translation

Solaris Finally Translated Directly into English

As is being reported in The Literary Saloon and Mumpsimus, Stanisław Lem's great novel Solaris has been translated from the original Polish into English for (shockingly) the first time. The existing edition is translated from Polish into French into English.

Apparently, because of rights issues, this new version is currently only available as an audiobook, though they plan on releasing an ebook and "hopefully" a print edition. Not sure what the deal is with the rights for this book or why the rights holders haven't bothered with a proper translation in the 50 years since the book came out, but someone should be deeply ashamed.

Where's my Foreign Pop Fiction?

So, here's a list of cool looking books you can't read. Well, mostly. It's a list of notable recent foreign science fiction and fantasy books. Almost none of them have been published in America, so good luck reading them.

The list is a sort of reaction to a recent bruhaha in the sf world where some idiot named Norman Spinrad said there's no science fiction that evolved from non-european cultures except for Japan. In response people have been jumping up and down angry at Spinrad and his ignorance, when what they really should be doing is clamoring for more translation of science fiction and fantasy from other cultures. Like China. China has what is pretty certainly the largest speculative fiction readership in the world, and almost none of it is translated. I've talked about this before, but I can't help feeling really annoyed when I read an excerpt of a really interesting Chinese science fiction novel on the Words Without Borders website, and realize there is no way for me to read the full book without learning Chinese. In fact, a look at the recent books that have been translated from Chinese is almost entirely dreadfully serious books about subjects like the horrors of the cultural revolution. Where's the popular literature? We know there is one! And it's not just Chinese, why are popular books the world over so neglected when it comes to bringing them to America. There are a few counter-examples, like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series (crime fiction often gets a certain pass other "genre fictions" don't) and a recent push for Japanese SF (indeed, in terms of pop culture, Japan is probably the most well-represented of foreign countries thanks to manga and anime), but these things are the exception rather than the rule. Where is my foreign popular fiction damn it?!

BEA Panel on Chinese Publishing

Twitter posts made by me during the BEA Panel on Chinese Publishing, information related by Hou Xiaoqiang, CEO Shanda Literature — SNDA.com — one of the largest Chinese publishers.

  • novelists in china post their books online, get book deals and sell 3 million copies. 3 million!
  • all the young authors in china get their start on the web now
  • people dont have credit cards in china, so cell phones allow publishers to collect money
  • chinese online books take off from the internet and news and current memes to create work
  • 1/10 of online book is free, then every 1000 characters cost 3 cents
  • in china over 200,000 titles are published each year
  • 1/3 of chinese bestsellers are about young, urban life
  • publishers do not market to small towns in china because its all pirated books there

Some thoughts about this: When asked if these popular Chinese books would be translated into English, Mr. Hou said that they were not "international books" and their stories "aren't that good", which answer I found frustrating, as someone incredibly curious about Chinese popular literature and not the incessant march of dreary books about the Cultural Revolution which seem to mark the bulk of Chinese translations to English.

Also, it occurred to me later: if the books in small towns are all pirated copies, that probably means that they're not marketed toward them; books that might primarily appeal to rural areas simply don't get published because, even though there might be a demand, there's simply no profit. That's something to think about.

Finding and Reading International Literature

Back in the mid-nineties, my favorite magazine at the time—The Comics Journal—introduced a new column called "Eurocomics For Dummies". Each month, this column highlighted a different great European comic, and for the first few months I read it with enthusiasm. Then I realized that most of these comics had never been translated into English and most likely would never get translated into English. In other words, the column was doing everything it could to work me up into a frenzy over books I wouldn't ever be able to read without learning another language (French for the most part), an elaborate, journalistic cock-tease, the literary equivalent of a girl who keeps leading you on without letting you get anywhere. And as with that sort of girl, the only real solution to my frustration was to part ways, and I stopped reading the column.

Now, consider the article about Rodrigo Fresán's novel Mantra in the latest issue of The Quarterly Conversation. After reading the article, I really want to read this book but it's only available in Spanish. So how am I to experience its strange world of luchadores and terrorists in modern day Mexico City? Wait, I remember now, I can read Spanish! Alright, so sign me up, let me at it. Then in my excitement I discover that the book isn't available in the US. Okay, that isn't quite true; according to Amazon I can get a used edition for the low, low price of $41.50. Which is a bit more than I'm willing to spend.

This makes me wonder. What is the point of writing an article about a book in an American magazine that's available in a language most Americans can't read and that's not even available in America for those who can? Sure, you might say, how are we supposed to drum up enough interest in these books to bring them to America in the first place without articles like these? Well, okay, but as with Eurocomics for Beginners, most of the time these books will still never get translated and the articles just end up being big cock-teases. For a writer or a magazine editor I can understand the appeal of having articles about books from foreign lands that aren't available here, it's exotic and cool and makes your publication seem cosmopolitan and gives people a glimpse at a different publishing world. And it's nice to know that in other countries publishers pay their writers to go to foreign countries and write, as happened with Argentinian Fresán and six other Latin American writers who were sent around the world to write books about random foreign cities, resulting in Mantra among other works. But as a reader it's frustrating to be turned onto a book you can't read even if you want to. I mean, WTF Quarterly Conversation?

Maybe in the case of Mantra I can do something. I've started a petition. Go sign it. If you're reading this and you're in the publishing industry, bring Mantra to the US. If you're reading this and you have a copy of Mantra, send it to me. (Email for my address.) Please.