The SF in Translation Universe #9


SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Features / SFT Universe


The SF in Translation Universe #9

Rachel Cordasco


Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! It’s certainly been a hell of a year, but if you’re reading this, that means that you’ve made it through and you can start dreaming about how much better 2021 will be.

Of course, 2020 wasn’t bad at all if you think about it in terms of books and stories, since I’m going to tell you about some fantastic SF in translation that came out between September and the end of the year. It’s certainly been a good fall/winter for collections, including Clelia Farris’s Creative Surgery (tr from the Italian by Rachel Cordasco and Jennifer Delare), Christiane Vadnais’s Fauna (tr from the French by Pablo Straus), The Beast and Other Tales by Jóusè d’Arbaud (tr from the Provençal by Joyce Zonana), Cixin Liu’s To Hold Up the Sky (various translators), Aleksandar Žiljak’s As the Distant Bells Toll (tr from the Croatian by the author), Okamoto Kidō: Master of the Uncanny (tr from the Japanese by Nancy H. Ross), and Jean Ray’s Circles of Dread (tr from the French by Scott Nicolay). That’s right—seven collections, translated from six different source languages, from seven distinct publishers. Ranging from the fantastic and surreal (Fauna, The Beast, and As the Distant Bells Toll), to horror and the uncanny (Okamoto Kidō and Circles of Dread), and finally to intriguing blends of science fiction and surrealism (Creative Surgery, Fauna, and To Hold Up the Sky), these collections will whet any reader’s appetite for more stories by these authors who should be much better known.

The one anthology that came out this season was The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, which includes tales from Spain, Norway, Hungary, Italy, Quebec, Mexico, and everywhere in between. Many of these authors have never appeared in English before, and will greatly enrich our understanding of the modern horror genre, which has been and always will be an international one.

We got two Japanese novels and one Polish novel in October, along with a standalone novella by the great Polish surreal fantasist Bruno Schulz. His story, Undula (originally published in Polish in 1922, tr in 2020 by Frank Garrett) is one of dreams and nostalgia, cockroaches and masochism. Similarly, Hiroko Oyamada’s The Hole (tr David Boyd) takes us into a region between reality and dream, where a woman who has recently moved to the countryside falls into a hole that seems to have been made for her (makes me think of Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle). What follows is a series of strange characters and creatures that destabilize her understanding of her world. Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings (tr Ginny Tapley Takemori) also begins with a character’s shift from the city to the country and her growing belief that she is an alien (with all that that word might mean). Finally, Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Tower of Fools (tr David French) introduces us to a new fantasy world (not connected to the Witcher), in which a magician and healer is caught up in a war and thrown into an asylum filled with people who are either insane or iconoclastic.

Rounding out the year is a short novel that seems to capture the dislocation from reality that many of us have felt in 2020. Guido Morselli’s Dissipatio H. G. (tr from the Italian by Frederika Randall) takes as its starting point one man’s realization (after abandoning a suicide attempt) that every single person, except for him, has vanished off the face of the Earth. What follows is a series of philosophical speculations about the place humans had held in the world, what their absence means for animals and the natural landscape, if time and history have any meaning when almost everyone is gone, and what a lone man should do when he has only his memories and human detritus for company. This is a strange, melancholic, yet strikingly touching story, and one I highly recommend.

In terms of short fiction, September and October have brought us a richly diverse group of stories from Bulgaria, Germany, Russia, Korea, Mexico, China, El Salvador, and elsewhere. We have magazines like Clarkesworld, World Literature Today, Samovar, Future Science Fiction Digest, Asimov’s and others to thank for this treasure trove (most of which is freely available online- check the “SFT on the Web” tab on sfintranslation.com).

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and/or looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!

The SF in Translation Universe #8



The SF in Translation Universe #8

Rachel Cordasco


Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! It might seem like we’ve been living in a dystopian novel or postapocalyptic wasteland, but the books are still being printed and reviews are still being written, so at least there’s that.

Between May and August, we’ve been treated to Golden Age French science fiction, World War II-era Belgian Weird, a genre-bending Bengali story cycle, Swedish horror, and so much more. With this variety of genres, languages, and cultures, it’s no wonder that readers are turning to SF in translation to nourish their brains.

Thanks to the intrepid Wakefield Press, we have two collections of Weird tales by Francophone authors who wrote under the cloud of Nazi occupation. Jean Ray’s The Great Nocturnal: Tales of Dread (tr. Scott Nicolay), out in June, offers us a sampling of the stories that solidified his reputation as the face of the Belgian Weird. Interrogating the depths of surrealist horror that lie just beneath everyday reality, Ray writes about alternate dimensions, strange and terrifying symbols, and horrifying transformations. Marcel Brion, too, turned to the fantastic during this dark time, publishing in 1942 the stories that make up Waystations of the Deep Night (tr. George MacLennan and Edward Gauvin), out in July. Like Ray, Brion draws on classic horror tropes to destabilize our sense of reality: a painting puts onlookers under a spell, an underground city erupts onto the surface . . . and then there are the dancing cats.

In keeping with this surrealist theme, we have Cuban author Miguel Collazo’s 1968 novel The Journey (tr. David Frye), out in July from Restless Books. Blending science fiction and a dream-like metaphysical exploration of our place in the universe, Collazo’s novel imagines a planet colonized long ago by scientists, whose descendants have become nomadic visionaries. The members of a new generation have discovered in themselves unprecedented psychic abilities and begin to look forward to a transformation that they call the “Journey.” This sounds very similar in tone to Yoshio Aramaki’s The Sacred Era (1978, tr. 2017), a Japanese New Wave text that discusses surrealist art, post-Christian dogma, reincarnation, and spaceships fueled by human consciousness.

Metaphysical concerns are also at the heart of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s nested novel Lame Fate / Ugly Swans (tr. Maya Vinokur), out in August from Chicago Review Press. While Ugly Swans was first published in English translation in 1979 as a standalone text, it is now presented with the Lame Fate framing story that the Strugatskys wrote in the 1960s when Soviet censors were bearing down. In Lame Fate, an author (Felix Sorokin) is asked by the Soviet Writers’ Union to submit a manuscript for analysis by a computer program to determine its “objective value.” Sorokin is torn between sending a story that the censors will find acceptable and his unpublished masterpiece (entitled Ugly Swans), itself a story about a disgraced author who returns to his hometown to discover that supernatural masked strangers have hypnotized the town’s teenagers. If you enjoy nested stories, also check out the Polish novel Nest of Worlds by Marek Huberath (which came out in English in 2014).

June saw the release of Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay’s The Epic of Damarudhar (tr. Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay), a work of genre-bending Bengali literature first published between 1911 and 1917 (collected in 1923). Damarudhar, like Angelica Gorodisher’s Trafalgar, features an eponymous storyteller entertaining his listeners with tales that range from science fiction, myth, and fantasy to social commentary and the absurd. In a similar vein, Pergentino José’s Red Ants (tr. Thomas Bunstead) tells the stories of indigenous Mexicans via a magical realist lens turned onto themes of family and love. The first literary translation from the Sierra Zapotec, Red Ants (out in August from Deep Vellum) is an exciting addition to the growing list of SF in translation from Mexico.

If you’re looking for some horror fiction to get your mind off of the horrors of reality, check out Road of Ice and Salt and The Home, both out in August. Published in English thanks to a successful Indiegogo campaign, Road of Ice and Salt (tr. David Bowles, Innsmouth Press) is a cult horror novel from Mexico that will expand our understanding of the country’s speculative fiction tradition. Hop over to Sweden for more horror- Mats Strandberg’s The Home (tr. uncredited, Jo Fletcher Books) tells the story of a nursing home where the residents (many with dementia) have turned into violent strangers with terrifying new mental abilities.

Looking instead for some classic science fiction? Flame Tree Press released Francis Carsac’s The City Among the Stars in May (tr. Judith Sullivan and Margaret Schiff). This first English translation of the French Golden Age novel imagines what would happen if a lieutenant serving the Earth Empire is rescued from his damaged ship by beings that call space (and their spaceship) home. These “People of the Stars” despise those who live on planets, but they want the technology that allows the Empire to track ships through hyperspace. The lieutenant won’t tell the People of the Stars what he knows, though…

If you want more Cuban science fiction, look no further than Restless Books and the two other novels that they published in July: Yoss’s Red Dust (tr. David Frye) and Agustín de Rojas’s Spiral (tr. Nick Caistor and Hebe Powell). The former is the fourth Yoss novel in English in five years and tells the story of a positronic robot detective (á la Raymond Chandler) on a quest to capture dangerous alien criminals and save the space station he calls home. The publication of de Rojas’s Spiral is especially noteworthy because Anglophone readers now have access to all three novels in a trilogy that includes A Legend of the Future and The Year 200 (Restless Books, 2015 and 2016, respectively). A space opera that examines the ethics of scientific exploration and human interactions in a way that comments on the Cold War clash of superpowers and ideologies, Spiral is an important addition to the canon of Cuban science fiction.

As always, you can find excellent short SFT in print and online this spring and summer. As of this writing (mid-July), we have SFT from the Bulgarian, French, Japanese, and Chinese published in Clarkesworld, Compelling Science Fiction, Future Science Fiction Digest, and Daily Science Fiction.

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and/or looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!

The SF in Translation Universe #7


SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 1

Features / SFT Universe


The SF in Translation Universe #7

Rachel Cordasco


Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! The first third of 2020 is shaping up very nicely, with some sequels, new translations, and exciting collections.

You’ve probably heard by now about the ongoing translation of Jin Yong’s incredibly popular Legends of the Condor Heroes series, which is bringing wuxia (Chinese martial arts fantasy) to a broader audience. A ton of translated wuxia is available on the internet already, and hopefully Anna Holmwood and Gigi Chang’s translations will encourage readers to seek out more wuxia online. January brings us Anglophone readers the third book in Jin Yong’s series—A Snake Lies Waiting—in which the brave and noble Guo Jing has walked into a trap (blinded by his love for Lotus Huang) and must fight for his own survival and his people’s freedom.

If you’re looking for German dystopian satire, look no further than Marc-Uwe Kling’s QualityLand (tr Jamie Searle Romanelli). Here Kling sends up 21st-century consumer-driven technology-obsessed capitalism by taking such innovations as driverless cars, wireless-adapted glasses, and a gargantuan online store (TheShop) to their extremes. As this novel argues, the seemingly simple task of returning, for example, a pink, dolphin-shaped vibrator delivered to you in error is far more complicated than you might think.

Interested in a wartime love story set in 1990s Turkey and told from the perspective of a dog? Then Kemal Varol’s Wûf (tr Dayla Rogers) is for you. Here a street dog named Mikasa, who is forced to work as a minesweeper for the Turkish army, tells his tale to other dogs at a kennel, where he finds companionship and even cigarettes. Inviting readers to look at war and brutality from a new perspective, Wûf is a unique book from an underrepresented source language.

But perhaps you’re looking for a novel that plays with your mind even as it plays with language and your sense of reality. No, I’m not talking about a Zivkovic story, but Peter Stamm’s The Sweet Indifference of the World (tr Michael Hofmann). When Lena and Christoph, two complete strangers, meet up in a Stockholm cemetery, they realize that, twenty years before, they each fell in love with the other’s double. Is Christoph’s novel (which grew out of his breakup with Magdalena) somehow influencing his new relationship with Lena? Or has he begun to confuse reality and fantasy?

If you think January sounds intriguing, just wait until February. We’re getting Russian, Spanish German, and Indonesian SFT then, including a new translation of an older title by the Strugatskys. Originally brought into English as Prisoners of Power in 1977 (based on a heavily censored version thanks to the Soviet authorities), The Inhabited Island (as it’s now called) is the story of Maxim Kammerer, an explorer from the 22nd century, who crashes on a war-torn world and is drawn into its inhabitants’ terrifying reality. The first of the Kammerer subsection of Noon universe books, this book portrays a civilization that is technologically advanced (they have atomic bombs) but socially oppressive.

Also translated from the Russian is a new psychological fantasy thriller from Marina and Sergei Dyachenko called Daughter From the Dark (tr Julia Meitov Hersey). You’ve probably been hearing about their previous brain-bending, haunting book—Vita Nostra (also translated by Hersey)–that fully deserves all the praise it has been given. Daughter from the Dark (which I am just 40 pages shy of finishing) asks us to imagine the consequences of stepping out of our comfort zone and doing a single good deed (like giving a seemingly lost little girl shelter and protection). How might it completely change a person’s life, and oh yeah, what if that little girl was actually a creature from another plane of existence and your life just became a billion times more complicated? And is her little teddy bear actually a blood-thirsty beast that kills whenever the girl is threatened? Mmmmmaybe.

From Ray Loriga comes a dystopian story about authoritarianism and the disappearance of privacy. Surrender (tr Carolina de Robertis) tells of the nightmarish reality that war can create, where children disappear and entire communities are forced to move to “transparent cities,” in which transparency is a literal mandate and all necessities are provided so long as the inhabitants “behave.”

We get even more German SFT in February, this time in the form of an epic fantasy by Bernd Perplies called Black Leviathan (tr Lucy Van Cleef). In this world where dragon-hunting is the norm, one man joins the crew of a ship that flies through the Cloudmere on a very specific mission—the pursuit and capture of a dragon known as the “Firstborn Gargantuan.” The captain’s rage-driven quest echoes that depicted in Moby-Dick, only dragons are, well, more terrifying than whales…

Also out in February is a novel by Intan Paramaditha entitled The Wandering (tr Stephen J. Epstein). Paramaditha’s previous book, the collection Apple and Knife (2018), was inspired by horror, myth, and fairy tales. The Wandering, too, brings together multiple subgenres in a story about what it means to wander the globe. When an English teacher in Jakarta seeks escape from a boring life, their wishes are granted in a pact with a devil, who gives them a pair of red shoes that will take them anywhere they’d like to go. But there’s a warning attached to this gift…

So far, March is only bringing us a single work of SFT, but it sounds excellent. That We May Live: Speculative Chinese Fiction (tr Jeremy Tiang and Natascha Bruce) expands the availability of Chinese SFT by offering us fantastic and phantasmagorical tales involving people living in giant mushrooms, twisted desires, and mysterious beverages. With stories by Dorothy Tse, Enoch Tam, Zhu Hui, Chan Chi Wa, Chen Si-an, and Yan Ge, That We May Live promises to enthrall.

In terms of short fiction, so far we’ve gotten stories about a woman absorbing alternate dimension versions of herself (“The Perfect Sail” by I-Hyeong Yun, tr from the Korean by Elisa Sinn and Justin Howe, Clarkesworld), a father inspiring his son to bring an ancient art into the future via virtual reality (“The Ancestral Temple” by Chen Qiufan, tr from the Chinese by Emily Jin, Clarkesworld), and a woman seeing her reflection in a subway window…but it isn’t hers (“The Other Woman” by Bibiana Camacho, tr from the Spanish by Cecilia Weddell, World Literature Today).

With such an excitingly diverse array of themes, source-languages, and sub-genres, 2020 is looking like another excellent year for SFT.

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and/or looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!