Over at Strange Horizons, Nicholas Seeley takes an in-depth look at the themes and concerns of The Apex Book of World SF in Universal Language? Authors from the Apex Book of World SF Discuss the Global Reach of Speculative Fiction:
There is a particular problem that often accompanies the reading of “foreign” literature. It is (to risk stating the obvious) the question of “foreign-ness” itself. Most SF fans must surely remember the day when, after a diet of Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov, they first picked up something by the Polish author Stanislaw Lem, and thought: “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” Ardent fantasy fans may have had similar feelings about their first encounter with Jorge Luis Borges or Mikhail Bulgakov, mystery readers about Natsuo Kirino, and so on.
In high school we are taught “French literature” and “Russian literature” as if they are monoliths, each featuring distinct national characteristics. In college we are then gently corrected, and informed that “national identity” is a construct lacking an underlying reality—like fairies, or the market economy: it only exists if you believe in it.
Clearly, neither of these can be entirely true. We intuitively recognize something different about authors who are outside the standard run of our local print-mill. We know Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch novels feel different than the urban fantasy that’s currently coming out of America, or that Natsuo Kirino’s thrillers are miles away (literally) from Elmore Leonard.
On the other hand, can we really define people’s worldviews with a criterion as broad as nationality? Worse, in an increasingly globalized world, can we really expect “world” fiction to produce something truly alien, not subject to many of the same influences as our local stuff? There is probably some considerable value in questioning whether the feeling that Lem or Lukyanenko sees the world in a fundamentally different light is tainted by an elaborate prejudice, a psychological shell game in which we see “difference” because we are predisposed to believe it exists.
Some authors of speculative fiction see their work as explicitly national, reflecting fears, concerns and dreams that are specific to their society. Others see literature of the imagination as something that is universal, that transcends national and cultural boundaries by creating entirely new worlds that reflect our shared dreams and nightmares. Both have a point. – Continue reading the article.
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