There’s a great big world out there! So big that it will take four weeks to get all their responses in. (See Part I and Part II.) So while we’ve got entries from the Philippines, Ireland, Denmark, Greece, the Ukraine, Poland and Portugal this week, there’s one more week of worldly insight to come!
I think a lot’s going on in the global speculative scene right now–but it’s natural that we haven’t heard of them either because of the language barrier or the cultural barrier.
The field that I’m most familiar with is my own–the Philippines. When it comes to speculative fiction written in English, we have several talented writers. A book I’d like to highlight is Philippine Speculative Fiction IV (disclosure: I’m one of the contributors) because it features a lot of stunning fiction.
For example, one of the stories “From ‘Abecediarya'” (it’s actually an excerpt from an upcoming novel) by Adam David is best described as a narrative that follows an abecedary format. Here’s one line:
At an annual adulterous assembly, as Aaron, Azalea, and Ada achieved animalistic apogee, Adrian–amidst Aaron’s, Azalea’s, and Ada’s aahs and awoos–arrived alone at an awkward anticlimax.
Imagine sustaining such a style for one paragraph, much less an entire short story!
There’s a lot of other great stories in there such as “The Secret Origin of Spin-Man” by Andrew Drilon (a riff on superheroes and fandom but told in a manner that’s akin to some of Jeffrey Ford’s fiction) and “Beats” by Kenneth Yu (which is a very immersive and lyrical narrative).
Author Yvette Tan should be coming out with a short story collection soon. Her stories made the honorable mentions list in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror and won in the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards (a local competition that was sponsored by Neil Gaiman). Here’s one of her stories: “Seek Ye Whore”
We also have Marianne Villanueva who’s based in the US. Like Yvette Tan, she also has a short story collection coming out this year. Here’s a sample of her fiction: “Isa”
Other active authors I’d like to mention include Apol Lejano-Massebieau (“Pedro Diyego’s Homecoming“), Ian Rosales Casocot (“The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak“), M.R.R. Arcega (“The Singer’s Man“), Crystal Gail Shangkuan Koo (“Benito Salazar’s Last Creation“), Kate Aton-Osias (“The River Stone Heart Of Maria Dela Rosa“), Mia Tijam, and Gabriella Lee (one of her stories will be appearing in John Joseph Adams’ anthology By Blood We Live).
When it comes to speculative fiction written in Filipino, I’m hearing great things when it comes to Alvin Yapan, if only he can find a mainstream publisher.
Having said that, there’s a lot going on in other countries. Serbian author Zoran Živković is a favorite of mine, but less popular (internationally) writers I’m keeping an eye on are Sebastien Doubinsky (The Babylonian Trilogy) and Escober (Chaos).
Not particularly new but one hopeful wish of mine is that someone would translate into English Yoshiki Tanaka’s Ginga Eiyū Densetsu (the popular translation in anime/manga circles is Legend of the Galactic Heroes) novels which is this massive military SF series. In the meantime, I have high hopes for the new Haikarosuru line.
An anthology people should keep an eye out for is Lavie Tidhar’s The Apex Book of World SF as it features stories from around the world.
At Eurocon in Copenhagen a couple of years ago the editors of Albedo One realised through talking to European writers and publishers how difficult it is for foreign-language (non-English-language) writers to get their work published in English. As a writer myself I know how difficult it can be as a native English speaker to sell short stories and therefore gain exposure for your work. How much more difficult it is, therefore, if you have written the story in a language other than English and wish to submit to an English language magazine. At present the only option is to translate the story yourself or have a friend who speaks good English do it for you. Who can afford to pay a professional to translate a story that must then be sent out on spec to a number of magazines before getting published, if it ever does get published? As one would hope to make a modest profit from the sale of a story it renders the professional translation of a story uneconomical, as the cost of translation could easily exceed the payment rate, even from a professional market.
We thought about the amount of excellent fiction that must be out there in other languages, even if we’re simply looking at Europe. So we talked to the Poles and the Germans and the Finns and the French and The Swedes, along with a couple of Americans – they get in everywhere – and even a couple of Brits. And during these conversations, one of which took the form of a panel at the Con (we cheated a bit), we formulated a plan for publishing other languages in English.
Some countries run a yearly short story competition. If it could be agreed that the prize for winning the competition would include publication in English in Albedo One then it would be worth and author’s while to allow it be translated in to English as we would agree to spruce-up the English and make it more colloquial. There’s bound to be at least one keen SF fan in any national association who would be capable of making the translation and who would do it pro bono (which translates beautifully into for the good of all). For countries that do not have a contest but have a kind-of national magazine – Ireland falls into this category, as does France, Holland and Sweden – we decided we would be willing to ‘work something out’ with the magazine and its editors.
To date we have published the best German story of last year and are awaiting the winner of the annual contest in Finland. Galaxies magazine in France has published the winner of the first Aeon Award (our short story contest) and we are waiting for them to send us a swap story. The Dutch SF magazine, Wonderwaan, is currently translating their best story of last year, as decided by the editors, whom we trust implicitly as one of them is one of us (think about it). We have been promised co-operation by Sweden’ finest (not the police) and have been in contact with an Italian magazine.
So things are happening but moving at the usual slow pace of voluntary contributions. I have also discovered that there is funding available from the EU for translation work but that it is project based and so all concerned would have to both sign on for the project and, here’s the rub, deliver on said promises. On time. But that is another day’s work. At least there is something positive happening and people expressing support and willingness to contribute time and expertise. Our hope would be eventually to sign up four other magazines to co-operate with Albedo One in setting up a reciprocal arrangement whereby each magazine agreed to publish one story in translation in each issue. This would mean that each magazine could arrange or run or support a national contest, or in Albedo One’s case as we are English language, an international contest, and guarantee that the winner would be published in four foreign languages. If more magazines/countries signed on then the a writer would not always be published in the same languages but in a rotating selection, but always four.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has comments or ideas or who wishes to contribute time or expertise (for translations in particular). My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my blog is at www.bobn-translation.blogspot.com.
I have also suggested this year’s Worldcon committee that a panel item on the introduction of a foreign language Hugo would be particularly appropriate given the bi-lingual nature of Montreal. I have yet to hear from them but would love to discuss the subject at length at Worldcon. Members of the con can suggest program items and perhaps if enough people suggested it the committee might feel obliged to add it to the list of topics available. It is time that Worldcon became more outward looking and inclusive. It is time that we acknowledged the existence of other languages and embraced writers whose only fault lies in being born in the WRONG countries. What do you think?
Denmark is a small nation (5.5 million people at last count), but has spawned a number of interesting writers of the fantastic, few of whom are represented in English. Until recently, most of the fantastic fiction (mainly science fiction) has tended towards the political and satirical rather than adventure or world building.
Perhaps of most interest is Svend Åge Madsen (b.1939), a critically acclaimed literary writer, most of whose work is science fiction, though not published with that label. He has written more than 50 novels and theatrical plays as well as many short stories and the libretto for an opera. His early works were modernist experiments, but since his popular breakthrough with Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden (1976), most of his works have been present-day or near-future scince fiction in interlocking, alternative versions of his native city of Århus. He has done fresh treatments of dystopias, time travel, cloning, and other sf subjects. Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden, published in English as Virtue & Vice in the Middle Time in the series World Literature in Translation (Routledge, 1992), is a Monte Cristo-like story that takes place in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as told by writers in the middle 3rd millennium, who get the Twentieth Century mixed up with the Middle Ages (the “Middle Time” of the title). A later novel, Se dagens lys (1980), tells the story of the supposed writers of Tugt og utugt i mellemtiden, living in a future where families are broken up every night when they sleep and are transported to new houses, with new spouses and new children. This is portrayed as a utopian, happy society – until the two main characters fall in love and want to get together again; a major crime. Also in English is Days with Diam (Norvik Press Series, 1995), in which the manifold nature of human personality results in the creation of a world in which the doppelgänger motif is related to Mendel’s laws of segregation. Madsen has at times been suggested for a Nobel Prize nomination.
More ideosyncratic is the writer Erwin Neutzsky-Wulff (b. 1949), whose books are curious mixtures of science fiction, satanism, sado-masochism, and existentialist philosophy. His novels are often composed of thematically connected shorter texts told in widely different voices, sometimes thrilling narratives, sometimes highly didactic diatribes. While his books are too dense – and often too offensive – to become widely popular, he has a strong following of dedicated fans. None of his books have been translated to other languages.
Of older date is Niels E. Nielsen (1924-93), a popular writer mainly of science fiction, who wrote 63 books before his death. Major themes are rebellion against authority and wanderings in bleak, post-apocalyptic landscapes. His stories often bring together people of widely different breeds and background, challenging their preconceptions of each other. While his books typically are very dark, there’s mostly a glimmer of hope at the end. Some of his books have been translated to other languages, but not English.
More recently we have seen a number of popular writers of juvenile fantasy, mainly Lene Kaaberbøl (b. 1960), whose Shamer’ Chronicles and novels Midnight and Silverhorse have been published in English. Kaaberbøl also runs the publishing house Phabel, which published fantasy by young Danish writers. Other popular writers are the very prolific Josefine Ottesen (b. 1956), who has written 65 children’s books since 1983, the equally prolific Dennis Jürgensen (b. 1961), who mainly writes humorous horror, and Kenneth Bøgh Andersen (b. 1976), who alternates between fantasy, horror, science fiction, and even superheroes.
In recent years a large number of very young writers have begun writing fantasy and science fiction for minor publishers. Most of this work is very derivative of popular modern anglophone juvenile sf and fantasy, but several of the writers have the potential to eventually transcend this and write more original stories.
I don’t think I have a quick answer in that question. It’s not an easy one, I suppose. But, I am willing to give it a shot…
What Anglophone readers might be missing is the work of some writers that don’t exactly “fit in” the regular sf/f publishing scene, as it is today, due to their locality or even their political & social point of view.
When it comes to locality, the average Anglophone reader, and most editors too, only view it as an exotic scenery or “spicy” parameter of the story itself. It is quite difficult to “bridge the gap”, by researching another culture or the history of another country so deeply. And of course it is certainly much more difficult to sell an alternative history of, let’s say, Namibia, when you haven’t heard anything about the real history of the place. So, it’s easier for non-Anglophone writers to try and bridge what is considered to be their gap. Of course, no one is to blame here. Locality is a problem of all literature (and a great headache for translators, too).
As for the political & social point of view, things tend to get a little blurry. Let’s be honest. Any Anglophone writer can express any political or social thought he (or she) has, and try to get the story published. It’s not the same for a foreign writer. Imagine an Iranian sf/f writer writing a post-apocalyptic story about Middle East without a “proper”, “America Dreaming” hero. Chances of seeing the book in Amazon.com or published in Asimov’s are (in my opinion) less than zero. Of course, it is the same way around. The only difference is that in Iran, a devoted sf/f fan can smuggle a book into the country or borrow it (with severe risk, I admit) and read it in English. In the Anglophone sphere, very few can read Persian, or are willing to read a story like this.
Trouble is, a slightly different problem lies with the non-Anglophone readers too. The writers and stories the Anglophone readers are missing remain obscured for the rest of the world too, since most of the publishers, editors and fans can read their own language and English. Speaking about Greece, where I live, although it’s easy to find a good translator from English (or French/German/Spanish) to Greek, it is very hard to find the same good translator from Albanian (Romanian/Turkish/Bulgarian – and all of them are neighbouring countries) to Greek, and of course it’s even harder to find someone you can trust to make the initial reading and suggest a worth publishing work without having a chance to read it.
Finishing that text, I suddenly realize that there is a very simple answer I could give in your question. Anglophone readers surely miss AquaTM a great book by Jean-Mark Ligny. Hey, that’s in French. Give it a try!
We’ll tell about most outstanding new books of Fantasy and Science Fiction written by both Ukrainian and Russian writers, because a fantastic literature of both of our countries mostly exists in common Russian-language literary space. But first we must to say some words about this common literary space as a whole. It has four peculiarities:
- A sufficient part of English-written SF & Fantasy books of well-known British and USA writers are being translated to Russian more or less quickly. So, Russian readers have an opportunity to read English-language SF & Fantasy books in Russian.
- Unfortunately, in the recent years, there have been almost no translations of Russian-language SF & Fantasy books to English, except some books of Sergey Lukyanenko and a very small number of other exceptions. So, readers in Russia and Ukraine know English-language SF & Fantasy much better than English-speaking readers know Russian and Ukrainian genre literature.
- There are very many trends and branches in modern Russian-language SF & Fantasy literature: adventure, heroic, epic, humorous, philosophical, psychological and social fantasy, alternate history, crypto-history, hard, soft, adventure, satiric, ironic and social science fiction, cyberpunk, info-romanticism, mystics, horror, some their sub-branches and etc. But there is no single trend or branch which dominates the others
- A large part of Russian-language SF & Fantasy books are being published in Russia, but anyone can buy these books as in Russia, as in Ukraine.
And now we’ll commence to the most outstanding Russian-language SF & Fantasy books of the recent years:
- Marina & Sergey Diachenko (Kiev, Ukraine): Vita Nostra (2007, novel). A very peculiar and outstanding psychological and philosophical “city fantasy” concerning to the power of Word, human’s transformation to angel, the nature of fear, with some parallels with the Old and New Testaments.
- Swiatoslav Loginov (St. Petersburg, Russia): Russia Behind a Cloud (2007, novel). A social and psychological “soft” science fiction. A man from our time who has his own ability to travel in time, invites a peasants’ family from XIX century to our time. The very interesting social and psychological problems of adaptation of people from XIX century in the end of XX – beginning of XXI century.
- Henry Lion Oldie (Dmitry Gromov & Oleg Ladyzhensky, Kharkov, Ukraine): Oikumene (a novel in three books: Vol. 1: A Puppeteer (2006), Vol. 2: A Pupa (2007), Vol. 3: A Puppet Master (2007)). A “space symphony” (a kind of more complex and “polyphonic” space opera) about alternate ways of human civilizations’ and personal evolution; different “energetic civilizations”, exploration of many planets in the Galaxy, human’s body transformation to the wave form, space battles, adventures and etc. Also this novel investigates problems of freedom and dependence, of contact with non-humanoid creatures, etc.
- Andrey Valentinov (Kharkov, Ukraine): Captain Filiber (2007, novel). An alternate history with strong “hard SF” element. A hero of this novel with the help of a “chemical time machine” tries to create an alternate branch of the history in the beginning of XX century (Civil War in Russia in 1918-1919).
- Henry Lion Oldie & Andrey Valentinov (Kharkov, Ukraine): Alumen, or Earth Opera (a novel in three books: Vol. 1: A Time Mechanism (2008), Vol. 2: A Space Mechanism (2009), Vol. 3: A Life Mechanism (2009)). A crypto-history of the first half of the XIX century with some SF, “steam-punk”, “electric punk” and mystics. A confrontation of mystics and science as two alternate ways of human civilization evolution in Europe in the first half of XIX century.
- Marina & Sergey Diachenko (Kiev, Ukraine): A Copper King (2008, novel). Psychological epic fantasy, which investigates the nature and psychology of power and a process of a human’s psycho-transformation to a non-human creature.
- Eugeny Lukin (Volgograd, Russia): Our Holey Existence (2008). An author’s collection of novelettes and short stories. The very well written novelettes and short stories of ironic and satiric social SF about alternate present time and near future.
- Sergey Lukyanenko (Moscow, Russia): Duffer (2009, novel). Ironic adventure fantasy. The best Lukyanenko book of the recent years.
- Henry Lion Oldie (Dmitry Gromov & Oleg Ladyzhensky, Kharkov, Ukraine): Harpy (2008, novel). Social and psychological fantasy concerning the problem of xenophobia; a scientific system of magic, some irony.
- Alexander Zorich (Dmitry Gordevsky & Yana Botsman, Kharkov, Ukraine): The Star of Roma (2007, novel). Well written crypto-historical novel (some mystics) on the material of Ancient Roma.
- Vadim Panov (Moscow, Russia): An Entertaining Mechanics (2007, novel). Adventure mystics in today’s Moscow. A novel of handicraft which became an art and even a magic.
- Vadim Panov (Moscow, Russia): The Hand Gear (2008, novel). Modern adventure mystics. Two Kingdoms from another place fight each other in the territory of Earth, fighting for human souls.
- Marina & Sergey Diachenko (Kiev, Ukraine): Digital (2009, novel). A peculiar kind of “cyberpunk” about a digital alien, who step-by-step transforms humans to a digital form for his own aims.
- Alexander Gromov (Moscow, Russia): The Feudal Lord (2005, novel). A very interesting adventure, “survival” “soft SF” in a parallel world.
An Anglophone reader can get a novel written by a Polish author with a delay of, at best, several years. Because of this, the ideas included in the book might seem outdated. Therefore I think that what Polish literature has to offer is mainly originality, maybe even a kind of exoticness. This applies, of course, only to some of the works. I’m talking about books that instead of describing the near future or applications of modern technology focus on timeless and universal phenomena, or even present entirely different worlds. We don’t have real creative writing courses in Poland, so most of the authors learned how to write by independently searching for their own way. Sometimes the effect is a kind of unconventionality not only of the matter, but also of the form, which cannot be learned from anyone.
It is also important that Polish authors can show an image of the Western world as seen from its peripheries. Such distance is hard to achieve for a British or American writer.
If I said “Pretty much nothing at all”, I probably wouldn’t be too far from the truth, but you still would be missing something, and it wouldn’t be right to throw out the whole basket on account of a few bad apples.
I think part of the problem is that Portugal doesn’t have a strong, sustained tradition of fantastic literature — odd considering the wealth of folktales at our disposal — and only a couple of writers have consistently devoted their careers to a body of work that is either fantastic or speculative in nature, like Nobel laureate José Saramago, whose books you’re not missing at all because they can all be read in English. Loose efforts by Eça de Queiroz and Mário de Sá-Carneiro are likewise available thanks to Daedalus Press. Politically-motivated surrealists Mário-Henrique Leiria and José Gomes Ferreira are glaring omissions, however, and Anglophone publishers would do well to seek them out.
Given the situation, it is unsurprising that the vast majority of Portugal’s genre writing tends to be lifted from popular trends in fantasy fiction abroad: Tolkien is a favourite subject for emulation, especially after the movie adaptations, and as far as I could read, no writer of fantasy in Portugal has ventured off this beaten path in the same way that, say, Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance, Michael Moorcock or Stephen R. Donaldson have in the United States and England. The popularity of young writers like Christopher Paolini has also made our publishers receptive to teenagers wanting to follow in his stumbling, foal-like footsteps — with occasional masterpieces of unintentional humour as a result.
As for science fiction, the output of noteworthy authors most active in the 1980s and 1990s — people like João Barreiros, António de Macedo, Luís Filipe Silva and Daniel Tércio — has decreased to a few, if any, loose stories every now and then. While their later stories tend to oscillate in quality and retread much of the same ground, some of their earlier efforts are definitely worth a look. These authors can be read online at Fantastic Metropolis and Infinity Plus, and in the bilingual anthologies put out by the defunct Portuguese SF Association, Simetria. More recently, one of João Barreiros’ stories was included in the SFWA European Hall of Fame anthology edited by James and Kathy Morrow.
Horror and dark fiction has, until recently, fared even worse than SF. Books in Portuguese translation were scarce, and whatever original stories emerged either took cues from film or from Edgar Allan Poe (more sophisticated authors emulated Lovecraft instead, unfortunately down to his horrible prose). This can only be said to have changed thanks to the talents of David Soares, who has moved from a few collections of uneven quality early in his career to intensely clever, thoroughly researched novels of sometimes epic scope. He writes with a clear vision in mind, does not shy from experimentation and is keen to explore his untapped potential. As far as young talent goes, he’s the one to watch — sadly, the ONLY one.
For further information, I recommend you take your browsers down to Bibliowiki, a reference guide to all Portuguese-language SF/F/H curated by Jorge Candeias.