Following our post on Heinlein and racism on Friday, maybe we should just do an American Week on the WSB? It seemed to have raised some interesting discussions across the Internet, as N.K. Jemisin writes.
There’s still a lot of debate going on right now post-Readercon and Genevieve Valentine’s complaints of being sexually harassed there. It appears the same person who did the harassing popped up at Worldcon serving drinks at a party (and apparently being up to his old tricks).
This in turn drew some support from people called SMOFs (Secret Masters of Science Fiction and no, we’re not making this up!), one of whom said that the incident, “which probably happens at every convention every weekend, was blown up [and the reaction to it] caused a huge overreaction.”
N.K. Jemisin has much to say about this and more at her blog:
On Heinlein and fandom:
the larger literary continuum in which Heinlein’s work existed was both created by *and contributed to* that flawed society. Heinlein’s work is one of the reasons why SFF has spent years calling itself progressive, and utterly refusing to listen to complaints about the racism embedded in the genre’s bones. That resistance is one of the things that’s made my career a greater struggle than a white author’s might be. The reason I read FF in the first place was because, when I first got active in SFF fandom and tentatively complained about some stuff that bothered me in the first Heinlein works I’d read, Heinlein fans yelled at me that he wasn’t racist or sexist, and Farnham’s Freehold was the proof of that. After I read that book I realized two things: a) that Heinlein was racist as *fuck*, and b) most of science fiction fandom was too.
Then you complain about the behavior of Valentine’s friends. But you don’t mention that Walling’s friends have not only protected him from con rules enforcement, but they’ve gone after some of the women who’ve complained about his behavior in the past. Some of the authors haven’t been invited to other cons as guests, some of the con staffers have been marginalized until they quit. In other words, Valentine’s friends are hurting his reputation, but Walling’s friends are hurting women’s careers.
And Nick Mamatas adds some more.
What’s your position? We’d love to hear from you, as always, in the comments.
Over at SFWA, Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington list, and comment on, the list of all-time best Japanese SF, as voted on by readers of Japan’s SF Magazine in 2006.
1. Hyakuoku no hiru to senoku no yoru
(Ten Billion Days and One Hundred Billion Nights) by Ryu Mitsuse (1967)
An epic, cosmic adventure in the manner of Arthur C. Clarke, covering the evolution of humanity, the lives of Plato, Christ, and the Buddha, a future technodystopia, and the very heat death of the universe itself. For pure “sensawunda,” it gets no better. Haikasoru will be releasing this book in its first English translation in November 2011. Longtime US SF readers may remember Ryu Mitsuse’s “The Sunset, 2217 A.D.,” which appeared in Frederik Pohl’s Best Science Fiction for 1972.
2. Hateshinaki nagare no hate ni
(At the End of the Endless Stream) by Sakyo Komatsu (1966)
Thematically similar to Mitsuse’s epic, Komatsu’s story involves a young physicist shown an hourglass, the sand of which never stops flowing. Even stranger, the glass was discovered buried in a stratum associated with the Upper Cretaceous. The hourglass is key to a billion-year war in which humans are pawns…and then humans begin to vanish. Sakyo Komatsu was one of the grandmasters of Japanese SF—three of his books appear in this top ten list—sadly, he passed away in July 2011, at the age of eighty. – continue reading!
The winners of the Nebula Awards have been announced – it was a diverse list of nominees that included Amal El-Mohtar, Ted Chiang and N.K. Jemisin, and Apex Book of World SF series contributors Aliette de Bodard, Shweta Narayan and Nnedi Okorafor.
There have been various comments made about the eventual winners, most outspoken of whom was Nick Mamatas, who commented, sarcastically, that
“At least SFWA managed to, for the most part, hold back the tide of black and brown people on the nominating ballot.”
What do you think? Is Mamatas right? Is he wrong? As always, we welcome discussion.
On Japanese SF
By Nick Mamatas
In Issui Ogawa’s The Next Continent, the “war on terror” is a political afterthought thanks to an American retreat from the Middle East; Japanese businesspeople see themselves as a counterweight to Western globalization; and engineers can do anything from building undersea vacation spots to constructing a wedding chapel on the moon. Environmental problems have been solved or mitigated, capitalists aren’t all ruthless, and the state is neither utterly incompetent nor a single piece of legislation away from tyranny. Societies that work are a radical vision in today’s Western science fiction, but they’re refreshingly common in Japan.
Japanese science fiction has any number of futures to choose from. In the world of Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata, private property is so valued that a vending machine in a hotel hallway is given precedence over a human life. In Chōhei Kambayashi’s Yukikaze series, the fighter pilot hero is out solely for himself in his war against the alien JAM. His motto isn’t “Death before dishonor,” it’s “Not my problem.” In Jyouji Hayashi’s The Ouroboros Wave both individualism and strict hierarchies have been supplanted by a kind of corporate mutualism. Though we can talk about the typical themes and plots of Japanese SF, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no single Japanese future, no ubiquitous theme.
I am often asked what differentiates Japanese SF from its Western parent. Frankly, with a few name changes, in many cases there is no difference at all. Japanese SF authors grew up reading US and UK SF and have fully embraced the idiom. But some traits stand out.
Japanese SF often builds scenes in ways that are reminiscent of the manga panel as opposed to the motion picture. So flashbacks operate a bit differently, comical characters appear in otherwise serious scenes, and conversations don’t necessarily happen in what a Western reader would perceive as “real time.” Backgrounds are often sketched out in the boldest of strokes—the famous professor, the dying sun! On the other hand, scenes will always be given as many pages as they need to complete the story, which is suggestive of the serial nature of both manga and the Japanese bunkoban paperback.
Japanese SF is far more likely to feature a teenage girl as a protagonist than Western SF.
Japanese hard SF doesn’t foreground the “hard SF attitude” described by Kathryn Cramer as “a love of hardware for its own sake—and the hard-nosed Ayn Rand voice that we now identify as libertarian.” Though this isn’t to say that stories with a libertarian theme are unknown; Project Itoh’s Harmony, a Utopian satire about universal healthcare, certainly qualifies.
Japanese SF tends to be short. Most of the longer books we’ve published via Haikasoru were available as two, or even three, volumes in Japan. These volumes are released serially—sometimes a month apart, and occasionally even a week apart. (I think this compares favorably to the Western method of waiting for initial sales figures. How many trilogies are missing a final concluding volume?) An exception is Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s existentialist epic Loups-Garous, which was an oddity for being quite long and published in a single volume in Japan.
And most importantly at of all, in Japanese SF, the future is Japanese. I remember a conversation I had with someone when I first starting working for Haikasoru. “Isn’t it funny,” he said, “that all these future alien invasions and catastrophes and discoveries are supposed to happen on a little archipelago?”
“As opposed to happening on a continent largely empty of anything save corn fields and SUVs?” I asked him. “And not even the whole continent—just the middle bit!” Science fiction has many futures; it’s about time Western readers were exposed to a few of those visions of which they may not otherwise conceive. At Haikasoru, we’re just trying to do our part in creating a truly international future.
An Interview with Nick Mamatas
by Charles Tan
Hi Nick! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. This is Haikasoru’s third year. What are your plans for 2011?
We’re pushing ahead with a lot of fun books. I’m very excited about Ten Billion Days And One Hundred Billion Nights by Ryu Mitsuse, for example—as far as its importance and popularity in Japan it’s roughly analogous to, say, Dune! We also have our first science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, novel by a female author coming up: Cage of Zeus by Sayuri Ueda. And we’re doing some experiments with high-quality associational novels; for example we’re releasing Miyuki Miyabe’s Ico, based on the video game no less than Guillermo del Toro calls a “masterpiece.”
Sounds like an interesting selection! How have your criteria in selecting books and authors to translate been changing and adapting? For example, Ueda is a new name while for Miyabe, this is if I’m not mistaken, the third book that you’re bringing over.
Not especially, though we’ve tested some theories. Is it better to offer 500 to 800-page epics or short novels of the sort very common in Japan? We’re still not sure, actually. What we are aiming for in general hasn’t changed: high quality work that is easily recognizable as some subgenre of SF or fantasy or horror so that we can say to retailers and the public, “Yes, this is Japanese SF but it’s not just a novelty. This is hard SF!” or whatever—military SF, Utopian satire, etc. We’re also counter-programming a bit in that we like to offer SF with positive visions of days to come, rather than the now very common “grim meathook futures” of contemporary Western SF.
With the data you’ve accumulated over the past two years, who do you think is your core audience? Your titles have been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Awards (horror) and the Philip K. Dick Awards (sci-fi) so I’m interested who your perceive your target market to be, especially if there’s a lot of crossover from the different genres.
The core audience, that is the people who buy our titles the first week they are available or have them on reserve at their local library, are fans of anime and manga or Japanese popular culture generally. With each book, we have to win part of the traditional SF, or fantasy, or horror audience. We are finally starting to get reviews and notices from the SF mainstream that go beyond, “Hmm, well this certainly is an example of Japanese science fiction, isn’t it?” and that’s a good sign, as are the award nods. The PKD award has informed my reading decisions for years, so I was especially thrilled when Harmony was nominated.
How have the fans of anime and manga been receiving the books?
They like them for the most part, of course. It’s interesting that manga/anime reviewers will often focus on character relationships within a story—often comparing them to characters in manga and anime in fact—while SF/fantasy reviewers will scrutinize the science fiction elements more closely. But any book that can withstand multiple types of reading is a good one, in my view.
What are some of your favorite titles (and why), either previously published or the ones that are going to be published this year?
As we only do a handful of titles, I actually do like them all. My favorites were Harmony and The Next Continent. Harmony presses all my buttons—I love utopian satires (which people often confuse with dystopian stories for some reason) and it works very well. The Next Continent is pure SF—engineers, nay, ENGINEERING, is the hero. And it cleverly deals with the social and political ramifications of lunar colonization as well. For upcoming titles, the three I mentioned previously really stand out for me.
How many titles are you planning on releasing this year and what’s the schedule like (i.e. 2 titles every 2 months, etc.)? How about the backlist, are older titles getting reprinted?
We’re moving it around a bit. In January we did Mardock Scramble, which was so huge-800 pages—that it was our only release. This month we have Rocket Girls: The Last Planet, then in May Mirror Sword and Shadow Prince by Noriko Ogiwara, in hardcover, which is related to Dragon Sword and Wind Child. VIZ put out that book in 2007 and we just put it out in paperback in November. We’re also doing a paperback of The Book of Heroes. A couple of our books are being reprinted—Battle Royale: The Novel (the new edition we did last year) is in its second run, and All You Need is Kill is on the verge of reprinting, thanks largely to the movie developments.
How about eBook releases, what are developments on that front like? For example, The Ouroboros Wave and Mardock Scramble are available on Amazon and the iBookstore (in the US as we don’t get it here in the Phil.), and you released a novelette for Mardock Scramble as well.
We have a number of books available on Kindle and iPad, and we should be rolling out versions for Sony and Nook and the other e-reader formats soon. So far we have Lord of the Sands of Time, Usurper of the Sun, Brave Story, Yukikaze, Loups-Garous, Slum Online, The Next Continent, Harmony, The Ouroboros Wave, and Mardock Scramble available, and the two Rocket Girls books should be live in a few weeks. The one fun thing about the ebook is that one can really easily see jumps in sales based on some well-placed online reviews or even mentions by fans. So we’re trying to encourage those, of course. The ebook reader really fuels impulse buys!
So is it fair to say that your entire backlist will be available as eBooks? Are there plans to make the eBooks available outside of the US (Amazon’s the only one that sells outside the US but adds an additional $2.00 charge)?
We don’t have digital rights to some of our titles, but we should have almost everything in digital formats by the end of 2011. We have worldwide English rights for most titles; right now they are available on Kindle and iPad in the US, the UK, and Canada but we’re looking to distribute into other areas with significant numbers of English-language readers as well.
Moving back to the editorial side, how do you decide on the translators for each book?
At this point I have a small number I rotate between—partially it’s simply a matter of keeping everyone busy, but not too busy. Partially it’s serendipity. When I met Edwin Hawkes, for example, he mentioned that his favorite Japanese SF novel was Mardock Scramble, which we happened to have the rights for. With Ico, translator Alexander O. Smith brought the book to our attention, and also took care to note that the game on which the book is based is being re-released for the PS3.
And of course, if someone has done a certain author’s book, we try to retain them when we do another book by that same author.
How about book design and cover art, how involved are you with the process?
Very. I try to keep the internal design fairly consistent, and we’ll do a few test pages here and there to take a look at the designs we use for scene breaks and whatnot. We design many of our books in-house, but ship some out to a couple of different freelancers, though we usually provide a template.
With the cover art, we’ve been working with consistent fonts in order to build a brand, but now that we have some traction are experimenting—Mardock Scramble looks a little different than the other paperbacks, for example. For the art, sometimes we use the Japanese art, as in The Stories of Ibis and The Ouroboros Wave, or we’ll commission original art as with The Book of Heroes—the cover artist for that one was painter Dan May and we literally had to scan a canvas. The Rocket Girls covers are also original art, from Japanese artist Katsuya Terada. Sometimes we just whip something up in-house, as with Mardock Scramble or Harmony.
Do you think the cover art has a significant impact on whether it’ll be picked up by anime/manga fans as well as genre readers?
Well, we don’t use mangaesque covers; even the Rocket Girls books and Usurper of the Sun, while betraying some hint of manga influence, don’t really qualify. And our books appear in the SF/F section of bookstores, rather than the manga section. However, it is tricky—what we don’t want to do is “whitewash” our books; we’re selling Japanese SF and there’s a certain visual aesthetic that goes along with it. We could look like every other book on the shelf, but we’d rather have our books be distinctive in a way that, we hope, pleases both audiences.
Thanks Nick. Here’s my last question. Are there any challenges you didn’t expect or discoveries that you encountered, after working with the Haikasoru line for the past two years?
One challenge is that every aesthetic or plot choice an author makes is, as a default, chalked up to either the translation or cultural differences, whether it’s true or not. If an American author decides to be terse, for example, in the spirit of Raymond Carver, that’s one thing—if a Japanese author makes the same choice, for whatever reason, critics and reviewers may assume that the choice was just an artifact of translation or an error.
The solution is easy though: more Japanese titles in translation, so that people can see the range of artistic choices Japanese writers make!
Following our first Author Week – featuring Ekaterina Sedia – which was both a success and a lot of fun (with more forthcoming), we’ve decided to do, in addition, a series of weeks focusing on genre publishers of international fiction, starting with the most exciting imprint to come around in a long time – Haikasoru, the Viz imprint dedicated to publishing Japanese science fiction in English translations, edited by Nick Mamatas.
During the week, we’ll have an exclusive interview with Nick Mamatas; an original novelette by Tow Ubukata; a review of Housuke Nojiri’s Rocket Girls, and The Last Planet, reviewed by Anil Menon; and a guest-editorial, On Japanese SF, from Nick Mamatas.
And, to celebrate the first Japanese title to be nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award this year, we have four copies of Harmony, by the late Project Itoh, to give away!
As before, this post will remain at the top of the blog for the remainder of the week. To enter a chance to win a copy of Harmony, simply post a comment below with your name and e-mail address. We will choose 4 winners at random at the end of the week. And, this being the World SF Blog, we’ll ship them anywhere in the world.
We hope you enjoy’s this week’s unique look at current Japanese SF!
Apex Book Company, publishers of The Apex Book of World SF and the forthcoming Apex Book of World SF 2, are currently running a special offer wherein many of their books will be available signed, and all orders of paper books will come with a free e-book edition. While we are unable to provide signed copies of The Apex Book of World SF, we’re working on a special special promotion, which I hope we’ll announce next week! Please consider ordering directly from Apex to support this excellent independent publisher.
Apart from The Apex Book of World SF, you could try WSB editor Lavie Tidhar‘s An Occupation of Angels or HebrewPunk, the remarkable horror & religion anthology Dark Faith, or pre-order Nick Mamatas‘ (editor of the Haikasoru line of Japanese SF novels) forthcoming book for writers, Starve Better. Or many other fine books!
Please consider picking up some great books, and supporting our great publisher in the process!
Nick Mamatas recently pointed out new UK anthology Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Racism and Fascism (edited by Allyson Bird and Joel Lane), which is, in Nick’s terms,
“an anti-fascist and anti-racist anthology, yet hasn’t managed to include stories by any prominent writers of color.”
When he asked the editors about it he was told that
“There are relatively few non-white writers of horror or supernatural fiction in the UK, and it happened that none of the writers whom we targeted on account of their fiction were non-white. Would you have preferred us to target and include writers on the basis of their skin colour, not their writing?”
Writer and editor Maurice Broaddus, meanwhile, has dedicated a guest-post over at Jeff Vandermeer’s blog to the subject, remarking:
As editors, we don’t have the luxury of hiding behind this as a defense, because this is a straw one at best (and no amount of “my best friend is black” style waving is going to save you). Not to mention that this is a fairly ignorant, or at least ill constructed, “defense” because it’s not like these two possibilities are mutually exclusive.
So what do you think? Comments, as always, welcome.
For the rest of this week we’re going to focus on books by Haikasoru, the English-language imprint of Japanese SF published by Viz and edited by Nick Mamatas. Charles Tan reviews Slum Online, Loups-Garous and The Next Continent. [note that these reviews first appeared on Charles’ own blog, however we thought they were so good we wanted to run them ourselves!]
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.