Translation Conference, Day 1

Way back in February I attended a workshop on translated fiction in Bath. I mentioned at the time that there would be a follow-up conference in Bristol in September. That date has now arrived, so I was up early and off to the big city.

I did actually miss the first set of papers. It has been a very long week on the day job already, and there was no way I was getting up at the crack of dawn, but I made it there for morning coffee.

That was important because the first paper of the second session was by Paulina Drewniak from the University of Wrocław. Her paper was all about Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher series, which is one of the few cases of a major international hit from translated genre fiction. It turns out that Paulina is a fan, and had been at the Eurocon in Dublin last year (where Sapkowski was one of the Guests of Honor). I apologized for voting for Barcelona. We agreed we’d be going anyway, and I’m trying to get her to come to Helsinki. We should bug her for a paper, Merja. Anyone who ends her academic talk with a picture of a Lego Witcher figure is OK by me.

Actually I want to know more about the figure of the Witcher in Slavic folklore. Apparently Sapkowski drew on pre-Christian traditions for his stories, as well as including a wealth of Polish in-jokes, most of which were omitted in the English translations.

Next up was Olivia Hellewell from Nottingham University who is working on Slovenian literature. I had a great deal of sympathy with the writer she interviewed who said that he now sends translations of his work to US and UK publishers under his own name, because if he says they are translations they go straight in the bin.

Finally in that session we had Richard Mansell of the University of Exeter on Catalan fiction. I love the Catalans. They are so proud and defiant. They refuse to be described as having “minority” language, but rather insist that it is a “minoritized” language. Nor is Catalan a stateless language. It is the official language of Andorra. While most Spaniards will have a copy of Don Quixote on their bookshelves to show that they are cultured, Catalans have it bookmarked at the page where Cervantes describes a Catalan novel as the best book ever written. I could go on. I am so looking forward to Barcelona.

There is a fairly well known Catalan novel that is a bit experimental and science-fictional. Richard didn’t think much of it as a book, but he noted that the central character spends the first few chapters talking about how he was once a member of the IRA. That section has been omitted from the English translation for fear it would offend delicate English ears.

I had managed to miss booking lunch, but I got really lucky and found a really good Indian restaurant across the road. This one. The little mint leaf in white chocolate that they gave me at the end was to die for.

The graveyard session was allocated to the poets, perhaps in the hope that they could entertain us and keep us awake. It is not an area I have much interest in (save for Roz Kaveney’s translations of Catullus), but I was astonished to hear that there are 119 books of Macedonian poetry translated into English. Apparently it is because they have a big international poetry festival in Macedonia and stuff gets translated for that. I was also delighted to discover that there are books of Cornish poetry in English translations. People write poetry in Cornish these days. I remember visiting the house in Mousehole where the last living Cornish speaker died. It is wonderful that the language has been resurrected.

The final poetry paper was about Cavafy, which was kind of appropriate because the conference was being held in the former home of another great gay poet. John Addington Symmonds is one of the superstars of Bristol’s LGBT history. He was also a translator. Up until he took a look at them, no one in the UK knew that Michelangelo’s poems were homoerotic. The original translator had gender-swapped some of the characters so that sensitive English readers need not be offended.

The final session opened up with Şule Demirkol Ertürk from Istanbul talking about two different translations of The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar (which is not SF, the title is a reference to clocks). The first translation was done by a small press specializing in Turkish literature. However, after Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize publishers looked for other Turkish writers to exploit, and a new translation of Tanpinar’s book was commissioned, with the involvement of Pamuk’s translator, Maureen Freely (though apparently most of the work was done by her student, Alexander Dawe).

Şule’s paper was fascinating in the way that it contrasted the different approaches, and wildly different commercial success, of the multinational and small press publishers. It wasn’t just the marketing muscle. Penguin also made a specfic effort to package Turkish culture in a way that would appeal to Western readers likely to be suspicious of the country.

Interestingly exactly the opposite is happening with Jules Verne. When he was first published in the 19th Century the big publishers of the time rushed to get him to the English-speaking market. They too were insistent on packaging him for their audience, including removing all of the anti-British and pro-Socialist rhetoric. Nowadays there is a movement to re-translate Verne and let the English speaking world read the books as they were originally written. This is all being done by small and academic presses such as the fabulous folks at Wesleyan.

The next paper was about Swedish women writers, which would have been great except that it focused on the 19th century and was half about poetry. If you are interested, there is a blog maintained by the researchers.

Finally we had a couple of Serbian academics telling the story of one particular translation. It didn’t help that the original was badly in need of an edit, but their tale of English translators and editors desperately trying to dumb down the book for the English audience was hilarious. Too many characters with funny names? Seriously? Have these people never read epic fantasy? Probably not. I wish I could have given those people a Zoran Živković book. If they had to put a dream sequence in a different font to help the reader understand what was going on they wouldn’t stand a chance with Zoran.

Anyway, it was a fun day. It also shone a light on a few cracks in the world. There was a very clear divide in the audience between those people who thought that translations were a good thing to do regardless, and those who felt that unless the project resulted in a major best seller like Steig Larsson it was all a sad waste of time. It was also clear that while international literature and poetry festivals were seen as a valuable way to promote the product, international science fiction conventions were mostly seen as an embarrassment to be avoided.

Anyway, my thanks to Rajendra Chitnis and his team for an entertaining day. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, if not exactly to getting into Bristol for a 9:00am start.

Tolkien and Finland, an Update

Earlier today I noticed a BBC article about the “new” Tolkien book, The Story of Kullervo, and its connection to Finland. I tweeted about it. That has got quite a few retweets, but on Facebook it drew the attention of my good friend Jonathan Clements who is a) a scholar rather than a journalist and b) married to a Finn (hi Kati!). He pointed me at an article that he wrote yesterday on his blog that corrects a few aspects of the BBC piece and the book’s introduction.

As is usually the case with Jonathan, he combines erudition with humor. He gives some examples of the truly dire prose of which the young Tolkien was guilty, and also takes aim at some of the wilder claims made about Tolkien and Kullervo, in particular that the Finnish work was Shakespeare’s inspiration for Hamlet.

At one point, the introduction also implies that Kullervo somehow forms a literary ancestor to Shakespeare’s Hamlet — which would require Shakespeare climbing into a time machine, buying a copy of the English translation of the Kalevala in 1888, and then jumping back to the 1100s, Terminator-style, to kill Saxo Grammaticus before he could write the Gesta Danorum.

Of course there is a lot to be interested in about the book as well. I look forward to Jonathan being on a panel about it at Worldcon 75. In the meantime, do read his post. It is well worth it.

New Verne Translation

Five Weeks in a Balloon - Jules VerneYes, I know it is supposed to be Women in Translation Month, but this is exciting.

Wesleyan University Press have sent me a review copy of a brand new translation of Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon. This is Verne’s debut novel, and the work that established his reputation as an author. Only Around the World in Eighty Days sold better. The press release describes it as one of the greatest debuts in literary history. While the likes of Margaret Cavendish and Mary Shelley had written novels about science before Verne, this is the novel that established the genre in the popular imagination.

The early translations of Verne’s work into English were hurriedly and badly done as British publishers sought to cash in on this wildly successful French literary trend. Francophone science fiction scholars are doing their best to put things right. This publication sees the first complete and accurate translation of a ground-breaking work of science fiction.

The book includes a lengthy introduction by the translator, Frederick Paul Walter, and extensive endnotes. The book is extensively illustrated with what I assume are pictures from the original publication of the novel.

This is pretty much an essential volume for anyone with an interest in the history of science fiction.

Coode Street at Archipelacon

While I was at Archipelacon I was invited to take part in a recording of the Coode Street Podcast. Gary Wolfe was a Guest of Honor at the convention, and he wanted to do a podcast with fellow GoH, Karin Tidbeck. I guess I was invited along as an expert on Nordic fandom or some such. Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and the podcast is now available online. You can listen to it via the Coode Street website, or via Tor.com. I’m not sure whether the versions are exactly the same — I’ve only listened to the former.

So what did we talk about? Well, there was a lot of discussion of tranlsation, so I figured I should provide a reading list of books, etc. that I mentioned. Here you go:

In addition we talked about YA literature, dystopias, the Barcelona and Dortmund Eurocons, Nordic crime fiction, fiction in indigenous peoples, what Swedish people think of the Thor movies, Sense8, stereotyping of nerd culture, and of course Karin’s writing.

Enjoy!

Tales Most Marvellous & Strange

Tales of the Marvellous, News of the StrangeToday I took myself off to Salisbury to learn more about one of the most significant short story anthologies to be published last year. It is significant because it is over 1,000 years old, and this is the first time it has been published in English. The event at the Salisbury Arts Festival featured Turkish writer, Elif Şafak, and the noted scholar of all things Arabic, Robert Irwin, who also wrote the introduction to the English edition of the book.

The history of the book is a tale in itself. Irwin revealed some of it in The Independent last year. We got a bit more information today. Hopefully I have remembered it correctly.

As I noted above, the book is believed to have been written down in the 10th Century, either in Syria or Egypt. That judgement comes from analysis of the content. The handwriting in the copy that we have suggests that it was made in the 14th Century, but even that is older than the oldest surviving copy of The 1001 Nights that we have, which dates from the late 15th Century.

Irwin believes that the manuscript came to Istanbul in 1517 when the Ottoman Sultan, Selim the Grim, defeated the Mamluks in battle and conquered Egypt. Large numbers of documents are known to have been shipped from Cairo to Istanbul at the time.

Our manuscript was discovered in the early 20th Century by a young German scholar, Hellmut Ritter. He was living in Istanbul in disgrace because he had been outed as gay. His professor died in 1933 and an emboldened Ritter announced the discovery to his academic colleagues, but shortly thereafter Hitler seized power in Germany and Ritter wisely decided to stay put in Istanbul.

Translating early Arabic documents is a specialist task, and although Irwin had known about this book for many years it had, up until last year, been available only in German and Arabic. Eventually the noted translator, Malcolm Lyons, who had earlier produced a new translation of the The 1001 Nights, began work on this book, and an English version was the result.

The manuscript that we have is not the whole book. We have the Table of Contents, which says that there are 42 chapters. We only have 18 chapters, containing some 26 stories, not all of which are complete. We don’t even have the title. The one used for the English edition — Tales of the Marvellous, News of the Strange — is taken from the opening line of the introduction which says we will be treated to al-hikayat al-‘ajiba wa’l-akhbar al-ghariba. The title is a straight translation.

There is some possibility that, somewhere in Istanbul, there is a complete copy of the book. I hope so, because like Irwin I want to read “The Story of the Serving Girl Who Swallowed a Piece of Paper”. Tantalizingly Irwin suggested that there may even be an older edition of The 1001 Nights waiting to be discovered.

Unlike The 1001 Nights, Tales of the Marvellous, News of the Strange does not have an over-arching framing story to compare with that of the murderous Sultan Shahryar and his clever bride, Scheherazade. It does, however, have two tales in common, proving a common thread of storytelling in the Arabic world. It also boasts a story, “The Story of ‘Arus al-‘Ara’is and Her Deceit, As Well As the Wonders of the Seas and Islands”, that is almost as complicated and nested as Cat Valente’s The Orphan’s Tale, as well as having a truly remarkable anti-heroine.

I’ve not had a chance to read all of the stories yet, but Irwin says that they are even more fantastical than those in The 1001 Nights. Interestingly from my point of view, there is quite a lot of mention of automata of various sorts. This is partly, as Irwin noted today, because in the stories no statue is ever a piece of art. It is either someone who used to be alive, or it is something that has been made to come alive and, like Chekov’s gun, has to perform its function at some point during the tale.

In addition, however, the Islamic kingdoms were somewhat in awe of the achievements of their predecessors, in particular Egypt. As Irwin notes in his Independent article, the storytellers “envisaged advanced technology not as something that would be achieved in the future, but rather as something whose secrets were lost in the distant past”. When I questioned him about automata he added that some books on their manufacture did exist in Arabic — unusually they were even illustrated, because the authors wanted to show how their designs should be made — but there is no evidence that any of these machines were ever built.

Not that this in any way puts a stop to the idea of Arabic Steampunk that we came up with at the Arabic SF panel at Worldcon last year.

Most of the discussion today was about issues surrounding the book, rather than the content. Irwin spent some time as a Sufi disciple in his youth and Şafak also has a keen interest in Sufism, so we got rather sidetracked for a while even though there are no Sufis in the book. (Sufism had not become popular in the Islamic world when the book was written.)

This does remind us, however, that this is a collection of medieval stories written in the Islamic world, and the stories are therefore suffused with Islamic sensibility. The writer of the tales appears to have been a Shi’ite because several of the characters make religious references that only Shi’ites would make. However, the Sultans in the book would have been Sunni, and they are treated with all due deference. Even the many Christian characters in the stories are treated (with a few exceptions) with respect. Irwin notes that a lot of wine drinking happens in the stories. The Islamic world of the stories is a very different one to the Islamic world that modern Western media paints for us.

Herein lies some of the value of the book. Politics is all about narratives, these days, and we desperately need some narratives to counter the scare-mongering about Islam to which we are subjected on a daily basis. Quite how much can be done by Irwin and his colleagues, however, is debatable.

One of the most interesting conversations of the day was on the subject of Orientalism and Edward Said’s famous book (which Irwin strongly dislikes). One the one hand, as Şafak made clear, the points about Western scholars interpreting other cultures through a Western gaze are well made. No matter how hard we study other cultures, and how lovingly we write about them, we are no substitute for people from those cultures writing about themselves. On the other hand, Irwin says that Said has grossly misrepresented the writing, actions and motivations of many early Orientalists in order to make his point. And Şafak added that the mere suggestion of Orientalism can now act to close down the possibility of discussion between the West and other cultures because all interest by Western scholars is deemed suspect.

This brought to mind all sorts of interesting thoughts about balancing authenticity with the need to tell stories about ourselves in a way that others will understand and accept them. As a result, you’ll be getting a new post about Caitlyn Jenner tomorrow or at the weekend.

That is another sidetrack, though. The point here is that there is this amazing book out there full of remarkable fantastic stories, some of which deserve to be as famous as those of Sinbad the Sailor, or Aladdin and his Magic Lamp. Check out Irwin’s article for more details about some of the stories. There’s a whole world of fantasy out there waiting to be read,

Introducing Acheron – Italian SF&F in English

Here’s a great project. Acheron Books is a new Italian company that exists to publish Italian SF&F as eBooks in English translation. You can find out more about them, and read some samples, at their website. There are seven books available, with more to be added soon. Their blog also highlights famous Italians who may be of interest to SF&F readers, such as astronaut Captain Samantha Cristoforetti. My thanks to Adriano Barone and his colleagues for starting such a useful company. I hope they do very well.

Workshop on Reading Translated Fiction

A few weeks ago I wrote about a project at Bristol University that is studying reader opinions of translated fiction, and how such fiction, in particular from smaller European countries, can better be promoted. Last night I headed into Bath for a workshop being jointly run by the project team and my friends at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

From my point of view the most interesting part of the evening was the panel discussion with three people heavily involved in selling translated books.

First up was Simon Winder of Penguin. He was clearly still very much in the old-fashioned cottage industry type of publishing business, not the ruthless, marketing-driven thing we are used to with mass market fiction. From that point of view, although he is from a big company, he’s much more like a small press. He can publish books just because they are interesting.

The main thing that I latched onto from his talk was a book he is publishing this month called Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange. Here’s the blurb:

A great cache of ancient, magical stories in the same tradition as The Arabian Nights, Tales of the Marvellous and News of the Strange is an extraordinary find. Dating from at least a millennium ago, these are the earliest-known Arabic short stories, which survived in a single, ragged manuscript in a library in Istanbul. Some found their way into The Arabian Nights, but most have never been read in English before.

These stories are believed to date from the 9th Century, a time when England was being merrily overrun by viking hordes. I’m really looking forward to this book.

Later in the year Penguin are doing a new edition of 2000 Leagues Under The Sea. Simon told me that it is a new translation, not the crappy original one that removed all of the rude comments about the English, favorable mentions of Socialism and so on.

Something else that Simon had to promote was a new range of “short classics” published to mark the 80th anniversary of the Penguin Classics range. These are chapbooks coming in at 64 pages. Some are complete stories, others self-contained extracts from longer works. They will be priced at 80p each, and Penguin doubtless hopes that lots of people will take the “gotta catch ’em all” view of the series. I picked up a Poe story, The Tell-Tale Heart, from the pile he was giving away, and will doubtless buy a few others, including Sinbad the Sailor and Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. It is a nice idea, though I’m disappointed to count only 10 obviously female names in the list of 80 titles (there may be more — I’m not familiar with all of the non-European writers). Penguin will doubtless say that the gender balance reflects their Classics range, but I think they could have tried harder.

The second speaker was Nic Bottomley, the owner of Mr. B’s. The most notable thing in his talk was the revelation of how well his store is able to sell translations. Of course they are a niche business, but they are trading off in-depth knowledge. People come to them for recommendations, and in the “more like this but different” stakes there’s nothing better to trigger the “wow, never heard of that!” response than a translation. Their best selling book of last year was a translation.

Finally we had Stephanie Seegmuller of Pushkin Press, a company which only publishes translations. I glowed with pride when she talked happily about the “most bonkers” book they have ever published. It is, of course, Finnish. Take a bow, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen. Everyone else go buy The Rabbit Back Literature Society.

There was some discussion afterwards. I’m not sure if it produced anything useful. The audience was very self-selected, and many of them were translators. I suspect I was the only publisher there besides Simon and Stephanie. We did agree, however, that the Finns are awesome, and promote their writers very effectively.

I gave away a couple of copies of The Finnish Weird. Hopefully something will come of that.

Buy A Castle In Spain

Well, not precisely. Castles in Spain is the name of a new anthology, currently being crowdfunded, that will feature English language translations (and the original Spanish*) of some of the very best of Spanish science fiction, fantasy and horror. It is being edited by Mariano Villareal, who is responsible for the Terra Nova series of anthologies, and the translation team is being headed by Sue Burke. I’ve met Sue at conventions before. She’s a very fine translator and I’m sure that she and Mariano will do a brilliant job.

The current contents list is mainly male, but that’s because Spanish SF&F, like most other countries, has been fairly male-dominated in the past. There are stretch goals for additional stories, and hopefully these will allow Mariano and Sue to add more women writers to the book.

Of course for that to happen we all need to back the campaign. You can do so here.

By the way, the Spanish language title of the book is Castillos en el aire, which of course translates as Castles in the Air. I think I prefer that, though I am now earwormed by Don McLean.

* Paper copies appear to be English or Spanish only, but the ebooks will be bilingual.

Translated Fiction Survey

There is a project going on at Bristol University at the moment that is looking at translation of literature from smaller European nations. As part of this they have a reader survey on SurveyMonkey. I am sure that they would be very grateful if you all filled it in. You can find it here.

By the way, there will be an academic conference at the university on the same subject in September. If anyone is interested, the call for papers is here.

And for local and London people there are a few other, less academic, events listed here.

Words Without Borders Does Alt-History

Words Without Borders, a very fine online literary magazine, has devoted their January 2015 issue to Uchronia (that’s alternate histories to most of us). As is their wont, WWB has gathered together some of the best authors around the world, and provided translations. You can find the issue here. And here’s some idea of what you can look forward to.

From Mexico, Otra Vuelta de Tuerca prizewinner Bef pictures a face-off between Maximilian I and the digital ghost of Benito Juárez.

From Sweden, Crawford Award-winning novelist Karin Tidbeck investigates an otherworldly cause for the disappearance of a town.

And Italian writer Aldo Nove takes a fresh look at the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

The issue also features work by Jorge Baradit (Chile), Hernán Vanoli (Argentina), Xavier Mauméjean (France), Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro (Brazil), and Jorge Eduardo Benavides (Peru). The French story is translated by Edward Gauvin who is a past winner of the SF&F Translation Award.

And it is all free. Go read. Fabulous authors, most of whom you will never have heard of before. Plus Karin Tidbeck who is literally* made of awesomesauce.

* Modern usage of “literally”, not to be taken literally.

The Future is Luxurious, and French

Well here is an exciting thing.

The Comité Colbert is a trade association of French luxury goods manufacturers founded in 1954. Members produce all sorts of things from fashion to champagne to furniture. Also, crucially, some of them publish books. Naturally they exist to encourage people to buy fine French merchandise.

Given all of the doom, gloom and austerity around at the moment, these good people decided that the world needed a bit of cheering up. So they commissioned a bunch of French science fiction writers to imagine a utopia (set in 2074) in which everyone would be able to partake of a little French luxury.

The result is an anthology called Dreaming 2074. And because this is, after all, a marketing exercise, the Comité Colbert has paid to have the book translated into English, and is making the ebook edition available for free. You can download it here.

So basically you lucky people are getting seven stories by top French science fiction writers translated into English for free. Well, six writers actually. One of the stories is a musical interlude present in the book only as a QR code. Anyway, go snap them up. The Table of Contents is as follows:

  • Porphyrian Tree (Xavier Mauméjean)
  • Amber Queen (Olivier Paquet)
  • Facets (Samantha Bailly)
  • Future Mirages (Roque Rivas) (Musical illustration)
  • Diamond Anniversary (Jean-Claude Dunyach)
  • A Corner of Her Mind (Anne Fakhouri)
  • The Chimeras’ Gift (Joëlle Wintrebert)

Neil Clarke on Translations

The new issue of Clarkesworld is now available. It has some excellent content, including stories by Pat Cadigan, Ken Macleod, Robert Reed and Ken Liu. But I want to highlight something that Neil said in his editorial:

Along those lines, a reader asked me why we decided to go with a regular feature over a special issue or anthology. It’s a good question, particularly in light of how fashionable the latter has become in recent years. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with special issues, I’m not a big fan of the one-and-done model of promoting a cause. They might make a big splash and generate some warm fuzzies, but months later, it’s largely forgotten.

I want translations to become something normal. They shouldn’t stand out or be special because of where they originate. Regularly publishing stories from other parts of the world is the best way to do that. If something is important, make it part of who you are.

Much as I love some of the special issues and anthologies that have been created in recent months (and indeed may do something like that myself), I absolutely agree with Neil that one-offs are not enough. If we want lasting change, it has to be a central part of what we do.

Translation Awards – The End

As you will see from various news outlets over the next few days, the Directors of the SF&F Translation Awards, of whom I am one, have jointly decided to cease giving out the Awards and wind up the corporation that administers them. You can find the official press release here.

What follows are purely personal reflections on why we had to do this.

As the press release says, the main issue was simply time. Several of us have had major changes in our lives since the Awards were started, and we simply can’t do the work anymore. I have tried on a number of occasions to get more people involved, and the silence in response has been deafening.

Of course you may be wondering why I couldn’t give up some of the other volunteer work that I do and concentrate on the Awards instead. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, not being involved with the Awards will make it easier for me to publish translations through Wizard’s Tower. While I was a Director of the Awards I would have to recuse any new work I published from consideration. I am now free from that constraint and hope to publish some original translations.

More importantly, however, I couldn’t do it all by myself. Rob Latham and his colleagues at UC Riverside were key to the operation of the awards because they had the contacts and prestige necessary to find jurors and to get free books from publishers. There’s no way I could have done that, especially being stuck in the UK where who you are always matters far more than what you are doing.

Finally I have been telling my fellow Directors for some time that they needed someone else to be the public face of the Awards. Kevin and I are both regarded as “Old White Men” as far as many progressive voices in fandom are concerned. As a result of this I felt that the Awards were unlikely to get full support from pro-diversity campaigners if they were closely associated with me. It is far more important that translations should get promoted than that I should be involved in doing so. I have some hope that now I am out of the way someone will come forward and found a new set of awards that will be more acceptable to fandom.

Some Kickstarter Recommendations

Because I’ve been distracted for the past few months I have not been keeping up to date with the various crowdfunding projects going on. I want to remedy that now. Here are three that I think are worth backing.

First up is Temporally Out Of Order, a themed anthology to be edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray. It is a launch project for a new publishing house, and they have a bunch of fine authors lined up to contribute, including Laura Anne Gilman and Seanan McGuire. I noticed it because one of the stretch goals will be to add a story by my good friend Juliet E. McKenna. She writes about the genesis of her story here. If you fancy the sound of the anthology, and in particular if you want Juliet’s story to be included, go here and back it.

Next we have my good friends at Clarkesworld who have an amazing project going to add stories translated from Chinese to the magazine. They’ve already hit their target for the Chinese stories, but their first stretch goal is to establish a fund to pay for stories translated from other languages. This is a fabulous project, so please do back it.

Finally, a project that I’ve known about for what seems like years, and which is finally happening. Sarah Savage, one of the stars of My Transsexual Summer, has written a book for kids called Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? Fox & Lewis have done a great video for Sarah, so I’ll just leave it to her to explain what the book is all about. Have a listen, then go back it here, please.

Today On Ujima – Israel, Serbia & Iraq

Thanks to my uncle, and Tracy the cleaner, holding the fort during the day I was able to get up to Bristol to do my radio show today. This was a great relief as I had a busy show planned.

First up was a pre-recorded interview with Gili Bar Hilel, an Israeli translator who, amongst other things, has been responsible for bringing the work of J.K. Rowling and Diana Wynne Jones to Hebrew readers. The discussion included shout outs for Frances Hardinge, Garth Nix and Philip Reeve. Gili and I also briefly discussed the situation in Gaza.

The second half hour saw me joined in the studio by Karen Garvey from Bristol Museums and Gordana Grabež, the Executive Director of the National Museum of Serbia, who is in Bristol on an exchange visit to learn how we do community-based museum exhibits. Karen will be teaching her all about things like the Revealing Stories exhibition that I helped put together, and also the You Make Bristol exhibition that Karen masterminded. In return maybe Bristol will get a loan of some of the fantastic art collection that Belgrade has, including everyone from Hieronymous Bosch to Rubens to Picasso. We talked quite a bit about the history of the Balkans, from Roman times through to Tito. There was also some brief mention of Zoran Živković, and of the embarrassment of the tennis. At least Novak did beat Andy, so we were even less happy than Gordana.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

For the second hour I was joined by Jo Baker from the charity, Child Victims of War. The main focus of our conversation was the situation in Iraq, which is quite horrifying (and not for the reasons you’ll hear in the British media). Of particular note was the accusation that US forces are using radioactive weapons (not just depleted uranium) in Iraq, and that these weapons have been sold to Israel. The discussion of how drones are used was also quite horrifying, and led to us speculating that Bristol’s expertise in robotics could lead to the city becoming a leading manufacturer of actual robot war machines.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The playlist for today’s show was as follows:

  • World Party – Meet Your Feet
  • Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite – Prince
  • Friendship Update – The Go Team
  • Rescue Me – Fontella Bass
  • War – The Temptations
  • Save the Children – Marvin Gaye
  • Tribal War – Black Roots
  • Life During Wartime – Talking Heads

Next week’s show, assuming I am able to get to Bristol, will feature Glenda Larke.

Translating Ancillary Justice

I was musing a while back as to how Ancillary Justice would work when translated into languages such as Finnish or Hungarian which, like Radchaai, have no gendered pronouns. As it happens, Csilla Kleinheincz got the job of translating the book into Hungarian. She has just commented on my post, and I thought it would be worth elevating that into a post. Here’s what Csilla had to say:

The non-gendered pronouns helped a lot as we are well used to having no default gender and don’t have to make a deliberate choice when using pronouns in our writings — thus our language is a bit closer to Radchaai, although I had to adjust the text more at the places where Breq uses direct references to gender. On the other hand, instead of gender-neutral nouns for ‘child’, ‘cousin’, ‘parent’ etc., I used the feminine versions to make up for what I lost with the gender-neutral translation of ‘she’. It’s possible to find a different solution but I wanted to keep the text flowing and natural while retaining the mentality behind using ‘she’ as the basic pronoun.

I really enjoyed working on it, I wish all books I get for translation would be this good and challenging.

So there you have it. Hungarian has a partial solution. Is the Finnish translator out there?

Fascinating stuff, this translation business. I have so much admiration for the people who do it.

China Comes To Clarkesworld – #WITMonth

The new issue of Clarkesworld is now online. It includes “Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy”, a story by Chinese writer, Xia Jia, whose work I highlighted recently. Also in this issue is “Patterns of a Murmuration, in Billions of Data Points”, a story by Jy Yang, who is from Singapore. The big news, however, is in Neil’s editorial:

I am pleased to announce that Clarkesworld has entered into an agreement with Storycom International Culture Communication Co., Ltd. to showcase a short story originally published in Chinese in every issue. Each month, an all-star team of professionals intricately familiar with Chinese short fiction will be recommending stories for this special feature and I’ll select which ones get translated and published in each issue.

That team will include Liu Cixin, one of China’s best known science fiction writers, and Ken Liu, who should need no introduction to people here.

Neil told me about this at Worldcon, and I have been itching to tell you about it ever since. As per the editorial, there will be a Kickstarter starting soon to fund the translations. It is an amazing project, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing a regular supply of the best Chinese fiction being translated into English.

Translation Panels at Worldcon

There were many different panels on translation at Loncon 3. I went to most of them. Although they all had subtly different slants, they all ended up asking pretty much the same question: how the heck can we get more work translated into English?

I was intending to write a long post detailing all of the options, and their pros and cons, but Lionel Davoust has beaten me to it, and done a very fine job. So please go and read his post.

Lionel ends up talking about various external support mechanisms. Tempest Bradford’s suggestion sounds like it could work very well. It is, of course, exploiting the students, but they need to do the work as part of their courses so they should be happy to be exploited.

At the same panel at which Ellen Kushner floated the various Interstitial Arts Foundation initiatives, one of the members of the audience recommended Babel Cube. I know nothing about it, but if you are looking to get translated it may be worth checking out.

Overall, however, I’m pretty depressed about the state of affairs. I have tried to get things done, but nothing seems to work. The Translation Awards were a good idea at the time, but the world has moved on and for a variety of reasons I think they are dead. The only way they could be revived is if we wound up the existing operation and hoped that this created a gap in the community that someone else wanted to fill.

I was also really pleased with Small Blue Planet, but it got no traffic. I’d kind of hoped that it would get some attention in the Hugos, but while 28 people kindly nominated me in Fan Writer, fewer than 12 people nominated Small Blue Planet, meaning it didn’t make the long list. That also means that at least 17 of the people who nominated me for Fan Writer don’t actually read my blog, because Small Blue Planet was what I asked people to nominate.

Finally, of course, I published the Croatian anthology, Kontakt. I tried to talk about it at every available opportunity at both Worldcon and Eurocon. That resulted in precisely one new sale.

Obviously I’ll continue writing about translated works, and I’d be happy to publish any that came my way, but it really does seem that no matter how hard I try, no one is going to listen. Trying to get English-speakers to read works in translation feels like trying to walk into the teeth of a hurricane.