Overseas SF – I Want To See More Of It

I don’t want to give the impression that all of the fiction I’ve read this year has irked me in some way. Indeed, I have read a lot of really wonderful stories and novels over the past twelve months — a lot of them from overseas publishers. I find it extremely sad-making that American readers don’t get the chance to read most of what’s published outside of this country. Some is published in English but the foreign rights aren’t bought, and a great deal more is not published in English. Only a fraction of that is translated and sold here.

Foreign rights, if I understand correctly, are a bear, so that’s one issue. Getting a good translation isn’t a cakewalk, either. There are tons of obstacles. I think those could be overcome if American readers demanded more overseas fiction, though. As it is, I think most don’t even think about the issue.

I’ve heard many times that the SF publication with the most readers is a Chinese magazine. I would love to see Chinese SF! James Morrow put together a fantastic volume of European SF that I love and have neglected to pimp all year long. That anthology contains some of the best stories I’ve read in years.

I have a crazy dream of someday starting a magazine that is nothing but fiction from abroad. But I’m not crazy enough to think that it would be easy to do – it might even be implausible.

What do you think it would take to make it worthwhile for publishers to more actively pursue overseas novels and short fiction? Would the impetus have to come from abroad, or could it start here?

25 comments on “Overseas SF – I Want To See More Of It

  1. I wonder if the low-profit margins of most SF books in English discourage the translation of texts that are not likely to be grounbreaking successes. For instance, one of the things I love about the Nobel Prize is it pushes, often, foreign writers working in non-English languages out into the limelight of the world, with all or nearly all their books translated for a little while for our reading pleasure.

    Thus, I suspect the best way for non-English SF to make the transition is to create some sort of regional awards that select the best of their stuff, to make it easier for American, Australian, and UK readers to acquire good stuff from foreign places.

    And, now, a link to something nifty, to make a different point, entirely:

    http://philippinespeculativefiction.com/

    There are lots of non-Us/Uk writers working in English. I wonder, personally, where all the Indian, Australian, New Zealand, and Philippines genre fiction is hiding. The internet is certainly helping such authors integrate with the established community, but we’re only just beginning.

  2. Wow, when you edit out three sentences from your blog posts, be sure to re-read the rest of the post.

    That first para now reads like a bad undergrad essay.

    *shivers*.

  3. Blog Comments, I mean.

    *Rrg*

    (Stumbles back to bed.)

  4. C.D. Reimer says:

    My favorite series is The Wess’har Wars by Karen Traviss. I enjoyed the British slang and the alien-centric world perspective.

  5. Mark A. says:

    World Literature Today is sort of like the hypothetical magazine you describe.

    The SF I would love to see translated into English is Legend of the Galactic Heroes by Yoshiki Tanaka. Imagine the scope and depth of War and Peace combined with Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels and E.E. Smith’s Lensman series. Of course, it’s about as long as War and Peace and so odds of ever seeing an appearance in English are slim to nil.

  6. Bill Ectric says:

    Of course, Words Without Borders seems like a good site to look into. It’s not all fantasy, but you never know what might turn up there.

  7. Larry says:

    Nice post, as I too have considered how best to go about it. Maybe the best route would be to negotiate with a grant-funded publisher, say Dalkey Archive (they’re publishing an anthology of Mexican short fiction next February, which I was fortunate to receive and <a href=”http://ofblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/short-fiction-sunday-lvaro-uribe-and.html”review), and see about negotiating for the translation rights to the short fiction first, say like the UPC winners from Spain?

    As for what would make it easier, I would say getting in contact with fans and writers from those markets and see what they’d consider to be the best (if you can’t read the language). In some cases, the writers themselves might be willing to start the translation process in exchange for selling the story at the going rates or slightly above (tricky, that, I know). Then the usual marketing/publicity matters would have to be considered as well.

    Considering that Ann recently ran an all-international issue of Weird Tales (I plan on reviewing that one either this weekend or next), perhaps maybe she can give some insight into the process? I know I’d certainly love to hear more, as I myself try to do my best to promote Spanish-language authors that I feel would attract a strong US/UK audience.

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yes, Dalkey’s very good. I’ve considered doing an all-foreign Leviathan installment, but the money issue becomes huge when you’re living off of your freelancing. Suffice it to say, if someone DID do an antho of all-foreign writers, I would support it in any way I possibly could.

    Jeff

  9. Larry says:

    As would I, as I think there’s just quite a few vibrant scenes developing now that might be of interest to quite a few Anglo-American readers. If I knew more about how the system works and how to go about the laborious process of grant-requesting for funding the translations, I’d help out in my precious spare time on it.

  10. Sir Tessa says:

    Australian spec fic isn’t hiding but I suppose given we’re such a small percentage of the english-speaking world, we’re hard to miss; Agog! Press, coeur de lion press, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, CSFG, Visions, Borderlands…I’d name more, but I’m at work and all my bookmarks are at home.

    There’s a recent trend with aussie writers turning to overseas markets for publication. It’s a quiet invasion, but a steady one.

  11. Nick Mamatas says:

    Everyone should revisit their answers after, say, January 20th 2009.

  12. Grant Stone says:

    There’s plenty of Australian genre fiction and it’s not hiding – Australian authors are turning up in plenty of US and UK markets and there are some great Aussie magazines – be sure to check out Andromeda Spaceways Inflight magazine. And some aussie authors are doing very well indeed. People like Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Margo Lanagan.

    As for us Kiwis, well there’s me and I can think of a handful of others that have appeared in overseas magazines this year. There are apparently 100,000 copies of Russell Kirkpatrick’s Fire of Heaven Trilogy in the US.

    Both Australia and New Zealand have regional awards. In Australia it’s the Aurealis and here it’s the Sir Julius Vogel awards. Both are open for nominations at the moment.

    Grant
    Your friendly neighbourhood Antipodean

  13. Larry says:

    Nick,

    For a moment you got my hopes up, then I remembered what’s happening then and my hopes then went up in a different way.

    Grant,

    Point taken, as I guess I was guilty of thinking of non-English language fiction above.

  14. Grant Stone says:

    Larry,

    Yep, I’m pretty grateful that I don’t have to be translated.

  15. Niall says:

    I’ll bite: what’s happening on January 20?

    I think there is actually a fair amount of non-English-language sf seeing print — not enough, obviously, but a fair amount — but quite a bit of it is coming from non-genre publishers. On the subject of Chinese sf, Xiaolu Guo has a novel out early next year that I think is worth a look; this year I’ve also picked up books by Stefan Brijs (The Angel Maker), Thomas Glavinic (Night Work), Jean Teule (The Suicide Shop), Amelie Nothomb (Concentration), and Victor Pelevin (The Sacred Book of the Werewolf). At the more populist end of the market Gollancz have recently published Andrezj Sapkowski, with a book by another writer I don’t know on the way next year (Pierre Pevel).

  16. Larry says:

    Niall,

    Barack Obama will be inaugurated as President then. And while I do agree that there is an increasing number of translated SF being released in English now (I’d add Maurice Dantec to what you said), there seem to be developing national scenes that haven’t really been translated yet. Would love for more Spanish and Latin American writers to be translated, especially after reading some of their work recently. Regarding Sapkowski, from what I understand, his success is being replicated (albeit to a lesser degree) in the Anglo-American markets, but some of that is due to the Witcher video game being released last year as well.

    Grant,

    Well, what if you wanted to conquer the Andorran market? Wouldn’t that require a translation into Catalan or French? ;)

  17. I’ve seen Nick mention elsewhere that something concerning SF from overseas will be announced on January 20th. It may get lost in inauguration coverage, though. ;)

  18. Grant Stone says:

    Larry,
    Armed with my schoolboy French and based on my relative success in ordering beer last time I was in Paris, I’m sure I’ll be able to translate myself so well I’m showered in awards. In Catalan, I’m screwed.

  19. Bill Ectric says:

    Are there many English translations of German SF here in the U.S.?
    I was thrilled when one of my books was translated into German.

  20. I stumbled across this conversation late, and so cannot respond to all of it without leaving the world’s longest reply, which I will instead do at my blog, since Tempest and commenters touch on many topics I ponder all the time, but suffice it to say that, as a freelance translator interested in the fantastic, all this is right up my alley. Most of my book-length published translations so far have been in comics and graphic novels, but for the last three years I’ve been working on Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, a major contemporary French fabulist, drawing from his six collections of stories and assorted chapbooks to make an introductory reader for anglophone audiences. (“Fabulism” is one of those words that people on both sides of the genre divide can be unfriendly to, but given the range of his subject matter, I don’t feel the need to more specifically categorize his work.) In France, he is a founding member of a movement I have been trying to make known here, La Nouvelle Fiction [The New Fiction]: “New” because it rose up against the prevailingly minimalist and confessional tendencies of contemporary French writing, seeking to rouse it from “the slumber of psychological realism,” and to restore myth, fable, and fairy tale to a place of primacy in fiction. Just this fall at Utopiales, he won the Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire for his last novel (Kelly Link won the same for a French collection of her stories), about a boy’s quest, with his centaur friend, for his father in a city in an oxbow of the river Styx.
    Over the years I’ve had the luck to see my translations of his work published first at Words Without Borders and The Cafe Irreal, among others, but also in the current issue of The Brooklyn Rail, and in upcoming issues of F&SF and Postscripts. I also don’t think it’s too early to say there is strong but undisclosable publisher interest in the anthology, so hopefully I will be adding to the available store of overseas literary fantasy. This is not Mr. Mamatas’ announcement.
    Bill, as for German SF, Tor did Andreas Eschbach a few years back, thanks mostly to Orson Scott Card, and I know they are preparing something by another major German author right now.
    Ugh… so long already. But if you’re in the mood for more, and discussion rather than fanboy plugging of “my” author, please do drop by one of these days…

  21. OK, so I couldn’t resist, just a few more responses:
    Tempest, I applaud and admire the desire to found a magazine of literature only from abroad.
    Mark, I don’t think WLT is that magazine, since their focus is mainly news and reviews, not fiction.
    Bill, I agree completely that Words Without Borders is that magazine, though only in online form (and two print anthologies so far). I’ve worked closely with them before, and the primary service they offer (besides low overhead and deadline flexibility thanks to non-print status) is that they pursue the rights with foreign publishers. Most magazines are too small to bother with this, and it becomes the translator’s responsibility. It can be easy or difficult, but it is always time-consuming. I used to work in foreign rights before going freelance as a translator.
    Larry, if you ever want info on going after French or German grants, please feel free to contact me.
    Jeff, Niall: I agree completely that there is quality spec fic coming into English but not through the large or obvious venues, and sometimes by presses not directly hooked up to the speculative scene, who need help reaching what would for certain titles of theirs be a very receptive market. Small Press is the future in this regard, the way to go! In addition to Dalkey, which has a longstanding literary history, I’d add Dedalus and even Pushkin in the UK (though the former just had their funding cut), and Small Beer and Open Letter over here. Chad Post, the founding editor of the latter, broke away from Dalkey to start his own translation-only press; his blog Three Percent, a font of info on the state of translation in the U.S., is named after the percentage of the U.S. fiction represented by translation. Actually, that figure just went down to 2.2%; in most of Western Europe it rides high at a steady 50-60%. I try to refrain from the finger-shaking many translators are prone to… guilting editors is not a way to get them on one’s side, and I am always hopeful for change…

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