Archive for August 30th, 2013

August 30, 2013

Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards

In case you missed it, the winners were announced on the award’s website a couple of days ago. I thoroughly enjoyed my first time judging anything (except the one time I had to judge a children’s poetry competition and my co-judge liked all the most conventional things with the dullest rhyme schemes and I was very unhappy the whole time), and I’m very pleased with the final list.

(Only talking about the novels here, but my approval of Karin Tidbeck is documented elsewhere, and I thought the rest of the shortlist was very strong also)

Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City is the thing I’ve most enjoyed reading so far this year, and will probably continue to be so. It’s just so clever, in the sort of way that had me pacing the room and scribbling things on things. It’s clear about its inspirations, about the literary tradition to which it belongs (Calvino, Borges, Eco all get namechecked) but it also felt to me strongly individual, very much of its place and time and (as I said in that press release) definitely political. The translation is excellent as well–particularly in its negotiation of the Cantonese bits of the text (the rest of the book is in Mandarin). The introduction’s a fine piece of writing in itself, and it’s clear that author and translator worked in close collaboration. In short, this is great and I’d love for more people to read it.

Belka, Why Don’t You Bark took a little longer to absorb me. It’s an odd, rough book about generations of war dogs that, it gradually dawns on you, is neither rough nor about war, though it certainly is odd (and about dogs). But I found myself thinking about it long after I read it, and championing it. It’s everything Kari Sperring and Martha Hubbard say about it in the awards press release. I suspect it was a particularly difficult work to translate, too.

Kaytek the Wizard is a great children’s book in many ways– a large, unpredictable, world, body and powers that its protagonist must learn to control, genuine terror. For an adult reader it’s a lot more poignant than that, though I was occasionally jarred out of it for some of the attitudes towards race and gender (it was written in 1933).

Roadside Picnic was the only one of these books I’d read before (in a different translation)–though unlike many of the other judges I didn’t remember enough of the previous translation to really compare this one with it. James Morrow says in the link at the beginning of this post that this one restores parts of the text omitted in the earlier translation–which by itself would be enough reason to ascribe value to it. But it’s also stylistically wonderful, and if most of these plot elements have showed up in later SF, they don’t make it seem less fresh.

Of the other books on the shortlist, I was particularly fond of Rosny ainĂ©’s Three Science Fiction Novellas, all three of which play with ideas in a way that feels (and is, obviously) very early SF, but in doing so reminded me of why I read this sort of thing. I share this reviewer’s annoyance over the quality of the introduction and the critical commentary, but the stories themselves are great. And The Time Ship is delightful, and a bit of genre history that ought to be (and hopefully will be, with this translation) more widely known.