AMERICAN AUTHORS VS. FOREIGN AUTHORS
SF From the Rim
In my last article I talked about the differences in writing for the American/British audience and writing for a ‘foreign’ audience.
Now let’s try it the other way around and talk about the differences between American/British authors and ‘foreign’ authors.
Foreign SF authors would like to make a living in the trade, but most of them know that even if they publish successfully in their country, the SF readership is hardly ever large enough for them to earn a decent living on a regular basis.
This one fact influences how they live, how they write, how they publish, and the written prose, as we will soon see.
Writers of any kind hone their craft not only by writing, but also by discussing their craft endlessly with similar writers or with better and more experienced writers. This is true of poets, of playwrights, of scriptwriters, and of authors of any genre.
Since only rarely do the ‘smaller countries’ (in relation to the U.S.) have even three gifted writers in the field, chances are that most foreign SF authors mature on their own, without the company of others like them, without the benefit of learning personally from those who had come before. This deficiency hampers many budding authors, and we no doubt lose many potential writers in that way. On the other hand, the ones who do mature successfully are more likely to be unique, yet hardened, solipsistic, and intractable in their style and writing theory. That, perhaps, causes readers in other countries to find such stories harsh and even hard to swallow.
Today, with the easy accessibility the internet offers, conversing with ‘others of your kind’ is easy, even if they are in other countries. Therefore, this particular trend may change in the next few years.
Foreign Authors Utilize More Talents
If you’re a foreign SF author, there’s a 99% chance it’s not your way to make ends meet. So, while most published American authors settle down and write most of the time, foreign SF authors utilize more talents during their daily lives. Let’s take a quick look at some of the bios in the recently-published Apex Book of World SF, which featured only ‘foreign’ writers.
Aliette de Bodard is a computer engineer. Melanie Fazi works as a translator. S.P. Somtow is the artistic director of the Bangkok Opera. Aleksandar Žiljak is an illustrating artist. Anil Menon is in software R&D. Dean Francis Alfar is a playwright. Tunku Halim also writes non-fiction. Han Song works as a journalist. Nir Yaniv is a musician and performer. And I am a playwright and screenwriter.
On the negative side: Less time to write. On the positive side: More richness of experience.
Foreign Authors Write Out of Need
To sustain a decades-long career as a science fiction author in a ‘foreign’ country, in addition to doing ‘actual work’ for a living, the author must, by definition, be guided by a great need to express the ideas, emotions, concepts, and plots in his/her stories and books. Since money and fame are not on the table, writing for money or fame is not on the table, either. Foreign authors, as a rule, write out of a relentless need. Following the latest publishing trend is less of a factor. There are no book deals in which the author promises to deliver more of the same. Rather than following the latest publishing trend, the foreign author can follow his heart. Following your heart usually leads to better stories. Rather than delivering more of the same, the foreign author can afford to do something truly new every time.
This brings us naturally to the last point:
Foreign Authors Have More Artistic Freedom
The fact that SF is hardly a market in most ‘smaller’ countries means that when it is published, it is not published for profitability. I can only attest from my experience that when foreign publishers do publish you, it is because they find your material good literature and good art and/or a breakthrough in the genre.
Foreign authors are less limited by current publishing trends (Vampires, anyone? The next Harry Potter, perhaps?) because they are automatically outside any profitable publishing trends. Therefore, it does not matter if they take more artistic liberty and use greater freedom to write their stories and books. They will be published if and only if their publishers are willing to take a risk and find it good art, good literature, or a breakthrough in the genre.
Although foreign authors do have more artistic freedom than their English-speaking counterparts, I believe they do not take enough advantage of this rare liberty. This liberty should be used more.
The point of this article is not to say that one is better than the other, since whichever side you’re on, it isn’t by choice. Rather, I am saying that real differences exist, differences that shape the stories we all read. As ‘foreign SF’ is slowly growing more popular, it is perhaps important to delve into the question of how it is made.