The WSFS Agenda

With Worldcon almost upon us, it is time once more to descend into that pit of despair, the WSFS Business Meeting. What delights of Parliamentary Procedure are in store for us this year?

The Agenda for this year’s Business Meetin is available here. There doesn’t seem to be anything urgent to debate on Friday. The days when it was necessary to pack the Friday meeting to prevent conservative fans from squashing important motions with Objection to Consideration motions seem to be finally over. Besides, there’s nothing I’m desperate to see get discussed.

Much of the main business, which will be debated on Saturday morning, is either ratification of items passed in San José, or clean-up of the Constitution. The Nit-Picking & Fly-Specking Committee has been doing its usual fine job of spotting side effects of new regulations and quietly proposing simple ways of bringing everything into line. However, there are a couple of new proposals that will doubtless spark debate.

Motion D1: Clarification of Worldcon Powers, is a NP&FS Motion, but it is one that is personally important to me. What it does it make it clear than an individual Worldcon has no power over the Hugo Awards from previous years, administered by other Worldcons. For years after I won my first Hugo, people were saying that an “error” had been made, and that the award should be rescinded because I should never have been allowed on the ballot in the first place. I don’t want this to happen to other people.

Motion D7: Five and Five, would remove the system of having 6 finalists each year. This was put in place as one of the anti-Puppy measures. Those who study the voting figures claim that is has very little effect, and the EPH system is sufficient protection going forward. But why remove it? I have heard people saying that it is just to make life easier for Hugo Administrators. I don’t think that’s the argument being made. The main issues are the amount of reading that has to be done by voters, and the size of the pre-Hugo reception. In practice 6 finalists isn’t a huge problem for voters except in categories that involve novels. But with the Lodestar we have two novel categories, and we have Series which is a nightmare for voters to judge fairly. So there’s something of a point there. As to the reception, this has always been a nightmare for Worldcons, both in terms of the expense and finding a suitable venue that is both large enough and close enough to the auditorium. That nightmare will have been getting steadily worse as we have added more categories. I can quite see why those who run the event hate the 6 Finalists rule.

Motion D9: Non-transferability of Voting Rights, is one that I think will divide the meeting. I can see merits both ways. Personally I am generally in favour of anything that strengthens the bond between the member and WSFS. People buying a membership of Worldcon tend to see themselves as members of that Worldcon, not members of WSFS, when in fact they are both. Obviously there will be old time fans who will see this as creeping corporatisation of WSFS, but I think the time when a cry of, “To the Barricades! No WSFS Inc!!!”, could pack the meeting are long gone. Where I think this motion will attract opposition is from people who see it as taking away their right to re-sell their voting rights, which it does. But as long as membership of WSFS is relatively cheap I don’t have a problem with that. It will enlarge the voter pool, which is a good thing.

There may be some very convoluted arguments about whether Supporting Memberships and WSFS Memberships are, or should be, the same thing. It is complicated.

Motion D11: Clear Up the Definition of Public in the Artist Categories Forever, is all very well in theory, but is certainly not going to achieve what it says on the tin. There are always going to be new wrinkles in definitions as long as the pro/fan distinction exists. All we can hope for is that this reduces the number of issues. I have no idea whether it will.

Motion D12: Best Translated Novel, is one I’d like to speak to if I am still at the meeting (I have a 12:00 appointment elsewhere). No one I know in the translation community is in favor of this. Neil Clarke has laid into it here. Knowing how much the WSFS community hates the idea of a work being eligible in more than one Hugo category, I fully expect there to be an amendment to this proposal that would also bar translated novels from the Novel category, and possibly Series and the Lodestar as well. Even if such an amendment doesn’t get through, I think that the existence of this category will encourage people to think that translated works are not eligible for any other Hugo category. It is hard enough now to persuade people that they are eligible, even though they always have been. We don’t want to be stuck in a ghetto, so please don’t pass this.

Motion D13: Best Game or Interactive Experience, is something I think will have to happen at some stage in some form. I’m not a sufficient expert on the game industry to tell whether this is a good solution or not. Given that the last trial of a game category was 13 years ago, I’d like to see a trial category run before we make anything like this permanent.

Interview – Regina Wang

This is the other interview that I promised you from Åcon X. Regina and I had a chat about her work promoting Chinese SF around the world. Here are links to some of the things we talked about.

Regina, Chen Quifan and Neil Clarke will all be at Worldcon in Dublin. Knowing Regina, she’s probably going to the Eurocon as well.

Chen Quifan is doing an event in London tonight.

Clarkesworld Does Translated Books

As you may know, Clarkesworld magazine has been publishing translated fiction as a regular part of the magazine for some time. Neil has now decided to ramp that up by publishing printed books of translated fiction. The first of those will be A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight, a short fiction collection from the wonderful Xia Jia. There is a Kickstarter campaign running to fund the book. I’m definitely signing up for this one, and I hope that it leads to many more books of translated fiction in the future.

World Literature Today Recommends

The latest issue of World Literature Today includes an International Speculative Fiction Reading List. And a very impressive list it is too. The novels include works by Leena Krohn, Ursula K Le Guin, Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Nnedi Okorafor, Helen Oyeyemi, Sofia Samatar, Johanna Sinisalo, Karin Tidbeck, Élisabeth Vonarburg & Zoran Živković. The anthology list contains Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History (ed. Rose Fox & Daniel José Older) and Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology (ed. Ann & Jeff VanderMeer). It also contains Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers (ed. Casey Plett & Cat Fitzpatrick). There are lots of other books on there as well, so why not take a look and check some of them out.

Translating the Hugos

With Worldcon being only a couple of months away, fannish social media is inevitably starting to buzz with proposals for adding new Hugo Award categories. Old time fans are doubtless muttering into their beer in disgust, using phrases like “giving out rockets like candy” and “devaluing the Award”. Fandom at large will, I think, continue to ignore such misgivings, because fans like giving people awards. If they can think of new excuses for doing so, they will go for it.

That out of the way, therefore, let’s take a look at this year’s favorite for a new category: a translated fiction award (or perhaps several).

Much of the talk that I have seen online about this focuses on the fact that the national awards in most European countries have categories for translated works. British Awards do not (which people often forget). The Hugos do not either. The argument is that if the French, the Germans, the Spanish, the Finns and so on can have awards for translated fiction then so should “we”. And by “we” people tend to mean “Americans”.

Of course there are good reasons why some sets of awards include translation categories and others do not. In English-speaking countries the proportion of published works that are translated from other languages is, very famously, only around 3%. (Actually I think it is a bit higher these days, but 3% is the figure that everyone knows.) In contrast, if you live in a non-English-speaking country, you may find that the proportion of translated works published locally is 50% or higher. Many of those translated books will be by internationally famous writers such as George RR Martin, or Stephen King, or Margaret Atwood.

In such an environment it is entirely understandable that the local awards would have separate categories for books written in the local language and books published in translation. The translated books are very common; and may be selling very well. You want to make sure that your local writers get a look in as well.

In the English-speaking world, because translations are such a small part of the market, there has never been any need to protect local writers by putting translations into a separate category. There are, of course, arguments such as whether books written by Americans should be eligible for British awards, and they happen for similar reasons. But translations are left to fend for themselves alongside books written in English.

So that’s why there are no translation categories in British national awards. The Hugos are different matter, because they are not the American national awards.

Yes, I know that lots of people think that they are. I still remember 2005 when a British publisher expressed their annoyance to me about being expected to take note of an American convention, giving out American awards, that had been so rude as to locate itself in Scotland for a year. But let’s remind ourselves what the eligibility criteria for the Hugos are:

  1. A work is eligible when it is first published, regardless of language and place of publication;
  2. A work is eligible again on first publication in English if all previous publication has been in languages other than English;
  3. A work is eligible again on first publication in the USA if all previous publication has been outside of the USA.

The reason for this somewhat complex set of rules is not, as is often claimed, to give special privileges to American fans, but a recognition that the majority of Hugo voters are American. The objective is to give a second or third chance to a work in the year in which it comes to the attention of that majority of voters. Should we move to a situation where that special treatment is no longer necessary then presumably the rules will be changed. People have, in the past, argued (unsuccessfully) for suspending the system in years when Worldcon is held outside of the USA.

Why is this important? Well, remember the whole fuss over the YA Award and why it is Not A Hugo? The objection was that the same work should not be able to win two separate Hugos in the same year. A YA novel would be eligible for the Novel Hugo (or Novella depending on length) as well as a YA Hugo. The solution adopted, which is exactly the same as was used by SFWA for the Nebulas, was to make the YA Award a separate category. So Not A Hugo (or Not A Nebula).

Obviously the same argument can be applied to awards for translated fiction. If there is a category for Translated Novel then any book eligible for it would also be eligible for Novel. It could win both. Three Body Problem presumably would have done so.

There are people who will not like this. There are people who, seeing a proposal for a Translated Novel category, will introduce an amendment that will remove the eligibility of translated works in the novel category. Some of these people are likely to try to remove the foreign language and translated eligibility options from *all* Hugo categories. Some people will think that is a price worth paying in order to get a Translated Novel category. Personally I think that losing the international and multi-cultural aspect of the Hugos would be a tragedy, especially now that we are starting to see a lot more non-US Worldcons.

Now of course there is no reason why the same solution cannot be adopted. We could create a WSFS Award for Translated Novel that was Not A Hugo. We’d call it the Ansible, obviously. But people seem to get very upset when awards are deemed Not A Hugo, so let’s look at other possibilities.

The question that we should ask before trying to create any new category of Hugo is: What are we trying to achieve?

Obviously we are not introducing a translation category to protect people who write in English. Presumably what we are intending to do is to bring more attention to people who don’t write in English. And perhaps we also wish to promote the general idea of translation.

How about this for an idea? Instead of an award for a translated novel, we instead have an award for services to translation. The sort of works/people who might be eligible include:

  • A translator for a body of work;
  • A publisher for publishing translations;
  • A magazine for publishing translations;
  • An anthology that contains a number of translated stories;
  • A non-fiction book or documentary about translated fiction;
  • An organisation such as StoryCom that promotes translated fiction;
  • A blog, fanzine or fancast devoted to translated fiction; or
  • The committee of a Worldcon held in a non-English-speaking country.

One of the benefits of this is that it would widen the number of works that are eligible. A Translated Novel award might not have enough eligible works to make a viable category.

One obvious downside is that people would complain that they are being asked to choose between apples and oranges, much as they do every year in the case of the Related Work category.

I’m by no means wedded to this idea. My main concern is that we keep the international aspect of the Hugos. If we can have them do more work to promote translations while retaining that feature I will be happy.

Mostly, however, I just want people to think carefully about proposing new Hugo categories. You can’t just add a new Hugo because it would be nice to give more people awards. The category has to work, it has to perform the function that you want it to perform, and you have to get your proposal past the Business Meeting. These things are not always easy.

Italy Part 3 – The G-Book Project

I’ll write more generally about the conference later, but right now I want to talk about a specific project that the MeTRa Center here is spearheading because I think that it is very important.

The G-Book Project is a joint initiative by academics and librarians in Italy, France, Spain, Ireland, Bulgaria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is funded by the Creative Europe Culture Programme. The project has three main objectives:

– To support the circulation of “gender-positive children’s literature” at the EU level;

– To stimulate and encourage local librarians to stock such books; and

– To raise awareness in local communities about the importance and benefits of such books.

What do they mean by “gender-positive”? Primarily they mean books which avoid harmful gender stereotypes of the “girls can only do these things, boys can only do those things” type, but instead are empowering for all children. That will include positive representation of LGBT+ people and relationships.

One of the outcomes of the project will be an online database of recommended books, split into two age groups of 3-5 and 6-10 years. Other outputs will hopefully include reviews, support material for teachers, parents, etc., and interactive aspects such as games and an interactive story.

Naturally part of the work will be to find suitable books to include. That may be more challenging in some of the target languages than others, but hopefully that will also spur translations. I will be pestering some of you about this over the next few weeks.

And yes, I know, Brexit stupidity means that there is no official UK involvement, but thanks to our Irish pals books in English are eligible.

Wanted: Translatable SF

Over at the SF in Translation blog, Rachel Cordasco has put out an appeal for information about top notch speculative fiction in languages other than English that people think ought to be translated. There is, undoubtedly, a huge amount of material out there. Much of it will be very good, but the English-speaking world needs to know about it. If you know of a work that you love, and you think would do well in English, please let everyone know by posting a synopsis at Rachel’s site.

Translation News from Italy

I have a press release from Apex announcing that they will be doing an English language edition of Francesco Verso’s novel, Nexhuman. The book has won a heap of awards in Italian, and was published in English a while back by an Australian small press. Much as I love my Aussie pals, having the book picked up by Apex is likely to get the book far more attention.

Anyone who spends any time at European conventions will know Francesco. He’s infectiously enthusiastic, and has done some great work bringing Chinese SF to Italy. I really hope this does well for him. He kindly gave me a copy of the book in Dortmund, but I have been drowning in Tiptree reading since them. However, Rachel Cordasco has a rave review over at Strange Horizons.

The translator of the book (whom Apex appear to have forgotten to mention) is Sally McCorry.

Books from Worldcon

I only actually bought one book in Finland. That was a copy of Gender Identity and Sexuality in Current Fantasy and Science Fiction to give to Kevin as a birthday present. However, I still came away with quite a few books.

First up is Giants at the End of the World, an anthology of Finnish Weird fiction edited by Johanna Sinisalo and Toni Jerrman. I think this one was given away free to all attending members. I can’t see any way to buy it just now, but it does have ISBNs for ebook editions so hopefully it will be available soon. It includes short fiction by a variety of excellent writers including Sinisalo herself, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Maria Turtschaninoff, Emmi Itäranta and Anne Leinonen. There is also the first chapter of Summerland, the forthcoming (next year) novel from Hannu Rajaniemi.

The authors featured in that book have either had novels published in English, or have at least featured in one issue of the Finnish Weird magazine that Jerrman put together to help promote the Worldcon. However, as Sinisalo notes in her introduction, that is only the tip of the iceberg. To get a better idea of what is going on in Finland you need Never Stop, an anthology edited by Emmi Itäranta that features only writers previously unavailable in translation. This one is available to buy, though apparently only as an ebook rather than the paper edition I picked up at the launch party.

At the same event the publishers, Osuuskumma, were also promoting The Self Inflicted Relative, an anthology of 33 drabbles (100 word stories) by Finnish writers in English. It is also available as an ebook.

The other country that was heavily promoting translated fiction at the convention was China. At a party put on by Storycom, the organisation that has worked with Clarkesworld to bring Chinese SF to the English-speaking world, I was given a copy of Touchable Unreality. This is a beautiful anthology in both Chinese and English. All of the stories have been in Clarkesworld, and right now the book is only published in China. Neil talks about it here.

China is, of course, a huge country, and Storycom is by no means the only company publishing SF. I also spoke with a representative of Douban Read, the publishing arm of a massive Chinese social media company. Apparently they have been publishing a lot of science fiction, and are keen to make some of it available to the English-speaking market. I was given a small book containing two stories: “The Khazar Key” by Zhu Yiye and “Teartide” by Wu Fugang. Given the enormous population of China, there must be many more great writers there waiting to be discovered.

Finally in the translated fiction arena I was given a copy of the Worldcon 75 special edition of Parsek, the Croatian fanzine produced by the folks who put on SFerakon. It is entirely in English and includes both fiction and non-fiction. The fiction contributors include Aleksandar Žiljak who was a guest of honor at this year’s Eurocon, and my friend Milena Benini.

I also got given a sampler for one book written in English. It is Luminescent Threads, the latest non-fiction book from Twelfth Planet Press. Following in the footsteps of the hugely successful Letters to Tiptree, this book contains essays about the work of Octavia Butler. I’m pretty sure that I backed the Kickstarter, so I have effectively already bought the book.

I’m delighted to see all of this translated fiction about. If that’s what having a Worldcon in a non-English-speaking country means, may we have many more of them.

Update: Anne Leinonen has been in touch to inform me that both Never Stop and The Self Inflicted Relative are available in paperback from the Holvi store.

Welcome, Samovar!

Samovar is the speculative fiction magazine devoted to translated works. It is hosted by the good folks at Strange Horizons. The first issue was published today and you can read it here. It includes (if I’m getting this right) work in Finnish, Arabic, Chinese and Hebrew, and English translations thereof. The press release says:

What wondrous fantastical tales are being conjured in Finnish? Who writes the best Nigerian space odysseys? Is Mongolia hiding an epic fantasy author waiting to be discovered? We want to know, and we aim to find out.

For Samovar, writers and translators are of equal importance, and we do our best to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals who pen both the original and the translated version of a story. We hope that in this way we can boost the profile of speculative fiction in translation so that everyone involved receives the recognition they deserve and so we can all continue to enjoy the strange, mind-bending and fantastical fiction of all cultures.

Samovar has teamed up with the brilliant folks at Strange Horizons, and will be produced as a quarterly, special imprint of the magazine. A lot of hard work, generous funding and an inordinate quantity of tea (hence the name!) have gone into creating Samovar and we are very excited to finally be releasing our first issue. We hope that you will join us and share in this special moment for both the speculative fiction and translation communities.

In issue one: two sisters create an imagined world where things that are lost can be found. A despot is forced to see the truth he’s tried to hide from. An academic finds poetry, science fiction and reality beginning to merge. And the Curiosity Rover turns its own sardonic gaze on Mars.

Featuring the work of the following talented writers and translators: Lavie Tidhar, Suvi Kauppila, Abdul Wakil Sulamal, James Caron, Ko Hua Chen (陳克華), and Annie Sheng, as well as a review from Rachel Cordasco of Taiyo Fujii’s Orbital Cloud (translated by Timothy Silver).

The Samovar editorial team is Laura Friis, Greg West and Sarah Dodd. Our advisory board includes Helen Marshall, Rachel Cordasco and Marian Via Rivera-Womack. We collaborate with the Reading the Fantastic project at the University of Leeds, and the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I am absolutely delighted to see this excellent project finally taking flight. Someone please read it and tell me whether there’s anything Tiptree-worthy in it, because that’s all I have time for right now (except for history books which is another time sink).

Tor.com Translation Round Table

Tor.com has published a round table on translated fiction. I was one of the participants. I didn’t have a huge amount to say, but some of the other participants were able to be far more forthcoming, especially those with projects actually underway. You can read the whole thing here.

As previously noted, I have no time for anything until February is over.

Eurocon Day 3

Last night we went out for dinner with Charlie Stross and Feòrag. I am going to be very evil and tell you that Charlie has some great projects in the pipeline. Also, if you think the prospects of a Trump presidency are awful, be grateful that you don’t live in the world of the Laundry Files.

We got a bit of a lie-in this morning as the first panel I needed to be at wasn’t until 11:45. Barcelona was still waking up as we took the short walk to the convention center. The panel was on weird fiction. It featured Johanna Sinisalo, Karin Tidbeck, Haralambi Markov and Ángel Luis Sucasas. I didn’t know Ángel before this, but he’s a very interesting guy. He talked about using interactive fiction techniques as a means of weirding out the readers. He also has a friend who uses VR to help reform people convicted of hate crimes by requiring them to spend time in a virtual environment in the body of one of the types of people they hate.

The others are hopefully all well known to you and were their usual brilliant selves.

Kevin and I then headed out to see La Sagrada Familia which is absolutely jaw-dropping when seen in person. Photos don’t do it justice, though of course we have many and will post them in due course. We also successfully navigated the Barcelona metro system which turns out to be very clearly signed.

Back at the convention we attended a panel on promoting European SF. The main item of interest to come out of this is that Helen Marshall (on behalf of Anglia Ruskin University), assisted by folks at Leeds University and by Strange Horizons are looking at a possible online magazine dedicated to translated SF&F. The project is in very early days at the moment, but I’ll keep an eye on it and update you as and when I know more.

Unfortunately the panel got a bit bogged down. It is very true that awards and “best of” anthologies are useful ways of showcasing work. It is not necessary to spend ages in pointless discussions about whether these really identify the “best” stories, because we all know that’s a subjective question.

And then, far too early, it was time for the Closing Ceremonies. There were some fun video clips. Cristina managed to make thanking all of the con staff entertaining (though a rolling slide with all of the names on might have helped her out). The ESFS Awards were presented.

The ESFS Awards ceremony is a difficult problem. There isn’t really time in the schedule for a separate awards ceremony, given that Saturday night is usually given over to national awards. I have seen awards ceremonies that go on for ever. This year they went to the opposite extreme and just read out the names of the winners very quickly. There wasn’t even a slide with their names on. The full list of winners is available here.

I am particularly pleased with the win for Tom Crosshill. I think I first met him at the very first Finncon I attended. Irma and I can now say, “I knew him when…” I saw that he’s gone on Facebook slightly perplexed as to why he deserved such an honor when Europe has so many fine writers, which is typically modest of him. But the ESFS awards work in interesting ways. They are voted on by the delegates (2 from each country) after presentations made by nominators at the Business Meeting. A good speech can sway the voters.

In Tom’s case a long-time Latvian fan called Imants (whom I knew from previous Eurocons) had made a great speech about how much harder it is for someone from a small and little-known country to attain recognition. Tom, of course, has three Nebula nominations behind him already. I’m very pleased for him and look forward to more great fiction in future.

I’d also like to highlight Sophia Rhei’s win for children’s fiction. She has this great series featuring the young Moriarty and a whole host of other Victorian personalities, both real and fictional. It sounds very much like Kim Newman for kids. Or possibly fun kids books that parents who are Kim Newman fans will love to read to them. The books are not yet available in English, but the publishers tell me that they have rough drafts of translations are are looking for a publisher. I could tell that this was out of my league. I hope someone big in the UK or USA picks them up.

After that all we had left to do was eat tapas and drink beer. Huge thanks to Croatians for organizing an impromptu dead dog tonight because the official one isn’t until tomorrow afternoon by which time many of us will have left.

And now, packing. Farewell Barcelona, it has been brief but hugely enjoyable.

Eurocon Day 2

Kevin and I were planning to spend the morning on Ian Watson’s Orwell Walking Tour, which visited locations in the city mentioned in the author’s book, Homage to Catalonia. However, the tour group ended up being so large that it was hard to get close enough to Ian to hear what he was saying, so we bunked off and headed down to the waterfront. The Columbus Monument is a masterpiece of colonialist art, managing to be deeply offensive in a variety of ways.

On the way back we visited the main market, which is awesome. So Much Food. In particular lots of fish and squid and shellfish and off-beat stuff like sea urchins. There was meat too, including lamb’s heads which are apparently a local delicacy.

After eating rather a lot of seafood we headed for the convention and did a tour of the dealers’ room. I made sure I had a membership to Dortmund next year, and we signed up as pre-supporters of the Belfast bid for 2019. Kevin passed the Banner of WSFS on to the Helsinki people. There was a stall selling the most beautiful patterned leggings, but the XL size was too small for me. *sigh*

Then it was time for the panel on Spanish science fiction. Because fabulous Spanish fans have been doing such a great job of promoting local writers there wasn’t much new for me, but for you folks here’s a few recommendations that are translated into English.

  • The Map of Time – Felix J Palma (novel)
  • Castles in Spain (anthology of the best of Spanish SF)
  • Terra Nova (anthology of contemporary Spanish SF
  • Spanish Women of Wonder (anthology of Spanish SF by women)

I’m not sure on the availability of the women’s anthology. I got my copy through their Kickstarter. I can’t see it for sale yet, but the book only arrived the other week so maybe it will go live once people have recovered from the convention.

Generally the con seems to be going pretty well, but we have noticed a few small things that experienced con runners would not do. First up, don’t segregate your registration lines by membership number, because no one can remember their number when they get to the con; use last name instead. Second, don’t have different streams of programming starting at staggered times. That will lead to people getting up and walking out in the middle of one panel to get to a different one they want to see more that is just starting.

We went back to the hotel early because the Finns were holding a 50th birthday celebration for TJ, one of the regular Finncon attendees. Jeff VanderMeer may remember him as the guy who wiped the floor with us in the Mad Scientist Laugh competition a few years back.

Then it was time for the second Business Meeting. Amiens was duly elected as the 2018 Eurocon. Kevin, as a neutral observer, was asked to count the votes, which he did with his usual efficiency. He’s very good at this stuff.

The existing ESFS Board was re-elected unopposed saved for Bridget Wilkinson who is stepping down after 25 years. We gave her some presents and a standing ovation. Her place as Awards Administrator is being taken by Carol Connelly from Ireland.

I did my delegate duty and voted in the ESFS Awards. The results will be announced tomorrow.

And now we are making dinner plans. More seafood may be consumed.

Another Book of Arabic Fantasy Stories

There’s a fascinating post over at the Arabic Literature in English blog. Some of you may remember me posting last year about Tales of the Marvellous, News of the Strange, a new English translation of a book that significantly pre-dates the earliest copy of The 1001 Nights that we know of. That book was announced to the world in 1933, but was only available in German. Well it turns out that there is another book of tales, confusingly called The 101 Nights, which was translated into French in 1911. That book is now being translated into English by Bruce Fudge, Professor of Arabic at the University of Geneva.

The post I allude to above is the first part of an interview with Professor Fudge. In it he speculates that what we are seeing now is the tip of an iceberg of Arabic fantastic literature. There are, he says, plenty of other manuscripts lying unstudied in libraries in the Middle East and Europe:

I know in Paris and Berlin alone there are dozens, if not hundreds, of these types of manuscripts. I think Paris alone has enough for a few scholarly careers. But for much of the 20th century, scholars didn’t taken much interest in these.

There’s a whole world of fantasy history out there waiting to be rediscovered.

Coming in Translation from Aqueduct

MonteverdeToday I got email from Aqueduct Press talking about their forthcoming releases. Among them was Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist, a short science fiction novel by Spanish writer, Lola Robles. It has been translated by my friend Lawrence Schimel, so I immediately got in touch with him for more information. I’ll have more to say about the book in the near future. Today, however, I wanted to thank Aqueduct for taking a risk on a translated work. I also note that Lawrence has been telling me about science fiction in Spanish featuring trans characters, including a story by Lola and a forthcoming novel by Sofía Rhei.

It so happens that Lola and Lawrence will be at the forthcoming Eurocon in Barcelona. Possibly Sofía will too. And of course I will be there. I’m looking forward to it.

Zoran Živković News

Some excellent news for fellow fans of the Serbian writer, Zoran Živković. A company called Cadmus Press will be publishing his entire back catalog in English. Zoran has an announcement here.

Naturally I Googled Cadmus to see who they were. I found this:

Cadmus Press was founded to answer a growing need for enjoyable, high-quality, and easily available English translations of outstanding literature from Eastern and and Southeastern Europe.

The region known as Eastern Europe is familiar as the vague geographical area between Western Europe and Russia, mostly parts of the former Soviet Union. Southeastern Europe is less familiar, but generally includes (according to Wikipedia) “Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Kosovo, Moldova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and partially Turkey, Italy and Slovenia.” This part of the world has been a nexus of cross-cultural pollination since ancient times, creating a rich and diverse cultural and literary heritage that is yet poorly represented in the English language.

We hope to bring some of its finest work into English, the modern world’s lingua franca, to help it achieve the international acclaim it so richly deserves.

Currently Zoran is their only signed author, but it sounds like an admirable project. Hopefully Zoran’s books will do well for them and help finance bringing other authors to our attention.

Women in Translation – The Numbers

Over at the Three Percent blog Chad W Post has some data on the gender of writers whose work gets translated. This is for all fiction, not just SF&F, and the publication dates covered are 2008-2014. The numbers are stark. Post says:

I suspected going into this that there would be significantly more male authors published in translation than women, but I figured it would be more like a 60-40 split, not 71-27. That’s brutal.

Breaking the data down, there are 14 countries that manage 50% or better. Mostly this is because the actual numbers are very small. Wales, for example, has 100% women, but only one actual book in translation. Croatia does pretty well with 50% from 8 books. However, the only country in that group with significant numbers of works is Finland with 62% from 28 books.

I note in passing that Croatia and Finland are both countries that have made me very welcome.

Also I should note that Post appears to have assumed that gender is binary. The missing 2% in his figures above are books which are co-authored by people of more than one gender (for example the Engelfors Trilogy). Given how hard it is just to get binary gender data when dealing with other cultures, I’m not going to complain too much about that.

Translation Conference, Day 2

I was up stupidly early on Thursday so that I could get to Bristol for a 9:00am start. The first set of panels was on the subject of self-translation. The presenters had very different approaches to this.

First up was Olga Castro talking about Galician fiction. Galician is one of the less commonly spoken languages of Spain. To reach the widest possible market a book needs to be translated into Castilian, the language we know as Spanish. According to Castro the Castilian publishers, knowing that they have economic power, insist that Galician writers self-translate their work into Castilian. (Apparently the languages are similar enough for this to not be a completely unreasonable request.)

Of course translation is one thing, but that isn’t necessarily all that is done. When a British novel is “translated” into American for the US market it is usually just a matter of changing spellings and substituting words. But translating a Galician novel into Castilian may involve changing the names of the characters to names that Castilian people might have, and also changing the setting of the story so that the action no longer obviously takes place in Galicia. This process is known in translation circles as “domestication”.

Because readers tend to shy away from translations, the Castilian publishers often present the translation as the original work. That’s why they want the original author to do the job. Because the Castilian publishers have much greater market reach, the Castilian translation will sell better. And when it comes to selling rights for translation into other markets at book fairs it will be the Castilian version that gets sold. Translation into other languages is done from the domesticated Castilian version, not from the Gailician original. That may even be the case for translation into Portuguese, a language which is much closer to Galician than Castilian.

Castro’s point was that by participating in this domestication process the Galician writers are actively participating in the erasure of Galician culture.

Next up was Jozefina Komporaly, an Hungarian academic who lives in Romania. Her subject was Matei Vişniec, a Romanian playwright who lives in Paris. Because he is fluent in both French and Romanian, Vişniec is able to write his plays in French for the much more lucrative French market, and also provide translations to Romanian for use in his home country where he is hugely famous.

Plays add a whole new level of complexity to the translation issue. To start with in both poetry and plays the languages choices are constrained by the requirements of performance. Simply changing the words is not enough. Plays, however, are not just words. The staging and the acting are equally important. Indeed, I’d argue that every time a new director stages a play the result is a translation of a kind. Modern staging of well known plays such as Shakespearian favorites often change the words dramatically too, of course.

I was very pleased to hear Komporaly mention the importance of literary awards recognizing translators. This doesn’t often happen. I am very proud of the fact that the Hugo Awards actively promote translations by allowing then an extra period of eligibility, and I was absolutely delighted that Sasquan chose to list the translators alongside the authors when two Hugos were won by translated works this year. Both translators got rockets of their own. That’s the way it should happen.

Anne O’Connor’s presentation was very different. She was talking about the various reasons for producing translations of Irish works in the 19th century. On the one hand, English translators wanted to produce works that showed how primitive and barbaric the Irish were. On the other, Irish translators had various reasons for promoting their own culture. The trouble was, of course, that by translating works into English the Irish translators made it unnecessary for Irish people to learn their own language. It is a thorny problem.

Of course one reaction to that problem is to refuse to translate. Some Irish writers took the view that translation was impossible. O’Connor read us a wonderful quote in which an Irish writer was opining that the English language was but a feeble brook into which the full raging glory of Irish literature could not possibly be poured.

The final paper of the session, by Liz Wren-Owens, was something of an anomaly in that she was looking at translation from Italian. Eventually her research will look at the different ways that the Italian writer, Antonio Tabucchi, has been translated into a variety of languages. For now all she could comment on was the English translations.

The most interesting thing for me in her presentation was where she talked about how Tabucchi’s celebrity translator, Tim Parks, has become as big a name as the original author. Parks is an acclaimed author in his own right, and he is now given equal billing with Tabucchi on book covers. It is very rare for a translator to achieve that sort of prominence, but it is good to know that publishers will exploit it when it happens.

The final session was about cultural stereotypes and how they impact translation. We began with David Norris whom I believe lives in Belgrade and has a Serbian wife. I was delighted to find that they know Zoran Živković well. David’s presentation was all about magic, that is the power of naming. When you translate a work, you are in effect re-naming something. You are changing it, molding it in an image of your own design.

Sometimes, of course, this can be a total misrepresentation. Jules Verne was a proud Frenchman, but in order to make his books more saleable in the Anglophone world his disdain for the perfidious British had to be excised from translations. A much more pernicious example is the way in which Steig Larsson’s profound feminism was watered down and even inverted by the English translations of his books.

There is a particular problem when translating works from a culture which is already in a minority position vis-a-vis the rest of Europe. Translations, and even the selection of works that are chosen for translation, can easily do damage to the reputation of that culture.

Norris also noted the Anglophone literary critics need to be taken to task for the way in which they assert the primacy of Anglophone culture in their theories. F R Leavis came in for a particular kicking. Apparently he claimed that one of the touchstones of literary greatness was the author’s ability to express Englishness.

Ursula Phillips brought Norris’s main point home in two ways. Firstly, as a proud feminist, she noted that almost all of the works of Polish literature available in translation are by men. When Polish literature is taught in Anglophone universities, it is the work of men that is foregrounded. Phillips has made it her life’s work to make the work of Polish women writers available to the world.

Secondly she noted that the way in which Polish literature has been translated (and chosen for translation) makes it seem like Poland is a very isolated country that has little contact with the rest of Europe except when our armies roll over it on their way to fight someone else. The works by women that she has chosen to translate make it very clear that Poland has always been part of a wider European culture, and has interacted significantly with that culture.

The final paper was by Antonija Primorac from the University of Split in Croatia. The title of her paper was “But you do misery so well!”. It was all about how the work chosen for translation by Croatian writers tends to be almost exclusively stories about the misery of war.

Of course Croatia’s struggle for independence from Serbia following the break-up of Yugoslavia is very recent. The war took place between 1991 and 1995. Memories of the war are very fresh, and authors can write from personal experience. As the war happened in parallel with the Bosnian struggle for independence, and the tragedy of Sarajevo, there has been a great deal of interest in these wars in the Anglophone world. Naturally publishers have sought out war narratives, and these have been pretty much all that has got translated.

There is a feedback loop too. Croatian writers are now very much aware that if they want to sell into English translation they need to write war stories, so that is exactly what they produce. The end result, of course, is that wartime tragedy has come to dominate the Anglophone world’s view of Croatian culture. Thank goodness for package holidays and A Game of Thrones which are picking away at that image.

Of course as a publisher of a book of translated stories by Croatian writers I had a personal connection to this paper. I have to admit that many of the stories in Kontakt are set in war time. Indeed, my three favorite stories by male writers in the book are all set in war time in one way or another. Living through a war has to have an effect on writers. But I hope one day I will get to publish another Croatian anthology, one that is perhaps informed far more by Croatia’s emergence as a country in its own right. That sounds good material for science fiction stories, right?

My thanks to Rajendra Chitinis and his team for two very enjoyable days, and hello to all of the new friends I have made as a result. Sadly I won’t be able to make the conference in Budapest next year as I have to be in Canada in March, but hopefully I’ll see one or two of you in Barcelona. The science fiction world does want to promote translations, why not come and see that in action?

And finally, if you want to come to your own conclusion as to whether Croatians are miserable or not, why not buy this very fine book?

Kontakt