Over at the Haikasoru Blog, Nick Mamatas talks about translation:
We get similar issues cropping up all the time with Haikasoru titles. If a character has a family name that translates into “Thermometer” for example—and no, it’s not a standard Japanese family name—do we call the character “Ms. Thermometer?” Even if the book is about a futuristic medical utopia? (Ultimately, the translator and I decided against. It just sounded silly.) When doing a medieval fantasy, what do we call clan leaders if the heir to the emperor is “prince”…which is itself a bit unsatisfying? Well, we might go for “duke” or “baron”, but that doesn’t quite capture the provincialism of the distant landlords—the clan heads are also not quite peers; they rank below what a westerner might call a duke or baron. “Head chieftain” is perhaps a close and almost literal translation, but that sounded a bit like “Boss President” to me. There’s also “laird” but that term has a regional specificity that would shock many readers out of the story. In the end, I went with “headman.” Though the translation isn’t over yet, so we might come up with something else… Because we’re doing popular fiction here, I try to keep editorial notes and footnotes to an utter minimum. Luckily, thanks to the popularity of Japanese pop culture these days, many of our readers are familiar with Japanese terms and the accoutrements of daily life. So far we haven’t had to explain or apologize.
Part of what we’re trying to do with the WSNB is highlight individual short stories by international writers as they’re being published. You can click on both the 2010 stories or the short story highlight tags to see previous posts.
The latest story we wanted to turn your attention to is Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra, by Vandana Singh (you can also read our interview with her for the WSNB from a little while back). The story is published this week on Strange Horizons.
I am Somadeva.
I was once a man, a poet, a teller of tales, but I am long dead now. I lived in the eleventh century of the Common Era in northern India. Then we could only dream of that fabulous device, the udan-khatola, the ship that flies between worlds. Then, the sky-dwelling Vidyadharas were myth, occupying a reality different from our own. And the only wings I had with which to make my journeys were those of my imagination. . . .
Who or what am I now, in this age when flying between worlds is commonplace? Who brought me into being, here in this small, cramped space, with its smooth metallic surfaces, and the round window revealing an endless field of stars?
It takes me a moment to recognize Isha. She is lying in her bunk, her hair spread over the pillow, looking at me.
And then I remember the first time I woke up in this room, bewildered. Isha told me she had re-created me. She fell in love with me fifteen centuries after my death, after she read a book I wrote, an eighteen-volume compendium of folktales and legends, called the Kathāsaritsāgara: The Ocean of Streams of Story. – read the rest of the story.
Netherlands-based Filipino writer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz has a new short story up at Fantasy Magazine entitled “Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan”. Here’s an excerpt:
If not for the Mama-oh’s quick actions, you would have grown up without a mother. With a bamboo tube, and a woven blanket, she captured your mother’s spirit just as it was leaving her body, and so your mother was restored to life.
Your father came to see you when he was told all was well.
He looked at you, and he looked at your mother, then he took you in his arms and he gave you your name.
“We will call her Bugan,” he said.
“A wise choice,” the Mama-oh replied. “The Sky Goddess will be pleased.”
The Imaginales 2010 (a French convention) website is now up. It’s in French though, so maybe our French readers can enlighten us about the lineup?
Earlier this month, Fabio Fernandes was pondering on Brazil’s presence in Science Fiction, over at his blog Post-Weird Thoughts:
The Quiet War – Paul McAuley’s novel presents us a kind of old-fashioned space opera where Earth is mostly dominated by Greater Brazil, a sort of mega-country that seems to occupy all the Americas and then some. That is never made entirely clear – nor does it anything else regarding Earth culture. McAuley is interested in telling us a story of a war between our planet and humans living in other worlds in the system. The story is fast-paced but failed to attract me, and I still didn’t understand why he chose Brazil to rule Earth when any other country would do, since there is nothing on the novel that can give the reader any specific information on Brazilian culture. The characters doesn’t sound convincing, and even Brasilia, our capital city, seems cardboard-like in the end, which is a shame, because I was really looking forward a great reading here. I’m starting Gardens of the Sun next week, so let’s see if it can clarify something on that matter.
Flood – Stephen Baxter is a terribly competent writer when it comes to hard SF. In this catastrophe-ridden novel, which really scared the bejesus out of me, the world is quickly flooded entirely in a few decades, and there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. The protagonists are strong and resorceful, but (fortunately) not especially trigger-happy mankind-savior kind of people, something that annoys me to no end. But there is one thing that upsets me along the reading: there is not a single mention of Brazil in the novel. I’m not trying to be an übernationalist here, but let’s keep it straight: Brazil is one of the top economies of the world right now; we’re (very) quickly rocketing out of a underdeveloped position to a developed one in the geopolitical scene. So, it would be more than natural that Brazil could play an important role of some kind in that novel, economically at least. (I’m halfway through Ark and so far nothing, by the way.) Sometimes the absence is louder than the presence.
Anyone care to chime in on the discussion?
Here’s what I’d label the biggest science fiction controversy you’ve never heard of. The editors of Science Fiction World unanimously wrote an open letter asking its editor-in-chief to be fired. You can read the entire story at China Daily. Here’s an excerpt:
Editors with the nation’s most popular science fiction magazine have issued an open letter asking for the editor-in-chief to be fired, accusing him of being corrupt and dictatorial.
The letter was published on the popular website douban.com on Sunday evening, entitled, “A public letter to the nation’s science fiction fans from the Science Fiction World. We’re ready for the storm!”
Liu Zhuang, a staffer from the magazine’s editorial office, confirmed with China Daily on Monday that the letter was sent jointly by all the editors.
He declined to disclose further details about the event, which is considered rare in China’s media circles.
The alleged wrongdoings of the editor-in-chief, Li Chang, who has held the position since the end of 2008, was listed in the letter.
Over at the Haikasoru blog, Pancha Diaz elaborates more on the James Tiptree Jr.-winning manga Ooku.
Ôoku just won the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and this is exciting for me on a number of levels. It’s always wonderful when a title I work on is nominated for an award, and even more so when it actually wins. That Ooku was the first comic awarded this prize, and that this prize recognizes the exploration of how we understand gender through literature makes me gleam with joy and pride. I am incredibly proud to be a part of the team that brings this excellent story to an English readership, and of the hard work Akemi Wegmüller does in translating Fumi Yoshinaga’s exceptional work. For the curious, we use a variation on Elizabethan English because we feel it is the best way to convey the archaic Japanese Yoshinaga uses in the original.
The premise of Ôoku is simple: three-fourths of the men in Edo Japan are wiped out by a mysterious plague, and when it becomes clear that the disease is not burning itself out anytime soon, the women have to step into all the roles previously assigned to men. Including that of shogun. When we are first introduced to this world in volume, the Redface Pox has been around for over eighty years. Many people no longer remember a Japan plentiful with men.
Hungarian fantasy writer and editor Csilla Kleinheincz submitted to us this essay on Hungarian Post-Communist Science Fiction, which was originally published in Czech magazine Ikarie. Here’s a trimmed down and translated version of that piece:
In the eighties there were already signs of the change that came in 1989 – in these years new authors appeared and started magazines (Helios, Metamorf) and anthologies (Analog) independent of the previously dominant Galaktika magazine and books. After the market became free, previous amateur and freelance authors flocked together to start publishing, and started series that welcomed Hungarian authors of the genre.
The trends that were established during this period continue to influence works of fiction by Hungarian authors. The published foreign books determined the course of science fiction and fantasy in Hungary and the initial choices were determinative. In the nineties Hungarian authors even adopted English or French pen names and invented foreign personas to exploit the hunger of the audience for the new and foreign fantasy and sci-fi works. This tradition is still alive even though it is clear to the readers that the pen names belong to Hungarian writers.
Published science fiction included cyberpunk novels by William Gibson and film novelizations as well as a couple of space operas – serious hard sci-fi was overshadowed by adventures, although a few publishing houses did publish award-winning and genre defining works. The Galaktika Baráti Kör, the Möbius science fiction könyvek and the A sci-fi mesterei (Masters of Science Fiction) series by Móra were gems within this period. But even so, this decade was mostly the decade of fantasy. Interesting how peacefully novels of quality like the books of Ursula K. Le Guin, Robin Hobb and David Gemmell and other previously untranslated classics from Zelazny, Andre Norton and Moorcock could coexist with role-playing literature and be labeled the same by readers hungry for the genre. Heroic and dark fantasy dominated the market with only a few urban fantasy and slipstream books here and there.
Small wonder that the new Hungarian fantasy and sci-fi writer generation also wrote mainly space opera and classic fantasy, and even though most of them were shadows of the works they imitated, some of them became classics within a few years. The new publishing houses flourished and offered opportunities to writers to experiment and find their voice. Many of them started their career in the nineties and matured and turned to more serious and personal themes. Hot shot writers of today were published first within these small workshops, like Szélesi Sándor (Anthony Sheenard), Markovics Botond (Brandon Hackett) and László Zoltán.
One of these pioneer publishers, Griff Books is especially important since it introduced two shared world brands that continue to be predominant even today: Káosz (Chaos), created by Nemes István (John Caldwell) and M.A.G.U.S., created by Gáspár András and Novák Csanád (collective pen name Wayne Chapman; after the first two books Wayne Chapman meant only Gáspár András).
In the nineties, new publishing houses (Valhalla, Cherubion) started to publish books both from foreign and Hungarian authors – notable Hungarian novels include Ezüst félhold blues (Silver crescent blues), a noir story set in an alternative twentieth century, and the dark heroic fantasy Tier nan Gorduin-cycle (set in the fantasy world of M.A.G.U.S.) by Gáspár András; the Katedrális by Fonyódi Tibor (Harrison Fawcett), a time-travel adventure that became the foundation of the Mysterious Universe brand; the Kárpáthia books by Bán Mór and the Dark Mersant stories of Kornya Zsolt (Raoul Renier). The distribution model of Cherubion was interesting: forming a book club it sent science fiction and fantasy works (both translated and Hungarian) to the most remote parts of the country.
In 1989 Galaktika started the first Hungarian fantasy magazine, Fantasy, later called Atlantisz which introduced international fantasy authors and lived for 11 issues. In 2004 Galaktika magazine itself started anew and began publishing leading science fiction books by foreign and Hungarian authors, making it its point to introduce sci-fi short fiction from other nationalities.
During the nineties there were several attempts at publishing science-fiction and fantasy magazines – one of them, Átjáró started in 2002 and had 15 issues before closing. Role-playing games and fantasy had a strong bond, therefore RPG magazines (Rúna, Bíborhold/Holdtölte, Hasadék, Fanfár) also featured writings of foreign and Hungarian authors. For example, Csigás Gábor and Juhász Viktor, both of them dark fantasy and slipstream writers debuted in Bíborhold.
Currently we have no fantasy magazines only fanzines and anthologies. Our only horror magazine is called Fangoria. Science-fiction is better off: the monthly Galaktika magazine lives again and Új Galaxis and Avana Arcképcsarnok (published roughly twice a year) are both thematic anthologies welcoming new and amateur sci-fi writers.
Outside the genre, literary authors also used supernatural and fantastic elements in their works, some fine examples are A könnymutatványosok legendája (The Legend of the Tear Showmen) by Darvasi László (also translated to German), Bestiárium Transylvaniae by Láng Zsolt and Csillagmajor (Star Farmstead) by the late Lázár Ervin, just to name a few. Literary writers and fantasy writers did not mix, however, and the distinction dictated by tradition and the different approach to writing and literature resulted in completely different readerships.
The new millennium brought new publishing houses and new writers who are following the world’s sci-fi and fantasy trends, use the opportunities of the internet to market themselves and bring an unique and fresh approach into Hungarian genre writing.
I mentioned that there are some shared world brands that were born in the beginning of the nineties and are still popular – the brand name is as strong an attraction as the name of the best writers, even though the quality of the books within the brands varies greatly. Most popular fantasy brands are Káosz, Cherubion and M.A.G.U.S.. Although there are space opera and sci-fi brands like Mysterious Universe, individual novels are more typical in the sci-fi genre.
Emphasis on adventure and quick pacing is typical of most of the Hungarian genre works, although readers award with their attention and good critiques those writers who deal with serious themes and put good characterization and ambitious language forward. There are books and short stories that are interesting, novel, modern and unmistakably Hungarian – and there are more and more of them every year. The last five years have seen a new rise in interesting books – while previously adventure and entertainment were the call words, the newer novels try to reflect to social and personal problems and questions and are more somber in tone.
To sample the best of contemporary Hungarian sci-fi I would recommend László Zoltán’s Keringés (Circulation) and his short stories; Markovics Botond’s (Brandon Hackett) A poszthumán döntés (Posthuman Decision) and Isten gépei (Machines of God); and Görgey Etelka’s (Raana Raas) Csodaidők (Wonder Times) tetralogy.
Keringés searches the answer to overpopulation and global climate change by time travel; Markovics Botond explores the boundaries of being human and the way technological development exponentially grows into technological singularity; and Csodaidők is a poignant family history set into a turbulent political and religious future.
A side note: art is above the language barrier that Hungarian science fiction couldn’t breach, and several sci-fi and fantasy artists are working within the genre on international scale. Boros Zoltán and Szikszai Gábor won the Chesley award in 2006, and are actively working on book covers and illustrations, as is Tikos Péter. Futaki Attila (comic book illustrator) has been published in French, and is currently working on the Disney edition of The Lightning Thief.
Hungarian science fiction is getting interesting again.
Valentin Ivanov has a blog entry entitled Bulgarian Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2009 and highlights some publications. Here’s an excerpt:
- “Слънце недосегаемо” (Sun Intangible) by Nikolay Tellalov, this is the fourth book by an unique hard SF – Fantasy cross over series, the first Bulgarian speculative fiction epics. The volumes alternate genres between Fantasy, Space opera, and Alternate history. The main premise of the series is that dragons exist, much as they were described in the Bulgarian mythology, and they impact the reality in some rather unexpected ways, i.e. enabling a more harmonious society and an advanced space travel. The novels are set apart from the majority of the Bulgarian (and World) SF&F by the positive outlook to the future.
This year has two James Tiptree, Jr. Award Winners and one of them happens to be manga!
We chose Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku, Volumes 1 and 2 as our Tiptree winner with some trepidation. No one on the jury has read much manga; no one is an expert in Japanese history. What we fell in love with was the detailed exploration of the world of these books — an alternate feudal Japan in which a plague has killed 3/4s of Japan’s young men. In Ooku, the shogun and daimyo are women and much of the story takes place among the men in the Shogun’s harem.
The first volume (set in a later time period than the second) shows us a world in which men are assumed to be weak and sickly, yet women still use symbolic masculinity to maintain power. The second volume focuses on the period of transition. Through-out the two books, Yoshinaga explores the way the deep gendering of this society is both maintained and challenged by the alteration in ratios.
The result is a fascinating, subtle, and nuanced speculation with gender at its center.
Ooku is by Fumi Yoshinaga.