Over at Suvudu.com Betsy Mitchell has been talking about books that she did not buy during 2009. She sorted them into various categories. This one caught our eye:
Not a genre that’s doing well right now (horror, mostly; some foreign novels being offered for translation, anthologies whose concepts weren’t strong enough)
Asked to explain the comment about translations, Mitchell replied as follows:
I meant novels originally published in Russian, German, Dutch, French or some other language. It’s often the case that the trend in other countries is away from what U.S. readers are enjoying–for example, we used to see a lot of submissions of Russian science fiction which felt like U.S. and British SF of the ’50s and ’60s, too old-fashioned for our current readers.
We were wondering whether this was true when we spotted a post from Brazilian author and translator, Fábio Fernandes, at World SF News. It included the following:
But, despite being a translator, I find myself working in two different tracks when it comes to writing. When I write science fiction in Portuguese, I focus not only on the language, but also on the canon of stories – that is, on all the narratives that have been written in the tradition of Brazilian SF. The problem with that approach is the lag – Brazilian SF is light-years behind American or British SF, both in theme and in style, I´m afraid.
Conversation with Fábio suggests that there is a genuine problem here, and translation is at the root of it. Because it takes so long for English-language science fiction to get translated, people in non-English speaking countries are often reading books that are several years behind the current fashion in English speaking countries. They then write books in response to what they have read, but when those books are offered for translation into English the big publishers reject them as “old fashioned”.
The upshot of this is that in order to get more works by non-English speaking writers translated into English, one of the things that is necessary is for English language works to get translated more quickly.
Of course there is also the possibility that non-English-speaking writers could produce original work that does not riff off what English-speaking writers are doing. But then perhaps the big publishers would reject their work as “too different” and therefore risky.