The Big One

While the mainstream award run through Three Percent is the primary mainstream we will be tracking, there is another mainstream prize for translation. It is only awarded every three years, but it is worth a whopping $10,000. The Queen Sofia Spanish Institute Translation Prize is intended to foster awareness and appreciation of Spanish literature in the USA. The first ever winner is Edith Grossman, for her translation of Antonio Munoz Molinas novel, A Manuscript of Ashes. Galley Cat has more details.

One From Argentina

Over at Three Percent Chad Post is talking about Ghosts, a novel by Argentine author, César Aira. As the book has ghosts in it, it is definitely with our terms of reference. Of course it is a 2009 book, so our jury will only look at it if they think they don’t have a sufficient number of 2010 books to consider, but if it is a candidate for a mainstream translation award it must be quite impressive.

Eaton Conference 2011 – Call for Papers

Our current plan is that the inaugural translation awards will be presented at the 2011 Eaton Conference. We now have some preliminary information about that to share with you.

This three-day conference — sponsored by the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature at the University of California, Riverside — proposes to examine the ways in which science fiction (SF) is a truly global phenomenon, crossing territorial, linguistic, and ideological boundaries in its imaginative engagement with the possibilities of the future. We are interested in papers that explore historical and contemporary SF in relation to processes of globalization, international social movements, universalist ideologies, multinational cultures, technoscientific networks, philosophies of cosmopolitanism, neo- and postcolonial politics, separatist and sovereignty movements, and more. We invite paper and panel proposals that focus on all forms of SF, including prose fiction, film, television, comics, and digital culture, and that address (but are not limited to) the following questions:

  • How is SF, as a form of multimedia production and a mode of visionary speculation, linked to the structures and world-views of an emerging global marketplace of ideas, commodities, and lifestyles?
  • How have SF cultures around the world evolved and adapted in relation to the processes of globalization, internationalization, and multinationality?
  • How do the legacies of colonialism and imperialism continue to inform global SF, and how have various local SF cultures negotiated their relationship with an Anglophone hegemony?
  • How have the relative paucity or poor quality of English-language translations served to obscure the fact that SF, thoughout its history, has always been a global phenomenon?
  • What has been the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of new forms of sociopolitical collectivity such as the European Union on the development of local SF cultures?
  • How has “hard SF” responded to a globalized world of corporate technoscience, multinational research ventures, and international scientific accords?
  • Has the growth of the Internet, the World Wide Web, and other information networks served to further “globalize” SF as a mode of production and a subcultural formation?
  • In what ways does SF foster outlooks that promote or critique the processes of globalization?

The keynote speaker will be Mike Davis, UCR Professor of Creative Writing and author of City of Quartz, The Ecology of Fear, Planet of Slums, and many other works exploring the linkages among social history, political economy, popular culture, and the processes of globalization. SF author guests will be announced as they are confirmed; see the conference website for periodic updates.

The conference will be held in the historic Mission Inn Hotel in downtown Riverside on February 11-13, 2011.

Abstracts of 500 words (for papers of 20-minutes in length) should be submitted by June 15, 2010 to Melissa Conway, Head of Special Collections and Archives, Rivera Library, UC-Riverside. Electronic submission is preferred via email to melissa.conway [at]

Translation Links

There is a lot of talk about translation around the blogosphere at the moment. Here are a few items we noticed in recent days.

– Fábio Fernandes talks about working in two languages at

– Charles Tan interviews Nick Mamatas about Haikasoru at World SF News. All of those 2010 publications Nick mentions should be eligible for our award.

– Ekaterina Sedia wonders whether translated works should sound foreign and exotic.

– Anna Tambour reviews a collection of Tamil pulp fiction (with a fabulous cover).

– Chad W. Post reviews a prize-winning Arabic novel about an infertility curse.

– The anthology series, Best American Fantasy, is looking for works from Latin America.

Getting What You Pay For

One of the many areas in which we hope to find quality translated science fiction and fantasy is manga. The field is certainly hugely popular, so there is plenty of work to choose from. But if translator Matt Thorn is to be believed, much of it is not very good.

There’s no diplomatic way to say this, so I’ll be blunt. The vast majority of my kouhai, my juniors in the field of manga translation, have no sense of rhythm, so sense of meter, so sense of what makes a line worth reading, and no sense of how to write a line worth reading.

Manga and Anime expert, Jonathan Clements, agrees with him, and says that much of the problem is because of the derisory rates of pay being offered.

But some modern entrants into the manga translation field are expected to accept fees that are only at 30% of 1995 rates. Are we surprised that even the good ones are over-worked, harassed and otherwise distracted?

Is this sort of problem common elsewhere? One of the things we hope to do with out awards is raise the profile of good quality translators so that they can obtain better pay for their work.

Are Translations Old-Fashioned?

Over at 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.