Thanks Nick

One of the things you don’t want to happen when you are traveling is have a major online row break out that you feel you need to comment on. Thankfully Nick Mamatas has said most of what I wanted to say, and from the perspective of Haikasoru which lends it more weight.

I do, however, want to focus in on one small part of Norman Spinrad’s somewhat bumbling and insensitive article. Talking about what he perceives as a lack of SF from “Third World” countries, he says:

If it exists, I haven’t seen a significant amount of it translated into any language I can read

Well, there’s a reason for that. It is partly about markets. The bigger the readership you have for a book the better, so you tend to want to write in a language that a lot of people read. That means you should go for Mandarin, English, Spanish, Arabic or Russian. Bearing in mind the relative wealth of the readers, French, German and Japanese might be good too. Portuguese is probably on the way up. Urdu and Bengali are also interesting prospects, but if you live in India you may choose to write in English because India has a lot of different native languages. If your native tongue is Yoruba then you may well choose to write in English, because a lot of Nigerians speak it anyway and it gives you access to a wider market. Spinrad, I suspect, will view anyone writing in English as “Western-influenced” and therefore not really “Third World”.

The other reason, and you’ll get bored of my saying this soon, is that the English speaking world is woefully uninterested in translated fiction. That’s why some friends and I have started translation awards. Perhaps if Mr. Spinrad were to read the blog there regularly (and the excellent World SF News blog) he would become somewhat better informed. And if he’d like to help support the awards we may see a lot more translated fiction in the future.

10 thoughts on “Thanks Nick

  1. Thank you for posting about this. I don’t follow much of the blogosphere, and this is the kind of thing that I care about and which makes my head explode.

  2. The mystery of why there isn’t an indigenous Italian SF is debated at every bloody Italian con, from the beginning of history. Of course plenty of people will tell you that there is plenty of good Italian SF, but in my very personal opinion, it’s not very good, and the quantity is objectively small.

    Which means that there is something more in the “why can’t we find Forrin SF” than “it’s not translated”. France used to have a somewhat larger production, but my friend Selene who lives there tells me that it’s shrank a lot lately.

    1. Well it depends on whether you are talking strictly SCIENCE fiction or all that speculative stuff. Italy has given us Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco and Primo Levi, for which we should all be very grateful. Calvino in particular would, I think, have ended up in the genre ghetto had he been British.

      As for the French, yes they are producing a lot less SCIENCE fiction, but they are still producing large amounts of fantasy. That, I suspect, is more to do with them being “First World” than being French.

  3. If you take seriously the opinions about the sff field of Mr. Spinrad (“sf is dying since I cannot publish anymore and anyway I did all the original work way back and now everyone is copying me…”), well you get articles like that…

    As a reviewer per se – ie when he talks about the book he reviews rather than pontificating or explaining how he wrote about the subject of the book ages before the author – he is good but I think that whoever publishes his reviews should edit him way, way more

  4. I was talking with Ju Honisch this weekend.

    While she enjoyes success in the German market, she can’t break into the English market because there is no “infrastructure” for translating books INTO English and selling them.

    English language publishers do not want to take the risk & cost of building it out.

    Of course the English => whatever infrastructure has been in place for decades and for some languages dominates the local markets.

  5. Fantastic idea! As a translator and a reader, it’s wonderful to see this encouragement of SF and fantasy in translation.

  6. I confess that I don’t read a lot of translated fiction. It isn’t that I’m not interested in sf from around the world (my DVD collection is full of it).

    But with the written word the idea of someone coming between me and the author and already doing some of the interpretation as part of the job of (err) interpretation puts me off.

    Perhaps it is because I feel my relationship with a book or an author is more intimate than with a film?

    Is there some level in which I worry that translated works aren’t quite authentic, like dubbed foreign films instead of subtitles?

    Maybe it’s because, as someone who dabbles in writing myself I know how important and difficult the choice of a single word can sometimes be and reading something, where the original author is not responsible for the choice of any of the words, seems wrong.

    Or possibly it’s really because it always makes me feel guilty for being completely incapable of learning other languages to a degree in which I’m competent enough to do more than buy bread.

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