Fabio Fernandes: Guest Blogging at Ecstatic Days (July 21-25)

I’m very pleased to introduce Fábio Fernandes as this week’s guest blogger on Ecstatic Days. Fábio Fernandes, 42, is a writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. Also a journalist and translator, he is the responsible for the Brazilian translations of several SF novels, such as Neuromancer, Snow Crash, and A Clockwork Orange. He published more than two dozen stories in fanzines and magazines in Brazil, Portugal, and Romania. Currently working as Creative Writing teacher in the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, Fernandes also published a non-fiction book on the work of William Gibson, A Construção do Imaginário Cyber (in Portuguese). He just finished his first SF novel, BACK IN THE USSR; he is currently writing short stories in English and starting what may be his first English-written novel. He can also be found at his English-language blog, the Post Weird Thoughts, which he shares with Brazilian writer Jacques Barcia. Fernandes also reviews fiction for The Fix, among others.


  1. says

    I’ve never thought of A Clockwork Orange being translated, although I’m sure it must be. I wonder how that works; does the translator have to invent a location-specific form of Nadsat? And is one form more valid than another? Who decides? etc. I found a great article last year that Burgess wrote for Rolling Stone in 1972 where he mentions some of the puns and multiple references incorporated in the speech (and the book’s title) all of which are the kind of thing guaranteed to give a translator a headache:

    “The language used by Alex, my delinquent hero, is called Nadsat—the Russian suffix used in making words like fourteen, fifteen, sixteen—and a lot of the terms he employs are derived from Russian. As these words are filtered through an English-speaking mind, they take on meanings and associations unknown to Russians. Thus, Alex uses the word horrorshow to designate anything good—the Russian root for good is horosh—and “fine, splendid, all right then” is the neuter form we ought really to spell as chorosho (the ch is guttural, as in Bach). But good to Alex is tied up with performing horrors, and when he is made what the State calls good it is through the witnessing of violent films—genuine horror shows. The Russian golova—meaning head—is domesticated into gulliver, which reminds the reader he is taking in a piece of social satire, like Gulliver’s Travels. The fact that Russian doesn’t distinguish between foot and leg (noga for both) and arm and hand (ruka) serves—by suggesting a mechanical doll—to emphasise the clockwork-view of life that Alex has: first he is self-geared to be bad, next he is state-geared to be good.

    “The title of the book comes from an old London expression, which I first heard from a very old Cockney in 1945: “He’s as queer as a clockwork orange” (queer meaning mad, not faggish). I liked the phrase because of its yoking of tradition and surrealism, and I determined some day to use it. It has rather specialised meanings for me. I worked in Malaya, where orang means a human being, and this connotation is attached to the word, as well as more obvious anagrams, like organ and organise (an orange is, a man is, but the State wants the living organ to be turned into a mechanical emanation of itself). Alex uses some Cockney expressions, also Lancashire ones (like snuff it, meaning to die), as well as Elizabethan locutions but his language is essentially Slav-based.”

  2. says

    John: An European Portuguese translation of A Clockwork Orange exists and is extremely good. Translator José Luandino Vieira, who is a writer used to mixing and matching language, transliterated some of the words and pretty much reinvented the rest. It’s not perfect — few, if any, translations are — and not every pun and reference was rendered correctly because of differences between all the languages, but it still stands as one of the best Portuguese translations of all time. Oddly enough, it’s also his only translation, he refused to do any more after A Clockwork Orange.

  3. says

    John, all I can say is that it was by far the most challenging book I ever translated (I´m completing in December 23 years as a literary translator, with approximately 60 books to my credit). It took me nine months to do it. I translated many words and transliterated others, guiding myself in many cases by ear (reading aloud the text so I could find the adequate sonority to the rhyming slang, for instance). I wrote a paper on the process which was published in the book as a preface of sorts. I´ve been thinking in translate this paper to English and try to publish it in Science Fiction Studies or a similar magazine. Do you think it would interest Anglo-American readers?

  4. says

    Fábio: it would no doubt interest me but then I’m always curious about issues of translation especially where more difficult works are concerned. I know that punning can work well in translation given enough ingenuity on the part of the translator. It always amazed me the quantity of new and clever puns the translators put into the English editions of the Asterix comics, for example.

  5. says

    John, the Brazilian Portuguese translations of Astérix are also funny. The translators made a very good job, but it wasn´t too hard in that case (I´m not putting down their efforts, far from it) because French is also a Latin language, and many of the puns can be translated almost literally. But I had the chance to read an English traslation, and the translators really did a superb job – To translate the name of Obélix´s dog Idéefix (which in Portuguese turned into IdéiaFix) into Dogmatix, is simply perfect.

  6. says

    Fábio, if that paper is available in Spanish (or even Portuguese, although my Portuguese is much weaker than my Spanish), I’d love to read it, as I’ve tried my hand recently at a few translations and as you and Luís said above, it often is very challenging! It was so strange learning what “toro sentado” actually referred to when I translated the Semana Negra writeup of the Bakker/Martin chat in Gijón last week! Which reminds me…is there a Brazilian equivalent for Lunfardo?

  7. says

    No, there´s not, Larry. Lunfardo is a kind of music/dance typical from Argentina. It is in the same category of Samba and Bossa Nova (there´s no equivalent for them as well, neither in Spanish nor in English).

  8. says

    I was also thinking of the argot that the porteños there employ on occasion. It’s….odd, but also quite interesting. Needless to say, the little I’ve heard confuses me even more than how they speak regular Spanish down there :P

    But as for music, I need to hear more Samba. I enjoy certain forms of Merengue and Son, but I’m not as familiar with the Brazilian forms, alas.

  9. says

    Cross-legged, or in the style of Sitting Bull. I laughed when I looked it up and it literally meant “seated bull” (as I knew) and that it was borrowed from depictions of Sitting Bull sitting cross-legged at the massacre of Wounded Knee. Strange how things carry from culture to culture, huh?

  10. James says

    Put me down as someone who’d be very interested in an English version of your paper on the translation of Clockwork Orange.

  11. says

    Larry, the porteño argot is very interesting, but we don´t even dare to translate it to Portuguese. It is very rich and, after all, certain words (like lunfardo in Spanish, Samba in Portuguese and Sauna in Finnish, are never translated, because of the unique meaning). :-)