally a sf/f reviewer and critic. She has worked on the Orion and Dream Chaser spacecraft and written for SFSignal, Strange Horizons, and Locus Magazine.

40 Comments on MIND MELD: Guide to International SF/F (Part I )

  1. Fabien Lyraud // June 24, 2009 at 4:02 am //

    Pierre Bordage is the most active french SF authors. He writes very rich litterary frescoes with humanist lessons. His space opera “les Guerriers du silence” (silent warriors) is the best space op i’ve read. He must be translated in englis.

    Fabien, french fan.

  2. Rich Gombert // June 24, 2009 at 11:56 am //

    For years I have tried to read what I can on orginaly non-english SF. To help with that I created this list (out of date and in no way complete) of english SF translations (that I know. heard of).

    The ones with and “*” are ones I’ve read (yeah, okay I have a long way to go).

    On a side note – reading SF as a teenager in the mid to late 1970’s, I always enjoyed Russian/Soviet SF. It seemed more “real” to me. Not that they were dystopic or dark, they just felt “grittier” and more realistic.

    By Author (Alphabetical)

    Abe, Kobo
        THE ARK SAKURA [Knopf, 1988]*
        INTER ICE AGE 4 [Knopf, 1970]*
    Arai, Motoko 
        GREEN REQUIEM [Kodansha English Library, 1984]
        A SHIP TO THE STARS [Kodansha English Library, 1984]
    Amosov, M 
        NOTES FROM THE FUTURE [Simon & Schuster, 1970]
    Apostolous & Greenberg ed 
        THE BEST JAPANESE SF STORIES [Dembner, 1989]*
    Asimov, Isaac ed.
        SOVIET SF*
    Barbet, Pierre
        BAPHOMET’S METEOR [DAW, 1972]
        THE ENCHANTED PLANET [DAW, 1975]
        THE JOAN-OF-ARC REPLAY [DAW, 1978]
        THE NAPOLEONS OF ERIDANUS [DAW, 1973]
    Barjeval, Rene 
        ASHES, ASHES [Doubleday, 1967]
        THE ICE PEOPLE [Morrow, 1970]
        THE IMMORTALS

    Bell, Andrea L. & Yolanda Molina-Gavilan

        Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (Early Classics of Science Fiction)

    Bioy, Casares, {ARGENTINA}
        THE INVENTION OF MOREL AND OTHER STORIES [ U of Texas Press, 1964]
    Bodelsen, Anders 
        FREEZING DOWN [Harper, 1972]
    Bolle, Pierre  
        GARDEN OF THE MOON [Vanguard, 1965]
        PLANET OF THE APES [Vanguard, 1968]
        TIME OUT OF MIND [Vanguard, 1966]
    Borges, Jorge Luis, {ARGENTINA}
        LABYRINTHS [New Directions, 1962]
    Boye, Karin 
        KALLOCAIN [U of Wisconsin Press, 1966]
    Bulychev, Kirill 
        GULSAR WONDERS
             HALF A LIFE
    Caldwell, (Janet Miriam) Taylor 
        THE DEVIL”S ADVOCATE [Crown, 1952]
    Calvino, Italo
        COSMICOMICS [Harcourt, 1968]*
        INVISIBLE CITIES [Harcourt, 1974]
        T ZERO*
        THE WATCHERS
    Capek, Karl 
        WAR WITH THE NEWTS*
    Curtis, Jean-Louis
        THE NEON HALO [Secker, 1958]
    Daniel, Yuli     
        THIS IS MOSCOW SPEAKING, AND OTHER STORIES [Dutton, 1969]
    de Tarde, Gabriel 
        UNDERGROUND MAN [Hyperion, 1974]*
    Dudinstsev, Vladimir 
        A NEW YEAR’S TALE [Dutton, 1960]
    Efremov, Ivan Antonovich
        ANDROMEDA: A SPACE AGE TALE  [Foreign Language Publishing House, 1959]
    Emtsev, Mikhail & Eremei Parnov
        WORLD SOUL [Macmillen, 1977]
    Franke, Herbert W.
        THE ORCHID CAGE [DAW, 1973]*
        THE MIND NET [DAW]
        ZONE NULL
    Friedell, Egon
        THE RETURN OF THE TIME MACHINE [DAW]
    Gary, Romain 
        THE GASP [Putnam, 1973]
    Gotlieb, Hinko     
        THE KEY TO THE GREAT GATE [Simon & Schuster, 1947]
    Henneberg, N.C. 
        THE GREEN GODS [DAW, 1973]
    Hesse, Herman 
        THE GLASS BEAD GAME [Holt, 1969]
    Hoshi, Shinichi 
        THE CAPRICIOUS ROBOT [Kodansha English Library, 1986]
        THE SPITEFUL PLANET AND OTHER STORIES [Japan Times, 1978]
        THERE WAS A KNOCK [Kodansha English Library, 1984]
    Jacobson, Helen Salz ed 
        NEW SOVIET SF [Macmillen, 1979]
    Jakubowski, Maxim ed.     
        TRAVELLING TOWARDS EPSILON: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FRENCH SF [New English Library, 1977]
    Jeury, Michel         
        CHRONOLYSIS
    Jensen, Axel     
        EPP [Chatto & Windus, 1967]
    Johannesson, Olof 
        THE TALE OF THE BIG COMPUTER [Coward, 1968]
    Kaul, Fedor 
        CONTAGION TO THIS WORLD [Bless, 1933]
    Keostler, Arthur 
        THE AGE OF LONGING [Macmillen, 1951]
    Kirst, Hans Hellmutt 
        THE SEVENTH DAY [Ballantine, 1971]
    Klien, Gerard 
        THE DAY BEFORE TOMORROW [DAW, 1972]
         THE MOTE IN TIMES EYE [DAW, 1975]
         THE OVERLORDS OF WAR
         STARMASTER’S GAMBIT [DAW, 1971]
    Knight, Damon ed , {USA}
        13 FRENCH SF STORIES*
    Kolupaev, Victor 
        HERMITS SWING
    Komatsu, Sakyo
        JAPAN SINKS [Harper & Row, 1976]
    Lem, Stanislaw , {POLAND}
        THE CHAIN OF CHANCE
        THE CYBERIAJ: FABLES FOR THE CYBERNETIC AGE [Seabury, 1974]
         EDEN
         FIASCO                
         THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS: FROM THE MEMOIRS OF ION TICHY [Seabury, 1974]
         HIS MASTERS VOICE [Harvest, 1983]
         IMAGINARY MAGNITUDE
         THE INVESTIGATION [Seabury, 1974]
         THE INVINCIBLE [Seabury, 1973]
         MEMOIRS FOUND IN A BATHTUB [Seabury, 1973]
         MEMOIRS OF A SPACE TRAVELLER
         MORE TALES OF PRIX THE PILOT
         MORTAL ENGINES
         A PERFECT VACUUM
         RETURN FROM THE STARS
         SOLARIS [Walker, 1970]
         THE STAR DIARIES
         TALES OF PRIX THE PILOT
    Leourier, Christion  , {FRANCE}
        THE MOUNTAINS OF THE SUN [Berkley, 1974]*
    Lundwall, Sam J.  , {SWEDEN}
        2018 AD:OF THE KING KONG BLUES [DAW, 1975]
        ALICE”S WORLD [Arrow, 1975]
        BERNARD THE CONQUEROR [DAW, 1973]
    Magidoff, Robert ed  , {USA}
        RUSSIAN SF 1969*
    Martinson, Harry
        ANIARA [Knopf, 1963]
    Marurois, Andre 
        THE THOUGHT-READING MACHINE [Jonathan Cape, 1938]
        THE WEIGHER OF SOULS [Bart, 1944]
    Merle, Robert 
        THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN [Simon & Schuster, 1969]
        MALEVIL [Simon & Schuster, 1974]
    Merril, Judith ed.  , {USA}
        PATHS INTO THE UNKNOWN*
    Mrozek, Slawomir 
        THE UGUPU BIRD [MacDonald, 1968]
    Nesvadba, Josef 
        THE LOST FACE: BEST SF FROM CZECHOSLOVAKIA [Taplinger, 1971]
    Nolane, Richard D. ed.     
        TERRA SF: THE YEAR’S BEST EUROPEAN SF [DAW]*
         TERRA SF II: THE YEAR’S BEST EUROPEAN SF [DAW]
    Roshwald, Mordecai     
        LEVEL & [McGraw, 1959]
    Rottenstiener, Franz ed
        VIEW FROM ANOTHER SHORE
    Soldati, Mario 
        THE EMERALD [Harcout, 1977]
    Sternberg, Jacques
        FUTURE WITHOUT FUTURE [Seabury, 1974]
    Strugastsky, Arkady & Boris  , {RUSSIA}
        ESCAPE ATTEMPT
        FAR RAINBOW / THE 2nd INVASION FROM MARS
        HARD TO BE A GOD [Seabury, 1973]
        ROADSIDE PICNIC / TALE OF TROIKA [Macmillen, 1977]
        THE TIME WANDERER
        THE UGLY SWAN
    Takachiho, Haruka 
        THE GREAT ADVENTURES OF DIRTY PAIR [Kodansha English Library, 1987]
    Tolstoy, Alexi N. 
        AELITA
    Tsutsui, Yasutaka 
        THE AFRICAN BOMB AND OTHER STORIES [Kodansha English Library, 1986]
    VanHerck, Paul 
        WHERE WERE YOU LAST PLUTERDAY? [DAW, 1973]
    Vercors  , {FRANCE}
        BORDERLAND [New English Library, 1976]
        SYLVIA [Putnam, 1962]
        YOU SHALL KNOW THEM [Little Brown, 1953]
    Verne, Jules
        20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
    Wahloo, Per 
        MURDER ON THE 31st FLOOR [M. Josef, 1966]
    Werful, Franz     
        STAR OF THE UNBORN [Viking, 1946]
    Wu, Dingbo ed.         
        SF FROM CHINA [ ,1990]*
    Wul, Stefan
        THE TEMPLE OF THE PAST

  3. Like Daina, I love The Carpet Makers. I want to see more Eschbach in translation. Jacek Dukaj’s latest novel, Lód (Ice) has been picking up awards all over the place and ought to be a priority for anyone looking for good non-English works to translate. Jean-Claude Dunyach will be at Worldcon in Montreal and I believe he has a book launch. Also look out for Pierre Pevel’s “musketeers + dragons” novels, which are due out in translation soon. And the Interfictions 2 anthology (Sherman & Barzak) has a number of translated stories, including a Prix Imaginales winner by my friend Lionel Davoust.

  4. Yes, Jacek Dukaj’s books are something I would definitely recommend for translations, although they are also quite challenging to translate (especially Lód). His Inne Pieśni (The Other Songs) or Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość (Ideal Imperfection) would probably be a bit easier to translate.

  5. I agree with Ausir. While Jacek Dukaj’s literary works are outstanding and Lód is well worth reading, I definitely wouldn’t start translating from this one for various reasons. Inne pieśni are just as great (although completely different), but much easier to translate.

  6. Thanks for the Haikasoru shout-out!  Though, truly, the initiative is by my employer VIZ Media and the brainchild of editor-in-chief of the imprint Masumi Washington. I’m just the (daily thrilled) editor. 

     

    Keep watching the bookshelves. The first two books, The Lord of the Sands of Time and All You Need Is KILL, drop next month.

  7. Drogi Panie Rzymowski:

    While I understand your sentiments, I feel you’re missing one great point. Social context. It’s all very well to speak of Jacek Dukaj but as you — and readers of his novels in the Polish — must know, the very words and terms Dukaj uses are based in a cultural milieu that is exceedingly difficult (I would say, impossible) to translate to the English. The Poles are renowned for their comedies and dramas that are only relevant to a particular environment (e.g. Czterdziestolatek). While you’re correct that there are other perspectives very much worth exploring, it’s a bit disingenous to think that a mere translation of them into the English will somehow enrich and broaden the perspectives of those finally reading the work in a different language.

    It is this, I feel, that is the great stumbling block to all novels. More so than the dominance of Hollywood (as if anglophone sf&f writers are only American! Watch it, Panie Rzymowski, your Freudian slip is showing), and the high financial investment inherent in translation work. If it’s any consolation, I feel exactly the same way about particular novels from the United States. The language, the environment, the references, are so specific to that region of the US that they might as well be written in Mandarin for me, and I find them unsatisfying and unfulfilling. At the moment, I feel I would look at a Dukaj work in exactly the same way. (Why can I read Zamyatin and the Strugatskys, for example, with utter pleasure and yet not someone like Dukaj?)

    This is not a failing of anyone or anything, but a characteristic of the world and one that writers would do well to at least ponder when planning their works. Perhaps their novels can’t be translated into English? I certainly don’t expect them to be “ribbed for [my] pleasure” (and, forgive me, but I find the term mildly insulting), but not all novels are equally accessible to all people and it’s a bit unfair to lay the blame of incomprehension solely on the shoulders of the poor, culturally deprived, creatively blinkered, monotony-fed English language masses, bless their cotton socks.

  8. Dukaj’s Lód does use many cultural references that might not be easy to read for an English- speaking reader, true (which is why it would be rather hard to translate), as do some of his other works, like Xavras Wyżryn. But on the other hand, Inne pieśni, Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość and Czarne oceany are much more universal – they don’t really contain any specifically Polish content, being, respectively, an alternate history in a world based on Aristotle’s metaphysics, a transhumanist space opera, technological singularity post-cyberpunk set in 2060 United States. So while the issues you mention might apply to some of Dukaj’s works, they certainly don’t apply to all of them.

    And while Lód might be the most awarded of his novels, in my opinion Inne pieśni is definitely the best one.

  9. Droga pani Kaz Augustin

     

    This is bullshit. 

    Even Dukaj’s Xavras Wyżryn  is uniwersal as fuck.

  10. @ Kaz

    One more thing – if you want to maintain at least some credibility (did you even read it..?)  please specify which books “are based in a cultural milieu” and are “only relevant to a particular environment ((e.g. Czterdziestolatek)” and why?!

    It really appears as if you just didn’t understand them…

    Or maybe you just read Mickiewicz or Słowacki?

     

  11. What you say may well be correct, mudkipz84. But that’s not to say ALL non-English novels are as “uniwersal as fuck”, just as not all English language novels are, either.

  12. “But that’s not to say ALL non-English novels are as “uniwersal as fuck”, just as not all English language novels are, either.”

    Of course, but in Dukaj’s case, the specifically Polish works based in a cultural milieu that would be hard to understand to non-Poles are just a fraction of his writing. For most of his books, it’s more an issue of expressing well the way he uses the language in a translation. I think Michael Kandel (who’s also behind most of Stanisław Lem translations into English) did a pretty good job with the excerpts found at http://www.dukaj.pl/English.

  13. The URL should be http://www.dukaj.pl/English, without the full stop at the end.

  14. Once again I have to agree with Ausir. Indeed, Lód, Xavras Wyżryn or some short stories (i.e. Crux) are deeply rooted in Polish history and culture and I seriously doubt if they could be appreciated by someone not familiar with Poland and Poles. These are the minority of Dukaj’s work though: he wrote many different stories much more universal, the prime example being Inne pieśni (Dukaj’s best novel if you ask me) — a stunning journey through the alternate world where Aristotle’s ideas of physics and philosophy actually apply.

    If I were to choose which Dukaj’s book to translate first, I’d pick Inne pieśni in a heartbeat.

  15. I just really can’t understand where did your impression of Dukaj’s work came from? And I’m amazed and curious .

    Even Xavras Wyżryn – a novela about fight for Poland’s independence (yes, how classical for cloistered polish literature…) is really about terrorism, ergo it’s universal …

    And other D.’s works..?

    Lód is of course in great part about polish-russian realtionship but the main subject of the book (en.wiki):

     

    “the Ice freezes History and Philosophy, preserving the old political regime, affecting human psychology and changing the laws of logic from many-valued logic of “Summer” to two-valued logic of “Winter” with no intermediate steps between True and False.
    […]Dukaj noted[1] that in this book, science in science-fiction stands for the philosophy of history.”

     

    So it’s not just some Polish writing about Poles etc.   It can be appealling to everyone.

     

     

     

  16. Well, I would rather start with short stories (sometimes not so short, in Dukaj’s case…), like School or General’s move, and then translate one of his novels. And I agree Other songs would be the best choice.

    Ice is not only deeply rooted in Polish history and culture, is also terrifyingly long. Would you buy a 1000+ pages long of a novel, written by some foreign author you’ve never heard of? Neither would I. If it is to be succesful, Dukaj will have to be “introduced” by something shorter and less “culturally relevant”.

    So Kaz Augustin is partly right.

  17. @mudkipz84

    Yes, there are universal themes in Lód and Xavras Wyżryn as well, but they still do rely to some extent on the knowledge of the historical context, and much of what Dukaj does with the language in Lód would be pretty much untranslatable. I’m not saying translating these into English would make no sense at all, but it’s best to start with books that are more translatable and more universal culturally.

  18. Hmm…. just testing. Are all my comments sent to moderation as potential spam now? Weird.

  19. Well, apparently not anymore, so I’ll reply again (to moderators: you can delete the previous one).

    mudkipz84: While there are of course universal themes and ideas in Lód and Xavras Wyżryn, they are still much more rooted in Polish culture and rely much more on the cultural context than any of his other novels. Not to mention Dukaj’s experiments with language in Lód would be pretty much untranslatable.

    I’m not saying that translating these books would make no sense whatsoever, since they would likely still be enjoyed by many readers outside of Poland as well, but if Dukaj were to be published in English, it would make more sense to translate those of his works that are more translatable and don’t rely on Poland’s historical and cultural context.

  20. Ad mudkipz84:

    about Xavras – it’s also worth noticing that a lot of “entourage” in this short novel (novelette?) is taken directly from relations of the first war in Chechnya, including US Department of State’s media responses. So it’s not even Polish, it’s universal (at least regionally?) from the start.

     

    BTW: you can always count on Polish internauts to put up a fight 😀 But maybe we shouldn’t start flame wars, eh, mudkipz84? If only for this reason – it doesn’t look good. For you, for the rest of us, for Polish SF.

  21. Ausir: “While there are of course universal themes and ideas in Lód and Xavras Wyżryn, they are still much more rooted in Polish culture and rely much more on the cultural context than any of his other novels. Not to mention Dukaj’s experiments with language in Lód would be pretty much untranslatable.”

    Agreed.  But that’s only 2 Dukaj’s books…And still they can be very enjoyable to foreign readers.

     

     

     

  22. Wow, well at least I started a very interesting discussion! 🙂

    Yes yes, first and foremost, my abject apologies to Jacek Dukaj. I was only referring to Lód and my initial sentence was clumsily constructed. Mea culpa. The truth is that, as an Eurasian, the intricacies of the Polish-Russian relationship is, tbh, quite beyond me, and so much of that novel is quite beyond me.

    The actual length, nosiwoda, doesn’t bother me. (Hey I read Alastair Reynolds! And, yes, I would try a new novel that big.) Again, I come back to social context and whether that can ever be accurately grasped by the “other”, whether it is Jo Bloggs in Canada reading Dukaj, or myself in Malaysia reading something immersed in, say, New Orleans. So, all I wanted to point out is that it’s not merely a point of translation in order to share perspectives … there is also the, as you say, need for “cultural relevance” (in what I’ve been calling the social context) in order to provide a common touchstone. No ribbed condoms, no filtered remakes. Just a touchstone. It’s as important an element as the translation itself and the translation, imo, cannot succeed in propagating new perspectives without it.

    And thanks everyone for an afternoon of fun! It’s actually lovely to see so many fans of Polish sf&f fiction being so passionate. Makes me wish I was a Polish sf&f writer!

  23. Anonymous // June 25, 2009 at 2:12 am //

    mudkipz84, you seem to miss the point here. Take Lód for example: first of all, it’s basically untranslatable into English because of the grammatical trick that Dukaj used — and this trick is crucial for understanding the whole logic idea behind Lód. Then you have many various details, i.e. Piłsudski — how many non-Polish readers would grasp the irony of making him a terrorist? Or how many non-Polish readers would catch the brilliant paraphrase of Witkacy’s Szewcy?

    Sure, the main idea of Lód could be appealing to anyone but it’s those innumerable details that make or break the deal. And you won’t find such problems while trying to translate Inne pieśni, The Iron General or many other Dukaj’s works. 🙂

  24. nosiwoda: maybe we shouldn’t start flame wars, eh, mudkipz84?

    “we”? Your only saying this ’cause your assuming I’m Polish. That’s f#$kin’ profiling. I’m INTAENATIONAL. (new word not missspell, I’am a Dukaj fan so i liek neologisms(FTW))

    And “not starting Flame wars” argument?  Pliiiiz. 4deLULZ=FTW

     

    nosiwoda: If only for this reason – it doesn’t look good. For you, for the rest of us, for Polish SF.

    I’m not here 4 the looks. I’m 4 da bookz man, 4 da BOOKZ!!!

    And again “us” – profiling. Sad…

     

    And now for something more contructive…What about manga/anime? Aren’t we gaijin missing something from them?

     

  25. (the previous anonymous comment was mine, I somehow forgot to sign it)

    And Kaz, no wonder there are so many Dukaj’s fans here. 🙂 When it comes to imagination and being innovative, he’s at least one level above most of contemporary sf writers that I know.

  26. Ad Kaz Augustin:

    “It’s actually lovely to see so many fans of Polish sf&f fiction being so passionate. Makes me wish I was a Polish sf&f writer! “

    You might want to check who won the first ever edition of “The David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy”… Yes, Andrzej Sapkowski, Polish author, translated last year into English 😛 And I would bet raisins against ringgits that Polish internauts had a say in this (voting was online).

  27. Ad mudkipz84:

    “Your only saying this ’cause your assuming I’m Polish.”

    I’m not assuming anything. I know. I read Blog de Bart, occasionally. So much for profiling.

    Suit yourself.

  28. By the way, Larry at Of Blog the Fallen has chimed in on the topic of this Mind Meld:

    http://ofblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/chiming-in-on-non-anglophone-sf.html

  29. nosiwoda: unfortunately the English translation of Blood of the Elves is far from perfect — actually I’d say it’s quite poor (especially when you compare it to much better Spanish, Czech or French ones). One of Sapkowski’s strongest points is his brilliant use of language, which is almost nonexistant in the English version. After spotting many unnatural and awkward phrases you can immediately tell that it’s a translation, even if you didn’t know it before. Which is a shame, because Sapkowski is one of my favourite Polish sf&f writers and he deserves a better translator.

  30. nosiwoda: Ad mudkipz84:

    “Your only saying this ’cause your assuming I’m Polish.”

    I’m not assuming anything. I know. I read Blog de Bart, occasionally. So much for profiling.

    Suit yourself.

    I will, thank you mister.  Nationality is irrelevant to my arguments, so you’re still profiling.

    Lame nick, BTW.

     

    spike: mudkipz84, you seem to miss the point here.

    Many SF/Fantasy worlds “are  based  in [alien to us] cultural milieu”. So my argument is :

    What’s the differenz if milieu is  Polish/Japanese or Mgwlanaflasxhg?

    It’s all eventually infodumped to understanding (Dukaj style). Or it isn’t – manga/anime style (sells well, many fanbois ’round the world). You have to know all -chan_-kun_-san/standing_tea_leaf_raep bullshit for urself. Or u might miss something. Who cares.

    It’s the characters stupid.

     

  31. kaz: Yes yes, first and foremost, my abject apologies to Jacek Dukaj. I was only referring to Lód and my initial sentence was clumsily constructed. Mea culpa.

    kthnxbai

  32. “We didn’t start the fire…” Oh, sorry – it seems I actually did start it this time. 😉

    First of all, I’m very glad that my “Mind Meld” entrance started the discussion (although not top quality in some parts) and that I put Jacek Dukaj in the spotlight. Hopefully, other writers, that I mentioned above, may gain more attention too.

    I can’t agree with Kaz’s way of thinking. It implies – maybe not directly or intentionally – that if the novel’s social context and enviroment very different from the ones known to the reader, such novel is worthless to the reader, because it can’t be understood. Keeping this in mind, I should never read Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell” because it is throughly English or any Japanese writers because, well… they are Japanese.

    I believe that the different enviroment of foreign stories is one of their greatest values. The readers may discover ideas and ways of thinking, unknown to them before and perhaps very exotic. They may learn about foreign history, culture and nature – it may be difficult but it is also enriching. Think of it as of a first contact with aliens – should you ignore them and because they are incomprehensible? We should be open on foreign cultures and quality novels are a good start.

    Also, the final effect depends very much on the quality of the translation. Take Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”. Take Piers Anthony’s “Xanth” cycle. These are the examples where the translation becomes rather challenge for the vocabulary artist than simple craft. Stanisław Lem’s novels were a hard nut to crack for anglophone readers before Michael Kandel’s translations.

    One final word about Hollywood. I still claim that it is not strictly American but anglophone in general. Mind that Hollywood is full of British and Australian actors and moviemakers – e.g.: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Alex Proyas, Russell Crowe and many, many others. Also almost each bestselling anglophone – not only American – novel ends in Hollywood. On the other hand: I’ve just read that the hilarious English comedy “Death at the Funeral” (2007) will have its American remake quite soon… Maybe someone should make a comedy about it?

    Best regards,

    Jerzy Rzymowski (have fun trying to pronounce it ;))

  33. Thanks, Lavie Tidhar, for your kind words. It’s instructive to note to comments about translated sci fi/fantasy both into and out of English. English-language crime readers like to complain that so little translated crime fiction is available to them. It seems that science-fiction readers have more cause for complaint. But it is encouraging to see that the situation seems to be changing.

    ==============
     Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

  34. Coming back to the article, I think that complaining about the lack of translations is just half of the trip. Theres a lot of translation projects online, as well as tools, and between scifi readers and writers, I think we could find some middle ground to read, translate and be readed. Without a doubt english is the language for scifi, and we should take advantage of that. To work in an international on-line antology should be easy. We only need people who want to work and are interested in the genre. A lot of people complains about all the sci fi we can not read, we have to start doing something.

    I’m a bolivian scifi author, and I think we should start to speak seriously about this… miguelesquirol@gmail.com

  35. I think that Chinese science fiction comes inevitably under three influences. First of all, it has been shaped by the Anglophone science fictions, with characteristics quite familiar to western readers. Secondly, it has been intensively influenced by local traditional culture. Thirdly, it reflects the specific demand of a certain era. As a result, it would be quite interesting to read Chinese science fiction from these three perspectives.
     
    On the one hand, Chinese science fiction has a very strong proximity to the Chinese fairy tale, fable, folk tale, and the historical story. Intertextuality also frequently occurs between science fiction and Chinese folk tales. For instance, Pan Hai-tian’s story Legend of Yanshi is closely associated with some tales in the Spring-Autumn and Warrior State periods as well as Chinese values and ideas on authority, family, and technology. In addition to that, a great number of works convey a strong message of Chinese attitudes towards nature, like the reflections on Taoism’s value of the “harmonious relation between humans and nature”. In Han Song’s novelette Escape from the Sorrow Mountain, it is not impossible to imagine the occurrence of spiritual communication between Buddha and humans in Chinese culture. Likewise, most of Wang Jinkang’s works have been focused on taking over the position of rationality by Chinese harmonious ideas. The distinctive example is his novel Balance between life and death.
     
    On the other hand, the dominant characteristics of specific eras show up in the Chinese science fiction of that era. Specifically, the early Chinese science fictions in the later-Qing era put great emphasis on the advocacy of building a wealthy and powerful nation. After the foundation of the People Republic of China, Chinese science fiction then shifted its focus on exalting communist ideals. With the dismantling of the Gang of Four, the lament on what was destroyed by the Great Cultural Revolution was the main theme in Chinese science fiction. Now prospects on China’s future have become the popular topic in Chinese science fiction. What does China’s future look like? Han Song’s Red Ocean and Liu Cixing’s Three Bodies and it sequel The Black Forests provided us their different insights on this issue. The former portrays the inescapable fate of China as one of the nations eventually declining due to environment degradation and destroyed by the inhumanity inflicted on the oceans. The latter, in an optimistic way, describes the leading role played by China in the world resistance movement in facing the invasion of a devil alien civilization. The two novels represent the top achievements of contemporary Chinese science fiction.

  36. Subject: my 2 cents on the SF situation in Russia

    There is a plethora of AH SF in postsoviet Russia, but some SF fans  outside probably know that.

    Some of the stuff is good, such as the very famous books by Vasily Zvyaginzsev.

    But there is also something really exceptional too: the profound books by Dmitry (or Dmitri) Shidlovsky.

    The target audience of these should be teenagers, because the books are pretty well stylized

    as thrillers.

     

    The best of the series seems to me ‘The Great Break’

  37. sissy pantelis // June 28, 2009 at 2:39 pm //

    Many thanks to Yan Wu and vk77de for the information about Chinese and Russian SF.

    What I read was fascinating and I sincerely wish I could read much more.

     

  38. “What I read was fascinating and I sincerely wish I could read much more.”

    I’m not sure about Chinese, but there will be at least two Russian-speaking authors in the following parts of this Mind Meld.

  39. sissy pantelis // June 28, 2009 at 6:08 pm //

    Happy to hear this!

  40. To Sissy Pantelis:

    Great stuff!

    Thanx for the info and the links, it seems I have a lot to read during my vacation.

    As you know I’m not really for the “optimistic” sf, but I certainly support any “mixed” work if it’s original, like “Altered Carbon”. 

    Thanx again

    Panagiotis Koustas

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